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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Statement to the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee
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Time for All States to Accelerate Progress on Key 2010 Action Steps

Statement to the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting,
United Nations, New York, April 29, 2014

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Paul F. Walker, Ph.D., Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability Green Cross International and Global Green USA

We are one year away from the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and the global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at yet another important crossroads.  The situation requires that the states gathered here must seriously consider, explore, and pursue alternative options to reduce global nuclear dangers and jumpstart progress toward the fulfillment of the ambitious 2010 NPT Action Plan.

The Current Landscape

As efforts to resume Six-Party talks remain stalled, North Korea threatens to conduct its fourth nuclear test in violation of its NPT commitments and the global ban on nuclear tests.  New diplomatic approaches from China, the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan are required, starting with a new proposal for talks focused on interim measures to halt further nuclear testing and long-range missile tests, coupled with more vigorous implementation of existing international sanctions.

Negotiations between the P5+1 states and Iran to resolve longstanding concerns about its nuclear program are at a critical phase.  An effective, multiyear deal can only be achieved if each side is ready to compromise and pursue realistic solutions that meet the other side’s core requirements.

A successful agreement will verifiably and significantly curtail Iran’s overall enrichment capacity, block the plutonium path to the bomb, put in place tougher international inspections, bring Iran fully into the CTBT regime, resolve outstanding questions about the purpose of Iran’s program, and lead to the phased removal of nuclear-related sanctions.

The ability of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to reach agreement on the so-called Action Plan was an important breakthrough.  But the follow-through on the plan—particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps—has been disappointing as progress on most of the items have slowed to a crawl.

The United States and Russia did successfully negotiate, sign, and ratify the 2010 New START treaty, which requires them to have no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads each on no more than 700 deployed bombers and missiles by 2018.

However, since 2011, they have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles.  Even after New START, U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles will still far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements. Many of their weapons remain on prompt launch status, a condition that President-elect Barack Obama called “a dangerous relic of the Cold War.”

Worse still, with Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, which violates its 1994 Budapest Memorandum commitments to respect the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, Russian relations with the United States and Europe have reached perhaps their lowest point in more than a quarter century.  New negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond New START are unlikely any time soon.

Even before the recent political turmoil in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s extralegal occupation and annexation of Crimea, President Putin rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama’s June 2013 proposal to reduce U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles by one-third below the ceilings set by New START.

Progress toward CTBT entry into force  still awaits promised action from the United States and China on ratification, as well as the five other Annex 2 hold-out states.

Talks on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and other important disarmament agenda items have still not begun at the Conference on Disarmament.

Progress on tactical nuclear arms reductions and deployments also remains stalled. NATO has been unable to agree on a proposal for transparency and accounting regarding the 180 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs located in five European states, as well as the far larger stockpile of some 1,000-2,000 Russian tactical nuclear weapons.  Russia refuses to engage in talks on tactical nuclear weapons and its military strategy allows for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict.

In 2010, all of the 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.  In fact, as Hans Kristensen writes in the May 2014 issue of Arms Control Today:

“… all of the world’s nuclear weapons states are busy modernizing their arsenals, continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons, and none of them appears willing to eliminate their nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.”

As a consequence, the risk that nuclear weapons might be used again someday—in response to conventional attack, in response to a nuclear attack, or as the result of accidental exchange—remains all too high.

In light of these realities, leaders at this conference must consider, explore, and pursue new ideas and options to reduce global nuclear dangers and meet the 2010 NPT Action Plan goals.

Ways Forward

We believe that more than one path can and should be pursued. The following are practical ideas for consideration by all states at this meeting:

Use the Humanitarian Consequences Conferences As An Opportunity for Dialogue: The conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons are a useful and important venue for understanding the risks of nuclear weapons and the means by which those risks can be eliminated.

The five NPT nuclear weapon states should actively participate in the meeting and support joint statements warning of the consequences of nuclear weapons use.

For their part, the non-nuclear-weapon state majority must also better utilize the Humanitarian Consequences dialogue to develop and come together around proposals that more effectively challenge the dangerous nuclear doctrines of the nuclear weapons states.

Before the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the nuclear weapons states should also be called upon to explain the effects of their nuclear weapons use doctrines and war plans, if they were to be carried out, and explain how the use of such weapons would be consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law.

The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that “[t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must also be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict.  Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects.  The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

Given the catastrophic consequences of the large-scale use of nuclear weapons against hundreds of targets, as envisioned in the U.S. and Russian war plans, it is hard to see how the use of significant numbers of nuclear weapons could be consistent with international humanitarian law or any common sense interpretation of the Law of Armed Conflict.

The NPT nuclear weapons states should, as part of their reporting responsibilities for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, report in detail on their nuclear weapons employment policies so that NPT states parties can evaluate whether such practices are consistent with international humanitarian law.

Accelerate New START Reductions: As a 2012 report by the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board suggests, with New START verification tools in place, further nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty.  The United States and Russia could accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline.  As long as long as both sides continue to reduce force levels below the treaty limits, deeper reductions below New START are possible.

Such an initiative would also allow both sides to reduce the extraordinary costs of force maintenance and modernization and could help induce other nuclear-armed states to exercise greater restraint.

Seek to Cap the Growth of the Arsenals of the Other Nuclear-Armed States: U.S. and Russian nuclear forces still comprise more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear stockpiles.  But other countries must do more to fulfill their NPT Article VI obligations.

As a first step, other nuclear-armed states, beginning with China, France, and the U.K., should pledge not to increase the overall size of their growing nuclear weapons and missile stockpiles as long as U.S. and Russian reductions continue.  Such an effort must eventually involve states outside the NPT, specifically India and Pakistan, which continue to expand their stocks of nuclear weapons material and their holdings of nuclear weapons.

Adjust Nuclear Readiness Posture of Some ICBMs: As a confidence-building measure, U.S. and Russian experts could commence technical discussions on verifiably reducing the alert status of an agreed portion of their respective stockpiles, beginning with a portion of their land-based intercontinental ballistic missile forces. In December 2008, President-elect Obama said he would “work with Russia to end such outdated Cold War policies in a mutual and verifiable way.”[1]

Follow Through on Commitments to Ratify the CTBT: Despite statements of support for ratification from the United States and China, neither state has taken sufficient action to secure domestic support for ratification.  The path to approval by the U.S. Senate is a tough climb but is achievable with a major push.  So far, the White House has done too little to begin the ascent.  Now is the time for President Obama to begin that effort.

Ratification by Israel, Egypt, and Iran would reduce nuclear weapons-related security concerns in the region.  It would also help create the conditions necessary for the realization of a Middle East Zone free of Nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Iranian ratification of the CTBT—as well as a decision to allow the transmittal of data from international monitoring stations on its territory to the International Data Center in Vienna— should be a part of any comprehensive P5+1/Iran agreement.

Iran’s leaders should want to ratify the CTBT to help distinguish their country from North Korea, which for now, is the only state that openly threatens to conduct further nuclear tests.

States not involved in the Iran nuclear talks, particularly the Non-Aligned Movement, need to do their part by calling on President Hassan Rouhani to ratify the treaty.

Conclusion

As Obama said last year, “[S]o long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. Complacency is not in the character of great nations.”  States and this conference must do more than simply repeat previous calls for action. States must be prepared to act and they must do so before next year’s review conference.

In the coming months, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to reduce nuclear dangers and to fulfill the promises of the NPT.

 


Endnotes

1. “Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: President-elect Barack Obama,” Arms Control Today, December, 2008.