12 May 2010, No. 8
Filling the "fact gap": reductions vs eliminations, rethoric vs reality
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will
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As Main Committee I concluded its general debate and started reviewing the implementation of articles I, II, and VI on Tuesday, the frustration of many non-nuclear weapon states with what they see as a lack of real progress became clear.
In terms of articles I and II, several delegations have expressed concern over the last two weeks with the continued practice of nuclear sharing between the US and select NATO countries. In terms of article VI, while the majority of states welcomed the conclusion of new START, many delegations also expressed concern that the US and Russia have been characterizing this treaty—which has not yet been ratified by either country—as a concrete demonstration of compliance with article VI. Similarly, the French delegation routinely points to its arsenal reductions as compliance with article VI and on Tuesday explained that it has implemented all of the 13 practical steps that apply to it.
Both the South African and Irish delegations pointed out that arsenal reductions do not automatically translate to a commitment to nuclear disarmament. South Africa's ambassador noted that reductions could be undertaken for a variety of reasons, such as strategic stability, financial constraints, or safety issues. The Irish delegation said that reductions alone do not tell the whole story and that one can only judge a state’s true intentions by surveying the full range of its actions and pronouncements. In this regard, he noted that French President Sarkozy’s remarks at the UN Security Council summit in September 2009 were not very comforting in terms of demonstrating France’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.
Civil society has voiced these concerns repeatedly. Several NGO representatives have undertaken to compare the reality of the actions and policies of nuclear weapon states with their rhetoric. For example, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has noted that while new START “reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads. Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty.”1 Both Ivan Oelrich of FAS and Greg Mello of the Los Almos Study Group have described new START as a “force protection” treaty rather than a disarmament treaty.2
Similarly, they, along with John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, have criticized the new US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) for also maintaining the status quo rather than moving toward nuclear disarmament. Dr. Burroughs noted that while the NPR contends that reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons will demonstrate that the US is meeting its NPT article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament, the NPR actually conveys the opposite intention, “projecting reliance on nuclear forces as central instruments of national security strategy for decades to come.”3
Many delegations have welcomed the new NPR for its “improved” negative security assurances and for its statement that it will not develop new nuclear warheads. However, in an article in NPT News in Review No.5, Zia Mian of Princeton University pointed out that the security assurance offered in the NPR actually raises some important questions, such as what specific obligations will a non-nuclear weapon state have to comply with to receive this assurance; who decides whether a NNWS is in compliance; and what will the response be?
Furthermore, Oelrich notes that while under the NPR, warheads will be “refurbished” rather than “modernized,” some nuclear components could be replaced with new components. Oelrich argues that this would be a “new” warhead by his definition but not by the NPR’s.4 And in fact, on 5 May, the US National Nuclear Security Administration sent a mid-year funding “reprogramming” request to four congressional committees asking permission to modify the nuclear explosive package within B61 nuclear bombs. Mello argues: that this “upgrade” will cost billions of dollars and would require either a new facility or a surge of production at an aging, unsafe facility; that the result “may not be reliable, and it’s possible it will not be certifiable”; and that it would constitute building a new bomb, even if it builds around some of the old parts.5
On Tuesday, the Norwegian delegation argued that the process to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons would imply that nuclear weapon states should refrain from developing new nuclear weapons. Ambassador Kongstad reminded delegates that “a world without nuclear weapons cannot continue to be just a vision. It is an objective which we, states parties to the NPT, are committed to achieve.”
The majority of delegations at this RevCon have called on nuclear weapon states to seriously reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies, noting that doctrines that continue to include nuclear weapons only serve to promote them as the ultimate guarantor of state security, power, and prestige, preventing both non-proliferation and disarmament. Arguing that nuclear weapons are irrelevant and counterproductive to security, both the Swiss and Norwegian delegations have now called for an examination of how nuclear weapons relate to international humanitarian law as a way to delegitimize their existence. As Zia Mian has argued, the strategies and policies for the development, deployment, and use of nuclear weapons are not contained within them: “Nuclear weapons are given meaning and purpose by the politics of nuclear weapon states.”6 is past time to undermine that meaning with the truth about the illegality, immorality, and uselessness of nuclear weapons and about the policies and practices of the states that wield them.
1. Hans Kristensen, “New START Has New Counting,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 29 March 2010.
2. Ivan Oelrich, “Hardly a Jump START,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 29 March 2010, .
3. John Burroughs, “Response of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy to the Nuclear Posture Review Report,” 14 April 2010.
4. Ivan Oelrich, “What’s Wrong with the Nuclear Posture Review,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 11 April 2010.
5. Greg Mello, Press Release, “Obama Administration Requests Funding to Upgrade Several Types of Nuclear Bombs,” 7 May 2010.
6. Zia Mian, Conclusion, NGO Presentation to the Third Preparatory Committee to the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, 5 May 2009.