NPT News in Review, Vol. 14, No. 2

Editorial: Myths, illusions, and double standards
4 May 2017

Ray Acheson

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On Wednesday morning, the second day of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), the United States test-launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The day before, in his opening remarks to the PrepCom, US Ambassador Robert Wood stated, “Today, our world faces no greater security challenge than that posed by North Korea,” citing that country’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programme. Ambassador Wood asserted, “The DPRK, for its own sake, must abandon its nuclear and missile programs if it wants to achieve the security, economic development, and international recognition that it seeks.”

This is true. But it is equally true of the United States, and every other country that possesses nuclear weapons, tests ballistic missiles, or purports to derive security benefits from these genocidal, suicidal weapons. “Talk today of a threat from North Korea pales in comparison to the threat posed to the U.S. by its own nuclear weapons programs and their hair-raising record of serious accidents and safety violations,” argued retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore in a recent article. “The U.S. has been very fortunate not to have nuked itself with multiple hydrogen bombs over the last 70 years.”

The risks from the possession of nuclear weapons are extreme and insurmountable, regardless of which government happens to be in control of them at any particular time. Yet at the NPT PrepCom, as elsewhere, focus tends to be disproportionately placed on actors described as “irrational” or “irresponsible” whilst those states with the largest arsenals escape critique.

“Conducting a test-launch of a missile whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere around the world is a glaring example of bad faith and violates the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” warned Rick Wayman of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ahead of the US missile test. “It’s exactly this kind of double standard that undermines US credibility when insisting that other nations not develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

Unfortunately, double standards are rife within the NPT context, and are on full display at this PrepCom. There is also an almost impressive amount of “spin” to frame incredibly immoral and completely illogical assertions as “realistic” and “practical”.

For example, the nuclear-armed or nuclear-supportive states call on others to “create the conditions” for the international security environment to be conducive to disarmament. Yet these same states are currently investing billions of dollars into the expansion, development, or “modernisation” of nuclear weapon systems, extending the lives of these systems into the second half of this century and in many cases “upgrading” their capabilities.

These same states routinely assert that nuclear weapons provide stability and security. This myth has been categorically refuted by the series of conferences held to examine the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The lived experience of those who have suffered from the use, testing, and development of nuclear weapons stands in stark opposition to an image of these horrific weapons as instruments of safety or security for anyone. Moreover, “The world order has not become safer, nor more predictable thanks to nuclear weapons; quite the contrary,” warned Brazil’s Ambassador Biato. “Reliance on nuclear arms for national or regional security, and the belief that they are a means to superpower status are the greatest drivers of proliferation,” and their use will “vaporize illusions of peace and security built on nuclear deterrence.”

States that believe in the magic ability of nuclear weapons to uphold security and stability seem to also believe that the “international security context” is an entity unto itself, rather than something that is shaped by the actions of human beings that decide their government’s policies and behaviour. Belgium, for example—which hosts US nuclear weapons on its soil—asserted that the international security context sets out the parameters for what is achievable and what is not. But the vast majority of states and civil society understand that nuclear disarmament, as a commitment and a practice, would serve to improve the international security context.

This is why the majority of states are supporting the negotiation of a multilateral instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of creating stronger legal, political, economic, and social conditions for nuclear disarmament.

But the nuclear-armed states insist that this treaty undermines international security, and the NPT. So far this week, Russia has expressed concern about “radicalisation” of approaches to disarmament while the UK delegation has argued the ban will not “bring us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” The only thing really preventing a world without nuclear weapons, however, are the actions of the nuclear-armed states, which have not fulfilled their obligations under article VI and customary international law to disarm and that are investing in modernisation. It is it is the continued possession of nuclear weapons and flagrant disregard for agreed commitments to disarm that endangers the NPT—and our survival.

Some states believe the nuclear ban negotiations are insignificant because some countries have chosen to boycott them. Australia, which assists with targeting US nuclear weapons at the Pine Gap base, argued the only “realistic” path to nuclear disarmament is to be “inclusive” and not engage in “divisive” processes. France likewise spoke against initiatives “dividing” the international community. Of course, one could argue that states holding onto nuclear weapons are the ones being divisive and exclusive, not the 130 governments negotiating a multilateral treaty in good faith at the most inclusive intergovernmental forum in the world. It is the nuclear-armed states that are dividing the international community: into those that can commit instantaneous genocide and planetary extinction, and those that cannot.

As the Philippines said, “the only way to ensure the prevention of a nuclear holocaust is to take away the nuclear option from the hands of men who are so fallible.” When considering what they want to accomplish at this NPT PrepCom, or in the broader review cycle, or in the world at large to make it more safe and secure, states need to ask themselves what will really bring us closer to the elimination of nuclear weapons?

Despite all the spin doctoring going on at this meeting, there is only one logical, realistic answer.

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