SECURITY & DEFENCE
Lifting the nuclear threat isn’t a pipe dream
The U.S.-led drive to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism is just one facet of the campaign to free the world of nuclear weapons. General Klaus Naumann, a former chairman of NATO’s military Committee, says that 2010 will be key to these efforts
Nuclear arms control and disarmament will be among the top issues on the political agenda now and in the foreseeable future. It is an issue of crucial strategic importance for Europe, and so one on which Europe should articulate its own views. At the same time, this year will determine whether U.S. President Barack Obama's vision of a nuclear free world will remain a distant but achievable hope, or whether it must be abandoned. No one should today be under any illusions; even if all the world’s nuclear weapon states (NWS) rally behind the vision of a world that will eventually be free of the threat of a nuclear conflict, nuclear weapons will continue to exist for two decades at least, and even that would require the most favourable conditions for disarmament during all that time.
There are general reasons why 2010 is such a key year.
The agreement signed in early April in Prague between Russia and the U.S. on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and possibly on further cuts was accompanied by the publication in the U.S. of the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) identifying the nuclear capabilities the President wishes to preserve for the next four years. Then there is the NPT review conference on the adapting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to our rapidly changing world, and in front of many policymaker’s minds is the hope that before the year is out, 2010 will bring clarity on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programmes.
There are today more than 23,000 nuclear weapons, some 40,000 fewer than during the height of the Cold War, the total yield of these weapons is nevertheless greater than 150,000 Hiroshima-size nuclear explosions. Nuclear disarmament is therefore still urgently needed, and moves by prominent politicians in the U.S. and in Germany have produced the U.S.-led Global Zero initiative and the setting-up of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) sponsored by Australia and Japan and co-chaired by former Foreign Ministers Yoriko Kawaguchi and Gareth Evans.
Nine-tenths of nuclear weapons are owned by the U.S., Russia. France, the UK and China, all signatories of the NPT, while between them India, Pakistan and probably Israel possess some 1,000 weapons. North Korea presumably has a few and Iran is most likely still pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have agreed on a common objective of a nuclear free world and agreed on cuts that will reduce their respective strategic arsenals to 1550 weapons each. This is more by far than the 1,000 figure Barack Obama had in mind, but it is nevertheless a huge step that could bring about further nuclear disarmament.
But the road to global nuclear disarmament will be long and bumpy. To begin with, the capacity to capacity to dismantle and destroy nuclear warheads is rather limited, and it seems that it is virtually impossible to increase it. Present capacity is some 500 weapons a year in both countries which means that the total of 2000 weapons each which the ICNND Report suggests for the year 2025 can’t be fully implemented much before 2028. Then there is the likely renaissance of nuclear power plants to be taken into account. To come close to the targets that were under discussion at the Copenhagen summit more nuclear power plants will be unavoidable, leading to additional enrichment and reprocessing facilities so that considerable quantities of fissile materiel are going to be produced.
Then, there is the risk that other countries will follow the example of North Korea and Iran, particularly in the Middle East region. Such a world would be more dangerous by far, and one in which the use of nuclear weapons could no longer be ruled out. The ICNND report “Eliminating Nuclear Threats" late last year proposes meeting these challenges with a comprehensive agenda for the reduction of nuclear risks. As the German ICNND Commissioner, I believe this report is the first and only one so far to suggest precise and feasible steps towards a nuclear free world.
It consists of 20 proposals to be decided on at this year's NPT review conference, and ends with proposed decisions to be taken after 2025. It leaves no room for doubt that a nuclear free world is achievable without any risk to the security of individual states provided that for the next 20 years or so there is sustained political will around the world, and particularly in the Nuclear Weapon States to eliminate all these weapons. In addition to the NPT review agenda, the report proposes concrete measures for the reduction of readiness of nuclear weapons and suggests a declaration by all Nuclear Weapon States that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter others from their use, coupled with an obligation by the NWS not to increase their stockpiles.
For the 2025 timeframe, the aim is to reduce the global nuclear stockpile to 2,000, or less than 10% of today's number. A “No-First-Use” declaration should be collectively agreed, in conjunction with corresponding verifiable force structures, deployments and readiness status. As supplementary steps, the report suggests negotiating limitations on missiles, on strategic missile defence, weapons in space, biological weapons and on eliminating conventional weapons imbalances.
If this ambitious agenda can be achieved by 2025, that would usher in the last phase in the quest for a nuclear free world. This requires first and foremost the creation of political conditions which would reliably rule out at a regional as well as global level any wars of aggression. Nuclear weapons would thus become superfluous so that then, although not earlier, they could be banned and the process of their total elimination could begin. In parallel, mandatory measures would penalise any states attempting to circumvent the ban, and which would also punish individuals involved in producing nuclear weapons.
The Obama vision could thus become reality in 20 years from now, provided the first steps are taken in 2010 by the U.S. and Russia. Should they agree on negotiating immediate further cuts, these must include sub-strategic weapons, so the day will come when the few remaining American nuclear weapons in Europe are withdrawn in exchange for the elimination of the still-substantial Russian stockpile in this category. This could then but not earlier be done without any risk to European security and without any strain on NATO solidarity.
But the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons in Europe is by no means the first step towards nuclear disarmament. To suggest it as an opening move could damage European security and jeopardise transatlantic cohesion, so the message has to be “no” to a unilateral withdrawal because that would diminish Europe’s security, but “yes” to the inclusion of these weapons in future arms control negotiations. Should these weapons then be withdrawn, that would not mean the end of nuclear deterrence for Europe, as that will remain necessary until the day the last nuclear weapon is dismantled. But the sole purpose of retaining some degree of deterrence will be to deter the use of nuclear weapons.
Europe perhaps benefited more than any other part of the world from nuclear deterrence, because it helped to preserve peace during the Cold War and prevented nuclear proliferation. But now the time has come to join Presidents Obama and Medvedev in bringing about nuclear disarmament because without the example of the U.S. and Russia the world will see more not fewer NWS.