A Sustainable Approach to Nuclear Zero: Breaking the Conventional-Nuclear Link

Logo Oxford Research GroupThe momentum towards abolishing nuclear weapons has been building over recent years. The level of debate is at its highest since the end of the Cold War. This has rightly re-focused attention on the urgent need to build strategies for limiting and abolishing nuclear arsenals. Insufficient attention, though, is being given to the role of certain non-nuclear or ‘conventional’ weapons (namely long-range conventional ballistic missiles and missile defence technology) in this area. In particular, there is a pressing need to mitigate the prospect of conventional weapons imbalances, hindering progress in getting all nine nuclear weapon states on the path of abolition.

» Read full article at Oxford Research Group

Hacia la abolición de las armas nucleares

Durante años, básicamente la segunda mitad del Siglo XX, todas las preocupaciones en materia de armamentismo se centraron en las armas nucleares. Documentos, propuestas, iniciativas y campañas varias reclamaban un mayor control o un progresivo desarme de este tipo de armas. Un esfuerzo, cabe decir, saldado con poco éxito: un Tratado de No-Proliferación Nuclear (TNP) poco ambicioso en sus inicios e irresponsablemente gestionado por parte de las potencias nucleares.

» Read article by Jordi Armadans Director de la Fundació per la Pau

MPI calls for a global ban on nuclear weapons

The Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), a coalition of eight international disarmament organizations, is calling on governments to “begin collective preparatory work leading to the enactment of a universal, verifiable, irreversible and enforceable legal ban on nuclear weapons.” MPI Chair Richard Butler, founder Douglas Roche and Executive Committee Member Alyn Ware have embarked on a series of consultations with governments at the United Nations and in capitals around the world on a draft brief exploring the modalities for such preparatory work.

The brief is stimulated by the agreement at the 2010 NPT Review Conference that “All States need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons” noting “the Five-Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which proposes inter alia the consideration of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments.” The tour of capitals by the MPI team over the next month will take in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Delhi, London, Moscow, Oslo, Stockholm and Washington.

The MPI brief also notes the affirmation by the 2010 NPT Review Conference of the application of International Humanitarian Law to nuclear weapons. “Landmines and cluster munitions were banned by treaty once people realized the humanitarian consequences of their continued use,” said Senator Roche. “There is now a similar realization of the threat to humanity, not just if nuclear weapons are used but by the threat of use, their possession and their proliferation… This is a moment for enlightened leaders to start convening meetings to draw together those who want to build a global law banning all nuclear weapons.”

The Horsemen ride again; but toward the finish line or in circles?

Former IPPNW co-president Gunnar Westberg of IPPNW’s Swedish affiliate, SLMK, and Ira Helfand, North American regional vice president and a member of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility (IPPNW-USA), had different perspectives on the latest Wall Street Journal editorial by the US Gang of Four, which are published on the IPPNW Peace and Health Blog.

Read their opinions on the IPPNW blog

Nuclear Abolition Forum

Nuclear Abolition Forum – Dialogue on the Process to Achieve and Sustain a Nuclear Weapons Free World

Nuclear Abolition Forum LogoA number of leading institutes and non-governmental organizations have recently established the Nuclear Abolition Forum – a periodical and website for dialogue between academics, governments, disarmament experts and NGOs on key issues regarding the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons under a Nuclear Weapons Convention or package of agreements, and the process to achieve this.

The Forum website, to be launched in May 2011, will include a database of existing articles and documents on the range of issues surrounding a nuclear weapons conventions, as well as opportunities for comment and the periodical which will focus on specific issues or elements (technical, legal, institutional and political) for achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapons-free world.

The Forum will seek to include a variety of perspectives rather than advocating any particular approach to achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world. This could include contributions from those who have put forward specific proposals, as well as from those who do not yet believe that nuclear abolition is possible, or who are not yet convinced of the merits of a comprehensive approach. Attention would however be given to examining and critiquing the framework for achieving and sustaining a nuclear-weapons-free world rather than focusing solely or primarily on the next immediate steps.

For more information contact: Rob van Riet, Director, Nuclear Abolition Forum, World Future Council, 100 Pall Mall, St. James, London SW1Y 5NQ, United Kingdom. Tel.: +44 (0) 20 7321 3810 Fax: +44 (0) 20 7321 3738.

UNIDIR Special Issue on nuclear disarmament and civil society

UNIDIR Disarmament Forum coverThe latest issue of the Disarmament Forum, published by UNIDIR (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research) is a special issue on Civil society and nuclear disarmament.

Contents include contributions from Lawrence S. Wittner on today’s nuclear abolition movement, Tim Wright and Nina Eisenhardt on generations of change, Dimity Hawkins on campaigning for a ban on  nuclear weapons, Robert Green on deterrence and others.

This issue of Disarmament Forum considers the question of civil society and nuclear abolition. How can the objective of nuclear disarmament and abolition once again captivate and motivate the public as it did during and even immediately following the Cold War? Are there lessons that could be drawn from more recent (and more successful) civil society movements in other areas of disarmament? What are the steps to building civil society partnership into the nuclear disarmament dialogue? How can we ensure a “seat at the table” for civil society on nuclear issues, as has been achieved recently with landmines and cluster munitions—where civil society was a valued partner in the process, not marginalized to the role of cheerleader outside the negotiating chamber? The expert contributions to this issue address these questions and more in a manner that is both thought-provoking and forward-looking.

View contents here.

Cutting the Gordian Knot

Before you all physically or mentally traipse off to New York – volcanic ash allowing – I’d like to say something. Nuclear weapons do have a purpose. What I want to share with you may seem a tad too philosophical for your liking, but as the daughter of a philosopher and a nurse I feel that we may have been missing the point. Of course, we need to get rid of them. Like cancer, they are spreading disease that cause pain and suffering and no-one wants to talk about because of the feelings of helplessness they engender. But we are now, at last, really talking about nuclear weapons. That is a good start in the process of healing ourselves. Getting out of denial.

There are two sides to everything: a positive and a negative one. The negative side to nuclear weapons has preoccupied our thoughts almost exclusively up until now. We have left others to surmise what the positive side might be and have always simply negated it. No, they do not prevent war; no, they do not protect us from ruthless and unpredictable dictators; and so forth. But the true purpose of nuclear weapons lies in their absolute ability to destroy everything. The ultimate weapon of suicide for humanity as a whole. And this ability to destroy everything, discovered through the deaths of millions in two world wars, brought us to a brink. For the past 65 years civilisation has stood teetering on that brink and has not yet truly stepped back. The purpose of nuclear weapons is to constantly remind us of where we stand and of the task that humanity has before it: to make peace.

I am not arguing that we need to keep nuclear weapons to do this, quite the contrary. In order to make peace we have to talk about why we have nuclear weapons and how to get rid of them. In my opinion, this discussion has at last begun. All over the world protagonists for abolition are facing open doors (well maybe so much in North Korea, France or Israel) to the corridors of power where questions are being asked. How can it be done? What are the preconditions for nuclear abolition? What are the first steps? How high is the mountain and can we see the top?

Take Germany, for instance. Who would have thought that getting rid of 20 nuclear gravity bombs would end up being so difficult? Debating the role of nuclear weapons has brought all of the worms out of the woodwork of NATO. Suddenly we realise that – although the world has changed immeasurably – our attitudes towards security remain encrusted in Cold War thinking. We’re back to talking about missile defence and common security, the positions that Reagan and Gorbachev brought to the Icelandic negotiating table in 1986. Old Europe finds its anti-nuclear ambitions tied contractually to the fears and distrust of New Europe and is unable to do anything but reassure them that we will not do anything. Why is the US foreign minister proposing that we should hold on to these old relics unless the Russians are prepared to negotiate away theirs? Surely she knows that this means that nothing will happen? The Russians are equally unable to break free of the confines of the balance of terror. They see plans for Prompt Global Strike and cling desperately to their aging nuclear arsenal as the only possible answer.

To free ourselves from this scourge, we need to cut the Gordian Knot. It needs a bold stroke of unilateralism to engender trust and finally make peace with Russia. Both new START and the Nuclear Posture Review demonstrated how stuck we actually are, unable to do more than rearrange the numbers and engage in fine semantics without actually engaging in real disarmament. The withdrawal of the two hundred bombs in Europe could be one such bold stroke.  A demonstration of goodwill and willingness to begin true negotiation. How can we make friends if we are afraid of giving a sign of weakness which in fact is a sign of real strength?

When I read the US Nuclear Posture Review I could see why it took so long to complete. It is the work of an administration in internal conflict. There are grand visions and statements alongside pettiness. You can almost smell the arrogant fear that is clutching its position of strength and pouring billions of dollars down the nuclear drain, while a small voice shines through, saying: “but in the future…” Yes, what about that future? This document doesn’t tell us how to get there. It talks of others giving up their small vestiges of power and of building up more reserves of strength, of remodelling its weapons and reaching into every corner of the earth with its military might.

How would I read this document if I was a proclaimed enemy of the United States of America, or even a potential one? I could not in all conscience say I will lay down my arms and leave my country defenseless. I would have to be another Mahatma Gandhi to do that. In the face of these expressions of absolute hegemony there is only one answer, and it is to wield the nuclear threat. Never mind that it is suicide, should we ever be forced to use it. Never mind that it will drain all our resources and poison our land and people.

If we could at last begin to understand the meaning of common security and how to achieve it, nuclear weapons would have served their purpose. It means putting ourselves in the shoes of our adversaries and understanding what their problems are. The process of negotiating nuclear abolition, like with any disarmament treaty before it, brings with it an exchange of needs and desires and seeks fulfilment of those, in order to bring security. A nuclear weapons convention is not just the phased reduction and elimination of the weapons themselves, it is about learning how to trust while evolving a system of verification (through governance and societal control) to underpin that trust. It means opening up and becoming transparent so that fear is reduced and less is based on assumption and more on reality. It also means talking about history and the reasons for conflict while seeking resolution. It means countries that have experience in resolving conflict stepping up to mediate with those who have not yet done so. It is, in fact, a whole new world.

We could begin the process in New York by committing to preparations for a negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention. Or we could stay here on the brink, distrusting and fearful. Some of us looking down into the maw of disaster and repeatedly crying for change. While others have turned their backs and pretend that nothing is wrong, saying there are other more important problems to be solved.

“Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter”
(Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)

Xanthe Hall is disarmament expert for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This article was originally published on the IPPNW Peace and Health Blog.

France – enfant terrible in nuclear disarmament

Will France at least discuss nuclear disarmament?

by Gunnar Westberg

France has a reputation of being  the country where the question of nuclear disarmament is taboo. Any aspect of nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy is the prerogative of the President who does not condescend to discuss these exalted questions with the parliament or – God forbid! – journalists or common citizens. French diplomats taking part in international negotiations insist that as long as there is a bow and an arrow in the world, France needs its nuclear weapons. The reason for the French intransigence may be that the raison d’etre of the French nuclear force is so weak.

To keep Germany down and the USA in.

When the French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France  in 1954 decided that France should develop nuclear weapons, his decision was based on his wartime experience: he feared German rearmament. As NATO grew stronger it became clear that the organization was going to be successful in two of its three goals: To keep Russia out and Germany down. However, France distrusted the USA and was uncertain if the third goal of NATO, to keep USA in Europe, could be secured. NATO was not sufficient. France developed its nuclear strategy with the goal to force the USA to defend Europe. To this end, the French nuclear armed missiles were directed towards Soviet cities, not against that country’s nuclear installations. If the Soviet Union threatened, or invaded,  Western Europe, French nuclear weapons would destroy Leningrad, Moscow , Minsk and other big cities. The Soviet military leaders would see this as an attack by NATO . Nuclear missiles have no “Sender” label.  The response from the Soviet Union would be an all out attack on all NATO countries, especially the USA. Knowing  that this was French strategy, the US would be forced to tell the Russians that they would stand up for Europe. The French nukes were intended to force US policy.

Deterrence works only if the adversary knows what you may be able to do if he attacks you. In this case we must ask if the US knew what the French policy was and accepted its implications. I a  discussion which I had  with General Lee Butler about ten years ago he said that only when in 1991 he became Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Command did he learn that the French nuclear doctrine was primarily intended to force the American hand.  If this was not generally known in the US leadership, how could the US leaders tell the Russians they intended to stand up for Europe, by force if not by will. You can be too clever.

Today: Nukes keep peace and increase self-esteem in France.

The French nuclear strategy today is less diabolic, but not more rational and not more ethical. A French minister of defense said recently that if France was attacked by terrorists, the country supporting these terrorists would be subject to nuclear retaliation.  Polls in France report that many or most French citizens  say that they need to keep their nukes against the flow of immigrants from North Africa.  How the nukes are going to be used in this context is not discussed.

At  the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, we recently met with M. Martin Briens, Deputy Director of the new section for Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament. When asked why France today needs its nuclear weapons while Germany can do without, he said that Germany was under the nuclear umbrella. One might ask, whose umbrella? As reasons why France should have and keep its nuclear weapons, he listed : 1. We have them. History justifies. 2. We have only good intentions, others, e.g. Iran, have evil intentions. 3. We have the right according to the NPT. 4. China is increasing its nuclear weapons force, soon to be equal to that of France.  I general there was so much talk about China in the attempts to justify French nukes that we almost felt that China was about  to invade France.

Fear of a nuclear weapons free world

The core of his thinking was however clear, beyond all the muddled arguments: A world without nuclear weapons is unstable. In such a world there would be much less deterrence against war.  Nuclear weapons keep peace.

This is of course a classical argument. If we look back over the time since World War II we can muster strong claims both for and against this theory. Here is not the place to review this discussion. We in the peace movement argue that had nuclear deterrence between the USA and the Soviet Union failed we would not be here to argue.  And we were pretty close to extinction on more than one occasion, notably in 1983. If nuclear weapons are allowed to persist they will be used.

It may be appropriate to remind ourselves that in a world without nuclear weapons the US military superiority would be enormous and sufficient to achieve what the nuclear deterrence might be doing today. Maybe this, the US military hegemony, is what France fears most of all?

Things may be changing?

The discussion on nuclear disarmament has been heavily censored in France, as has any discussion on nuclear strategy.  However, things may be changing. Four previous political and military leaders with a high status in France have written an article in the journal Le Monde Oct 15 2009. They are Alain Juppé and Michel Rocard, both previous Prime ministers , Bernard Norlain, General and former commander of the air combat force, and Alain Ricard, former minister of Defense. They argue that the risk of nuclear proliferation is great and increasing. Many nations may acquire nuclear weapons in the next decade or two. In that situation the ”old”  nuclear weapon states cannot force their will upon these states, for fear of nuclear retaliation. We should start a debate if not the time has come for France to greatly decrease its dependence on nuclear weapons, in order to make our anti-proliferation agenda credible.

Thus the arguments were quite similar to those from the US “Gang of Four” in their publications in Wall Street Journal in Jan. 2008 and Jan. 2009. But of course, the French paper made no reference to the US article, nor to the British, German or Polish publications with the same arguments and written by previous leaders in foreign policy and defense. France has its own independent agenda and does not follow anyone’s lead.  And the paper only asked for discussions, not for action.

The publication was within hours followed by another article, long on words and short on arguments, written by a well-known journalist, Jean Guisnel. He argued that France should not disarm, because no one else would follow. This argument is used repeatedly by all those who oppose disarmament. They pretend that unilateral disarmament has been proposed,  which is never the case.   What is and should be discussed is: How best to achieve a multilateral, transparent, verifiable nuclear disarmament? How to make credible that the ultimate goal is Zero nuclear weapons, so as to make nuclear wannabe s

Remember Mururoa!

France may be the last and the most difficult holdout. But when the endgame of nuclear abolition begins, even France will see the writing on the wall.

If not, remember Mururoa! When the President of France  threatened to continue the nuclear tests on that crumbling  island, we took to the streets and poured good Bordeaux into the gutters. It worked that time. It could work again.

Gunnar Westberg is former President of IPPNW, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This article was originally published on the IPPNW Peace and Health Blog.