Security and Sustainability
a Nuclear Weapons Free World
by David Krieger*, 1998
There is a danger that the contemplation of security
and sustainability in a nuclear weapons free world will imply
to some readers that nuclear weapons have in some way provided
security and even sustainability. It is not my intention to imply
this. I believe that nuclear weapons have never at any time provided
security for their possessors, and that they make no contribution
The world that we currently live in -- a world
divided between a small number of states possessing nuclear weapons
and a large number of states that do not -- is neither secure
nor sustainable. If nuclear weapons in fact provided security,
logic would suggest that an effort be made to spread these weapons
to other states. In fact, the opposite viewpoint has prevailed.
Most states, including those currently in possession of nuclear
weapons, support policies of non-proliferation.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has been
in force since 1970, requires a trade-off from the nuclear weapons
states. In exchange for the non-nuclear weapons states agreeing
not to develop or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, the nuclear
weapons states agreed in Article VI to negotiate in good faith
to achieve nuclear disarmament. When the NPT was extended indefinitely
in 1995, the nuclear weapons states promised the determined pursuit
of "systematic and progressive efforts" to achieve nuclear
The failure of the nuclear weapons states to make
significant progress toward nuclear disarmament may result in
undermining the NPT, and in the proliferation of nuclear weapons
to additional states beyond the five declared and three undeclared
nuclear weapons states. Such proliferation would further bolster
the insecurity and unsustainability of the current international
Security has two critical dimensions: protection
from physical harm, and access to resources to meet basic needs.
It also has a third dimension, an illusory psychological dimension,
that operates at the level of belief systems. Nuclear arsenals
do not provide security from physical harm. The only security
they provide is in this psychological dimension, rooted in a belief
in the efficacy of deterrence. The threat of retaliation with
nuclear weapons is not physical protection; the protection provided
is only psychological. An opponent's fear of retaliation may or
may not prevent that opponent from launching a nuclear attack
based upon irrationality, faulty information, human error, or
mechanical or computer malfunction.
A world without nuclear weapons would be one in
which the threat of cataclysmic nuclear holocaust would be removed.
Achieving such a world will require careful planning to assure
that some states do not secretly retain nuclear weapons or clandestinely
reassemble them. As states reduce their nuclear arsenals toward
zero, an agreed upon plan will be required to assure transparency,
accurate accounting of nuclear weapons and weapons-grade materials,
effective procedures for verification of dismantlement and the
controlled and safeguarded immobilization of nuclear materials
and the production facilities to create them. The process of reducing
nuclear arsenals to zero will be challenging both technically
and politically, but it is a challenge that can be accomplished
with determination and political will.
The process of nuclear weapons abolition will demand
the creation of stronger systems of international security. Thus,
achieving abolition will, by the nature of the process, coincide
with strengthened international security arrangements. In order
to have a security system that assures maximum protection against
physical harm and access to resources to meet basic needs, it
will be necessary to go even further in system design than the
elements required to maintain security in a world without nuclear
weapons. The main components of this security system would be:
- All states would be allowed to maintain only
weapons for defence against territorial invasion, and no weapons
with offensive capabilities.
- Each state would be subject to regular and challenge
inspections by international teams to assure that it is neither
maintaining nor creating any offensive weapons systems, particularly
weapons of mass destruction.
- All states would be required to make periodic
public reports of the types and numbers of weapons in their
- An International Criminal Court would be responsible
for holding individual leaders responsible for the most serious
crimes under international law (crimes against humanity, war
crimes, genocide, and international aggression), and for violations
of the conditions specified in points 1 to 3 above.
- A United Nations Inspection Force would be created
to conduct inspections and monitor states for violations of
points 1 to 3 above.
- The United Nations Security Council would be
responsible for enforcement of points 1 to 3 above, for apprehending
serious violators of international law, and for assuring cooperation
with the United Nations Inspection Force.
- The United Nations system -- including the General
Assembly, the World Bank, the UN Development Programme and other
specialized agencies, and a UN Disaster Relief Force -- would
be charged with assuring that all peoples of all states have
access to the necessary resources to meet their basic needs.
Sustainability is the protection of the resources
required to meet basic needs for present and future generations,
and the upholding of the quality of these resources. Sustainability
requires environmental protection to ensure the quality of the
air, the water, and the earth. It is no longer possible to ensure
sustainability in any state anywhere in the world if all states
do not cooperate in protecting the Earth's resources and the common
heritage of the planet -- the atmosphere, the oceans and the land.
Clean air and water and unpolluted topsoil to grow healthy crops
must be maintained if we are to have a sustainable future.
Over 1000 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere
and a roughly equal number of underground tests have already made
a heavy assault upon the environment, as have thousands of tons
of nuclear wastes, large quantities of which have already leaked
into the earth, air and water. Sustainability will require not
only a nuclear weapons free future, but a future in which nuclear
wastes are also not generated by civilian nuclear reactors. Present
and future generations are already burdened with enormous problems
from the nuclear wastes created by both military and civilian
nuclear reactors. Some of this waste will be a threat to life
for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years.
It is unfair to burden future generations with
still more dangerous radioactive wastes. What has been produced
to date has been the product of ignorance, arrogance, and blind
faith, sadly, by some of the best minds of our time. Sustainability
requires having an answer to the problem of dangerous wastes before
they are produced rather than burdening future generations with
Beginning the Process
A world that is divided between nuclear "haves"
and "have nots" is neither secure nor sustainable. Nuclear
weapons pose a threat to humanity and to all forms of life. If
they continue to be relied upon, at some point in the future they
will again be used. It is a strong lesson of history that weapons
once created will be used -- as indeed nuclear weapons have already
been used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The challenge of the highest magnitude before humanity
today is to ban forever these weapons which constitute such a
serious threat to humanity's future. The opportunity is before
us with the Cold War ended. The nuclear weapons states have promised
to negotiate in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament. The
International Court of Justice has stated its opinion that the
nuclear weapons states are obligated to complete negotiations
leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. In fulfilling
this mandate, these states must consider the issues of security
and sustainability in a nuclear weapons free world.
A secure and sustainable world order without nuclear
weapons is achievable. It cannot occur, however, so long as the
nuclear weapons states are wedded to their nuclear arsenals. The
first step in breaking their addiction is to begin negotiations
in good faith to achieve their elimination. If they are to complete
the journey, they must first begin and thus far serious negotiations
to eliminate nuclear arsenals have not begun.
An international consortium of lawyers, scientists
and disarmament experts led by the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear
Policy (LCNP) with technical assistance from the International
Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation (INESAP)
has prepared a draft Nuclear Weapons Convention that has been
introduced by Costa Rica to the United Nations General Assembly.
This Convention -- which draws upon previous international treaties
including the Chemical Weapons Convention -- provides indicators
of the issues that the nuclear weapons states will have to resolve
to achieve a treaty they can support. It provides a good starting
point for the nuclear weapons states to begin the process of negotiations
for abolishing their nuclear arsenals.
What is missing now is the political will to begin
the process. Many actions of the nuclear weapons states suggest
that they are more interested in "systematic and progressive
efforts" to impede rather than achieve nuclear disarmament.
There is only one way that this can change, and that is by the
people making their voices heard. When the people of the world
understand the extent to which their security and a sustainable
future for their children and grandchildren is threatened by the
continued reliance of the governments of the nuclear weapons states
upon nuclear arsenals, they will demand that the promises of nuclear
disarmament be kept. It is our job to bring about that understanding.
* David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.