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Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers

Вестник аналитики, forthcoming

The December 2009 report of the Australia-Japan sponsored International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (www.icnnd.org ) is not just another list of dreams, describing the world as we would like it to be without taking account of the less happy reality of the world as it is. It seeks to add real value to the international debate in four very clear ways.

First, by its timeliness, meeting the need right now not for another polemic against a tide of indifference, but for a detailed account of how to ride the wave set flowing, with uncertain strength but at least in the direction, by the newly elected President Obama meeting a receptive President Medvedev.

Second, by the globally representative character of its highly expert and experienced commissioners (including Bill Perry from the US and Alexei Arbatov from Russia) and their advisers, and the intensive world-wide consultative process that accompanied its production.

Third, by its comprehensiveness, systematically addressing all three relevant pillars - disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy - and the interconnections between them, in a way not really accomplished by any previous report. Although most public debate has necessarily focused on the first two, much is said about the necessity for any surge of peaceful nuclear energy activity to be accompanied by the serious embrace of proliferation-resistant technology and serious attempts to mulilateralise the most sensitive stages of the fuel cycle, whether though supply guarantees, fuel banks or other multilateral management arrangements.

And fourth, above all, by its intensely pragmatic realism, directly confronting the nature and extent of the obstacles confronting the non-proliferation and, especially, disarmament agendas, and showing how they might be overcome - but at the same time explicitly acknowledging that the final stage, moving from low numbers to “global zero”, will be very difficult indeed, and defies confident prescription of specific target dates.

The two basic themes running through the report are familiar enough in outline, but here very comprehensively argued. First, the risks defy complacency - associated as they are with the retention of the existing global stockpile of 23,000 nuclear weapons, the prospect of new nuclear-armed states proliferating, the existence of non-state terrorist actors with the clear intention and non-negligible capability of triggering a full scale nuclear explosion in a major population centre, and of a civil nuclear energy “renaissance” generating the kind of new uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities that have been described without undue exaggeration as “bomb starter kits”. It is sheer dumb luck, not good management, political leadership or anything inherently stable about the present international system, that there has not been a nuclear exchange, or nuclear explosion in any of the world’s major cities.

A second theme is the absolutely inextricable connection between disarmament and non-proliferation. In the compelling words originally articulated by the 1996 Canberra Commission, so long as some states have nuclear weapons, others will want them; so long as any weapons remain, they are bound one day to be used - by accident or miscalculation if not design; and any such use would be catastrophic for life on this planet as we know it. Whatever contribution nuclear weapons may have made to avoiding armed conflict between two giant superpowers in the 20th century, in the world of the 21st century the risks associated with their possession outweigh any conceivable benefits.

Serious and sustained movement toward disarmament by the present nuclear armed states is critical. This is not because their force of example would dissuade would-be proliferators - to assert that would be naïve in the extreme. Rather it is that without an assault on double standards, with an end to nuclear apartheid visibly in sight, it will be impossible to generate the consensus or majority decisions that will be necessary in international forums like the UN Security Council, the IAEA Board of Governors, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference or anywhere else that necessary for the line to be held against proliferation and in favour of nuclear security.

The report makes many specific recommendations - 76 in all - across all relevant policy areas, but it does not throw them out as an undifferentiated and unprioritised ad hoc laundry list of a kind that is all too often urged upon policymakers, with predictable consequences. Rather, it shapes them into a series of achievable action agendas for the short term (to 2012), medium term (to 2025) and long term (beyond 2025) respectively, making clear who should be doing what, when and how, and in what order.

The short term - the next three years - will be crucial if the rhetorical momentum generated by President Obama is to be sustained in practice. It requires a significant measure of achievement in each of three broad areas. First, the crucial building blocks for both non-proliferation and disarmament, viz. bringing into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiating the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (banning the further production of weapons grade uranium and plutonium), and effectively implementing the many measures already needed to ensure the physical security of nuclear weapons and material world wide - and at the moment only the achievement of the last of these objectives seems at all assured.

A second short-term objective must be to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, by giving teeth to the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s verification and enforcement provisions and staffing and budgetary support to the IAEA, as well as finding ways to encourage the three big elephants outside the treaty - India, Pakistan and Israel - to accept comparable disciplines. Also critical here, of course, will be effective containment, and hopefully complete resolution, of the North Korean and even more potentially dangerous Iranian breakout, or potential breakout, problems.

The third short-term objective must be to visibly move forward the disarmament agenda, not only by the nuclear-weapons states agreeing to a significant series of explicit commitments in this respect - at least as robust, and hopefully more so, than those they agree to in 2000 - but also to some visible progress on the ground. The US-Russia START follow-on treaty will not only have to be quickly bedded down, but substantive new negotiations started to take nuclear arms reductions a quantum further leap forward. No-one doubts the difficulties issues like perceived conventional imbalance, ballistic missile defence and the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons will present, but they will simply have to be overcome if momentum is to be sustained. A beginning will have to be made on a multilateral disarmament process, involving the other nuclear armed states, with at the very least strategic dialogues and better confidence building measures being put in place.

And, very importantly in the context of disarmament, something will need to be done sooner rather than later about most nuclear-armed states’ nuclear doctrine, which generally (China and India are exceptions, at least in stated theory) keeps open the option of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threat contingencies. Recently restated Russian military doctrine makes no useful contribution to the goal of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in states’ national security strategies. Policy leadership will need as a result to come from the U.S., and all eyes in this respect are on the Nuclear Posture Review to be released in March. Hopefully in this context the significance will be appreciated of Japan moving in recent weeks to indicate, through statements of both Foreign Minister Okada and Prime Minister Hatoyama that they could, in effect, live with the US moving to the declaratory position that it regarded the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, so long as they exist, to be the deterrence of nuclear attacks against itself or its allies.

In the medium term, to 2025, the objective - in the Commission’s view certainly difficult, but achievable - should be to make huge strides toward disarmament, by reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons to less than 10 per cent of the present total (implying in turn Russia reducing from 13,000 to no more than 500, the U.S. from 9,000 to 500, and the other nuclear-armed states not increasing their arsenals), and accompanying that with universal ‘no first use’ pledges, which would in turn be made credible by force deployment and launch arrangements which clearly minimized the role of nuclear weapons and made difficult their immediate use.

The longer term objective, beyond 2025, must be to as soon as possible achieve the final, crucial, step of elimination. The ICNND could have chosen, as others have, a target date for getting to global zero, but we felt that it was just not credible to do so, given the quantum leap involved in sufficiently improving the geopolitical environment, both globally and regionally, to ensure that no-one will ever feel the need to rely on nuclear weapons; the psychological environment that presently makes it impossible for some national rulers to even think about change; and in creating verification and enforcement conditions so strict that no-one in a nuclear-weapon free world could seriously contemplate a breakout. This approach has disappointed many civil society activists, but it has also done much to persuade decision-makers in all but the most determinedly resistant states that the Commission’s recommendations - most of which squarely relate to what must be done here and now, rather than in twenty or thirty years time - are to be taken seriously.

Mobilising and sustaining the political will necessary to move us - fast - toward a nuclear weapon free world will, as always, be among the most difficult of all tasks. What is required is a combination of top-down leadership from the major nuclear players, preeminently Russia and the U.S., peer level commitment and pressure from like minded members of the wider international community (as seen in the past, for example, from the Seven Nations Initiative and New Agenda Coalition) and bottom-up pressure from civil society mobilized effectively enough to make governments feel accountable and responsive.

No-one doubts that the task will be very difficult, but it is crucial that the effort be made. The fate of our planet hangs upon it, as it does with an effective international response to the equally difficult global issue of climate change. Perhaps even more so: nuclear weapons are capable of killing us all a lot faster than CO2.

Gareth Evans, Co-Chair, International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.