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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Nuclear Disarmament Hits the Mainstream

The first day of the Munich Security Conference has finished. And one big feature was the place of disarmament in security building. This conference, formerly known as the Wehrkunde, was the haunt of the hyper-realists of the Cold War. But now, the elimination of nuclear weapons from global arsenals has truly hit the mainstream.

The realist par excellence Henry Kissinger delivered his first speech at Munich for some time, and used it to advance his arguments for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying

Over 200 years ago, the philosopher Immanuel Kant defined the ultimate choice before mankind: World history would ultimately culminate in universal peace either by moral insight or by catastrophe of a magnitude that left humanity no other choice. Our period is approaching having that choice imposed on it.

The basic dilemma of the nuclear age has been with us since Hiroshima: how to bring the destructiveness of modern weapons into some moral or political relationship with the objectives that are being pursued.

Any use of nuclear weapons is certain to involve a level of casualties and devastation out of proportion to foreseeable foreign policy objectives. Efforts to develop a more nuanced application have never succeeded, from the doctrine of a geographically limited nuclear war of the 1950s and 1960s to the mutual assured destruction theory of general nuclear war of the 1970s.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons has become an overarching strategic problem for the contemporary period. Any further spread of nuclear weapons multiplies the possibilities of nuclear confrontation; it magnifies the danger of diversion, deliberate or unauthorized.

How will publics react if they suffer or even observe casualties in the tens of thousands in a nuclear attack? Will they not ask two questions: What could we have done to prevent this? What shall we do now so that it can never happen again?

Considerations as these induced former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State George Shultz and me - two Democrats and two Republicans - to publish recommendations for systematically reducing and eventually eliminating the danger from nuclear weapons… my colleagues and I have chosen an incremental, step-by-step approach. Affirming the desirability of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, we have concentrated on the steps that are achievable and verifiable.

Sam Nunn has described the effort akin to climbing a mountain shrouded in clouds. We cannot describe its top or be certain that there may not be unforeseen and perhaps insurmountable obstacles on the way. But we are prepared to undertake the journey in the belief that the summit will never come into view unless we begin the ascent and deal with the proliferation issues immediately before us, including the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The danger posed by nuclear weapons is unprecedented. They should not be integrated into strategy as simply another more efficient explosive. We thus return to our original challenge: Our age has stolen the fire from the gods; can we confine it to peaceful purposes before it consumes us?

You can read his full speech here.

This speech follows from the two Wall Street Journal articles that Kissinger and his colleagues have published, and is part of their personal engagement in this cause. As such, remarkable as it seems to say, this speech was not unexpected. However, as others followed suit, it became clear that the elimination of nuclear weapons is now squarely part of the international political centre-ground. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Moratinos, speaking on global governance, stiull found time to say that:

In these early years of the 21st century, we have still not managed to achieve the ambitions of disarmament that were born after the end of the Cold War. An effective policy of disarmament and non-proliferation (currently of vital importance, when there still remains the danger of terrorist groups gaining access to weapons of mass destruction) would constitute an effective instrument for security and for increasing trust.

The Indian National Security Advisor, Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, spoke on the same theme,. offering a very substantive contribution:

India has been, and still remains, a strong and unwavering advocate of global nuclear disarmament, reflecting the passionate advocacy of nuclear disarmament of its first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.  Even to-day, India is perhaps the only nuclear weapons State to express its readiness to negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention leading to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

In October 2006, India put forward a set of proposals at the United Nations General Assembly in a Working Paper which outlined certain steps that could lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons.  I might here mention a few of these suggestions here:

  • Reaffirm the unequivocal commitment by all nuclear weapon States to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons;
  • reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines;
  • reduce nuclear danger, including the risk of accidental nuclear war, by de-alerting nuclear-weapons to prevent unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons;
  • negotiate a global agreement among nuclear weapons States on ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear weapons;
  • negotiate a universal and legally-binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States;
  • negotiate a Convention on the complete prohibition of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; and
  • negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their time-bound destruction, leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

While awaiting concrete and practical measures for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the means of delivery, and the creation of a legal regime or universal applicability, India welcomes the renewed interest in and support that nuclear disarmament has received from statesmen as well as experts in the field.  India is prepared to engage with the various proponents of nuclear disarmament and to meaningfully contribute to these initiatives.  India has taken note of the initiatives in this regard launched by four eminent statesmen – Dr. Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, whose ideas are now included in the ‘Hoover Plan’.  India’s position was very recently enumerated by India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.  First, on June 9, 2008, to mark the 20th anniversary of the presentation of the Action Plan by Shri Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations, and next, when the Prime Minister addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2008.  The running theme of both the speeches was a reiteration of India’s support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and endorsement of a nuclear weapons-free world as enshrined in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan of 1988.

The debate on disarmament, specially nuclear disarmament, gives rise to the hope of greater understanding that could lend itself to a firm commitment for action on nuclear disarmament.  As concrete steps towards this end, I shall mention the following:

  1. Reaffirmation of the unequivocal commitment by all States possessing nuclear weapons to the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons.  Commitments must be clear and unambiguous and convey some urgency for achieving this goal.  This would apply to NPT States as well as non-NPT States.
  2. Reduction of the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.  It is unfortunate that despite the end of Cold War, there has not been any appreciable change in the centrality of nuclear weapons in the security doctrines  of the major nuclear weapon powers.
  3. Adoption of measures by States to reduce nuclear dangers, including preventing the unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons.  Since 1998, India has been sponsoring in the General Assembly a Resolution entitled “Reducing Nuclear Danger”.  We welcome the fact that more countries are now paying attention to global de-alerting of nuclear weapons.
  4. Negotiations on global agreement among the nuclear powers of a ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons. 
  5. Negotiations towards a universal and legally binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States.
  6. Negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention on the prohibition of the use, and threat of use, of nuclear weapons.  Since 1982, India has proposed that such a Convention be negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament.
  7. Negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would prohibit the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their destruction leading to a global non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified time-frame.

I would like to conclude by once again recalling Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s stark warning when he presented his Action Plan to the UN General Assembly in 1988.  He said that the ‘alternative to co-existence is co-destruction’.  We hope that the message of this Conference will be firmly in favour of humanity’s co-existence in a nuclear weapon free world.

His full speech can be read here.

German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier added his voice to the growing chorus, even mentioning the Global Zero campaign. 

This development in support for global nuclear disarmament is, in some ways, truly astonishing. The campaigns for the elimination of nuclear weapons gained some traction during the 1990s with the work of the Canberra Commission and others. Of course, the NPT has committed its members to work for this goal since 1970. But it is only now that many are some starting to take it seriously. It is precisely in for a such as this that a nuclear weapon free world must be discussed; and it is precisely the ministers, officials and elder statesmen (and they are mostly men) of global security who must work seriously for the implementation of the steps towards a nuclear weapon free world, if it is to be achieved. The anti-nuclear activists and peaceniks have a big part to play, but it is only with the co-option of their ideas by more conservative forces that their goals can be achieved.

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