Regionsglobal-regionsThe Five Big Again Talk Nuclear Disarmament

The Five Big Again Talk Nuclear Disarmament

By Tony Robinson*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

LONDON (IDN) – The five veto-wielding permanent (P5) members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States – met in Paris on June 30 and July 1, 2011 to deal with an issue that carries with it the survival of the planet: nuclear disarmament.

The conference was a follow up to the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York in May 2010, and the conference on Confidence Building Measures towards disarmament and non-proliferation issues in September 2009 in London.

The five governments expectedly reaffirmed their unconditional support for the NPT and the Action Plan of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. A tangible result of the Paris gathering was agreement on a meeting of technical experts in London later in 2011 to continue discussing issues of verification and to meet again in Vienna as the next NPT review cycle gets underway in May 2012.

The major issues that the conference studied were those of transparency and mutual confidence; everyone being fully aware that you can sign all the treaties you like but unless disarmament can be unequivocally verified the reality is that given the belligerent attitude of the West in their wars of “human rights/control of resources” China and Russia would do well to keep their nuclear deterrent because it would appear to be the only negotiating tool that the USA respects – just look at North Korea.

It is hard to imagine, even with satellites in space taking photos of every square metre of the planet, how verification can be assured. All five countries have access to sufficient conventional weapon technology which is currently legal. China, Russia, and the USA have space programmes which allow them to build rockets that can drop bombs anywhere on the planet and the Europeans have their own space programme launching rockets from South America.

The U.S. drone technology being so well developed for use in Afghanistan also shows that delivery technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated. And of course all P5 have access to the nuclear material necessary for making bombs which can be found in the nuclear power stations that each of them have developed precisely for this purpose.

Even with 100 percent compliance with the NPT by all countries of the world, with all these components readily available, any country with them would be no more than a few months from constructing another bomb and already over 40 countries either have nuclear reactors or plan to have them in coming years.

Another area of P5 discussion was the subject of withdrawal from the treaty. Article X allows states to withdraw from the NPT if they give three months notice to the UN on the condition that the withdrawing state, “decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of the Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”

This article has only been invoked by North Korea so far and the P5 are keen to ensure that no others follow suit. Here the message to Iran is clear. With Iranian development of nuclear reactors, and technology to enrich uranium to the extent where a bomb could be made, regardless of Tehran’s expression of benign intent of her energy programme, no one is fooled for a minute that this is another attempt by a country to safeguard its security in the same way as North Korea.

Iran’s moves are putting enormous strain on the NPT as Saudi Arabian Prince Turki al-Faisal recently informed NATO at a meeting in the UK that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia will follow suit.


The significance of the NPT lies in the fact that it is a delicate balancing act between peaceful and military purposes of nuclear science. Sensitive to the limitations of oil, coal and gas supplies, the potential for releasing huge amounts of energy in controlled nuclear reactors has been something that the whole world was keen to embrace ever since Einstein realised the potential behind his equation E=mc2.

The only problem is that the by-product of nuclear energy as generated by uranium is plutonium which is an essential component of nuclear bombs.

The problem that the NPT tried to grapple with when it was negotiated was how to allow nations to pursue their “right” to nuclear energy with the problem of not allowing these same nations to gather enough plutonium to make a bomb with it.

Out of this paradox came the NPT which has ever since been identified as having three pillars: 1) non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries outside the P-5 (articles I and II), 2) disarmament of existing nuclear weapons states (article VI) and 3) the “right” to pursue nuclear energy (article IV).

The NPT was negotiated back in the 1960’s, long before incidents such as the Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima scarred the consciousness of the world with the horror of what goes wrong when radioactive material escapes the containment of nuclear reactors and the control of human beings – and long before the nuclear energy industry emerged into a huge lobbying force in the politics of the U.S. and elsewhere.

190 countries are parties to the NPT: sadly all four Nuclear Weapons States – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – that joined the club after the P5 are not among them. This makes talks about global disarmament somewhat difficult.


Where does the world stand in terms of the three pillars of NPT?

Non-proliferation: From a starting point of five nations with nuclear weapons capability in 1970, a situation has been reached where nine nations have nuclear weapons: India (1974), Pakistan (1998) and North Korea (2006) joining Israel who have neither confirmed or denied having them but who are widely recognised to have them.

In addition, five NATO countries host U.S. weapons (Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey) in contravention of article I and II of the NPT. Although doubts remain over Iran’s intentions, certainly at the time of writing no one believes Iran is close to a bomb.

Nuclear energy: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 29 countries generate a portion of their energy from nuclear power stations, with a further 18 countries in the stages of planning, construction or investigating the possibility.

Disarmament: From the height of the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) where there were about 65,000 nuclear warheads – each one vastly more destructive than the two dropped on Japan – since the fall of the Soviet Union these numbers have dropped and today there remain around 22,000 with the USA and Russia accounting for roughly 90 percent of the total between them.

What stands in the way of sizeable disarmament is that nuclear weaponry is a big industry. According to Global Zero, one trillion US dollars will be spent on nuclear weapons alone in the next decade. This is an absolutely enormous sum, and any businessman or woman in the industry is going to be keen to ensure that this situation stays the same.


The P5 Paris conference also had the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to ban nuclear explosion testing on its agenda. Two of the P5, the USA and China, have not yet ratified it, and whereas Iran and Israel have at least signed it, India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to do so.

President Barrack Obama made the ratification of the CTBT a campaign promise in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Given that the ratification of the new START treaty – to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads – cost him $185 billion dollars as the price tag for the nuclear weapons modernisation programme that was a condition of ratification by a Republican-majority Senate, one can rightly wonder how much it will cost the President to get the CTBT ratified if he tries, as expected, in a second term as President.


Another treaty under the spotlight in Paris was the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), a treaty proposed to prohibit the further production of nuclear weapons material. This is currently a subject of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), an International body to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements.

In the past the CD has been responsible for the establishment of conventions to ban biological and chemical weapons. Now it has been tasked with negotiating the FMCT but Pakistan currently refuses all attempts to move forward on a programme of work.


Finally the conference welcomed the steps taken towards the holding of a conference in 2012 to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The vast majority of the planet is already covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones and ever since the NPT review conference in 1995 the subject of a nuke free zone in the Middle East has been on the agenda. Iran has frequently called for moves to be made in this direction and it was a great surprise for many observers of the NPT review conference in May 2010 to see this action point and the specific call for Israel to ratify the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

This is an intriguing prospect: Israel, although widely recognised as having nuclear weapons, has always maintained a policy of ambiguity. In 2010 the final NPT review conference singled out Israel for not signing the NPT, much to Israel’s consternation, leading Jerusalem to issue a statement saying the resolution was “deeply flawed and hypocritical,” and “ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world.”

It concluded: “As a non-signatory state of the NPT, Israel is not obligated by the decisions of this conference, which has no authority over Israel. Given the distorted nature of this resolution, Israel will not be able to take part in its implementation.”

That was in 2010: though since then the world has changed considerably around Israel: an Arab Spring has swept aside governments in Tunisia and Egypt, war is raging in Libya and Syria, Bahrain and the Yemen among many other places have suffered continual protests ever since.

Though the P-5 welcomed the steps taken by the U.S., Russia and the UK towards holding a Conference on a Middle East WMD Free Zone (MEWMDFZ) in 2012, it remains to be seen whether such a conference will take place.


But, disappointed by the continual refusal of their governments to start negotiations to disarm, civil society continues to organise itself to keep up the pressure. To mark the Paris meeting, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) – a network of some 200 anti-nuclear organisations – declared June 25, 2011 Nuclear Abolition Day, and organised events in 25 countries to raise awareness and try to direct the world’s attention to the conference in France.

1984 Nobel Peace Laureate in Desmond Tutu called on civil society to keep up the pressure. In a Project Syndicate column, he wrote: “We must not tolerate a system of nuclear apartheid, in which it is considered legitimate for some states to possess nuclear arms but patently unacceptable for others to seek to acquire them. Such a double standard is no basis for peace and security in the world. The NPT is not a license for the five original nuclear powers to cling to these weapons indefinitely. The International Court of Justice has affirmed that they are legally obliged to negotiate in good faith for the complete elimination of their nuclear forces.”

He added: “In time, every government will come to accept the basic inhumanity of threatening to obliterate entire cities with nuclear weapons. They will work to achieve a world in which such weapons are no more – where the rule of law, not the rule of force, reigns supreme, and cooperation is seen as the best guarantor of international peace. But such a world will be possible only if people everywhere rise up and challenge the nuclear madness.”

This is a call to an ‘Anti-Nuclear Spring’. Will the people listen? Sadly until the media pay attention to the global threat of nuclear devastation, the answer is probably not.

In the midst of the rush for nuclear madness in the sixties President Kennedy, in an attempt to push for the abolition of nuclear weapons, addressed the UN in these terms: “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear Sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”

Fifty years later nukes are still around, threatening a nuclear holocaust.

*Tony Robinson is the International Spokesperson for the Organisation World without Wars and Violence. (IDN-InDepthNews/04.07.2011)

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