“Modernization” Violates Every Likely Prohibition in Ban Treaty

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April 3, 2017
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“Modernization” Violates Every Likely Prohibition in Ban Treaty

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This article was originally published in Reaching Critical Will’s Nuclear Ban Daily.

According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who spoke at a side event in Conference Room B on Tuesday, all nine nuclear-armed countries are “modernizing” some or all aspects of their nuclear arsenals. This might go some way in explaining why many of these countries so vehemently oppose the good faith ban treaty negotiations that began this week in New York.

Taking as an example the United States’ actual and proposed modernization plans, every single likely prohibition contained in a nuclear ban treaty would be violated.

Stockpiling, possession, development, production, and deployment would all likely be prohibited under this treaty. Additional proposed prohibitions include the use, threat of use, transfer, testing, and financing.

It is plain to see how the first five elements listed would be violated by a “modernized” arsenal. But what about the rest?

The use and threat of use of nuclear weapons are implicit in the policy of nuclear deterrence. As President Trump is rumored to have asked about nuclear weapons, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Transfer of nuclear weapons is a key to the modernization of the United States’ B61-12 nuclear bomb. Widely considered to be the world’s first “smart” gravity bomb, this “modernized” bomb, its guided tail fin kit and variable explosive yield would be transferred to the territories of five non-nuclear weapon states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey) under the auspices of NATO.

There are many voices within the United States calling for a resumption of full-scale underground nuclear testing in Nevada. Some believe that it is desirable as a geopolitical message to foes such as North Korea. However, proposed U.S. nuclear modernization programs are introducing more and more uncertainty into the stockpile by combining different elements of different warheads into new weapons. These proposed combinations, which are becoming more and more exotic, have never been tested together. Once billions of dollars and years of work have been shoveled into the new warheads, pressure to conduct full-scale tests would be significant.

A prohibition on financing of nuclear weapons would cover financial or material support to public and private enterprises involved in any of the activities covered in the treaty. Predicted to cost at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years, such a prohibition would have meaningful impact. Even the nuclear weapon design labs in the United States are operated by for-profit entities. The companies currently involved in producing and financing nuclear weapons are well known thanks to the investigative work of PAX in their regular “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” reports.

While the nuclear-armed states are unlikely to join a ban treaty at its inception, codifying the illegitimacy and illegality of nuclear weapons into international law will be a significant step leading to elimination. Delegitimizing, slowing, and stopping the “modernization” programs of nuclear-armed states is of immediate importance, and is another reason why a ban treaty is urgently needed.


Rick Wayman
Rick Wayman
Rick Wayman is Director of Programs & Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.