Make Disarmament a ‘Global Enterprise’

December 2014

By Daryl G. Kimball

The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at yet another important crossroads. Nearly five years after the successful 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan, particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps, has been very disappointing.

In 2010, all NPT nuclear-weapon states committed to “diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons” and “[d]iscuss policies that could prevent the use of nuclear weapons.” Unfortunately, none of them has undertaken demonstrable, concrete steps to do so.

Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011, Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements. NATO has been unable to agree on a proposal for transparency and accounting for Russian and U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Russia refuses to engage in talks on tactical or strategic nuclear weapons and boasts about its nuclear modernization plans.

Progress toward entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is stalled. Negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty and other important disarmament proposals have not begun at the Conference on Disarmament.

Beginning with this month’s conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use and into 2015—the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—key states must consider, explore, and pursue new ideas and initiatives to reduce global nuclear dangers and meet their NPT commitments.

Examine dangerous doctrines. The conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use in Oslo last year; in Nayarit, Mexico, earlier this year; and this month in Vienna are a useful but insufficient mechanism to press for progress on disarmament and challenge nuclear weapons employment plans. At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the nuclear-weapon states should be called to explain the effects of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war.

Accelerate U.S.-Russian nuclear cuts and freeze other stockpiles. Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. The United States and Russia could accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline. Moreover, as long as both sides continue to reduce force levels below the treaty limits, U.S. and Russian leaders could agree to parallel reductions well below New START ceilings.

Other countries must get off the disarmament sidelines. That is especially true for China, India, and Pakistan, which continue to improve their nuclear capabilities. The other nuclear-armed states should pledge not to increase the overall size of their stockpiles as long as U.S. and Russian reductions continue.

A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states could create the conditions for multilateral action on disarmament.

Convene nuclear disarmament summits. As Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Shultz argued last year, a new multilateral effort for nuclear disarmament dialogue is needed. In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested that the UN Security Council convene a summit on nuclear disarmament.

Now is the time for a group of concerned states, perhaps led by Japan and the 10-nation Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, to invite the leaders of 20 to 30 other key states to a one- or two-day summit on the pursuit of a joint enterprise to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

The high-level meeting, which could be held to coincide with the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, could be a new starting point for substantive discussions on proposals for advancing nuclear disarmament. Participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, and/or make their nuclear programs more transparent.

Follow through on the CTBT. Despite statements of support for ratification from China and the United States, neither state has taken sufficient action to secure domestic support for ratification. Stronger leadership from Washington and Beijing is overdue and is necessary to finally close the door on nuclear testing and new nuclear weapons development.

Ratification by Egypt, Iran, and Israel—three other key CTBT holdouts—would also reduce nuclear weapons-related security concerns in the Middle East and help create the conditions necessary for the realization of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

To reinforce the beleaguered nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament system and make the 2015 NPT Review Conference a success, nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states must do more than simply repeat previous calls for action and cite progress achieved in past decades. Serious leaders must be prepared to act, and they must do so right away.