With Base Camps To The Mountain-Top


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS
VOICES of the South on Globalization

A world without nuclear weapons is no longer viewed as a perception belonging to the realm of dreamers or even madcaps. It is very much a realistic possibility provided those in possession of nuclear weapons and fissionable materials soon decide to negotiate a series of multilateral and unilateral measures.

This was the upshot of an international conference April 16-17 in Rome that was joined by the who's who of the disarmament world. The consensus, despite diverse views expressed by more than 70 former and current government officials and experts from over 20 countries from six continents, was that the nuclear weapon states must deeply reduce their stockpiles.

"Full compliance with disarmament and non proliferation treaties, first and foremost the NPT, is an essential condition of real progress towards the achievement of our stated goals," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy that co-sponsored the conference said summing up the results.

The announcement made in London on April 1 by the Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev and the U.S. President Barrack Obama on their willingness to replace START with a new Treaty was of crucial relevance, he said. "It will give new impetus to disarmament and arms control and certainly strengthen our common effort for a successful outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Other nuclear powers should follow the lead of the U.S. and Russia," Frattini said giving a gist of the consensus reached.

Since Russia and the United States possess about 95 percent of the nuclear weapons of the world, the London statement – "We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world" – all seems set to pave the road to a nuclear weapons free world. But the fact is that the road is littered with multiple obstacles, warned former Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the now defunct Soviet Union between 1985 and 1991 who signed the START together with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Gorbachev, who presides over the World Political Forum (WPF), urged the U.S. and Russia work towards removing the hurdles. "Unless we address the need to demilitarize international relations, reduce military budgets, put an end to the creation of new kinds of weapons and prevent weaponization of outer space, all talk about a nuclear weapon free world will be just inconsequential rhetoric," Gorbachev told the 'Conference on Overcoming Nuclear Dangers'.

WPF serves as a meeting point for cultures, religions, olitical leaders and civil society – an open forum where analysis of the issue of interdependence provides a framework for the building of a New World Political Architecture.

The conference was organised by the WPF, an international NGO founded in Piedmont (Italy) by Gorbachev, in cooperation with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). Co-chaired by philanthropist and CNN founder Ted Turner and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, NTI is governed by an expert and influential board of directors with members from the United States, Russia, Japan, India, Pakistan, China, Jordan, Sweden, France and Britain. In view of the complexity of issues involved on way to nuclear abolition, the idea of a "base camps" leading up to the nuclear-free mountaintop was mooted.

Such base camps and supportive measures in other areas of arms control and security cooperation can help usher in a world free of nuclear weapons, said a joint statement by Gorbachev, Schultz, and Italian Foreign Minister Frattini.

The statement emerging from the conference says, there is a growing recognition - both inside and outside of governments - of the need to embrace the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and the urgent steps necessary to overcome the nuclear dangers.

"The current shift towards nuclear abolition in the international political arena, where such a vision has so far been seen as unrealistic, provides a vital opportunity, Hirotsugu Terasaki, executive director of peace affairs of the Tokyo-based Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International (SGI) said. Collaborating with international antinuclear movements such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) initiated by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the organisation launched the People’s Decade in September 2007. "The aim of the People’s Decade is to increase the number of people who reject nuclear weapons. Ordinary citizens and civil society must be the protagonists," Terasaki said.

SGI was one of just three civil society organisations that took part in the Rome conference; the other two being the 'Italian Peace Roundtable' - the network which unites more than 1500 civil society organisations and Local Authorities - and the 'Global Security Institute' (GSI). "We have a situation where chemical weapons and biological weapons are condemned universally but nuclear weapons, which are even more horrific than biological or chemical, are allegedly acceptable in the hands of nine countries (Britain, France, Russia, China, Canada and the United States as well as India, Pakistan and North Korea). This is incoherent and unsustainable," the U.S.-based GSI's President Jonathan Granoff said in a brief interview. "The only solution is to either allow all countries to use these terrific devices – clearly unacceptable – or to universally ban them," he said.

Welcoming the idea of setting up "base camps" and charting out from their the course of reaching the summit (a nuclear free world), India's former foreign secretary (top official of the external affairs ministry) and disarmament expert Lalit Mansingh said in an interview: "The idea emphasises the complexity and difficulty of achieving the task of zero nukes, that is, a total elimination of nuclear weapons." – Ramesh Jaura