Modern world needs total elimination of nuclear weapons!

Hassaan Bin Zubair

The alternative of multilateral nuclear disarmament and elimination is an idea as old as the bomb itself, but it has rarely been espoused seriously by the great powers and then mainly as a rhetorical tool to encourage political support for related but less ambitious initiatives. Recent well-publicized conversions of national security leaders to the disarmament cause, however, to say nothing of a new, more serious tone in pronouncements on the subject by many governments, including those of the nuclear-weapon states, suggest that support is growing for the notion that the only permanent solution to nuclear dangers is an agreement that would eliminate all nuclear weapons, verifiably, from all nations.

More than seven decades after their development and use during World War II, nuclear weapons continue to be the basis for several states’ national security policies. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) prohibits non-nuclear weapon state parties from developing nuclear weapons. However, the NPT exempts five de jure nuclear weapon states (NWS) (France, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) from this ban. These five states had tested nuclear weapons before the treaty was negotiated in 1968. This “exemption” is, however, countered with a legal obligation in Article VI of the NPT for the five nuclear-weapon states to fully disarm. Three other nuclear-armed states India, Israel and Pakistan have never joined the NPT, but possess nuclear weapons. North Korea also possesses nuclear weapons, but unlike India, Israel and Pakistan, was previously a member of the NPT obliged not to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and has tested nuclear devices multiple times since 2006 despite international condemnation and sanctions.unnamed

Most non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), including some countries that once possessed nuclear weapons, are committed to remaining free of nuclear weapons. South Africa announced in July 1993 that it had developed a small arsenal before destroying it in 1991 to join the NPT as a NNWS. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine returned large arsenals of nuclear warheads and associated delivery systems inherited from the former Soviet Union to Russia in the mid-1990s, subsequently joining the NPT as NNWS. Other countries, including Brazil and Argentina, considered acquiring nuclear weapons but abandoned their programs before accepting binding restraints on nuclear weapons development. Brazil and Argentina decided to join the NPT in 1994 and 1995, respectively, as NNWS. Many NNWS are party to nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) and have thereby accepted additional legal obligations not to develop, manufacture, stockpile, acquire, possess, or control any nuclear explosive devices on their territories. Today, more than 110 countries belong to NWFZ treaties. Nuclear weapon-free zones are in force in South America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, Central Asia, and Mongolia. 

At present, the twin risks of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation are high on the list of threats confronting the world’s major powers. Depending on circumstances, a single nuclear weapon exploded by a terrorist organization in a major city could cause hundreds of thousands of immediate deaths and untold suffering to many others from injuries, radiation poisoning, and economic deprivation. All major powers are vulnerable to this danger. An exchange between warring nations involving tens of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic, likely killing millions in the near term and many more over a longer period. Nor would the effects be limited to the immediate battlefield. Over time, the consequences would spread as radioactive debris was carried into the atmosphere; the ill effects on the health of far-flung populations would endure for generations. Despite the enormity of these risks, national leaders have been unwilling to take the necessary steps to deal with nuclear weapons. Other than occasional rhetorical flourishes, the community of nations pursues the same limited measures of arms control and nonproliferation today that it has for decades. Perhaps because nuclear weapons have existed for more than 60 years and have not been used in anger except for the two bombs detonated at the very onset of the nuclear age, most national leaders seem complacent about the world’s ability to muddle through with the mélange of limited agreements and theories about deterrence that underlies current policies toward these weapons of mass destruction. But, the facts mentioned above give strong credence to the demand that nuclear weapons should be abolished26257a034bee4f07de2724723021a9a9

Attempts at negotiating legally binding multilateral nuclear disarmament treaties have proven challenging. The United Nations established the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as the sole multilateral disarmament-negotiating forum in 1979. The 65-member, consensus-ruled body has only negotiated one treaty related to nuclear disarmament, i.e. the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996. Widely considered a milestone towards nuclear disarmament, the CTBT would prohibit all nuclear testing. Entry into force of the CTBT requires ratification by all states with nuclear power reactors and/or research reactors , known as Annex II states. Eight of these countries, including the United States and China, have yet to ratify.

Approximately 13,400 nuclear warheads remain in the arsenals of the nine states; approximately 4,000 of these are actively deployed. Five European NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) also host approximately 150 US tactical nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s extended deterrence mission. Large stockpiles of fissile material, including directly weapons-useable highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, also still exist globally. On 7 July 2017, a United Nations conference adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons comprehensively, including banning the development, acquisition, test, use, the threat of use and possession of nuclear weapons. Although no nuclear weapons possessing states have signed the treaty, the treaty’s passage is a significant development in disarmament politics.


Estimating progress towards nuclear disarmament is, however, complicated because shifts both in numbers of weapons and in the overarching policies governing these weapons are relevant. In terms of quantitative reductions, measurable steps have been undertaken by key NWS both unilaterally and bilaterally. The NWS collectively reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals from over 70,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War to approximately 14,200 by 2018. These reductions have been carried out unilaterally by at least four NWS, as well as through bilateral legally binding arrangements between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation.

China is the only NWS that appears to be increasing its nuclear stockpile, albeit slowly. Experts estimate that India and Pakistan have been rapidly expanding their nuclear arsenals and capabilities. Pakistan’s conceptual argument taps into the longstanding confrontation between the nuclear weapon “haves and have nots.” Paradoxically, as Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members, Pakistan and India vocally support nuclear disarmament while simultaneously increasing their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems. Many NAM members and other NNWS believe that the NWS is not fully meeting their Article VI obligation. Apart from the bilateral negotiations on New START, there have been no negotiations or efforts on disarmament measures since the conclusion of the CTBT negotiations. Moreover, unilateral and U.S.-Russia reductions have been perceived by many NNWS as nothing more than efforts to streamline existing nuclear arsenals, rather than steps towards complete nuclear disarmament. Perhaps most notably, all nuclear-weapon states are pursuing some degree of nuclear modernization. The two approaches differ fundamentally in their rationales and are revelatory about a state’s priorities and motivations. The step-by-step approach, now sometimes referred to as the progressive approach, stems from the belief that nuclear weapons give certain states security and is presented by its supporters as pragmatic and politically reasoned. This pragmatism is set up in opposition to an “emotionally appealing” ban treaty that, the step-by-step supporters argue, would fail to confront the “real issues” at hand. Furthermore, proponents of the progressive approach often claim that since there are already provisions in place for nuclear disarmament, new instruments will detract from achievements and progress towards nuclear disarmament thus far.World-Nuclear-Arsenal-Sizes-1-1024x838

Realistically, implementation of such a treaty would have to include pauses, so that signatories who perceived problems in the verification system, or saw that other states were not dismantling their stockpiles or facilities on schedule, could suspend their activities until the problems were resolved and yet remain compliant. Such pauses would be most important before the final steps to complete nuclear disarmament. To be prudent, therefore, one might add another ten years to the schedule to allow any glitches to be resolved, in which case the world would not be nuclear-weapon-free until 2045, a symbolically important date, as it is the 100th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so far the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare. Conservatively, therefore, and permitting considerable time for the major issues to be worked out, it seems clear that if it proves possible to eliminate nuclear weapons, the task could be accomplished within 25 to 35 years, leaving the world nuclear-free no later than 2045 and perhaps as early as 2035. While he would no longer be a young man, we all hope and expect that President Obama will indeed live to see the world free of nuclear weapons. Martin Amis says: “Einstein’s Monsters,” by the way, refers to nuclear weapons, but also to ourselves. We are Einstein’s monsters, not fully human, not for now.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.