This speech was delivered by David Krieger to the 4th Nagasaki Global Citizens’ Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

A Nuclear Weapons Convention is a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.  Such a treaty does not yet exist, except in the form of a model treaty developed by non-governmental organizations and introduced by Costa Rica and Malaysia to the United Nations General Assembly.  The model treaty shows that a Nuclear Weapons Convention is possible from a technical perspective.  What it does not demonstrate is its feasibility from a political perspective.  

If the goal is a world free of nuclear weapons, then a Nuclear Weapons Convention is the best vehicle for achieving this goal.  When speaking about a Nuclear Weapons Convention, I generally add “a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.”  Let’s discuss those qualifiers.

Many leaders express concern about nuclear disarmament occurring too rapidly, without sufficient preparation, and thus being potentially dangerous and destabilizing.  Of course, that concern must be compared to the considerable dangers of current nuclear weapons policies, including proliferation, terrorism, and inadvertent or intentional use.  However, to avoid destabilization in the process of nuclear disarmament, the proposal is for phased elimination of nuclear weapons, which would allow for confidence building in each phase.  As certain steps were accomplished in each phase, confidence in the system would be strengthened.  For example, reductions in numbers of weapons can be set out for the various phases.  Safeguards can be strengthened in phases, and so forth.  There are many ways in which the phases can be designed, related to the number of phases, their length, and what is to be accomplished in each phase.

A principal concern related to nuclear weapons abolition is cheating.  Thus, any disarmament system must be subject to verification.  Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.”  There need to be systems of inspection and verification so that there is confidence that cheating is not occurring.  Individual states should not be allowed to control the methods of inspection and verification on their territories.  Verification must not have limiting factors.  It must allow for full inspections.  Countries must be prepared to open their facilities to challenge inspections at any time and in any place.  The right to full inspections to assure against cheating must be understood as a basic requirement for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  There are many ways in which verification procedures can be organized and designed, related to issues such as what entities would authorize and conduct inspections, and the timing and scope of the inspections.

Making disarmament irreversible is an important element of the process of moving to zero nuclear weapons.  It is one of the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament agreed to at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.  Irreversibility is a matter of principle in order to hold on to the gains that are made in the process of disarmament and not allow for the possibility of backsliding.  Some technical questions may be involved, including the determination of what constitutes irreversibility.  

The final element I would stress is transparency.  A Nuclear Weapons Convention should make the process of nuclear disarmament transparent so that all parties will have confidence that the required steps are actually being taken.  This is an element that must be carefully thought through, however, so as not to increase the vulnerability of states as the number of weapons is reduced.  There is a delicate balance between security and transparency that must be considered.  

I view these four elements – phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent – as being essential for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  They are necessary for building confidence that the abolition of nuclear weapons can be accomplished.  They will be guideposts in negotiating the treaty, but before there can be a treaty we must first get to the negotiating table.

Over the years, there have been many calls for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  In 1995, when the Abolition 2000 Global Network was formed following the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, they called in their founding statement for the NPT nuclear weapon states to “[i]nitiate immediately and conclude…negotiations on a nuclear weapons abolition convention that requires the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons within a timebound framework, with provisions for effective verification and enforcement.”

In 1996, the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.  The Court stated unanimously: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”  In effect, the Court said there is a legal obligation to pursue a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  

On the opening day of the of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation published an Appeal in the New York Times signed by, among others, 35 Nobel Laureates, including 14 Nobel Peace Laureates.  The Appeal called upon the nuclear weapon states to “[c]ommence good faith negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons, with provisions for effective verification and enforcement.”

In 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an Action Plan for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, emphasizing that the two are strongly interrelated.  The first of his five actions is “[a] call for all NPT parties to pursue negotiations in good faith – as required by the treaty – on nuclear disarmament either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification.”

The Mayors for Peace Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol calls for negotiations for a Nuclear weapons Convention or a comparable Framework Agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020.  They have promoted this among their 3,500 member cities.

The most important issue confronting us is not the elements of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  These can be worked out through negotiations.  The most important issue is how to generate the political will to commence negotiations.  I believe that such political will must come from demands by the people.  I also believe that the United States should lead the way, and this places a special responsibility upon the shoulders of Americans.  If the US does not lead, it is hard to imagine the Russians joining; if the Russians don’t join, it is hard to imagine the Chinese joining, and so forth.

President Obama has called for the US, as the only country to have used nuclear weapons, to lead on achieving a nuclear weapons-free world.  Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t believe the goal can be achieved in his lifetime.  It is up to people everywhere to make their voices heard on this issue and to encourage him to convene negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention with a sense of urgency.  President Obama has expressed strong concern about nuclear terrorism.  He must be convinced that the threat of nuclear terrorism will only be eliminated when nuclear weapons are eliminated.

If the United States does not act in convening negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, Japan could take the lead.  As the victims of the first atomic attacks, Japan has an equal, if not more valid, claim to leadership and responsibility on this issue.  Most important, the voices of the bomb survivors, the hibakusha, must be ever present in the debate on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  

In a Briefing Booklet that the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is preparing for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, we describe a spectrum of perspectives toward nuclear weapons.  At one end of the spectrum are the Nuclear Believers, those who believe the bomb has been a force for peace.  At the other end of the spectrum are the Nuclear Abolitionists, those who believe that nuclear weapons threaten the annihilation of the human species and most forms of life.  In the center is the category of the Nuclear Disempowered, those who are confused, ignorant and apathetic.  People in this category are often fatalistic and are inclined to defer to “experts.”  It is this enormous group of disempowered individuals that must be awakened, empowered and engaged in seeking a world free of nuclear weapons.   This is our challenge as abolitionists.  If we can succeed in building a solid base of support for nuclear weapons abolition, a Nuclear Weapons Convention will be the vehicle to take us to the destination.