In the six decades since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, despite the critical need, there have not been multilateral negotiations for nuclear weapons abolition. The closest to achieving such negotiations was the inclusion of Article VI in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament….”
On the basis of NPT Article VI, a 1996 World Court Advisory Opinion unanimously stated, “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 2000 NPT Review Conference, the parties to the treaty agreed to 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, including “[a]n 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.”
These are clear directives and commitments to pursue multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament, but none have taken place. For ten years the Conference on Disarmament, the international community’s single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament issues, has been blocked by rules of consensus from making any progress.
Even partial measures aimed at arms control have been blocked or diverted by nuclear weapons states. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), although opened for signatures in 1996, has not entered into force because all nuclear capable states must ratify the treaty for this to happen. As yet, the treaty has not been ratified by the US, China and Israel, and three nuclear weapons states – India, Pakistan and North Korea – have not yet even signed the treaty.
A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) has long been discussed as an important next step on the path to nuclear disarmament, and was included as one of the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. In May 2006, the United States tabled a draft FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament, but one that contained no provisions for verification, making it largely meaningless. Nonetheless, it could provide a starting point for negotiations.
In addition to their failure to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith, as called for by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and by the International Court of Justice, the nuclear weapons states have failed to take nearly all of the other steps called for in the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament. The US scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to pursue missile defenses, and has failed to proceed with negotiating with Russia a third Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START III). In the bilateral Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) negotiated by the US and Russia, there are no provisions for transparency, verification or irreversibility as called for in the 13 Practical Steps.
The failure of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their obligations was noted in the 2006 report of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Weapons of Terror. The report stated, “The erosion of confidence in the effectiveness of the NPT to prevent horizontal proliferation has been matched by a loss of confidence in the treaty as a result of the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to fulfill their disarmament obligations under the treaty and also to honour their additional commitments to disarmament made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences.”
The result of the failure of the NPT nuclear weapons states (US, Russia, UK, France and China) to pursue multilateral negotiations for nuclear weapons abolition has led to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the potential for even further proliferation. India, Pakistan and Israel, all of which never signed the NPT, have developed nuclear arsenals; and North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003, has announced its entry into the nuclear weapons club. Some 35 to 40 other countries are nuclear weapons capable and could decide in the future to develop nuclear arsenals.
Israel does not publicly acknowledge its nuclear arsenal, but it is evident to all parties that they are a nuclear weapons state, and other Middle Eastern countries question why they should accept a second tier nuclear status. Proposals for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone have been consistently rebuffed or ignored by Israel and the US.
In 1998, India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests and announced their nuclear weapons capacity to the world. These tests were greeted with elation in both countries, as if they were a badge of honor rather than dishonor. Both countries made clear over a long period of time that they were not prepared to be second class global citizens in a world of nuclear apartheid. Although, the nuclear tests were at first condemned, this condemnation has turned to acceptance. The US now seeks to change its own non-proliferation laws as well as the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to provide nuclear technology and materials to India.
Most recently, North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test, raising considerable alarm around the world. The North Korean test carries with it the potential for a dangerous nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia involving North Korea, Japan, South Korea and China. This would create a far more dangerous region and world.
North Korea’s nuclear test should be setting off loud warning sirens. Instead of looking at their own obligations, however, the nuclear weapons states are only pointing a finger at North Korea, in effect looking only at the symptom and not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the ongoing possession and reliance on these weapons of mass annihilation by the nuclear weapons states. The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission stated what should be obvious to all: “So long as any such weapons remain in any state’s arsenal, there is a high risk that they will one day be used, by design or accident. Any such use would be catastrophic.”
Five countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – recently established a Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) in their region. They became the world’s sixth nuclear weapons-free zone, following Antarctica; Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Africa; and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the United States has expressed its opposition to this new treaty and is reportedly pressuring the United Nations and other international bodies to withhold their support of the treaty.
The question that I would pose is this: What is the world to do when the governments of nuclear weapons states act immorally, illegally and dangerously in failing to fulfill their obligations for good faith negotiations to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons? This question is, of course, not easy to answer. We may seem largely powerless in the face of bad faith by the nuclear weapons states, particularly the United States. It may be difficult to see the way forward, but once we have seen the problem we have no choice but to keep trying.
I don’t have an answer to this question. I believe it is one we must find together. I have faith that the answer will be found as we move forward, step by step. My fear is that the urgency of the situation does not seem to be recognized widely, and the many efforts that have been made to influence the nuclear weapons states seem to fall on deaf ears.
I want to encourage us all to appreciate each other on this journey. Each of us who embrace this issue, embraces humanity. I want to express my deep appreciation to the Hibakusha of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and to the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima for their persistent efforts. And to the Mayors for Peace for their wonderful 2020 Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons, as well as to my colleagues throughout the world in Abolition 2000 and the Middle Powers Initiative.
On the barren landscape of nuclear arrogance and absurdity we must have faith that humans of goodwill will triumph over catastrophically dangerous technologies in the hands of national leaders with proven capacities to act in ways that are foolish, shortsighted and incompetent. That is a leap of faith that we have all taken. We know that we cannot trust the future of the human species to political or military leaders. We must be the leaders we have been waiting for, and we must prevail in awakening humanity to the cause of a nuclear weapons-free future. Despite the odds, we have no choice but to continue and to prevail. Given the clear record of human fallibilities, there is no place for nuclear weapons in our world, and no alternative to our efforts.