Contexts for Progress

Tasneem Jamal

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers works in the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination? 


Question: What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

There are four contexts within which progress towards nuclear elimination should be considered.

The first is that although there have been substantial cuts in nuclear arsenals in the past decade, all the existing nuclear states are intent on maintaining and modernising their nuclear forces. US plans include upgrading nuclear forces, with improvements to long range missiles and development of specialised tactical warheads such as the B61-11 earth penetrating warhead. Russia is struggling to maintain nuclear forces but sees them as essential in an era of a collapsing conventional capability. Britain, China and France are modernising their systems, Israel is developing a cruise missile capability and India and Pakistan are in the early stages of establishing diverse nuclear forces. An arms control priority is to curb the modernising tendency.

Secondly, movement towards a National Missile Defense (NMD) may result in loss of the ABM Treaty, abrogation of the START and INF agreements, and selective nuclear expansion by Russia and China. The former may include a new generation of cheap Euro-missiles and the latter would have follow-on effects on India and Pakistan.

Thirdly, nuclear weapons form part of a wider problem of weapons of mass destruction; some states without the prospect of early nuclear developments are pursuing chemical and biological agent development. Nuclear elimination will not be achieved except in the context of progress on CBW.

Finally, there is a deep perception among many middle-ranking non-western states that economic as well as military control is in the hands of a small group of elite states, primarily of the North Atlantic community, and with the United States dominant. As the global wealth/poverty and power divides grow rapidly wider, weapons of mass destruction are seen as “weapons of the underdog.” Sustainable progress towards their elimination will not succeed unless wider issues of deep global disparities of wealth and power are progressively addressed.

Concerning nuclear weapons, it is urgently necessary to resurrect the status of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, linking it to the responsibilities of the existing nuclear powers under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Put bluntly, states have to engage in serious, progressive and verifiable nuclear disarmament as specified under Article 6 of the Treaty. This may be done by unilateral, bilateral or multilateral actions. Preventing the loss of the ABM Treaty is essential, as is rapid progress on the START 2 and START 3 agreements between the United States and Russia, accompanied by further aid to Russia to facilitate de-nuclearisation.

Further transparency on nuclear stockpiles is required for all nuclear weapons states, including Israel, along with no-first-use pledges and the extension of nuclear-free zones. In particular, there should be an immediate and transparent commitment to forgo all further nuclear weapons development. Ultimately, but still in the near future, work should commence on a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would be intended to oversee the abolition of nuclear weapons.

There already exists a Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) developed during the 1990s and including some quite severe verification procedures. In particular, negotiation of the CWC has involved the addressing of difficult questions relating to commercial confidentiality in competitive chemical industries. Furthermore, the CWC has been signed and ratified by an impressive range of countries and its machinery has a developing technical capability for the verification of implementation. Even so, given the potential for developing a wide range of new chemical agents, not least psychotropic (mind-altering) chemicals, there is a compelling need for support for the treaty and its implementation to be much higher up the international political agenda.

A Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was agreed in Geneva as long ago as 1972, but it is a singularly weak treaty as it lacks any proper verification measures. Negotiations for a strengthened treaty have been in progress in Geneva for some time, but a revitalised treaty will require stringent verification procedures and a well-resourced international inspection organisation. Of all the arms control negotiations of the current era, the improvement of the BTWC may turn out to be the most important. The many developments in genetic engineering and biotechnology are greatly adding to the potential for producing hugely dangerous biological warfare agents. It is no exaggeration to say that if these cannot be brought under control, then the coming decades will involve dangers as great as those from nuclear weapons. Certainly, the proliferation of biological weapons will be cited even more forcefully by nuclear weapons states as fundamental reasons for maintaining and developing their nuclear arsenals.

The arms control agenda suggested here goes beyond what is now contemplated, even on an optimistic assessment or prospects, but it is of the order of action required if progress towards nuclear elimination is to happen. If it is attempted, though, it will be limited in its chances of success if it does not form part of a wider agenda of actions to ensure a persistent programme of co-operative and sustainable development designed to address the much wider but fundamental security issues of global disparities. Otherwise it will be seen by many countries of the South as a method for elite states to limit military security in the South, not least by maintaining elite conventional military power, while they continue to dominate the world economic and political system.

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