Start worrying and learn to ditch the bomb: It won't be easy, but a world free of nuclear weapons is possible
Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen and George Robertson
During the Cold War nuclear weapons had the perverse effect of making
the world a relatively stable place. That is no longer the case.
Instead, the world is at the brink of a new and dangerous phase - one
that combines widespread proliferation with extremism and
( From: The Times )
Some of the terrorist organisations of today would have little
hesitation in using weapons of mass destruction to further their own
nihilistic agendas. Al-Qaeda and groups linked to it may be trying to
obtain nuclear material to cause carnage on an unimaginable scale.
Rogue or unstable states may assist, either willingly or unwillingly;
the more nuclear material in circulation, the greater the risk that
it falls into the wrong hands. And while governments, no matter how
distasteful, are usually capable of being deterred, groups such as
al-Qaeda, are not. Cold War calculations have been replaced by
asymmetrical warfare and suicide missions.
There is a powerful case for a dramatic reduction in the stockpile of
nuclear weapons. A new historic initiative is needed but it will only
succeed by working collectively and through multilateral
institutions. Over the past year an influential project has developed
in the United States, led by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William
Perry and Sam Nunn, all leading policymakers. They have published two
articles in The Wall Street Journal describing a vision of a world
free of nuclear weapons and articulating some of the steps that,
cumulatively taken, could help to achieve that end. Senator John
McCain has endorsed that analysis recently. Barack Obama is likely to
be as sympathetic.
A comparable debate is now needed in this country and across Europe.
Britain and France, both nuclear powers, are well placed to join in
renewed multilateral efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons
in existence. The American initiative does not call for unilateral
disarmament; neither do we. Instead, progress can be made only by
working alongside other nations towards a shared goal, using commonly
agreed procedures and strategies.
The world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons are overwhelmingly
controlled by two nations: the United States and Russia. While
Washington is in possession of about 5,000 deployed warheads, Russia
is reported to have well over 6,000, making its stockpile the largest
in the world. It is difficult to understand why either the American
or Russian governments feel that they need such enormous numbers of
Hard-headed Americans, such as Dr Kissinger and Mr Shultz, have
argued that dramatic reductions in the number of nuclear weapons in
these arsenals could be made without risking America's security. It
is indisputable that if serious progress is to be made it must begin
with these two countries.
The US and Russia should ensure that the Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty of 1991 continues to provide the basis for co-operation in
reducing the number of nuclear weapons. The treaty's provisions need
to be extended. Agreement should be reached on the issue of missile
defence. The US proposal to make Poland and the Czech Republic part
of their missile defence shield has upset the Kremlin. It has been a
divisive issue, but it need not be. Any missile threat to Europe or
the United States would also be a threat to Russia. Furthermore,
Russia and the West share a strong common interest in preventing
Elsewhere, there are numerous stockpiles that lie unaccounted for. In
the former Soviet Union alone, some claim that there is enough
uranium and plutonium to make a further 40,000 weapons. There have
been reports of nuclear smuggling in the Caucasus and some parts of
Eastern Europe. Security Council Resolution 1540, which obliges
nations to improve the security of stockpiles, allows for the
formation of teams of specialists to be deployed in those countries
that do not possess the necessary infrastructure or experience in
dealing with stockpiles. These specialists should be deployed to
assist both in the monitoring and accounting for of nuclear material
and in the setting up of domestic controls to prevent security
breaches. Transparency in these matters is vital and Britain can, and
should, play a role in providing experts who can fulfil this important role.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, for 40 years the foundation of counter-
proliferation efforts, in in need of an overhaul. The provisions on
monitoring compliance need to be strengthened. The monitoring
provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Additional
Protocol, which require a state to provide access to any location
where nuclear material may be present, should be accepted by all the
nations that have signed up to the NPT. These requirements, if
implemented, would have the effect of strengthening the ability of
the IAEA to provide assurances about both declared nuclear material
and undeclared activities. At a time when a number of countries,
including Iran and Syria, may be developing a nuclear weapons
programme under the guise of civilian purposes, the ability to
be clear about all aspects of any programme is crucial.
Bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into effect would,
similarly, represent strong progress in the battle to reduce the
nuclear threat. The treaty would ban the testing of nuclear weapons,
ensuring that the development of new generations of weapons ceases.
However, it will only come into force once the remaining nine states
who have not yet ratified it do so. Britain, working through Nato and
the EU, must continue to encourage those remaining states that have
not yet agreed to the Treaty - India, Pakistan, Egypt, China,
Indonesia, North Korea, Israel, Iran and the United States - to ratify it.
A modern non-proliferation regime will require mechanisms to provide
those nations wishing to develop a civilian nuclear capability with
the assistance and co-operation of those
states that possess advanced expertise and that are able to provide
nuclear fuel, spent-fuel management assistance, enriched uranium and
technical assistance. But, in
return, proper verification procedures must be in place and access
for the IAEA must not be impeded.
Achieving real progress in reducing the nuclear weapons threat will
impose obligations on all nuclear powers not just the US and Russia.
The UK has reduced its nuclear weapons capability significantly over
the past 20 years. It disposed of its freefall and tactical nuclear
weapons and has achieved a big reduction of the number of warheads
used by the Trident system to the minimum believed to be compatible
with the retention of a nuclear deterrent. If we are able to enter
into a period of significant multilateral disarmament Britain, along
with France and other existing nuclear powers, will need to consider
what further contribution it might be able to make to help to achieve
the common objective.
Substantial progress towards a dramatic reduction in the world's
nuclear weapons is possible. The ultimate aspiration should be to
have a world free of nuclear weapons. It will take time, but with
political will and improvements in monitoring, the goal is
achievable. We must act before it is too late, and we can begin by
supporting the campaign in America for a non-nuclear weapons world.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Hurd of Westwell and Lord Owen are all
former foreign secretaries; Lord Robertson of Port Ellen is a former