So long as nuclear weapons exist, the human species will remain threatened by nuclear annihilation. With nuclear weapons in the arsenals of some nations, humanity faces the possibility of future Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. The only way to assure that these tragedies are not repeated or that even worse nuclear tragedies do not occur is to move rapidly and resolutely to abolish nuclear weapons.

The 1996 Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, composed of distinguished individuals from throughout the world, correctly concluded: “The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used – accidentally or by decision – defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.”

The promise of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is found in Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In 1996, when the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the Court clarified the obligation of Article VI of the Treaty. The Court concluded 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.

Time may be running out on the international community’s ability to control either the proliferation or the use of nuclear weapons, as the nuclear weapons states continue to break their NPT promises to achieve meaningful nuclear disarmament. The parties to the NPT have special responsibilities to communicate clearly to the nuclear weapons states that they are transgressing on humanity’s future by their failure to fulfill their promises.

The Nuclear Disarmament Promise of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is one of the key nuclear arms control treaties of the latter half of the 20th century. The treaty was signed at Washington, London and Moscow on July 1, 1968 and entered into force on March 5, 1970. There are currently 187 states that are parties to the NPT, nearly all countries in the world. Four important exceptions are Israel, India, Pakistan and Cuba. The first three of these possess nuclear weapons and need to be brought into the NPT regime.

The primary purpose of the NPT is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In negotiating the Treaty, the non-nuclear weapons states argued that the Treaty should not create a small class of permanent nuclear weapons states and a much larger class of states that have renounced their right to possess nuclear weapons. To remedy this inequality, Article VI of the Treaty called for ending the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. This article states:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

The promise of Article VI is a world free of nuclear weapons. The failure of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill this promise rightly continues to be a source of irritation and uneasiness to the non-nuclear weapons states parties to the Treaty.

New Promises

By the terms of the NPT, the parties to the Treaty held a Review and Extension Conference in 1995, twenty-five years after the Treaty entered into force. The purpose of this Conference was to determine whether the Treaty should be extended indefinitely or for a fixed period or periods. Some of the non-nuclear weapons states argued vociferously that the Treaty should be extended only for fixed periods and extensions of these periods should be tied to progress on nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapons states. Taking the opposite position, the nuclear weapons states and their allies argued for an indefinite extension of the Treaty. In the end, with much arm-twisting and agreement to a set of new promises, the nuclear weapons states and their allies prevailed and the Treaty was extended indefinitely.

In the Final Document of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the parties to the Treaty set forth certain additional promises for nuclear disarmament. The nuclear weapons states reaffirmed their Article VI commitment “to pursue in good faith negotiations on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.” All parties to the Treaty agreed on the importance of the following measures to fulfilling the Article VI promise:

(a) The completion by the Conference on Disarmament of the negotiations on a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty no later than 1996. Pending the entry into force of a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, the nuclear-weapon States should exercise utmost restraint;

(b) The immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a non discriminatory and universally applicable convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices…

(c) The determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons, and by all States of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

In other sections of the Final Document, the parties to the Treaty called for “development of nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in regions of tension, such as in the Middle East,” and for the nuclear weapons states to provide further security assurances to the non-nuclear weapons states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against them. In a special resolution, the parties to the Treaty called for a special “Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems….”

Following these promises, France and China continued testing nuclear weapons for a period of time. French testing in the Pacific raised global protests that caused them to cut their planned series of tests short. A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated and opened for signatures in September 1996. The Treaty, which has now been signed by 165 countries, cannot by its provisions enter into force until ratified by all 44 nuclear capable countries. Thirteen of these 44 countries have yet to ratify the Treaty, including the US and China. In addition, no progress has been made on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; and the promise of “determined pursuit” of reducing nuclear weapons globally looks more like a major exercise in foot-dragging.

Two new nuclear weapons free zones were created following the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, one in Southeast Asia and one in Africa. These treaties, however, have not had strong support from the nuclear weapons states. Unfortunately, in the most critical regions of the planet, where the threat of use of nuclear weapons is higher, there has not been progress toward creating either nuclear weapons free zones or zones free of all weapons of mass destruction. These regions are the Middle East, South Asia and Northeast Asia. Further, the nuclear weapons states have not offered additional security assurances to the non nuclear weapons states. In some cases, they have back away from earlier security promises.

In 1998 the stakes of nuclear disarmament were raised when India, followed shortly by Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons and announced to the world that they were now nuclear powers. While these countries were initially sanctioned by the US for their overt proliferation of nuclear weapons, these sanctions were later removed following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US.

With little progress toward the nuclear disarmament promise of Article VI, the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty met again for a Review Conference in the year 2000. It was a contentious conference, but in the end the parties to the Treaty, led by a coalition of middle power states, agreed on the following thirteen practical steps to achieve nuclear disarmament.

1. The importance and urgency of signatures and ratifications, without delay and without conditions and in accordance with constitutional processes, to achieve the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

2. A moratorium on nuclear-weapon-test explosions or any other nuclear explosions pending entry into force of that Treaty.

3. The necessity of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a non discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in accordance with the statement of the Special Coordinator in 1995 and the mandate contained therein, taking into consideration both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives. The Conference on Disarmament is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years.

4. The necessity of establishing in the Conference on Disarmament an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament. The Conference on Disarmament is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate establishment of such a body.

5. The principle of irreversibility to apply to nuclear disarmament, nuclear and other related arms control and reduction measures.

6. An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI.

7. The early entry into force and full implementation of START II and the conclusion of START III as soon as possible while preserving and strengthening the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons, in accordance with its provisions.

8. The completion and implementation of the Trilateral Initiative between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

9. Steps by all the nuclear-weapon States leading to nuclear disarmament in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all:

– Further efforts by the nuclear-weapon States to reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally;
– Increased transparency by the nuclear-weapon States with regard to the nuclear weapons capabilities and the implementation of agreements pursuant to article VI and as a voluntary confidence-building measure to support further progress on nuclear disarmament;
– The further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons, based on unilateral initiatives and as an integral part of the nuclear arms reduction and disarmament process;
– Concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems;
– A diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination;
– The engagement as soon as appropriate of all the nuclear-weapon States in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.

10. Arrangements by all nuclear-weapon States to place, as soon as practicable, fissile material designated by each of them as no longer required for military purposes under IAEA or other relevant international verification and arrangements for the disposition of such material for peaceful purposes, to ensure that such material remains permanently outside military programmes.

11. Reaffirmation that the ultimate objective of the efforts of States in the disarmament process is general and complete disarmament under effective international control.

12. Regular reports, within the framework of the strengthened review process for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, by all States parties on the implementation of article VI and paragraph 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament”, and recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 8 July 1996.

13. The further development of the verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Progress by each of the declared nuclear weapons states (US, UK, France, Russia and China) and by the three de facto nuclear weapons states (Israel, India and Pakistan) on these thirteen steps, which are set forth below, will be the subject of the next section of this briefing book.