(photo of Titan Nuclear Missile Museum, Tucson, Arizona by jmuhles)
The 230-page report “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers” (see synopsis) says its finding are timely for four reasons. Firstly it says nuclear weapons are the most inhumane weapons ever conceived and as serious a problem as global warming. Secondly it is sheer dumb luck they have not been used since 1945 and as long as any state has nuclear weapons others will want them. Thirdly, the status quo increases the possibility of nuclear weapon falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorist groups. Lastly, there is an opportunity presented by new US and Russian leadership “committed to disarmament action”.
The US and Russia own 96 percent of the world’s 23,000 nuclear weapons. The remaining 1,000 are owned by France, UK, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. Iran and North Korea may also have the technology. Half of all warheads are deployed and the two major powers have 2,000 weapons ready to deploy with a decision window to launch of five to ten minutes. The possibility of nuclear terrorism or a “dirty bomb” combing conventional explosives and radioactive isotopes can also not be discounted.
The report endorses civilian nuclear energy as a proven method of providing base load power without carbon emissions but says expansion in the coming decades will present proliferation and security risks. The dangers will be exacerbated if accompanied by enrichment facilities at the front end of the process and reprocessing at the back end. The result could be “a great deal more fissile material becoming potentially available for destructive purposes”.
The key to success, says the report, is delegitimising nuclear weapons as marginal and unnecessary to national security. The authors prefer a phased approach to getting to zero nuclear weapons admitting it would be a ‘long, complex and formidably difficult process”. The short term goal to 2025 is to reduce warheads to 10 percent of current levels with agreed “no first use” doctrines. The report was unable to specify a timeframe for complete elimination but argued “analysis and debate” should commence immediately.
The key policies from the document are: Next year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty review should agree on a new 20-point consensus for action replacing 2000’s “Thirteen Practical Steps”; the US and Russia should reduce their combined arsenal to 1,000 warheads and no other nation should increase its arsenal; all states should have a “no first use doctrine”; reduce the instant usage of warheads; conventional weapons imbalances may need to be addressed; all countries (including the US) should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban treaty immediately; and all nuclear-armed states should stop the production of fissile material for weapons production.
The report said non proliferation efforts also needed to be beefed up. Key policies included: application of the IAEA Additional Protocol; IAEA compliance to concentrate on technical matters and stay out of politics; the UN Security Council should regard withdrawal from the NPT as a punishable threat to peace; and the IAEA should make full use of its powers. The report also acknowledged the three non-NPT states Israel, India and Pakistan should be encouraged to participate in “parallel instruments and arrangements” to meet similar obligations to the NPT countries.
It also looked at the threat of terrorism. It recommended the adoption of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material for greater information sharing between nuclear powers. It also urged a Code of Conduct for safety of radioactive sources to control “dirty bomb” material and supported the emerging science of nuclear forensics. The report supported civilian nuclear power and called for assistance to developing nations. It called for new technologies for spent fuel treatment, increased plutonium recycle and spent fuel take-back by suppliers (including Australia) to reduce accumulations across the world. It strongly supported spreading the fuel cycle process across nations to build global confidence and aid verification of sensitive fuel cycle activities.
Evans and Kawaguchi acknowledged the political difficulties of doing something difficult, sensitive and expensive. They said it needed leadership to prevent inertia, knowledge of the magnitude of the problem, confidence in the strategy moving forward, and having an international process to back it up. All will be difficult. Non-nuclear nations Japan and Australia welcomed the report, but the US and Russia were ominously silent. Getting the two major powers to see its sense will be a herculean task. Nevertheless the report is welcome as a road-map, however optimistic, of how to get to a future without nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons remain a deep and dangerous threat the world has taken for granted since the end of the Cold War.