2 May 2008, No. 4

Reductions or redux?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

Download full PDF here

On 30 April, the PrepCom heard the last of the general statements and moved onto cluster one issues, which are primarily related to nuclear disarmament and to the non-acquisition and transfer of nuclear weapons. Many states focused on the concept of security, with the representatives of Libya, Kuwait, and South Africa arguing that nuclear weapons foster insecurity and fuel conflict rather than increase stability. Switzerland’s Amb. Streuli said that the possession of nuclear weapons also incites proliferation, arguing that it is an an illusion “to believe that by their delays in honouring their commitment to nuclear disarmament, the Nuclear-Weapon States can expect the appeal of nuclear weapons for other states to diminish.”

Quick to point out their disarmament measures, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States spoke about their reductions and holdings, and the UK also mentioned the work that its Atomic Weapons Establishment has undertaken on verification of disarmament.

However, the disarmament measures listed by the delegates did not paint the whole picture. As explained in the NGO presentations on Tuesday, France has reached the deployment stage of a major new effort to renew both its sea- and air-based nuclear capability. Russia is developing more capable road-mobile ICBMs and recently launched the first of its new class of SSBNs. In 2007, the UK parliament endorsed the government’s plans to modernize and extend the service life of its Trident system to 2042. The US has continued life extension programs to modernize its existing stockpile and, in some cases, improve their military capabilities. China, which is the only nuclear weapon state currently qualitatively and quantitatively improving is arsenal, did not report on its actions or holdings.

Yet Dr. Chris Ford of the United States remarked, “We have, in fact, done more than merely ‘pursue negotiations’ on disarmament, the expression used in Article VI. The United States has taken effective measures toward nuclear disarmament, and we continue to do so.” While recognizing and welcoming that the US and other nuclear weapon states have reduced their nuclear arsenals, reductions do not actually indicate they have taken effective measures toward nuclear disarmament.

In this context, the Canadian delegation emphasized, “Measuring disarmament merely in terms of the overall number of weapons eliminated has its limitations.” Andrew Lichterman and Jacqueline Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation argued in 2004, “There is no way to reconcile this resurgence of nuclear weapons development with disarmament.... The approach taken by the United States towards its own disarmament obligations ... expects us to accept the possession and constant modernization of thousands of nuclear weapons for many decades to come as meaningful progress towards disarmament.”

The reductions of the nuclear weapon states’ arsenals come with a price not listed in the NPT. The US statement went on to emphasize that some of the necessary conditions for achieving the goals of Article VI include developing “responsive production infrastructure”—the ability to build new types of weapons “on demand”—and to improve its non-nuclear forces. The non-nuclear weapon states would not have signed a treaty that said the nuclear weapon states can improve, modernize, and extend the lifetime of their nuclear weapons as long as they reduce their numbers. Nor would they have signed if it had said that in exchange for reductions in warhead numbers, the nuclear weapon states could develop their conventional forces to excessive levels, in addition to prompt global strike, anti-missile, and space weapon technologies.

This statement by the United States highlights the importance of both transparency and education. Transparency, through the reporting on holdings, acquitions, and plans as called for by the New Agenda Coalition, Canada, and Brazil, would help ensure that information is available on a regular and accessible basis to both governments and citizens. Education would create the opportunity for people to develop critical thinking skills necessary to decipher and analyze this information, along with the deluge of media misinformation and government propaganda.

The written version of the US statement also emphasized their efforts to “sketch the conditions that would have to exist in order for nuclear weapons abolition to become a realistic and attractive policy choice for real-world decision-makers among the Nuclear Weapons States.” In the Swiss statement on cluster one, Ambassador Streuli countered this view, stressing “it is becoming increasingly difficult to accept the argumentation of Nuclear-Weapon States which invoke the negative development of security conditions to justify their slowness in the matter of nuclear disarmament, while almost all Non-Nuclear Weapon States are experiencing the same conditions but nevertheless honour their pledge not acquire nuclear weapons.” In 1996, the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons emphasized, “Progress towards a nuclear weapon free world should not be made contingent upon other changes in the international security environment. Successful nuclear weapon negotiations will benefit other security related negotiations and progress in regional and other political and security related negotiations will enhance the prospect of building a nuclear weapon free world.”

As an alternative approach to the question of “creating the proper security environment for disarmament,” Japan’s Ambassador Tarui emphasized the importance of disarmament and non-proliferation education as a tool to working toward creating the conditions for a nuclear weapon free world. In a statement on behalf of twenty countries, he cited the UN Secretary-General’s 2002 report on disarmament and non-proliferation education, which emphasized that in order to change concepts of security and threats, new thinking from governments and citizens alike is necessary. New and critical thinking is essential to move from a concept of state security to human security and from believing that nuclear weapons guarantee security to realizing they undermine it.

[PDF] ()