Fast Track to Zero Nuclear Weapons

by Robert Green Image


The end of the Cold War provided an unprecedented opportunity to end the nuclear weapons era. This opportunity is now at risk of being lost in the clutter of obstacles thrown up by the nuclear weapon states, whose leaders remain trapped in a Cold War mindset.

This briefing book reviews the deepening nuclear weapon crisis, and explores the role that middle power governments, supported by civil society, can play in overcoming the obstacles to moving rapidly to a nuclear weapon-free world.


Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the five original nuclear weapon states - the United States (US), Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom (UK) - are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and maintain 5,000 warheads on hair-trigger alert. NATO, reaffirming that its nuclear weapons are "essential", has retained an option to use them first, expanded eastwards, and used military force in the Balkans without UN Security Council consent. This situation, and severe domestic military, political and economic pressures, have convinced Russia to mirror NATO's nuclear posture.

In 1998, India and Pakistan demonstrated the inherent weakness of a discriminatory non-proliferation regime by becoming overt nuclear weapon states, following the example of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Progress on nuclear weapon reduction agreements between the US and Russia has stalled. Constructive proposals by non-nuclear weapon states in the Conference on Disarmament are blocked by the NATO nuclear weapon states and/or India and Pakistan. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is nowhere near entering into force. As a result, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is in jeopardy .

Canberra Commissioner General Lee Butler USAF (Ret), recently in charge of all US nuclear planning, has described the situation thus:

"Options are being lost as urgent questions are unasked, or unanswered; as outmoded routines perpetuate Cold War patterns and thinking; and as a new generation of nuclear actors and aspirants lurch backward toward a chilling world where the principal antagonists could find no better solution to their entangled security fears than Mutual Assured Destruction."


Yet a bridge to a nuclear weapon-free world can still - and must - be built. Alarmed by the deepening crisis, the worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons has been revived and is gaining strength. This combines citizen organizations and individuals, including formerly pro-nuclear advocates, respected authorities and governments.

In July 1996, the International Court of Justice provided a legal imperative by deciding unanimously that nations must conclude negotiations to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Since then, religious leaders from many traditions have declared nuclear weapons immoral. An international group of former generals and admirals has announced that nuclear weapons are

"a peril to global peace and security and to the safety and survival of the people we are dedicated to protect". General Butler added that he now condemns nuclear deterrence doctrine as "costly, wrongheaded and dangerous".

In a 1997 report entitled "The Future of U.S. Nuclear Policy", the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences pointed to the need for a bridge when it concluded that "the potential benefits of a global prohibition of nuclear weapons are so attractive relative to the attendant risks that increased attention is now warranted to studying and fostering the conditions that would have to be met to make prohibition desirable and feasible."

On 9 June 1998, the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden offered such a bridge when they launched a Joint Declaration called "Towards A Nuclear Weapon-Free World: The Need For A New Agenda". Known as the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), they criticised both the nuclear weapon states and the three nuclear weapons-capable states of India, Israel and Pakistan, and called on them all to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for eliminating their nuclear arsenals.

Though the NAC's inception pre-dated the South Asian nuclear crisis, the timing was excellent. This historic development, bringing together eight courageous "middle-power" governments determined to act for humanity and the planet, posed a serious challenge to the nuclear weapon states which they could not ignore. The NAC - drawn from nearly every continent, and independent of the Cold War blocs - represents the overwhelming majority of states which have clearly lost patience with the lack of progress towards a nuclear weapon-free world. More than this, it consists of states which have forsworn nuclear weapons, have shown leadership on disarmament issues, and have good relations with the nuclear weapon states.

The Joint Declaration embodies a way to move gradually from the current unstable, unsustainable and discriminatory non-proliferation regime to a more secure world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Middle Powers Initiative Priorities

The Middle Powers Initiative (MPI) grew out of an initiative by the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. It is now co-sponsored by eight leading international organizations. The dangers arising from the continued reliance on the threat to use nuclear weapons have stimulated action by numerous professional arms control, non-proliferation, security and disarmament organizations, parliamentarians, individual experts and grassroots/civil society networks such as Abolition 2000 with nearly 1,500 endorsing groups worldwide. Founded in March 1998, MPI's initial aim was achieved almost a year sooner than it expected by the NAC's independent initiative. Its immediate priority, therefore, became to help mobilise civil society and governments in support of the NAC.

Even in the US and UK, opinion polls show that 87 per cent of those polled want their governments to help negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention, like the enforceable global treaty prohibiting chemical weapons. However, their governments have not responded. MPI sees its role as helping to transform this overwhelmimg desire into political movement through a process of education about the deepening nuclear disarmament crisis and practical ways out of it.

As part of this process, a team of lawyers, scientists, engineers and disarmament experts drafted a model Nuclear Weapons Convention to stimulate debate on how realistically to achieve this goal. At the request of Costa Rica, the UN circulated the model as a discussion draft. MPI supports this initiative, as well as UN resolutions designed to encourage the nuclear weapon states to commence negotiations on the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

MPI's immediate priorities are:

Highlighting the need for urgency, MPI plans to raise the visibility of this reality and the indiscriminate cruelty of nuclear weapons. Their continued existence represents humanity's greatest single moral, legal and political challenge.


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