IPPNW welcomes the statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping that “nuclear weapons … should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of them.” President Xi’s remarks, made during a speech on January 18 at the United Nations in Geneva, were consistent with China’s long-standing official support for nuclear disarmament, and come as the UN is preparing to convene negotiations on a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
China gave a positive signal at the UN General Assembly last month, unlike its other P5 partners, when it abstained from, rather than voting against, a resolution authorizing negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The resolution was carried by a majority of over three to one. China can now show real leadership by declaring its intention to participate in the negotiating conference for the ban treaty opening this March, with the goal of making the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons an unequivocal international norm. By doing so, China would not only take an important practical step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, it would also send a strong signal to the other eight nuclear-armed states that their objections to the negotiations and their criticisms of the treaty itself are misplaced, and that their massive reinvestments in nuclear warheads, delivery systems, and infrastructure are dangerous and contradictory to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The obligation to achieve that goal is spelled out in Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the International Court of Justice has unanimously said that all States, whether or not they possess nuclear arms, have an obligation under international law to negotiate nuclear disarmament.
IPPNW urges China to act upon President Xi’s timely and important policy statement by sending a delegation to the opening session of the ban treaty negotiating conference in March, with clear instructions to participate in good faith and in cooperation with the non-nuclear-armed states leading this historic process.
Iran’s deputy permanent representative to the UN has warned against continued sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are in violation of other territories as well as humanitarian laws.
“We are deeply concerned about the destabilizing repercussions of the continual entry and export of such weaponry into the region, especially into Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime of Israel,” Gholam-Hossein Dehqani said.
He said both Saudi Arabia and Israel are “engaged in aggression and violation against other countries and in flouting their commitments to international humanitarian laws.”
Dehqani was speaking at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly’s Disarmament and International Security Committee at the world body’s headquarters in New York, IRNA reported on Saturday.
He said the Saudi regime was using “British and American bombs” against vital Yemeni infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has been pounding Yemen since March 2015 in an unsuccessful attempt to reinstall a former ally as president. The war has killed more than 10,000, according to UN figures in August.
Dehqani also stressed the need for disarming Israel of its nuclear arsenal and for the regime’s accession to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), saying “the most dangerous weapons are in the hands of the most dangerous regime in the Middle East.”
“The Zionist regime has recurrently perpetrated violations, occupation, genocide, and terrorist activities; and nuclear weapons in the hands of such a regime constitutes the most dangerous threat to NPT signatories in the Middle East,” he said.
Israel, which has refused to sign the NPT or allow inspections of its military nuclear facilities, keeps an estimated stockpile of some 200-400 nuclear warheads.
Separately, Iran’s envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) urged the complete annihilation of chemical weapons stockpiles.
Alireza Jahangiri, addressing the body Executive Council in The Hague, also urged those countries in possession of such weapons to act on their commitments within the framework of the organization’s Chemical Weapons Convention and non-members to join the Convention.
Jahangiri also urged international cooperation to prevent the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups, a scenario that he said posed a threat to international peace.
He called on member countries of the organization to refrain from providing support, financial and otherwise, to terrorist groups.
India has failed to achieve membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is a group of countries seeking «to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of Guidelines for nuclear and nuclear-related exports». Given that members of the NSG already supply India with uranium, New Delhi’s campaign is intriguing, especially as one of the Group’s main requirements is that suppliers of nuclear-associated material may authorise such trade «only when satisfied that the transfer would not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons».
It could not be clearer that this international agreement forbids provision of nuclear expertise or material to a country that has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which the US State Department describes as «the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime».
But even cornerstones can be undermined, and that process began when President George W Bush started negotiations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 to produce a US-India nuclear cooperation agreement. It took considerable effort by both sides to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement whereby India would have access to nuclear material and technology consistent with the primary US aim of entry to the potentially large Indian market for construction of nuclear power stations.
The commercially-based Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy of 2007 is known as the 123 Agreement because it was necessary to amend Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act 1954 which governs ‘Cooperation with Other Nations’.
India declined to abide by the Act’s specification that it «must have full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, essentially covering all major nuclear facilities», because this would involve inspection of defence-related establishments, and Washington promptly removed this inconvenient requirement.
The modified Act seemed to clear the way for nuclear collaboration on a major scale, but there has as yet been no commitment by US nuclear plant manufacturers, mainly because they do not want to be held financially responsible for a nuclear accident at a power station which they designed or built.
It is accepted worldwide that national nuclear plant operators are accountable in the event of accidents, but India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, and Rule 24 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011, provide for the right of recourse, pursuit of which could involve foreign enterprises, be they suppliers or operators, being held liable for damages. In spite of lobbying by US President Obama during his 2015 visit to India, which was much praised as having achieved a «breakthrough» in removing the liability barriers which India’s parliament strongly supported, there has been no radical change that would encourage US firms to seek major contracts. (The Westinghouse Electric Company, generally thought to be American, which is negotiating to build six nuclear plants in India, has been owned by Japan’s Toshiba since 2006.)
In February 2015 India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that the Civil Liability Act «channels all legal liability for nuclear damage exclusively to the operator» – but Clause 17 of the Act specifies that operators are permitted to seek financial recourse from suppliers after paying compensation for «patent or latent defects or sub-standard services», which are, naturally, open to legal interpretation in the event of a disaster, which is no doubt being borne in mind by India’s legislators who have not forgotten the 1984 disaster at the Union Carbide chemical plant at Bhopal that killed and maimed many thousands of people.
While there have as yet been no commercial benefits to the US from its nuclear accord with India, there have been other effects, including some that are less than desirable in the context of «proliferation of nuclear weapons» which is condemned by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Arms Control Association records that «In September 2008, in a move led by the United States, the Nuclear Suppliers Group eased long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with India by the group’s members. NSG rules generally forbid the sale of nuclear goods, such as reactors and fuel, to non-NPT countries». Before this ‘easing’ of international constraints, India had been unable to import uranium and was therefore entirely reliant on its own mines, which produce only low-grade ore but are in the long term capable of providing fuel to any number of nuclear facilities, civilian and military. The only drawback is that domestic processing would be enormously expensive. Importing uranium is very much cheaper.
As a result of being excused from the international stipulation requiring its adherence to the NPT before being permitted to import nuclear fuel and technology, India negotiated nuclear cooperation arrangements with eleven nations, including the holder of the world’s largest uranium deposits, Australia, whose government’s 1977 Uranium Export Policy had specified that «customer countries must at a minimum be a party to the NPT and have concluded a full-scope safeguards Agreement with the IAEA». But profit beats morality, and, as noted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, «Australia was the last domino to fall when it created an exception for India to its export policies in December 2011».
Countries involved in nuclear cooperation with India observe similar rules to those of Australia which specifies that its uranium «may only be exported for peaceful non-explosive purposes». And of course it cannot be claimed that foreign-supplied uranium could be used to produce nuclear weapons. These are manufactured at installations using India’s abundant (although process-expensive) indigenous ore which, thanks to the flexibility of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is no longer needed to fuel civilian nuclear power stations. Quantities, quality and details of application need not be revealed.
Following the US-India nuclear agreement the president of the Federation of American Scientists, Charles D Ferguson, wrote in Arms Control Today that «by granting India access to uranium, the deal allows India to divert its indigenously-mined uranium to military applications without detracting fuel from the civilian program» – and that is the crux of the entire affair.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group, at the urging of the United States, approved a measure that assists India to produce more nuclear weapons more economically. The «cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime» was dealt a massive blow. Although the US Hyde Act of 2006 requires the President to inform Congress of non-compliance with «the provision of nuclear fuel in such a manner as to facilitate the increased production by India of highly enriched uranium or plutonium in unsafeguarded nuclear facilities» it is impossible for the US to certify that this is not taking place because there is no provision for verification. Clever India.
Membership of the NSG remains a major foreign policy goal for India, and US support for its ambition was formally indicated in 2015 joint statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi which «committed [them] to continue to work towards India’s phased entry» to the Group. The US has made it clear that it will continue to support India’s efforts to achieve its objective, and that the requirement for «full compliance» with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or other «equivalent international nuclear nonproliferation agreement» is irrelevant so far as India is concerned.
It’s intriguing how international agreements can be reinterpreted, distorted, massaged or just plain ignored when it suits Washington’s policies – and, it seems, the pockets, prosperity and re-election prospects of America’s Legislators.
The leaders of America’s towns and cities issued a resolution warning the Obama administration and NATO that continued anti-Russian provocations place humanity at greater risk of nuclear annihilation.
The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), the official non-partisan organization for city leaders administering populations greater than 30,000, moved to condemn NATO’s Anaconda War Games on Russia’s border as increasing the threat of nuclear conflict.
“The largest NATO war games in decades, involving 14,000 US troops, and activation of US missile defenses in Eastern Europe are fueling growing tensions between nuclear-armed giants,” said the USCM warning in the lead up to the military alliance’s summit on July 8-9 in Warsaw, Poland.
The resolution adopted at the USCM’s 84th Annual Conference from June 24-27 in Indianapolis stated: “More than 15,000 nuclear weapons, most orders of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, 94% held by the United States and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to cities and humanity.”
The US Conference of Mayors went on to criticize President Obama for capitulating to the defense establishment and “laying the groundwork for the United States to spend one trillion dollars over the next three decades” on the so-called nuclear modernization effort that will result in a net increase in America’s atomic stockpile in contravention to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“The Obama administration has not only reduced the US nuclear stockpile less than any post-Cold War presidency, but also decided to spend on trillion dollars to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, production facilities, delivery systems, and command and control,” read the resolution.
America’s mayors called into the question the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons with yields in excess of 1 megaton, or 75 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb that killed nearly 150,000 people, at a time when “federal funds are desperately needed in our communities to build affordable housing, create jobs with livable wages, improve public transit, and develop sustainable energy sources.”
To underscore the resolution, the USCM acknowledged and apologized for America’s genocidal acts against Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of World War II stating that the “US atomic bombings indiscriminately incinerated tens of thousands of ordinary people, and by the end of 1945 more than 210,000 people – mainly civilians, were dead, and the surviving hibakusha, their children and grandchildren continue to suffer from physical, psychological and sociological effects.”
The country’s mayors continue to be a voice of peace and reason in the face of mounting influence by the foreign policy establishment and defense lobbyists having rendered similar resolutions calling for the United States to pursue a less threatening foreign policy for 11 consecutive years.
Israel, which is widely believed to possess hundreds of atomic bombs, says it is not yet ready to ratify a UN pact on banning nuclear tests adopted nearly 20 years ago.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Lassina Zerbo, the head of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Organization, on Monday that Tel Aviv’s ratification of the pact is dependent on regional developments.
The treaty, which will ban all nuclear explosions, was signed in 1996, but will only go into effect when it has been ratified by all parties that possessed a nuclear reactor or some nuclear technology.
Israel is widely believed to have between 200 and 400 nuclear warheads, though it refuses to confirm or deny its existence under a policy of deliberate ambiguity.
The regime has also refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), denying international access to its atomic arsenal.
The issue of ratification “is dependent on the regional context and on the appropriate timing,” the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Isn’t it rather odd that America’s largest single public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades has received no attention in the 2015-2016 presidential debates?
The expenditure is for a thirty-year program to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and production facilities. Although President Obama began his administration with a dramatic public commitment to build a nuclear weapons-free world, that commitment has long ago dwindled and died. It has been replaced by an administration plan to build a new generation of US nuclear weapons and nuclear production facilities to last the nation well into the second half of the twenty-first century. This plan, which has received almost no attention by the mass media, includes redesigned nuclear warheads, as well as new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs, and production plants. The estimated cost? $1,000,000,000,000.00—or, for those readers unfamiliar with such lofty figures, $1 trillion.
Critics charge that the expenditure of this staggering sum will either bankrupt the country or, at the least, require massive cutbacks in funding for other federal government programs. “We’re . . . wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it,” admitted Brian McKeon, an undersecretary of defense. And we’re “probably thanking our stars we won’t be here to have to have to answer the question,” he added with a chuckle.
Of course, this nuclear “modernization” plan violates the terms of the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires the nuclear powers to engage in nuclear disarmament. The plan is also moving forward despite the fact that the US government already possesses roughly 7,000 nuclear weapons that can easily destroy the world. Although climate change might end up accomplishing much the same thing, a nuclear war does have the advantage of terminating life on Earth more rapidly.
This trillion dollar nuclear weapons buildup has yet to inspire any questions about it by the moderators during the numerous presidential debates. Even so, in the course of the campaign, the presidential candidates have begun to reveal their attitudes toward it.
On the Republican side, the candidates—despite their professed distaste for federal expenditures and “big government”—have been enthusiastic supporters of this great leap forward in the nuclear arms race. Donald Trump, the frontrunner, contended in his presidential announcement speech that “our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work,” insisting that it is out of date. Although he didn’t mention the $1 trillion price tag for “modernization,” the program is clearly something he favors, especially given his campaign’s focus on building a US military machine “so big, powerful, and strong that no one will mess with us.”
His Republican rivals have adopted a similar approach. Marco Rubio, asked while campaigning in Iowa about whether he supported the trillion dollar investment in new nuclear weapons, replied that “we have to have them. No country in the world faces the threats America faces.” When a peace activist questioned Ted Cruz on the campaign trail about whether he agreed with Ronald Reagan on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, the Texas senator replied: “I think we’re a long way from that and, in the meantime, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. The best way to avoid war is to be strong enough that no one wants to mess with the United States.” Apparently, Republican candidates are particularly worried about being “messed with.”
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has been more ambiguous about her stance toward a dramatic expansion of the US nuclear arsenal. Asked by a peace activist about the trillion dollar nuclear plan, she replied that she would “look into that,” adding: “It doesn’t make sense to me.” Even so, like other issues that the former Secretary of State has promised to “look into,” this one remains unresolved. Moreover, the “National Security” section of her campaign website promises that she will maintain the “strongest military the world has ever known”—not a propitious sign for critics of nuclear weapons.
Only Bernie Sanders has adopted a position of outright rejection. In May 2015, shortly after declaring his candidacy, Sanders was asked at a public meeting about the trillion dollar nuclear weapons program. He replied: “What all of this is about is our national priorities. Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex” that “has never seen a war that they didn’t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting?” In fact, Sanders is one of only three US Senators who support the SANE Act, legislation that would significantly reduce US government spending on nuclear weapons. In addition, on the campaign trail, Sanders has not only called for cuts in spending on nuclear weapons, but has affirmed his support for their total abolition.
Nevertheless, given the failure of the presidential debate moderators to raise the issue of nuclear weapons “modernization,” the American people have been left largely uninformed about the candidates’ opinions on this subject. So, if Americans would like more light shed on their future president’s response to this enormously expensive surge in the nuclear arms race, it looks like they are the ones who are going to have to ask the candidates the trillion dollar question.
[Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). He is a regular contributor to the Peace and Health Blog.]
In 2016 Russia is set to disarm the missile system of the Typhoon-class Arkhangelsk submarine, the largest in the world. The disarmament will be carried out in accordance with the New START agreement between Moscow and Washington.
Working in accordance with the New START treaty between Russia and US, the country’s leading Zvezdochka shipyard in the northern Russian city of Severodvinsk will disarm the missile system of the Arkhangelsk submarine, the shipyard’s press service told TASS news agency on Friday.
“We will remove the covers of the submarine’s missile launchers and seal them, thus making it impossible to use the vessel’s missile weapons,” the press service said. “We are not talking yet about dismantling the submarine itself. The tender for this procedure has not yet been announced.”
According to the data published by the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, the sub’s disarmament is estimated to cost some 28 million rubles (about US$ 400,000).
The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Arkhangelsk TK-17 was designed in 1987 under the Project 941 ‘Shark’ (or ‘Typhoon’ according to NATO classification). The project was aimed to equip the Soviet Navy with nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and resulted in the creation of the largest class of submarines ever built – large enough to accommodate decent living facilities for the crew of 179 when submerged for months on end, and to stock an arsenal of 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Three of the six Typhoon-class submarines built in the 1980s have already been dismantled at the shipyards in Severodvinsk. Of the three that remain, Arkhangelsk and Severstal are set to be dismantled. Dmitri Donskoi just recently underwent a modernization procedure and is now equipped to test the latest sea-based missile system Bulava.
The New START treaty (on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms), which was designed to reduce American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, came into force in 2011. It replaced the previous 1991 agreement, introducing lower ceilings for the numbers of warheads and delivery systems deployed.
Commenting on the progress made on the treaty’s fifth anniversary in February, US Secretary of State John Kerry complimented both sides on successful cooperation in the field.
“[New START treaty] continues to be an area of cooperation and continued dialogue between the United States and Russia. I share President Obama’s strong belief that our two countries, which ushered in the era of nuclear arms, have a special responsibility to lead the world beyond it,” he said in a statement.
However, the latest moves by the US – such as plans to upgrade 180 B61s strategic bombs stocked in European air bases to a modernized B61-12 version – have raised doubts whether the US adheres to the nuclear arms non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
Opponents of the program have argued that instead of scaling down atomic weapons stockpiles in accordance with the NPT, the overhaul is actually creating more states hosting modern nuclear weapons – a provocation that theoretically weakens Russia’s deterrent.
Moscow keeps the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe in mind when shaping its own military policies as reflected in Russia’s newest military doctrine published in 2014, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova told German television last year.
“The comprehensive analysis of the situation points to the threat posed by the increasing military capability of NATO and its endowment with global functions, which it performs in violation of the international law, as well as the encroachment of the military infrastructure of NATO members on the borders of the Russian Federation,” she said.
The Russian military will have to “adequately” respond to Washington’s plan to upgrade its nuclear bombs in Europe in apparent violation of a nuclear arms non-proliferation treaty (NPT), a senior Foreign Ministry diplomat said in a media interview.
The renovation of the US’ nuclear arsenals in Europe masked as a “regular modernization” is in contradiction with the terms of the NPT, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, said in an interview with Kommersant daily.
Washington’s plan to upgrade the 180 B61s strategic bombs stocked in European air bases to a modernized B61-12 version has been implemented as part of the US/NATO nuclear modernization program. The B61s were designed back in the 1960s to counter a possible Soviet threat and have since been kept at NATO air bases in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, and the Netherlands for about five decades.
The US Defense Department had long sought to improve its existing stockpile, arguing that maintaining the aging electronic parts in the 50-year-old bombs has made their upkeep “unpredictable and irregular.” In the end, it didn’t come cheap for the NATO allies in Europe: the cost of replacing obsolete components is estimated at $28 million per bomb. The program is scheduled to be completed in mid-2020s.
“Thus, NATO has set a course for a long-term violation of its responsibilities under the NPT,” Ulyanov argued.
Opponents of the program have argued that instead of scaling down atomic weapons stockpiles in accordance with the NPT, the overhaul is actually creating more states hosting modern nuclear power – a provocation that theoretically weakens Russia’s deterrent.
“Concerns in this regard, expressed not only by us, but also by the Non-Aligned Movement [NAM] member states, are basically ignored by NATO members,” stressed Ulyanov.
The official stressed that Russia will take all necessary steps to provide an adequate response to US plans to expand its nuclear potential.
“In the military sphere, as a general rule, any action forces a counter-reaction. I am certain that the Russian response to the deployment of new US bombs will be adequate, and its parameters will be determined by a thorough analysis of all circumstances,” the diplomat added.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force in 1970. The signatories recognize only five states – the permanent members of the UN Security Council – as eligible to possess nuclear weapons. Since it was opened for signature in 1969, a total of 191 states have joined the agreement. Its ultimate goal is to reduce the possibility of a nuclear conflict by preventing the dissemination of nuclear weapons and promoting peaceful application of nuclear technology.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was founded in 1961. Its members’ original goal was to preserve neutral status during the Cold War. Two-thirds of its 120 members are the signatories to the NPT, which makes it the largest group of states engaged in nuclear disarmament.
Nations Meet to Discuss International Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
With the debate going on about whether the UK should renew the Trident missile programme or get rid of it, hardly anything is said about what is happening internationally to rid the world of nuclear weapons – which shows how inward-looking Britain can be, despite claiming a prime position on the world stage.
While national media reported on the Stop Trident demonstration in London, it ignored the discussions taking place in Geneva, or their background including:
- three international, government-level conferences, the last in Vienna, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which produced
- the signing and endorsing of the Humanitarian Pledge by a majority of nations
- a vote in the UN General Assembly (voted against by nuclear-armed states which called the Resolution ‘divisive’) but passed by 135 states, to establish an Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations
- the first meeting of which took place in Geneva in February
You’d think that deserved a headline or two, the attention of more than some MPs and loud trumpeting from anti-nuclear campaigners, but no. At the London demonstration, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn did speak about the Vienna conference and the humanitarian issues.
And the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas mentioned the OEWG talks in Geneva. In a New Statesman article she also urged the UK government to take part in those meetings. Take part? They are boycotting them.
But no one mentions that.
Yet the wit, wisdom and yes, the whingeing, displayed in statements from Ambassadors and delegates, the depth of the debates, were in many ways far more worthy of our attention than another march to Trafalgar Square.
The aim was to identify the legal gaps in the nuclear weapons treaties and agreements that prevented genuine progress towards disarmament. Naturally some states insisted that there were no legal gaps and the old ‘step-by-step’ process was working even though the world is no nearer to disarmament.
Delegates from 90 nations were there, as was civil society. In a statement delivered by Beatrice Fihn on behalf of ICAN and its 440 partner organisations, she listed all the legal gaps needing to be filled. And she reminded all those there that “Non-nuclear-weapon states are not merely encouraged to take positive steps towards nuclear disarmament; they are required to do so – regardless of the continued failure of nuclear-weapon states to act.”
From the start, a treaty banning nuclear weapons was mentioned more than any other legal instrument as a path towards disarmament, even by nuclear-alliance states begging for ‘caution’ and ‘we can’t do this without the input of nuclear states’. They can; and a ban treaty seems the best way forward.
“States that ‘rely on nuclear weapons in their security doctrines remain reluctant to consider moving ahead without the nuclear-armed states” reported the daily updates from Reaching Critical Will.
So what are the nuclear-alliance states? They are those states (such as NATO members) which, although they have no nuclear weapons of their own, claim that they base their ‘security’ on those that do. To quote Reaching Critical Will:
“While many states called for urgent action, others, including Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Canada speaking on behalf of a group of states, and Finland, cautioned that security considerations of states must be taken into account… Bangladesh asked what could be a bigger security concern than being the victim of a nuclear attack.” Good question.
Does this second-hand security mean that these states are depending on someone else to blow up the world? Would they not be equally guilty under international humanitarian law?
Still, give these states their due. They are at least taking part. The nuclear-armed states are determinedly boycotting the OEWG. Not being able to control what’s happening, they are relying on their alliance to fling a few spanners into the works for them.
The Netherlands tried. It argued that the nuclear-armed states should take part in the discussions. The majority of the world somehow cannot move forward without their willingness to take part. The OEWG should use its time thinking of ways to tempt the armed states into giving up their toys. And how was this for a circular argument:
… the Netherlands is not against a ‘ban’. We see it as a final element towards a world without nuclear weapons, when nuclear weapons no longer fulfil a function in the security of states. It is clear that we have not reached this stage yet and that starting negotiations on a ‘ban’ would therefore be premature.
So we should only have a ban when nuclear weapons are deemed useless anyway.
But as the Irish Ambassador said, in a very quotable speech:
This is a small planet, getting smaller every day… In such a world, questions of security impact us all… And in such a world there is no place for nuclear weapons… In any area of life, work or governance, if something wasn’t working for 20 years, or indeed for over 70, we would try to fix it.
As all those taking part in the OEWG wanted a world free of nuclear weapons; that, having signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), they seemed to know how to get there; that they were even more aware now of the terrible humanitarian consequences of using such weapons and the inability of any nation to cope with such an event; despite all that, said Ireland:
… the problem is that we are no nearer multilateral nuclear disarmament now than we were 20 years ago, when the NPT was indefinitely extended.
Ah, but look at how the non-proliferation part of the NPT has succeeded, was the reply. South Africa, among those nations that got rid of their nuclear arsenals, made a telling point: “nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes — the disregard of one has a direct impact on the advancement of the other.”
Delegates were coming to realise that working for a ban treaty does not exclude other legal processes towards disarmament. They can work together, but the big gap is the lack of a ban treaty. By the second day they were agreeing that, given the refusal of nuclear-armed states to take part in the discussions, a ban treaty was perhaps the most sensible way forward.
Malaysia explained that as most legal measures proposed are currently blocked by the nuclear-armed states, three not mutually exclusive options remain: a treaty banning nuclear weapons, a framework convention, and increasing verification capacity. They also pointed out that a ban treaty could be negotiated now and be part of a wider framework later, something the nuclear alliance has difficulty accepting, perhaps because they know their ‘security blanket’ will not approve.
New Zealand’s delegate was quite clear:
I have heard some recent suggestion that while a legally-binding prohibition may be necessary for maintaining a nuclear weapon-free world, it is not in fact necessary in order to attain one. However, no clear explanation for why, as a matter of international law, this might be the case has yet to be put forward.
This is surely part of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ game played by nuclear-armed states.
We see no reason why the pathway adopted for the elimination of other weapon systems, including the elimination of both other types of WMD – that of a legally binding prohibition – should not equally be applicable as a pathway for the elimination of nuclear weapons… There is no need to reinvent the wheel…
Indeed no. But we can make it very, very ornate. Australia delivered a fascinating working paper on behalf of itself and 17 other countries – fascinating because nowhere does it mention a ban treaty. Instead it talks of ‘no quick fixes’, ‘addressing the legitimate security concerns’ of nuclear-armed states and ‘incremental but necessary steps that will enhance security for all’.
It is all about ‘means and sequencing’ and identifying “concrete and practical building blocks”. The NPT is brought into play, as is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. There are lists of all the tiny steps we might take, or consider taking, along with a), b), c) and so on to m). There absolutely must be transparency and… well, think of it all as a trust-building exercise.
Mexico took up the challenge of the ‘legitimate security concerns’. This concept was not elaborated enough, Mexico argued, as it is not clear whose security these concerns focus on and if states are for or against collective security. As Austria pointed out, collective security is a very different thing to the security of individual nations.
As for the lack of trust, Austria argued this is due to the failures of states to implement various agreements and commitments that had been agreed to by consensus. The onus is on those countries that have nuclear weapons or rely on them as part of nuclear alliances to diminish that mistrust.
Unable to resist a tiny dig at the pro-nuclear states Mexico pointed out that nuclear-armed states boycotting the meeting would not increase trust. Rather the reverse, one would think.
Austria, a leading light in these discussions, reminded delegates that in the Humanitarian (Pledge now adopted by the UN) it says:
We call on all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons…
A large number of states share the belief that such a legal gap exists, something pro-nuclear states try to deny. Austria’s working paper on this issue is masterly, laying out all the arguments and exposing the legal gaps. The very structure of the NPT requires additional legal (and non-legal) measures for its full implementation. This applies to Article VI just as much as it applies to the non-proliferation obligations.
(Article VI commits the nuclear armed states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,” (emphasis added).
All approaches to implementing Article VI should be followed. The ‘step-by-step’ method can sit alongside a comprehensive ban treaty. They are, argues Austria, complementary, and the humanitarian issue is now so serious that all available steps should be taken. Brazil reminded delegates that provisions under the NPT allowed the Nuclear Weapon States only to hold those weapons temporarily, something constantly ignored.
Austria also ripped up the ‘security’ and ‘deterrence’ arguments used by the USA et al. Deterrence rests on the threat of readiness to inflict mass destruction on a global scale, and on the awareness this would be suicidal. Thus, explains Austria:
Ultimately, it is difficult to reconcile this with the underlying foundation of nuclear deterrence that it leads to rational behaviour of all actors involved. The threat is either credible, which requires – in light of the new evidence – readiness to act entirely irrationally. Alternatively, the threat is non-credible since rational analysis cannot lead to the conclusion of risking the use of nuclear weapons.
Not for nothing was Mutually-Assured-Destruction considered MAD.
During 5 days of presentations and debate, many states called for a ban treaty. And key supporters of the Humanitarian Pledge – Mexico, Austria, South Africa, Brazil, and Indonesia – stressed the time has now come to start the negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The OEWG reconvenes in May for another session. Dare we hope that we will see them start negotiating and putting together the text for a treaty that bans these weapons? It’s beginning to look that way.
• (With grateful thanks to Reaching Critical Will)
• See here for an overview of civil society’s campaign which led, finally, to the disarmament talks in Geneva
Lesley Docksey is the former editor of Abolish War.
© atomcentral / YouTube
The Marshall Islands launch a legal campaign against the UK, India and Pakistan this week in a David versus Goliath battle to achieve the goal of a “nuclear free universe”.
The islands accuse the nuclear states of failing to halt the nuclear arms race, and are urging the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to pursue a lawsuit against all three.
The Pacific Ocean territory, used as a US nuclear testing site for 12 years, filed applications with the ICJ in April 2014 accusing the world’s nine nuclear-armed states of not respecting their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
The nine nations possessing nuclear arsenals are the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel – though Israel is the only one which never acknowledged holding nuclear weapons.
The court admitted the cases brought against the UK, India and Pakistan because the three states have already recognised the ICJ’s authority.
The islands’ former Minister of Foreign Affairs Tony de Brum said they commenced “this lawsuit with the greatest respect and the greatest admiration for the big countries of the world, but we think it must be done”.
Hearings will take place in The Hague Monday to examine whether the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is competent to hear the lawsuits against India and Pakistan. Another hearing will take place on Wednesday to examine “preliminary objections” raised by London in the case against Britain, according to AFP.
De Brum has said the people of the Marshalls suffer quietly but they take this suit in “the cause of a nuclear free universe”.
“We are fighting for what we believe is the only solution in terms of peace and prosperity in the world.”
Olivier Ribbelink, senior researcher at the TMC Asser Institute in The Hague says “the case is in a very preliminary stage at this point”, but added: “Either way the outcome, the case has certainly sharply refocused attention on the dangers of nuclear proliferation.”
De Brum and the Marshall Islands legal team have been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
US nuclear test ground
De Brum was nine years old when the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb was dropped by the US on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954 during the Cold War nuclear arms race.
The 15-megatonne bomb was the largest US nuclear test on record at 1000-times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The resulting characteristic mushroom cloud reached a diameter of 7km (4.5 miles) and a height of almost 40,000 meters (130,000ft) within six minutes of detonation.
The US carried out 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.
Bikini Islanders lived in exile since they were moved for the first US weapons test, though some returned in the early 1970s after government scientists declared Bikini safe for resettlement.
However, residents were removed again in 1978 after ingesting high levels of radiation from eating local foods grown on the former nuclear testing site.
The Marshall Islands is appealing to the US Supreme Court after its case against the country was dismissed by a US federal court last year.
A senior UN official says Israel is now left without an excuse to evade ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) after a nuclear deal between Iran and the West.
Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the CTBT Organization, said with the implementation of the nuclear deal, Israel’s biggest pretext for refraining from ratifying the CTBT has been taken away.
He made the remarks to a week-long conference marking the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has 196 members but the treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by nuclear-armed signatories such as the US, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Zerbo said Israel is “the closest” of the signatories to ratifying the treaty and assuring the world it will never conduct a nuclear test explosion.
That is because “the biggest threat for Israel is gone and over” after Iran reached a nuclear agreement with the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany in July, he said.
An open secret for decades, the Israeli atomic stockpile is estimated at some 200-400 warheads, though Israel refuses to confirm or deny its existence under a policy of deliberate ambiguity.
Israel is also refusing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and denying international access to its atomic arsenal.
Zerbo said he is hoping to visit Israel and talk to its leaders although he doesn’t expect immediate results on ratification.
“I think that they’re the ones who can unlock what is stopping the CTBT from moving,” he said.
Zerbo is also hoping to visit Iran, which signed CTBT in 1996, to convince the country to ratify the treaty.
The Islamic Republic says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. The country is an NPT signatory and its nuclear facilities are open to regular UN inspections which have not found any diversion.
Zerbo, however, said if both Iran and Israel signed CTBT, it would “provide momentum — first for Egypt to ratify the CTBT and then to start negotiations for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.”
“You can’t jump and get a weapon-free zone in the Middle East if the CTBT isn’t ratified,” he said.
Israel’s arsenal is the only obstacle to a Middle East free of nuclear weapons because no country possesses a nuclear arsenal in the region other than the Tel Aviv regime.
Zerbo also said China won’t ratify the CTBT before the US, India won’t ratify before China, and Pakistan won’t ratify before India. He also emphasized that US action is crucial in this regard.
He said North Korea is the least likely country to ratify the CTBT.
The UN official said the international community needs to change the way it engages with North Korea.
“What they need at this point in time is… maybe a bit of respect and dignity in the dialogue we have with them.”
Russia has censured the United States and its NATO allies for “violating” the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by conducting nuclear planning and missions.
“The so-called joint nuclear missions practiced by the United States and their NATO allies are a serious violation of the said treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.
The statement also called for the return of all US nuclear weapons to the country, a ban on nuclear warheads abroad and the dismantling of the technology that facilitates the use of nuclear weapons as well as abstaining from nuclear exercises.
Back in April, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington is breaching the NPT by deploying its nuclear weapons in Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.
Also in March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich urged the US, as a NATO member, to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Europe, highlighting that their deployment on the continent violates the NPT.
“We have repeatedly drawn NATO’s attention to the fact that such practices directly run counter to the spirit and the letter of NPT,” he said on March 24.
The remarks came days after the US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, claimed that “the deployment of US nuclear weapons on the territories of our NATO allies is consistent with the NPT.”
Under the article 1 of NPT, no country is allowed to transfer its nuclear weapons to other parties while article 2 of the treaty prohibits those countries lacking nuclear know-how from having access to nuclear weapons, Lukashevich stated, adding that the US deployment of nuclear arms in Europe infringes upon the terms of the agreement.
Washington-Moscow relations have become markedly tense in recent months. The US and NATO accuse the Kremlin of supporting pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine. Russia categorically denies the allegation, saying NATO’s presence near the Russian borders is responsible for the flare-up in the restive region.