Is it time for a new international treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons? The short answer to this question is, Yes, it is time. Actually, it is past time. The critical question, however, is not whether we need a new international treaty. We do. The critical question is: How do we achieve the political will among the nuclear weapon states to begin negotiations for a new international treaty to outlaw and eliminate all nuclear weapons?
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Is Failing
The NPT has reciprocal obligations. The nuclear weapon states seek to hold the line against proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries. In return, the non-nuclear weapon states rely upon Article VI of the NPT to level the playing field. Article VI contains three obligations: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
None of these obligations have been fulfilled. Negotiations in good faith have not been pursued on any of the three obligations.
It has been 42 years since the treaty entered into force, and the nuclear arms race continues. All of the NPT nuclear weapon states are modernizing their arsenals. They have not negotiated in good faith to end the nuclear arms race at an early date.
Nor have the NPT nuclear weapon states negotiated in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament. They have not acted with a sense of urgency to achieve the goal of nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. They have not made a commitment to zero nuclear weapons.
Finally, the NPT nuclear weapon states have not negotiated in good faith on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. Since the NPT entered into force in 1970, there have been no negotiations on general and complete disarmament.
The NPT nuclear weapon states seem perfectly comfortable with their failure to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. Given this lack of political will to achieve any of the three Article VI obligations, the prospects for a new international treaty are dim if states continue with business as usual. That is why the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation called for bold action by the non-nuclear weapon states in its briefing paper for the 2012 Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The Briefing Paper concluded:
It is necessary to ensure that nuclear weapons will not be used again as instruments of war, risking the destruction of civilization, nuclear famine and the extinction of most or all humans and other forms of complex life. Exposing the dangers of launch-on-warning nuclear policies and the dysfunctional and counterproductive nature of nuclear deterrence theory is essential for awaking policymakers and the public to the imperative goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. It is a goal that demands boldness by all who seek a sustainable future for humanity and the planet. The non-nuclear weapon states that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty have both the right and the responsibility to assert leadership in assuring that the nuclear weapon states fulfill their obligations for good faith negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament.
The Premises of Bold Action
Bold action by the non-nuclear-weapon states would be based upon the following premises:
- The NPT nuclear weapon states have failed to fulfill their obligations under Article VI; this failure poses serious risks of future proliferation.
- The understanding that even a regional nuclear war would have global consequences (e.g., nuclear famine modeling).
- The risks of nuclear war, by accident or design, have not gone away. Stanford Professor Emeritus Martin Hellman, an expert in risk analysis, estimates that a child born today has a one-in-six chance of dying due to a nuclear weapon in his or her 80-year expected lifetime.
- The understanding that humans and their systems are not infallible (e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima).
- The understanding that deterrence is only a theory that could fail catastrophically (see the Santa Barbara Declaration).
- Continued reliance upon nuclear weapons is a threat to civilization and the future of complex life on the planet.
- There needs to be a sense of urgency to eliminate the risks posed by nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
What Would Constitute Bold Action?
The non-nuclear-weapon states need to demonstrate to the nuclear weapon states that they are serious about the need for a new international treaty, which would be the means to fulfill the NPT Article VI obligations. UN General Assembly resolutions are not getting the job done. They are not being taken seriously by the nuclear weapon states, nor are exhortations by the UN secretary-general and other world leaders. Bold action by non-nuclear-weapon states, in descending order of severity, could include these options:
- Announcing a boycott of the 2015 NPT Review Conference if the nuclear weapon states have not commenced negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention or Framework Agreement prior to 2015.
- Commencing legal action against the NPT nuclear weapon states, individually and/or collectively, for breach of their NPT Article VI obligations.
- Withdrawal from the NPT as a protest against its continuing two-tier structure of nuclear haves and have-nots.
- Declaring the NPT null and void as a result of the failure of the nuclear weapon states to act in good faith in fulfilling their Article VI obligations.
At the outset, I posed this question: How do we achieve the political will among the nuclear weapon states to begin negotiations for a new international treaty to outlaw and eliminate all nuclear weapons? The answer is that the non-nuclear-weapon states must unite and pressure the nuclear weapon states by bold action.
Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis and more than 20 years after the end of the cold war, we are approaching a critical time in the Nuclear Age. Our technological genius threatens our human future. Too much time has passed, and too little has been accomplished toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
Bold action is needed to move the nuclear weapon states to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. I favor the first two actions listed above: a boycott and legal action. I fear that, unless such actions are taken soon by non-nuclear-weapon states to pressure the nuclear weapon states to act in good faith, the likelihood is that business as usual will continue, and states will end up choosing the more extreme remedies of the third and fourth actions listed above: withdrawal from the NPT or deeming the NPT null and void. Should this be the case, we will lose the only existing treaty that obligates its members to nuclear disarmament, and also, the likelihood of achieving a new international treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.