Nuclear Disarmament Has a Future


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN 
By Jamshed Baruah
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - The United Nations is keen to counter growing skepticism about nuclear disarmament really happening and culminating into a nuke free world. According to the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Sergio Duarte, the peoples and countries of the world are not willing to hang on to nuclear weapons and put at risk all that has been accomplished in building international interdependence. JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

Duarte, a Brazilian diplomat, believes that nations will not be misled into "illusory national security benefits produced by clinging on to these obsolete, costly, and inherently dangerous weapons -- weapons that are widely viewed as illegitimate and inhumane. . . . This gives me at least some hope for the future. In terms of preventing nuclear threats, there is no alternative policy that does this better than eliminating such weapons."

Nuclear disarmament therefore does indeed have a future, Duarte told an international seminar in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 4, 2010, and added: "It is the right thing to do. And it works,"

This is evidenced by the fact that disarmament agencies are making their appearance in the nuclear-weapon States, domestic laws and regulations addressing the implementation of disarmament commitments are being enacted, and budgets are being earmarked for disarmament activities.

Also, domestic laboratories, companies, and organizations mandated to undertake disarmament responsibilities are coming up, weapons are actually being physically destroyed in large numbers, and substantial new information is being provided about the size and disposition of nuclear arsenals and their fissile materials and delivery systems in all possessor States, along with other detailed data on concrete disarmament actions.

Duarte, who is also UN Under-Secretary-General, is pleased that several of the nuclear-weapon States have in recent years published additional details about their respective arsenals. Such information is important in the wider process of strengthening accountability and transparency in implementing disarmament commitments.

Duarte recalls that as part of his five-point nuclear disarmament proposal in October 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited States in possession of nukes to submit such information to the UN Secretariat to encourage its wider dissemination.


This idea was incorporated in Action 21 of the recommendations adopted at the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, which invited the Secretary-General to establish a "publicly accessible repository" of such information. Action 21 also invited these States to adopt a "standardized reporting form" for this purpose and to agree on appropriate reporting intervals.

The nuclear-weapon States will be meeting in Paris in April 2011 for their first follow-up meeting after the Review Conference in May 2010 and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs will establish a repository on its web site for reporting this information.

So where in conclusion is nuclear disarmament heading? Will the world accept the "fewer nukes" solution offered by asymptotic disarmament policies as sufficient? "Probably not -- certainly no more than the nuclear-weapon States would accept partial commitments to nuclear non-proliferation," said Duarte.

And if given the facts on the risks posed by a world without nuclear disarmament and with endless proliferation, might the last stubborn sources of resistance to disarmament start to reconsider? "Maybe so, at least this would open up the possibility of achieving, as President Obama said in Prague in April 2009, the 'peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons'," the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs said.


In a landmark speech, Duarte also referred to critics of the step-by-step approach to disarmament who often view it as a kind of game involving the rolling out of condition after condition, with the net result that disarmament becomes merely a distant vision, an ultimate objective, or the top of what has been called a "misty mountaintop".

The use of conditions or preconditions as a kind of subterfuge for avoiding real disarmament activities is however hardly new. Alva Myrdal's 1976 book, titled 'The Game of Disarmament', contains this observation about how the game was played during the Cold War:

"…both sides would present proposals for disarmament agreement, of often wholesale dimensions, but would be careful to see to it that these would contain conditions which the opposite side could not accept. This is the way disarmament was, and is, continually torpedoed."

Duarte said: "Today we do not see many proposals for comprehensive approaches to disarmament, at least not along the lines of 'general and complete disarmament under effective international control', which the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament in 1978 established as the UN's 'ultimate objective' in this field."

Instead, there is a proliferation of preconditions for disarmament, and many indications that this game has acquired new players and some new rules, but it remains in many ways the same old game.


Proposals to defer disarmament until world peace can first be achieved fall into this category, as do calls to postpone this progress until all WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation threats can first be eliminated, all regional disputes are first settled, the risk of WMD terrorism is first reduced to zero, all dangerous WMD-related materials are first completely accounted for and placed under infallible security controls, and of course, there must also first be a solution to the problem of war.

The result of -- and the real purpose of -- all these preconditions is to postpone indefinitely the achievement of disarmament, said Duarte.

The same point is true with respect to those who argue that disarmament must await a fundamental transformation of human consciousness and the dawn of an entirely new society based on non-violence, and the withering away of all national militaries or even the nation state itself.

But unlike the previous approach, those who favour these types of preconditions have no interest whatsoever in preserving nuclear weapons forever, argued Duarte. "They have just come to question the conclusion that incremental, step-by-step negotiations and adjustments to the current system of international security will be sufficient to produce a nuclear-weapon-free world.

"Their radical prescription is not based so much on utopianism or fanciful idealism, as it is on a frustrated response to 'business as usual' in the ongoing game of disarmament -- a game in which disarmament is honoured more with words than with concrete deeds."

Yet this is not at all the whole story of how disarmament has been addressed at the United Nations.

Historically, the UN disarmament machinery, which consists of the UN Disarmament Commission, the General Assembly's First Committee, and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, has served as a mechanism for establishing and maintaining multilateral norms. Its goals are quite clear, and have been for over six decades -- namely, the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical) and the limitation or regulation of conventional arms. But this is not all that has been achieved -- a mere agreement on final goals.


Duarte said, this complex and ongoing multilateral process has also generated a consensus in the world community on certain standards that should apply to disarmament agreements -- standards that governments and citizens everywhere should use in assessing such agreements, to judge whether they are real or not.

"These standards are not put forward as conditions or preconditions for disarmament to occur -- they are simply criteria that enable us all to conclude with high confidence that disarmament is actually occurring."

These five standards can easily be found in literally hundreds of General Assembly resolutions and in deliberations throughout the NPT review process, including the final documents adopted at the end of the five-year Review Conferences, explained Duarte.

The first of these standards is verification, which encompasses all the various means -- both national and international -- that enable States to confirm that other States are fully complying with their obligations.

While unilateral declarations do have their limited roles to play in the process in disarmament -- as seen in the parallel Presidential Nuclear Initiatives in 1991 involving the removal from deployment of thousands of short- range tactical nuclear weapons by the United States and the Russian Federation -- such declarations cannot suffice as a means to achieve zero, Duarte stated.

But verification is not the only standard that helps States to reassure themselves that cheating is not occurring -- transparency serves a similar purpose. Both of these are confidence builders. In fact, it is very difficult to imagine how the world will ever get to zero without comprehensive, verified data on the numbers of nuclear weapons, the quantities of fissile material, and nuclear-weapon delivery systems. Transparency enables the world to witness disarmament as it is underway, and to gauge its progress in achieving elimination.

The third standard is irreversibility -- this is yet another confidence-building measure the world community has agreed is important in future disarmament agreements, a measure deemed essential in avoiding strategic surprises, or sudden attempts to reverse disarmament commitments, said Duarte.

"Irreversibility underscores the need to erect formidable political and technical barriers to abandoning disarmament commitments, barriers that are reinforced by the other operating standards of verification and transparency. The goal here is not only to discourage reversals, but also to be able to detect them in time to discourage them or to prepare collective international responses. Ideally, the goal of irreversibility is not only to make reversals unlikely, but impossible."

As important as they are, these three standards of verification, transparency, and irreversibility are still not alone sufficient to lead to a world free of nuclear weapons, the UN's High Representative for Disarmament Affairs noted.

The fourth standard -- one of universality -- holds that nuclear disarmament is not something to be undertaken only by some countries. It is instead a solemn responsibility of all countries. This certainly is true with respect to all States Parties of the NPT, who have this explicit obligation in Article VI of the Treaty.

Yet it is also a theme in Security Council resolution 1887, which was adopted at the Council's high-level summit on September 24, 2009 last year, explained Duarte. In that resolution, the Council called upon all States -- not just those party to the NPT -- to join in pursuing negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament, as well as on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Nuclear disarmament is widely supported in the world today because it is seen as a legitimate goal -- legitimate in having been agreed upon through an open democratic process, and legitimate because of its substantive fairness in not attempting to apply a double standard, Duarte went on to say.

The last standard relates to all of the above -- namely, bindingness. Because the world will not achieve zero based solely on toasts, press releases, or speeches about lofty mountaintops, he added. Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth, so it should not be at all surprising that the world community would absolutely insist upon the strictest possible standards to establish and to maintain a nuclear-weapon free world.

Treaty commitments play an indispensable role in nailing down concrete commitments, and in giving these commitments some permanence and sustainability. This is why it is important to pursue a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of mutually-reinforcing instruments with the same goal.

Duarte said: "In this sense, the treaty ratification process is not a nuisance or an inconvenience -- it is essential in ensuring that commitments are rooted both in domestic law and in strong domestic political support. Nuclear disarmament will not be achieved over the heads of the legislatures, but in partnership with the legislatures and, indeed, the public at large." (IDN-InDepthNews/15.12.2010)

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