Update: Opposing Nuclear Weapons

By Metta Spencer | 2000-10-01 12:00:00

The campaign to abolish nuclear weapons has been eclipsed in public discourse by a more specific issue: how to talk the U. S. government out of developing a National Missile Defence (NMD), colloquially known as "son of Star Wars." President Clinton has postponed the decision for the next U.S. president, so Canadian activists continue to demonstrate throughout the autumn. Science for Peace, along with several other Toronto organizations, will hold a teach-in on October 14 at Metro Hall. On October 7 there is an international day to protest against NMD deployment of weaponry in space.

But since some 30,000 nuclear weapons remain on the planet, we must include the whole campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. There have been fortunate developments in that direction in 2000, especially in May at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. This is the first review since the treaty was extended indefinitely five years ago. Calgary lawyer Beverly De Long, chair of the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), reports that Canadian NGOs had asked Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy to attend the NPT conference, and asked the government to consult with NGOs while preparing to participate. He did both.

The NPT Review Conference

NGOs participants in the NPT Review Conference included Ernie Regehr of Project Ploughshares, Judy Berlyn of Montreal, and Dr. Penelope Simons and her mother, Dr. Jennifer Simons, both of the Simons Foundation. Jennifer Simons was tasked by Secretary General Kofi Annan to ascertain how much support there may be for his proposal to hold a large international conference on reducing nuclear dangers. Beverly De Long explained that Kofi Annan wants this meeting to take place beyond the boundaries of the NPT regime, because then it could include India, Pakistan, Cuba, and Israel - the countries that are now non-signatories. There are 187 signatories, but these do not include all of the key players. There seems to be little interest in the Secretary General's proposed conference at this time.

The NPT conference turned out more successfully than anyone had expected; for the first time since 1985 it produced a consensus review statement. The credit for this success belongs to the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) - Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden - which had prepared by producing a working paper that was completely sensible and legal. The Permanent Five members of the Security Council (Britain, the United States, France, Russia, and China) then produced a poor response paper, which the NAC was able to counter convincingly under the watchful eyes of the press and the NGOs. As a result, the Conference established a comprehensive agenda for disarmament, albeit the commitments were not timebound.

This time the nuclear powers did not hedge their promise to eliminate nuclear weapons or link it to "general and complete disarment." The document actually included an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapons States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states are committed under Article VI."

The nuclear powers (especially the United States) may consider this new, stronger pledge insignificant. At any rate, plans are continuing unabated in Washington to keep large nuclear forces for the indefinite future. Nevertheless, activists are going to hold all governments to their official, public promises and, if necessary, shame the responsible politicians for any discrepancies between their words and deeds.

NATO's Discrepancies

And of all the discrepancies between words and deeds, the most obvious ones are the contradictions between the commitments made at the NPT Review Conference and the actual plans of NATO. Immediately after NPT, Minister Axworthy went to Florence, Italy to meet with other NATO foreign ministers; he asked them to make NATO's nuclear policy consistent with the newly strengthened NPT. Although no firm changes arose there, a review of NATO nuclear policies had already been launched and the outcome will be announced in December.

There are numerous discrepancies in NATO countries between treaty commitments and reality. For example, NPT signatories promise not to acquire or transfer nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey - all of them non-nuclear NATO members - possess all the technical means required to deliver nuclear weapons by air.

Discrepancies actually may be increasing instead of decreasing. Thus NATO is not firmly committed to its own military doctrine with regard to so-called "negative security assurances" (NSA). As an incentive to all countries on the eve of the NPT Extension Conference in 1995, the Permanent Five promoted the NSA resolution of the Security Council. This pledged not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapons state. Now, however, it is uncertain whether NATO will uphold that commitment under all circumstances. Some NATO politicians seem to want to extend the use of nuclear weapons as deterrents against, not only all nuclear weapons, but also biological and chemical weapons. The objection to this new military doctrine is based on an international law prohibiting disproportionate responses to attacks. However evil chemical and biological weapons are, their effects are small in comparison to nuclear weapons. It would be illegal to use a nuclear weapon in response to a chemical or biological one because of this disproportion.

During the summer, a delegation from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) visited NATO headquarters in Brussels for the second consecutive year to discuss nuclear policies. Hamilton psychiatrist Joanna Santa Barbara participated in the group, which came with a list of suggestions, such as ceasing nuclear sharing among NATO partners; abandoning reliance on nuclear weapons; de-alerting the nuclear weapons that still exist; and establishing a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Europe. They met with an American and a German general, who both took a hard line position against everything the physicians proposed. However, the American officer soon left and talk continued for a long time with the German, whose tone shifted immediately. He expressed dislike of the NMD scheme, calling it a dangerous way of funneling U.S. money to military contractors. He suggested that NATO hold a workshop of some kind with IPPNW members - a proposal that has not yet been followed up.

The abolition movement ran into a major obstacle when the U.S. Congress voted down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB), which otherwise might have entered into force by now. However, although it is exceedingly important, the CTB itself is a limited tool, for it prohibits only testing, whereas with computer simulations it is possible to develop new nuclear weapons without actually exploding one.

Model Convention

A stronger international agreement is needed, and so the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), along with several other international peace groups, sponsored the development of a "Model Nuclear Weapons Convention," principally authored by Merav Datan and Alyn Ware. This draft was submitted to the U.N. Secretary General by Costa Rica in 1997, and has been revised in response to governmental and NGO comments. This autumn the authors, along with Dr. Penelope Simons, have been on a speaking tour through Canada promoting the proposal. So far, Canada has not endorsed the concept of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention. The main objection is against having a convention that involves a single commitment, at one point in time, to the entire process of nuclear disarmament. The advantage of the Model Convention is that it is also incremental in its step-by-step approach, which will move through five sequential phases. Copies of the convention can be obtained for $10 from the U.S. headquarters of IPPNW, through their website: www.ippnw.org.

The Russians

Of the existing nuclear weapons, two-thirds are held by Russia, whose plans it is necessary for the disarmament movement to keep in mind. A few years ago Russia publicly stated that it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first. This contradicted its previous declaratory pledge to use nuclear weapons only in case it was attacked by nuclear weapons. Basically, this new announcement puts Russia on almost the same level as NATO.

However, the Russians are now reforming their military strategy, since they can no longer put resources into both strategic and conventional weapons. There are disputes among the top officials, with Defence Minister Sergeyev taking the traditional view that without its strategic weapons, Russia would lose even more stature among nations. This view has been challenged by a group of reformers within the Russian military led by Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, with the support of President Putin. Kvashnin, who commanded the Russian troops in the last Chechen War, believes that Russia should accept deep cuts in nuclear weapons and adopt a minimal deterrence posture, redirecting the funding into conventional forces.

The Kosovo War heightened tensions between NATO and Russia. Relations were frozen and the Russian diplomats were recalled as a means of protest. To some degree relations have been normalized since the ending of that war. However, the Russians remain unconvinced about the NMD proposal. They have held talks about theatre missile defence (TMD), which would deploy weapons of under 300 or 500 mile range. Although open to the idea of TMD, the Russians would want certainty that in a crisis, no TMD system could be made over into an NMD system.

Metta Spencer edits Peace Magazine. She thanks Beverly De Long, Joanna Santa Barbara, Sergei Plekhanov, Merav Datan, Penelope Simons, and Alyn Ware.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2000

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2000, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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