Berlin Split over US Nuke Modernization

According to the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, the US wants to modernize part of its nuclear arsenal, including some bombs based in Germany. But the plan is likely to be controversial in Berlin where the ruling coalition remains divided over whether the American weapons should be in the country at all.

Read article in Der Spiegel

The Moral Challenge of a Nuclear-Free World

by Katsuya Okada and Guido Westerwelle, 4 September 2010

This May, delegations from more than 180 countries gathered in New York, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, to discuss how to free the world from nuclear weapons. Despite the positive momentum that flowed from President Barack Obama’s 2009 speech on the issue in Prague, there was enormous pressure on the conference. With a spirit of cooperation and flexibility from all delegates, however, the conference lived up to its expectations.

As foreign ministers, we draw two conclusions from this. First, it is remarkable that all delegates agreed on the conference’s action plan, which includes various new and important commitments on nuclear disarmament as well as concrete measures to implement the 1995 Middle East Resolution, which called for the a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the region. We should do everything possible to implement this agreement.

Our second conclusion is that the agreement is extremely fragile.

Without an intensive concerted effort, states will not honor it. The irreconcilable views expressed throughout the conference-on such issues as the Iranian nuclear program and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s rules for how signatories withdraw-will not fade away.

Prior to the conference, major nuclear-weapons states took some remarkable steps. The U.S. and Russia agreed to further cut their strategic nuclear weapons. The U.S. also presented a new approach in its Nuclear Posture Review, published in April, which provided strong negative security assurances (that is, assurances that it would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states).

We welcome and support the Obama administration’s commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons and strengthening nuclear security. Together with nuclear-weapons states, including the U.S., we are ready to discuss how to reduce the role of nuclear weapons-by, for example, committing to possess them only for the purpose of deterring others from using them. Even if nuclear states cannot immediately agree to abandon their nuclear weapons, they can take practical measures to reduce clear and present risks.

It is also necessary to make the possession of nuclear weapons unattractive. North Korea and Iran must understand that acquiring nuclear weapons in contradiction of their nonproliferation obligations would never be tolerated and would not elevate their status in the international community.

Like climate change, nuclear disarmament raises the question of whether mankind can feel a sense of responsibility across national borders and generations. Nuclear disarmament asks whether mankind can act to reduce the risks of self-destruction posed by “God’s fire.” We should never forget how human beings and buildings vanished in the tremendous flash of light and heat in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 65 years ago. This is a global issue that tests our sense of responsibility and morality.

Morality has recently played an important role in bringing about the success of treaties on land mines and cluster munitions. It is thus no coincidence that the Final Document of May’s conference cited the need for states to comply with international humanitarian law.

Some may ask themselves why Japan and Germany are seeking to pursue nuclear disarmament with such vigor when both countries rely on the United States for nuclear deterrence. Our countries have long been advocates of disarmament. Since re-emerging from total devastation in the second world war, both countries have pursued a peaceful and stable world and the total elimination of nuclear weapons. It is in such a shared conviction that we find a common role.

And we believe that pursuing nuclear disarmament is the path that will most reliably minimize nuclear risks and enhance international security.

The 21st century will be about managing our planet. History will remember favorably those countries that respond with a sense of global responsibility. Let us set upon the realistic and responsible path towards a world without nuclear weapons. It is a moral responsibility.

Mr. Okada is foreign minister of Japan. Mr. Westerwelle is foreign minister of Germany.

This article was originally published by the Wall Street Journal.

“People who have visions should go to see their doctor”

The Horsemen ride again

George Shultz and Henry Kissinger in Berlin

An article published on Znet by Darwin Bondgraham, Will Parrish and Nicholas Ian Robinson entitled “Full Court Press” prompted me to write this blog post. It appeared in the same week that I attended a “once-in-a-lifetime” meeting at the American Academy in Berlin between seven of the eight US and German “horsemen”, as we are wont to call them. That is, the elder statesmen Kissinger, Shultz, Perry and Nunn plus Schmidt, Genscher and Weizsäcker. Unfortunately the main thinker of the German group, Egon Bahr, was laid up in bed with fever and couldn’t attend.

In the Znet article, all those who have welcomed this mainstream vision of a nuclear weapon-free world are labelled “naiv” and as having committed “a major political and moral blunder” in believing that this was “a signal that the US national security state was poised to pursue an enlightened course of de-escalation toward eventual disarmament”. Now, I for one did not think that the Kissinger et al article in the Wall St. Journal, coming as it did more than two years before Obama won the US election, was an indication of US government policy to come. And I think that one might be forgiven for accusing many of us of believing too readily that Obama’s speech in Prague was just such an indication. But it seems that reform in the United States is as mammoth a task as it was for Michail Gorbachev to reform the Soviet Union, which – I remind you – collapsed in the process. And a jolly good thing it was too.

This very strong criticism on the part of Bondgraham and co. comes hot on the heels of the latest essay in the Wall St. Journal “How to Protect our Nuclear Deterrent”, which calls for the “maintenance of confidence in our nuclear arsenal” and argues for greater investment in the nuclear laboratories to do so. This article received a very bad response from the abolitionists around the world and quite rightly so, since it would appear on the surface that the US horsemen are contradicting their earlier vision. Indeed, it was unfortunate that they should – having spent so much effort on becoming anti-nuclear visionaries – resort to such pragmatic and tactical politicking. However, as I read the article, my first reaction was that it was not addressed to me, but to the 40 Republican and 1 independent Senators who were trying to hijack the not-yet-signed new START treaty by demanding a complete modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal be a condition of ratification. In stating their support of the findings of the JASON study, the Gang of Four were saying no to modernisation and yes to maintenance. As the Znet Gang of Three so aptly wrote: “The reality of nuclear weapons policy formation is much more complex and political” than it often appears.

Having said that, it is quite right not to herald the statements of the US elder statesmen as “anti-nuclear” or “abolitionist”. These are men who belong to the high church of nuclear deterrence and are true believers. The only reason that they can envision a world without nuclear weapons now is that they realise that nuclear deterrence will not work against the undeterrable. They are not prepared to concede for one moment that it was a mistake to rest our security for the last 65 years on such a dangerous policy that was repeatedly on the brink of collapsing into nuclear war. They do not agree that it is somehow immoral that their country should possess the means to destroy the planet many times over and other countries should not. They are deeply Conservative.

But on the other hand, in order to effect the major mindset change that is necessary to abolish nuclear weapons (and thereby open the way to common security), must we not effect this change across the board of political persuasion? Irregardless of whether these elder statesmen are willing to admit to mistakes made in the past, is it not better to nurture this first little sapling of change and help it to grow into something that advances our common goal – a nuclear weapon-free world? Look how far it has got us already: through their “vision”, the way was cleared for Obama to state that he also had this “vision” and then Medvedev agreed. Really good news is the new Russian military doctrine, just out, that states that “Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against her and (or) her allies, and in a case of an aggression against her with conventional weapons that would put in danger the very existence of the state.” No mention of “preventive” nuclear strikes after all.  And now we are close to getting a new treaty for major nuclear arms reductions. This could easily be scuppered by the nuclear protagonists which is why the Gang of Four are lining up in front of it.

At the meeting in Berlin, the US horsemen explained – somewhat superficially – that they had a vision that they did not know how to achieve. So they are now in the process of working out what steps are needed. Here, the analogy of the mountain with its peak in the clouds was repeated, an analogy that has been very well countered by the description of the strategy used for conquering Everest of making a plan first and then executing the climb. But in both of these analogies the base camps are the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation steps needed to go forward and upward. The questions that remain are these: which steps; can steps be taken in parallel; and how much of the full plan should be decided (and committed to) in advance?

We were reminded at the meeting in Berlin that Helmut Schmidt has often been quoted as saying that “people with visions should go and see their doctor”. Of course, he was being derogatory at the time, but we could turn this statement on its head by saying this: “They might have the vision, but we have the prescription”. And interestingly enough, it was General Klaus Naumann, one of the very High Priests of nuclear deterrence, who mentioned the prescription that evening in Berlin. Naumann is a member of the illustrious International Commission on Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament that produced its report “Eliminating Nuclear Threats” late in 2009 and presented it to the Conference on Disarmament recently. The report gives quite a lot of thought to the Nuclear Weapons Convention – our prescription for survival – while still not committing itself to being a proponent of it. Obviously Naumann thinks that the Convention is not a good idea and was looking for a condemnation of it from the Horsemen. He asked “does not the public desire for a Nuclear Weapons Convention pose a risk to a realistic approach to nuclear disarmament?” And Sam Nunn replied that we may well reach a point when a Convention would become plausible, but we are not there now. Nunn’s argument against the Convention is this: we shouldn’t focus on negotiating a new treaty right now but on getting the US and Russia to lead the way with disarmament.

This can be interpreted in two opposite ways and I’m sure it will be. Many abolitionists will say that Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative are blocking the way to a Convention. Or we could look at it differently and say that Sam Nunn and the ICNND are saying they think there needs to be more groundwork done before actual negotiation begins. But they are not saying there should not be a Convention at all, and that is a big difference from the past.

For those of us in Europe who are really interested in halting the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal, the way forward lies in debunking the argument of the nuclear protagonists that the allies are the ones that want these weapons. That is why we have to take every available opportunity to get rid of the US bombs in Europe and close the nuclear umbrella worldwide. The proposed modernisation of the B61 bomb is still on the table and the money for the first study has been approved by Congress.

The really interesting thing about the US-German meeting of horsemen was not to be found at the event that I witnessed, but in private discussions to which I was not privy. But I am assured by those that are that the German four are pushing hard for movement on the US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and on discussion of Medvedev’s proposal for a common security architecture. We have been here before, as I am reminded by reading Richard Rhodes’ excellent book “Arsenals of Folly”. Gorbachev picked up on the Bahr-Brandt idea of common security and made it a cornerstone of his international policy. It is often agreed that common security is needed in order to abolish nuclear weapons. But I would contend that it is the other way round: retaining nuclear deterrence as a basis for our security prevents us from achieving the common security that we desperately need in this world. And Gorbachev was also correct in perceiving that it was the military-industrial complex that is running that show. Just imagine what would happen to the arms industry if we were to go down the road of common security. Now that really would be an interesting vision. Perhaps we should go and see the doctor.

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.