On this tenth anniversary of the Indian Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, launched in the wake of India’s nuclear tests and Pakistan’s entry into the nuclear club as well, the world is facing ever new dangers in the nuclear age, even as these growing perils spark burgeoning new demands for nuclear disarmament across the globe. Perhaps the most unexpected call, which kicked off much of the current avalanche of new campaigns, initiatives, and projects for nuclear abolition, was an article in the Wall Street Journal, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons” in January 2007, when four rusty cold warriors, led by Henry Kissinger together with Sam Nunn, William Perry and George Schultz warned of the dangers of terrorism and nuclear proliferation and called for nuclear disarmament.
Their article inspired a whole series of statements around the world by former military and government officials, echoing their call for a nuclear weapons free world, essentially providing the political cover for President Obama’s Prague speech in April, 2009, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama pledged “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”– although adding that it might not be reached “in my lifetime.” His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton subsequently misquoted him, noting that “the President has acknowledged we might not achieve the ambition of a world without nuclear weapons in our lifetime or successive lifetimes.” And then Clinton pushed the ball even further down the road, speaking about the new START Treaty with Russia, foreseeing “a goal of a world someday, in some century, free of nuclear weapons.”
After the initial statement of Kissinger and company, the group was tagged by various journalists and pundits as “the four horsemen”, perhaps ironically unaware that the biblical reference in the New Testament to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is to a quartet of mythical marauders representing evil, war, famine and death. The following year, in 2009, the world welcomed a Five Point Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament urged by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which included the goal of a Nuclear Weapons Convention or framework of agreements to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Ban Ki-moon’s proposal validated at last the largely unheralded efforts of civil society, which immediately after forming the Abolition 2000 Network at the 1995 Non-proliferation Treaty Review and Extension conference (NPT), extending the 25 year old NPT’s expiration date indefinitely, called for negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The Network’s Working Group of lawyers, scientists, and policymakers drafted a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, submitted by Costa Rica to the UN as an official document. As the millennium approached, Abolition 2000 then enrolled over 2000 members in 95 countries and kept its name, despite the failure of negotiations to materialize. Fifteen years later, the nuclear weapons convention is an idea whose time has come, with calls for negotiations arising from every part of the globe.
The Kissinger crew noted the growing power of campaigns and initiatives including grassroots pressure on America’s NATO allies, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway for NATO to remove U.S nuclear weapons now stationed in Europe under NATO’s “nuclear sharing” policy, calls to revive the Rajiv Gandhi Plan for Nuclear Disarmament, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Global Zero, the expanding Parliamentary Network for Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, the Mayors for Peace approaching 5,000 member cities, together with leaders around the world clamoring for negotiations to begin on a treaty to ban the bomb. They issued a second statement one year later in 2008, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World” . Clearly walking back from their earlier call, they warned of a “nuclear tipping point” demanding better measures to prevent nuclear terrorism and more secure controls on nuclear material and the nuclear fuel cycle, while bemoaning the fact that:
In some respects, the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain. From the vantage point of our troubled world today, we can’t even see the top of the mountain, and it is tempting and easy to say we can’t get there from here. But the risks from continuing to go down the mountain or standing pat are too real to ignore. We must chart a course to higher ground where the mountaintop becomes more visible.
Of course, Civil Society had no difficulty seeing the top of the mountain and was proposing to reach it by urging that negotiations begin on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, just as the world had done for chemical and biological weapons, and landmines and cluster bombs as well. It wasn’t as if the world had never banned a class of weapons before. With a third article this year by Kissinger and his colleagues, their lack of good faith is apparent. Titled “How to Protect Our Nuclear Deterrent”, they emphasize the importance of maintaining the credibility of the US nuclear deterrent by supporting the Congressional drive to undercut, with a multi-billion dollar modernization program for the nuclear weaponeers, the modest START treaty negotiated by Obama and Medvedev.
The treaty would cut deployed weapons in their massive arsenals of about 23,000 nuclear bombs, from 2,200 each to between 1,500 and 1,675. There are 1,000 nuclear bombs, in total, in the remaining nuclear countries—UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. START would also cut strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles from 1,600 each to 800. US mid-term elections with Republican control of the Congress and a diminished Democratic Senate majority, may scuttle START’s ratification, leaving both countries without the ability to resume mutual inspections and verification of their nuclear activity which ended when the old START treaty expired in December 2009. Disturbingly, the international committee of the Russian Duma has rescinded its recommendation that Russia ratify START, pending US action, in light of the disappointing US elections results and the steep price tag the Republicans have attached to buy their votes for ratification.
Since Russia and the US still have more than 10,000 weapons, START is only a modest step forward but one that is essential to demonstrate US and Russia willingness to tackle the unconscionable numbers of bombs in their arsenals. It was a difficult negotiation, hedged with caveats on missile defenses. The Russians are alarmed at US efforts to surround Russia with a ring of missile ”defenses”, seeking to site missile and radar bases in Poland, the Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, right up to the Russian border. Indeed, these START negotiations echoed the tragic lost opportunity at the Reagan-Gorbachev 1986 Reykjavik summit when negotiations for the total abolition of nuclear weapons collapsed because Reagan wouldn’t give up plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative to dominate space.
Obama submitted START to the Senate for ratification attached to a Faustian bargain with the military-industrial-scientific-congressional complex for an additional $80 billion in new nuclear weapons testing and modernization and funding for a plutonium- pit bomb factory at Los Alamos, a uranium processing plant at Oak Ridge, and a new manufacturing facility for non-nuclear bomb parts in Kansas City—spreading the evil largesse across the whole continent– as well as an additional $100 billion for delivery systems—planes, submarines and missiles for launching nuclear bombs by air, sea and land.
Obama also assured Congress that nothing in the START treaty would preclude the US from developing offensive missile “defenses” and its planned “prompt global strike” weapons systems, an integral part of US plans to dominate and control the military use of space. In October, the US and Israel were the only countries to abstain on a UN Resolution against the weaponization of space. This was actually an improvement in the US position since up to now it was the only country to vote NO on the resolution. The US has consistently blocked consensus on voting for negotiations on a draft treaty, submitted to the UN by Russia and China, to ban weapons in space.
While the U.S. and its allies have been excoriating Pakistan for blocking consensus on proposed negotiations to cut off the production of fissile materials for “weapons purposes”, no countries are holding the U.S. to account for blocking consensus on keeping weapons out of space. Pakistan is still playing catch up to produce nuclear materials while the other nuclear powers all have excess tons of highly enriched uranium(HEU) and plutonium(PU) from both military and civilian production. There are about 1600 tons of HEU and 500 tons of PU on our planet, enough to produce more than 120,000 nuclear weapons!
Enacting the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty now, without moving rapidly on nuclear disarmament as well, would give an advantage to older more technologically advanced nuclear weapons states which already have excessive surpluses of bomb making materials. And it is also an exercise in futility. By calling for the cut- off of fissile materials production only for “weapons purposes” without cutting off the production of materials such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium for so called “peaceful purposes”, the treaty would be no more than a leaking sieve as hundreds of tons of bomb-making material would continually be churned out in civilian reactors in more than 40 countries around the world.
India was well aware of discriminatory nuclear legislation when it refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 because the treaty provided that five existing nuclear weapons states, the US, UK, Russia, France and China, need only negotiate in “good faith” for nuclear disarmament while all the other countries of the world had to promise not to acquire nuclear weapons. India proposed unsuccessfully that a nuclear abolition treaty for all nations be negotiated and then went on to develop its own nuclear capabilities, acquiring the bomb in 1974. In 1988 Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi proposed “An Action Plan for Ushering In a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order” which was totally ignored by the U.S although Russia expressed some interest in the plan.
Every year since 1996, the UN General Assembly votes on a resolution to commence negotiations leading to the conclusion of a Nuclear Weapons Convention based on the 1996 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that “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”. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, a host of countries spoke in support of negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention and proposed a meeting in 2014 to discuss the path forward. Although the meeting proposal was blocked in the final document, the nuclear weapons states for the first time agreed to include a reference to negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention although the language was watered down considerably from the first draft. Significantly, a unique provision in the outcome document affirmed, for the first time, the need for all States to comply with International Humanitarian Law under which the ICJ held that nuclear weapons are generally illegal. This provides new possibilities for action by non-nuclear weapons states to shift from the usual “step by step” approach of arms control to legislating an outright prohibition of nuclear weapons as illegal under international law, as was done with landmines and cluster bombs.
There were 140 nations who made statements supporting negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention at the NPT Review, including one nuclear weapons state —China. And when the annual resolution came to a vote in the UN First Committee of the General Assembly this fall, three nuclear weapons states, China, India, and Pakistan supported the call for negotiations. Once again, the U.S. attempted to put the brakes on when Rose Gotmoeller, US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Verification and Compliance, in remarks at the UN, belittled the prospects for a nuclear weapons treaty urging “a pragmatic step-by-step approach rather than the impractical leap of seeking to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention or the pointless calls for convening a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, for which there is no international consensus.”
In October, 2010, Obama test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile 5,000 miles away from California to Guam and conducted the first “sub-critical” nuclear test since 2006, 1,000 feet below the desert floor, exploding plutonium with chemicals, without creating a chain-reaction. This was the 24th test in a program started by Clinton who tried to buy the support of the military-industrial-scientific–congressional complex for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which they later reneged on anyway. There were seven billion dollars a year for computer-simulated nuclear tests coupled with sub-critical tests and new laboratory infrastructure, which the Doctor Strangeloves contended were essential to maintain the “safety and reliability” of the arsenal. Which brings us back full circle to the justification Obama claims for his pay-off to Congress to get START ratified. Furthermore, the UK and France, emulating the worst in US policy, have just announced a “cost saving” plan to combine efforts and build a brand new joint nuclear weapons laboratory in France, to test– surprise, surprise– the “safety and reliability” of their arsenals.
Small wonder that a new statement in October 2010 by a Russian quartet of military and government officials, led by Yevgeny Primakov, asserted that many countries, including “a widespread belief in Russia” believe that their “nuclear potential is a key element of great power status.” Asserting that nuclear disarmament requires “greater confidence among nations, along with greater international security and stability” and referring to inequalities in “armaments, anti-ballistic missile defense, conventional weapons, strategic non-nuclear weapons as well as space militarization plans”, they conclude that to achieve nuclear disarmament “we must reorganize international life on more civilized principles and according to the demands of a new century.”
President Obama, in his Prague speech, characterized nuclear terrorism as “the greatest danger we face”. Yet Nobel economist Thomas Schelling, who applies game theory to the study of conflict and cooperation recently described the exceedingly low probability of terrorists ever getting their hands on enough illicit nuclear material to build a bomb. Far more dangerous and terrifying is the more than 3500 nuclear bombs, mounted on missiles and ready to fire within minutes which the US and Russia still aim at each other. Just this year we had reports of computer failures in the US that put 50 nuclear weapons out of commission, a UK Trident nuclear submarine running aground in the mud off the coast of Scotland, and six nuclear bombs mistakenly flown without knowledge of the commanders across the country from North Dakota to Louisiana. A US Defense Department report noted that between 1950 and 1980 there were 32 airplane crashes with nuclear bombs aboard, Luckily none of them ever exploded, although two of them, in Palomares, Spain and Thule, Greenland, spewed plutonium on the ground which had to be cordoned off and contained. Not to mention the incredibly close call when a Norwegian weather satellite went off course in 1983 and was interpreted by the Russians as a possible nuclear attack which a wise commander, Stanislav Petrov, on duty in the nuclear bunker, decided heroically, against orders, and to the great good fortune of the world, to disregard.
Furthermore, we are creating much greater danger in our efforts to secure and lock down radioactive bomb material. Rather than containing the toxic poisons in sturdy, above-ground concrete casks, which last for hundreds of years, under guns, gates and guards, we are actually transporting our lethal legacy through populated areas over roads, rail and seas, from the four corners of the earth back to reprocessing facilities. The US and Russia are using the highly enriched uranium they transport, for example, which was spread around to 28 countries during the atoms for peace program for research reactors, in reprocessing facilities where they are blended down for fuel for so called “peaceful nuclear power plants” now in the planning stages for exponential growth in a “nuclear renaissance” around the planet, about to spread their radioactive poisons into the air, water, and soil, while giving ever more nations the reactor- generated capacity to make nuclear bomb material.
Even if these materials are never used in a nuclear bomb, they are already causing death, destruction and illness in the communities where the uranium is mined, milled, processed and in the environs surrounding nuclear power plants. A German study found an increased incidence of childhood cancer and leukemias in communities with nuclear reactors. A recent study by Russian scientists published by the New York Academy of Medicine found nearly one million people died from the 1986 Chernobyl accident, contrary to corrupted reports from the World Health Organization which has a collusive agreement with the nuclear-industry dominated International Atomic Energy Agency to submit its health findings on radiation issues to the IAEA before they can be made public. The two agencies habitually underreport the true extent of the carnage caused by this lethal technology.
Moreover, while the Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees every member the right to the “peaceful” use of nuclear technology, the US and its allies are picking which countries can exercise that right—it’s OK for Japan, but not for Iran. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of planned nuclear power plants in many new countries, including Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Turkey, Indonesia, Vienam Algeria, Burma, and others who want to get in under the wire before the nuclear “haves” preclude them from freely accessing the whole panoply of technology for the nuclear fuel cycle. Indeed the US just made a deal with the United Arab Emirates that they would not enrich uranium in return for US technical assistance on civilian nuclear power, but Jordan is balking at making the same agreement. This is a recipe for chaos. The top of the mountain beckons. It’s time for a moratorium on any further development of nuclear weapons or nuclear power. The sun, wind, tides, and geothermal heat can readily supply humanity with all its energy needs. In the words of the visionary thinker and architect, Buckminster Fuller:
We may now care for each Earthian individual at a sustainable billionaire’s level of affluence while living exclusively on less than 1 percent of our planet’s daily energy income from our cosmically designed nuclear reactor, the Sun, optimally located 92 million safe miles away from us.
Building on the burgeoning support for a nuclear weapons convention, civil society, together with parliamentarians and Mayors are exploring possibilities for various governments to put together a like-minded group of governments to begin an “Ottawa” or “Oslo” process, the way the world was able to ban landmines and cluster bombs. Blocked by consensus rules at the UN, the governments of Canada in the case of landmines, and Norway in the case of cluster bombs, joined in partnership with civil society and like-minded governments to negotiate those landmark treaties. Eventually many of the hold-out countries signed on.
Who will take the lead for organizing the talks for a nuclear weapons convention? Over one hundred nations spoke in favor of the nuclear weapons convention at the NPT. And there are three nuclear weapons powers, China, India, and Pakistan on the record in support of those negotiations in a UN Resolution. Perhaps in the 21st century, it is time for Asia to take the lead. If a country like Norway, or Switzerland or Austria, which have spoken in favor of negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention, were to host such a conference, having the three Asian powers in attendance would send a powerful signal to the world that the time has come to ban the bomb. Certainly India, with the Rajiv Gandhi plan has already given much thought to this critical dilemma.
Even if the other nuclear weapons states were to sit out the negotiations, eventually world opinion would catch up with them and they would have to join in. In the meantime, the steps for moving forward, for dismantlement, verification, monitoring, inspection, handling of nuclear materials, insurance against breakout, additional research, and administration of the treaty could be discussed and debated. Much of this has already been proposed in the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, which can be reviewed, together with commentary on its various provisions, at http://www.icanw.org/securing-our-survival NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION!
After 65 years it’s time to retire the bomb.