Warhead Elimination: A Roadmap


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

Viewpoint by FREDERICK N. MATTIS**

ANNAPOLIS, USA (IDN) - A nuclear ban (abolition) treaty, often called a Nuclear Weapons Convention, will need to include a timetable for phased reductions of warheads until a final day when states simultaneously reach zero. The following is a plan for warhead elimination, with the aim of acceptability to today's nuclear weapon states – and framed on the reality that the USA and Russia have far more nuclear warheads than the other possessors (Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea).

Duration of the nuclear ban warhead elimination period is proposed to be either three or four years, depending on the higher number of either Russian or U.S. nuclear warheads remaining when the worldwide, unanimously joined nuclear ban treaty enters into force. If that quantity is less than 5,000, the elimination period would be 3 years, and 4 years if over 5,000. (The USA, reportedly, is approximately at 5,000 already.)

"Warheads" in this discussion includes strategic and sub-strategic or "tactical," deployed and those in reserve, and those already slated for dismantling. Assuming for illustration that Russia has 4,500 total warheads and the USA 4,000 when a nuclear ban enters into force, meaning a three-year elimination period (because neither has more than 5,000), Russia would have to decrease to the USA level of 4,000 before the USA begins reducing – or vice versa if quantities were reversed.

From the date Russia (in this example) has decreased to the USA level and the USA then joins with Russia in parallel further reductions, the other nuclear weapon states commence a 90-day period of dismantling 25 percent of their warheads; but thereafter the latter states can "wait" until Russia and the USA, reducing in tandem and following the elimination timetable, reduce to the other states' varying [25 percent-reduced] levels, at which successive points those states join the USA and Russia in the final phases, on a month-by-month and then week-by-week basis, of the progress to zero.

It may be noted – and objected – that in anticipation of the 25 percent required decrease, pertinent states could counteract this by increasing their arsenals, i.e., before (impending) nuclear ban entry into force. However, even if some states did so, which would be liable to world criticism with a nuclear ban on the immediate horizon, under the enacted ban such a state must promptly and transparently eliminate 25 percent of its arsenal – which in any case would be much smaller than those of Russia and the USA. It would not be fair, though, to the USA and Russia to instead exempt, until U.S./Russian warhead levels are all the way down to those of the other nuclear weapon states, the latter states from the transparency, cooperation, and good-faith demonstrations attendant upon prompt (90-day) and internationally-monitored dismantling of a significant percentage (such as 25) of a state’s nuclear arsenal.

Russia and the USA, for their part, would be dismantling from their starting points many more warheads than the other nuclear weapon states; but due to arsenal size the USA and Russia would still, as today, be possessors of a large (though diminishing) majority of the world's nuclear weapons through most of the weapons elimination period. Nearing the end, however, such as final six or nine months, the USA and Russia together would reach the varying levels of the other nuclear weapons states, and as noted be (re)joined by them in further reductions as the elimination timetable fixes ever-lower permissible ceilings on warhead possession.

To summarize: proposed duration of the weapons elimination period is 3 or 4 years, depending on whether the USA or Russia has over 5,000 total warheads (including inactive and those already slated for dismantling). Of the two countries, the greater-possessor undertakes reductions in accordance with the 3-4 year nuclear ban timetable, and is joined by the other when initial reductions by the former bring the two countries even. From that day also, the other nuclear weapon states must within 90 days eliminate 25 percent of their warheads. Thereafter, though, those states are not required to reduce further until Russia and the USA, following the treaty's timetable, reduce to the other states' varying but much lower levels, whereupon the latter states join the final phases of warhead elimination – on month-by-month and then week-by-week basis – leading to day of total elimination.

The above schema would please the USA and Russia, on the one hand, because of the 25 percent, transparent warhead reduction over just 90 days by the other nuclear weapon states (whose arsenals in any case are much smaller than U.S.-Russian). On the other hand, it would please the other (currently seven) nuclear weapon states because ultimately, over the final and thus most-important six or nine months of weapons elimination, the USA and Russia would reduce to the other states’ varying lower levels before the latter states must rejoin the warhead elimination process in final reductions to zero.

"Mass-De-Alerted" Warheads During Elimination Period?

On a critical issue of warhead elimination, it is here recommended that today's nuclear weapon states not be prohibited by the treaty from maintaining their remaining, diminishing warheads as "active" during the elimination period – with the alternative being to require their overall, mass inactivation or extreme de-alerting at some early or middle phase of the elimination period (here posited as 3-4 years). The reason is because today’s nuclear weapon states probably would prefer, and may insist upon, having a "ready arsenal" (although shrinking) as a hedge against a conceived nuclear ban "break-out" – until all weapons are eliminated and the nuclear weapons-free world is a reality, underlain by the unprecedented geopolitical and other force of a unanimously joined treaty that regards states equally and relieves all of today's nuclear threats. (With that said, countries such as the USA and Russia or others could certainly choose to negotiate and establish de-alerting measures beyond present ones – but outside of nuclear ban auspices.)

Report on Warhead Movement?

After nuclear ban baseline accountancy and recordation of nuclear warheads, conducted by the nuclear ban Technical Secretariat (inspectorate), states also – on the viewpoint here – would not be required to maintain remaining [diminishing] warheads in the "same place(s)," nor to report movement of warheads – until each state's necessary consolidation of its final several or so warheads in the final few days or day of weapons elimination. Why? Because a state with a relatively small nuclear arsenal, if instead required by treaty to keep its weapons in a "declared" location or locations during the period of warhead elimination, could be afraid of being an easy target for liquidation of its (small) nuclear arsenal by another state's military resources.

Of course, all dismantling of warheads under the nuclear ban timetable would be conducted under full monitoring of the nuclear ban regime, resulting in ongoing and public accountancy of exact quantities and respective owners of the world’s shrinking number of nuclear warheads. To emphasize, though: as incentive for today's nuclear weapon states to actually join the nuclear ban, it is here recommended as not having a requirement for states to reveal location(s) of still-extant warheads during the progress to zero of the warhead elimination period.

Deterrents to Treaty Violation

What, then, would prevent a state from attempting to hide some warheads and not initially declare and then eliminate them as required by treaty elimination timetable – or, for that matter, to attempt secret development of nuclear weapons after their worldwide elimination under a fully enacted nuclear ban treaty?

Response: the unprecedented geopolitical, legal, psychological, and moral force of unanimous accession by states to the treaty (Nuclear Weapons Convention) before it takes effect; the absence of assured or easy success in cheating due to the worldwide verification regime, plus presumable workings of "societal verification" with a worldwide treaty; the treaty's equal applicability and thus fairness to states (removing any putative, psychological "justification" for treaty violation); the treaty's main benefit to states (removal of current nuclear weapons-related threats, including possible terrorist acquisition from a state’s arsenal); and the certitude of worldwide opposition to a pernicious violator of the worldwide treaty.

*Frederick N. Mattis is author of “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction,” pub. ABC-CLIO/Praeger Security International [ISBN: 978-0-313-36538-6]. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 09, 2012]

The writer's previous articles:

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Frederick N. Mattis

Send your comment

Contents of the book “Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction”:
Ch. 1. The Landscape of Nuclear Weapons
Ch. 2. Partial Measures—De-Alerting and No First Use
Ch. 3. Nuclear Ban Entry into Force
Ch. 4. Should Withdrawal Be Permitted?
Ch. 5. Verification, Disposition of HEU, and Reprocessing
Ch. 6. Problematic States
Ch. 7. Weapons Elimination
Ch. 8. Superseding Today’s Non-Proliferation Treaty
Ch. 9. Prior Prohibition of Chemical and Biological Weapons
Ch. 10. “Reservations”
Ch. 11. Countering Near-Earth Objects
Ch. 12. Societal Verification
Ch. 13. Other Matters
Ch. 14. Summary
Appendix A: Analysis of the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention
Appendices B, C, D: NPT, BWC, U.S.-North Korea “Joint Statement of Principles”
Appendix E: Response to U.S. Rationale for Nuclear Weapons

Comments on the book:
"Frederick N. Mattis's book deals with a complex and deadly subject. It does so with clarity, great intelligence, and the appropriate sense of urgency. I hope it is widely read." - Ambassador Richard Butler, former Chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq

"Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction" deserves a wide audience. It goes much further than anything I have seen in working through how a ban could be implemented, and I especially liked the integration of the biological and chemical weapons bans [BWC/CWC} into the argument and the process." - Robert S. Norris, author, "Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man"