Tag Archives: arms control

Contesting Nuclearism: Management or Transformation? An Urgent Challenge

22 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The essay below, longer than most of my posts, started off as a tribute to my friend David Krieger, serving as a chapter in a forthcoming book honoring his dedication to the abolition of nuclear weaponry by way of a treaty regime being prepared under the editorship of Rick Wayman, now President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Krieger’s successor. In the modified form published below the essay calls attention to the generally unappreciated tensions between managing nuclear weapons and eliminating them altogether. It stresses the crucial point that management inevitably produces a structure of ‘nuclear apartheid’ that is to some extent ‘legalized’ by way of the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1961, and depends for implementation, not on law, but on geopolitical muscle, including war. This geopolitical pattern of NPT enforcement has been mainly undertaken by the United States, but is generally supported by most of the other nuclear weapons states. I write in opposition to such a management arrangement for moral, legal, political, and prudential reasons, and believe that total nuclear disarmament is attainable and would be beneficially transformative if achieved.]

 

 Contesting Nuclearism: Management or Transformation?

 I feel privileged to have shared with David Krieger an unwavering anti-nuclear commitment, mainly under the auspices of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation of which he served for so long as the founding President. We worked collaboratively on several books that sought to balance abiding nuclear fears against our equally persisting hopes for a denuclearizing world order. [At The Nuclear Precipice: Catastrophe or Transformation, ed. with David Krieger, 2007; Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers, written with David Krieger, 2012] Although we share a big picture consensus with respect to the nuclear policy agenda, we have some conceptual and tactical differences, which  gave rise to creative tension more than to arguments and disagreements.

 

In such a complex and uncertain world, it may help to think like a Hindu, and accept contradiction as more in keeping with social and political reality than is finding a right answer to complex policy puzzles. What is almost impossible for those trained within Western frames of reference is to grasp that there are diverse perspectives of understanding that may result in seemingly contradictory recommendations despite shared values and goals. Civilizational perspectives and personal experience inevitably color what we feel, think, and do, and so being likeminded when it comes abolishing nuclear weapons is often coupled with somewhat divergent views on what to advocate when it comes to tactics and priorities.

 

In this spirit, this essay tries to depict a set of reasons why the goal of nuclear disarmament will never be reached so long as arms control and nonproliferation of nuclear weaponry are seen as the pillars of global stability in the nuclear age. [For a comprehensive presentation of my approach see Falk, ed. By Stefan. Andersson & Curt Dahlgren, On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament, 2019. By this focus on points of differing policy emphasis and tactical disagreement I do not want to neglect the significance of the similarities that seem more organic and foundational. As I understand these similarities, some main tenets can be identified: the desirability of a world without any nuclear weapons to be pursued by way of an intergovernmental treaty negotiated among the existing nuclear weapons states that achieves nuclear zero by stages of successful implementation, a process formally endorsed by  non-nuclear states; such a treaty would unconditionally prohibit possession and further development of the weaponry, reinforce existing prohibitions on threat or use of nuclear weapons, and reduce existing nuclear arsenals by a phased, monitored, and. verified procedures with levels of confidence and ample mechanisms for complaint and dispute-settlement; there are many confidence-building steps that could be taken along the way, either unilaterally or by agreement with other nuclear weapons states, including de-alerting of existing weapons, redefining strategic deterrence doctrine in minimalist and purely defensive terms, and adapting doctrine and deployments in accord with a formally declared adoption of a No First Use Policy, supporting the UN Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) [The 2017 treaty enters into force 90 days after the formal receipt of 50 ratifications by signatory states; as of 25 November 2019, 34 states have deposited notifications of ratification with the UN]

 

Another area of convergence is with respect to the status of nuclear weapons from the perspective of international law. Most advocates of total disarmament, even if arms control friendly, agree that nuclear weaponry is intrinsically unlawful under existing international law, that is, without the desirable reinforcement provided by the TPNW, and that any threat or use of a nuclear weapon would be an international crime for which accountability should attach. Such a consensus affirms the classic dissenting opinion of Judge Christopher Weeramantry in the Advisory Opinion of addressing the legality of nuclear weapons in the International Court of Justice. [See “The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion, International Court of Justice (1996); see also Shimoda case decided in 1963 by the Tokyo District Court as interpreted, Falk, “The Shimoda Case,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 51, 759-793]

 

There is also widespread agreement that maintaining confidence in such a denuclearizing world would require the parallel phasing out of nuclear energy capabilities. Nuclear power facilities as themselves too dangerous to be tolerable, despite those that claim their necessity for realistic project to reduce carbon emissions in accord with the scientific consensus. Events such as the accident at Chernobyl or the tsunami that caused the disruption of the Fukushima facilities are illustrative of the dangers arising from accidents and extreme natural events. Nuclear power plants provide targets for political extremists and disposal of nuclear waste pose major health threats. As well, sophisticated nuclear technology is susceptible to dual use, would feed suspicions that could easily cause disenchantment with nuclear disarmament, and give rise to international tensions, even war-threatening crises. The allegations and conflict potential associated with Iran’s nuclear program is indicative of the problems that would face a world monitoring and verifying disarmament commitments where a breakout from an agreement would likely cause dangerous reactions in an atmosphere of geopolitical panic.

 

 (1) The Incompatibility of Arms Control and Disarmament

 Perhaps, my biggest divergence with Krieger arises with respect to addressing the relevance of arms control in relation to our shared goals of denuclearization and a commitment to achieved total nuclear disarmament. I have long advocated drawing a sharp distinction between arms control as managerial and geopolitical in its nature and disarmament as transformative and juridical in character. By managerial I mean that the primary purpose of a given measure is to reduce risks posed by and costs associated with the nuclear status quo. Typical arms control proposals involve de-alerting weapons systems, agreeing to forego certain modernizing technologies, avoiding provocative doctrines and deployments, and reducing numbers of warheads and missile launchers.

 

By geopolitical I reference the fact that the intended and actual effect of most managerial initiatives is to stabilize the nuclear status quo, including not challenging the possession, control, and legitimacy of the weaponry as currently exercised by the main nuclear weapons states. An arms control approach also helps explain the priorities accorded to nonproliferation and counter-proliferation policies as in the dealing by the nuclear weapons states alleged to be a supposed nuclear aspirant as Iran or such a pariah state as North Korea. Indeed, in mainstream media and political discourse the challenge of nuclear weaponry is reduced to strengthening, stabilizing, and enforcing the nonproliferation regime, and nuclear disarmament is clearly struck from the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states.

 

My view is that the endorsement of arms control approaches subtly and indirectly substitutes management for transformation, and leaves the world facing unacceptable risks of intended and unintended uses of nuclear weapons for the indefinite future, as well as ‘the nuclear apartheid’ structure of allowing possession, development, and deployment by the nuclear weapons states and prohibiting it for all others. Beyond this, it overlooks the cultural and collective legal/ethical/spiritual (normative) costs associated with deterrence strategies that regard retaliatory uses of nuclear weapons as a legal and ethical security policy despite their indiscriminate, toxic, genocidal, catastrophic, and possibly omnicidal characteristics. [E.P. Thompson, “Notes on Exterminism: The Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review, May/June, 1980.]

 

Geopolitical factors are not generally considered in discussions of these issues, but given my world order interests I regard geopolitics as subverting the major premise of state-centric world order, namely, the equality of sovereign states.[UN Charter, Article 2(1): “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members.”] Of course, this formulation in the UN Charter is mendacious language that cannot be reconciled with the P-5 permanent membership and right of veto in the Security Council. A prime ingredient of national sovereignty is the unconditional authority of states to determine their own security policy when it comes to self-defense, especially in response to threats. The irony of the managerial approach is that the two states with the most plausible security justifications for recourse to nuclear deterrence, Iran and North Korea, are the only states under pressure to forego or renounce all intentions of acquiring such weaponry. Even worse, this policy of denial is not a decision of the world community at the UN. It is a self-serving policy articulated by the nuclear weapons states, especially the United States, the UK, and France, geopolitical players that have assumed the role of nuclear gatekeepers while keeping their own nuclear options discretionary and secret. Instead of juridical equality, nuclear weapons policy is geopolitically hierarchical.

 

I acknowledge that drawing this sharp line between arms control and disarmament has some drawbacks. Perhaps, the most important of these is to make the goals of anti-nuclear activism seem unattainable and utopian because of the weak political will present to challenge the nuclear status quo, a political reality that has persisted since 1945 without any further weapons use. It can be argued in favor of arms control, that its measures are inherently valuable, and raise the anti-nuclear morale by demonstrating that concrete steps can be taken to reduce overall risks and costs of nuclearism, that something positive is happening in response to these concerns. Further, that when and if a more peace-oriented political atmosphere emerges, it would be a simple matter to advocate total nuclear disarmament, and on this basis strengthen the political will to encourage political leaders that the time has come to pursue transformative initiatives. In effect, as matters now stand, arms control seems better than nothing, and in this period, it is prudent to get what is possible, while maintaining the expectation that at some time under conditions impossible to anticipate, nuclear disarmament would rise to the top of the political agenda.

 

 I entertain these expectations to a certain extent. I continue to hope that a transformative agenda will at some point (other than a post-catastrophe context) be supported by an insistent public opinion and by responsive political leaders. In the 1990s I had the hope that at the end of the Cold War, especially as coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there would be an irresistible surge of support for seeking nuclear disarmament. After all, political events had undermined the main deterrence rationale for retaining and developing the weaponry, and there seemed no reason to retain such potentially catastrophic weaponry. I thought both leaders and citizens would seize the opportunity to work toward a nuclear-free world.  Sadly, it didn’t happen, and was not even seriously considered. There was no push from below, and no interest from above. We should all be asking ourselves why such a mood of nuclear complacency prevailed when there seemed so much to gain by working toward an attainable and historic agreement to rid future generations of the fear that somewhere, somehow this infernal weaponry would again wreak havoc. One part of an explanation is that the nuclear dimension of the militarized bureaucracy in the United States, and elsewhere, is sufficiently influential to inhibit any concerted political moves to rid the world of nuclear weaponry.

 

Resuming my effort to show that although my views of this arm control/ disarmament interface have significant differences from what Krieger has emphasized both in the outlook of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and through his own work, our differences should be understood as the adversary of complementary approaches. I want to stress my perception that the driving force behind arms control is to enhance the stability of the nuclear environment and save money. In my view, foregoing certain nuclear innovations and deployments makes nuclear disarmament seem less necessary rather than more attainable. In this regard, arms control falls within the domain of political liberalism, which is itself under attack from neoconservative militarists who regard any international arrangements designed to reduce the risks associated with nuclear weaponry as a snare and delusion, and definitely not in the national security interest of the United States, and maybe some other nuclear weapons states.

 

Such a mainstream debate on the pros and cons of arms control needs to be understood as most essentially about the managerial form. The geopolitical hawks are arguing in favor of national management of nuclearism with due regard for the pursuit of strategic national interests. Most liberals favor negotiated international management arrangements that limit geopolitical options, including the avoidance of nuclear arms races. Arms control liberals also seek to minimize costs and risks of the nuclear status quo, giving a strong priority to keeping the nonproliferation regime alive and well. The most idealistic arms controllers feel that success with partial measures would build confidence of governments needed to take more ambitious denuclearizing steps in the future.

 

As suggested, our divergence of views can be viewed as complementary rather than posing an either/or choice.[Falk/Krieger, Path to Zero; Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers(2016).] I regard it as useful to understand that arms control generally tends to work, at least for the foreseeable future, against rather than in support of nuclear disarmament. I understand Krieger to be suggesting that while abolition is the primary goal, during the foreseeable it is desirable to do whatever becomes politically feasible by way of reducing risks and costs associated with the existing nuclear arms environment. This outlook may help explain why Krieger is reluctant to make the point that while a given arms control measure may be a constructive contribution in some respects, it has the unacknowledged effect of moving the world further from nuclear disarmament rather than closer to it.

 

 In both our positions there is room for convergence. Krieger’s position does not oblige him to regard every arms control measure under consideration as beneficial, nor am I committed to rejecting automatically every arms control measure that comes along. For instance, I would guess that we would both favor a declaratory No First Use policy either unilaterally undertaken or adopted by agreement among nuclear weapons states. Contrariwise, we would likely both oppose an international agreement that permitted the development of defense systems that would have the likely effect of making First Strike Options more attractive while claiming to make a rogue surprise attack less likely.  

 

I do feel strongly that we who seek permanent nuclear peace need to understand that the denuclearizing struggle must confront the bipartisan national consensus on these issues in the United States, which has survived without controversy despite the end of the Cold War. The consensus holds that the existing nuclear weapons regime needs to be managed, but never disassembled. The consensus is split as to who should do the managing, and what should be the role of geopolitics in the overall scheme. It regressively excludes from political imagination any endorsement of nuclear disarmament as a matter of principle. The Statement of US, UK, and France expressing their reasons of these governments for rejection of TPNW makes this clear. The main contention of this Statement is that even after the Cold War nuclear weapons enhance national security rather than erode it. By such reasoning, all sovereign states should have a legal entitlement to acquire the weaponry, and hence it becomes reckless for a government not to become a nuclear weapons state, exercising their right of withdrawal from the NPT.

 

(2) The Normative Ambiguity of Non-Proliferation and Counter Proliferation Policies

 

As earlier indicated, the geopolitical essence of the managerial approach is shaped by the nuclear governmental oligarchs rather than by the world community as problematically represented by the UN. In other settings. I have argued that the weakness of community at the global level makes it unrealistic to expect the UN to be effective or even influential whenever a policy issue collides with geopolitical interests. This difficulty was compounded by vesting veto power in the governments of the first five states to acquire nuclear weapons. In other words when it comes to matters of peace and security geopolitics has been written into the constitutional fabric of the UN System with juridical considerations based on sovereign equality put aside at least so far as the Security Council is concerned.

 

To achieve a world order bargain, a deal of sort was struck, and incorporated into the text of the NPT. Non-nuclear states would receive the technology needed for what was put forward as a good faith pledge would be written into the treaty obliging the governments of the nuclear weapons states to seek nuclear disarmament through international negotiations, and even more ambitiously, general and complete disarmament.[See Articles IV, VII NPT] This tradeoff was flawed in conception and execution. It was flawed because it was based on vague and unmonitored commitments that were almost impossible to interpret, much less implement. It was flawed in practice by discrimination among states, by facilitating covert acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel, while waging an aggressive war in Iraq that was partly justified on counter proliferation grounds and subsequently relying on irresponsible coercive diplomacy to threaten Iran and North Korea with potentially grave repercussions.

 

The fundamental flaw of the approach taken in the NPT became increasingly evident over time. It became clear that the nuclear weapons states without exception were not interested in pursuing nuclear disarmament as policy objectives. Occasionally, politicians would put forward their belief in nuclear disarmament. But it was at best an empty wish that lacked political traction, and at worst was a public relations stunt used to gain a propaganda or partisan advantage.

 

 

 

(3) Should the NPT be repudiated in view of the flagrant breach of Article VI by the nuclear weapons states?

 

The issue of nonproliferation is central to my understanding of the challenge of nuclearism.[See Robert J. Lifton & Richard Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Legal and Political Case Against Nuclearism (1982)] It is central because the establishment of a nonproliferation regime is what has linked geopolitical interests to the retention of nuclear weapons by a small number of countries, above all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It sets these five states apart even in relation to the other four nuclear weapons states for whom the weaponry is more closely connected with a more specific search for security, status, and regional influence (Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea). I believe it is important to expose these unacceptable geopolitical links between nuclear weaponry, nonproliferation, and world peace and security. Liberal anti-nuclearists are either take no notice of these geopolitical dimensions of nuclear policy, and tend to support the  nonproliferation regime based on their assumption that the world becomes that much more dangerous as each new political actor acquires nuclear weapons. To take note of the problem is a far cry from finding a solution.

 

As with arms control, the policy issue raised by nonproliferation is complicated, defies any dogmatic view, and cannot be resolved by rational analysis or even by recourse to moral and legal considerations. I share the view that any sane person would like to live in a world with as few governments having access to nuclear weapons as possible. Seen in isolation, this is a desirable goal. But just how desirable is nonproliferation policy if other considerations are taken into consideration? Among these considerations is the realization that incentives to seek nuclear disarmament are greatly diminished if the nuclear club can be kept small as it allows the nuclear weapons states to retain their security options and geopolitical status associated with the possession of the weaponry, as well as to threaten other states with annihilation without fearing retaliation.

 

Another important consideration is the distinction between the nonproliferation treaty instrument (NPT) and the implementation of the treaty by way of the establishment of a nonproliferation regime (NPR) devised by and under the control of the United States, and not the UN. Note that the NPT purports, at least, to be based on the formal equality of states, and supposedly relied on a logic of reciprocity with respect to obligations. The nonproliferation regime, in contrast, proceeds from assumptions of inequality, claiming for nuclear weapons states a responsibility for preventing or even reversing proliferation, while imposing no denuclearizing responsibilities on any nuclear weapons state except possibly North Korea. In this sense, due to geopolitics, nonproliferation rather than denuclearization becomes the operative manner of partially integrating or normalizing the weaponry with respect to world order. This means that geopolitics is given precedence over international law and global justice, and few seem to notice, and even fewer appear to care.  By treating nonproliferation as independent from the broader issues of peace and justice, the nuclear policy question is reduced to whether if country X acquires the bomb will the world or region be safer or more dangerous. This kind of reasoning has provided the justification for insisting that Iran demonstrate to the world that it does not possess nuclear weapons, and is not seeking to produce despite its technological capacity and infrastructure that confers the potentiality. Geopolitical prerogatives authorize the nuclear weapons states to overlook the unlawfulness of threats to the security of these potential proliferators that seem to explain their temptations to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

 

There are further concerns about burying these issues beneath the banner of national nuclear bipartisanship.[By bipartisanship I am referring to the consensus that has generally transcended party differences in the formulation and carrying out of foreign policy, including adherence to the logic of nuclearism, which includes the management of the counterproliferation regime.] For one thing, the counterproliferation regime tacitly authorizes threats and uses of force to carry out its nonproliferation missions. Such threats and uses of force have been relied upon to uphold to case for attacking and occupying  Iraq since 2003 despite the refusal of the UN Security Council to accept the argument or authorize the undertaking. Since this undertaking could not be validated by reference to self-defense as defined in Article 51, it must be considered a violation of the core norm of the UN Charter (Article 2 (4)) and thus appears to qualify as  a war of aggression, which was treated as the most severe of international war crimes at the Nuremberg trials held after World War II as well as being a damaging show of disrespect for the authority of the United Nations given that authorization was requested and denied. The same dynamic is at play with regard to Iran at the present time. Threats and sanctions, without any UN authorization have been directed at Iran, a state that seems at the mercy of geopolitical instability, further accentuated by Trump irresponsible repudiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated during Obama’s term as president. The main conclusion to be reached is that implementing nonproliferation has been achieved at the expense of international law and even the UN Charter, and by relying on a one-sided interpretation of the NPT that grants impunity to the nuclear weapons states while enacting unlawful punitive measures against non-nuclear states, especially those that are targets of geopolitical enmity. My impression is that advocates of continuing validity of the NPT arrangement are insensitive or ignorant toward this double standard relating to compliance.

 

A second intrusion by geopolitical manipulation is the manner in which countries outside the P-5 are treated when it comes to nuclear weaponry. It seems evident that Israel was given entry to the club despite its covert means of acquiring the capability, even receiving secret technological assistance from several P-5 nuclear weapons states.  Whether by agreement or choice Israel has maintained a formal posture of neither admitting nor denying the existence of its weapons arsenal, although it is widely accepted that it possesses the weaponry and continues with further development activities.  [Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal & American Foreign Policy 1991] What is clear is that the NPR discriminates among states based on their international alignments and size, allowing Israel in, while keeping Iraq and Iran out. This discriminatory practice illustrates the geopolitical tendency to divide the world into friends and enemies when allocating rights and duties among sovereign states. In other words, geopolitical rather than legal criteria are relied upon to establish the policy interface between nuclear haves and have nots.

 

A third intrusion is the effect of allowing the NPR to override the treaty without any attempt at reconciling the two sources of normative order, or even to alter the NPT so that it conforms to the practices of NPR. The NPT imposes a solemn obligation on nuclear weapons states to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith with an intention to conclude an agreement. [See unanimous finding of ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion. The language used by the 14-0 vote, which included the American judge, is suggestive: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The finding in the Advisory Opinion follows closely the wording and spirit of Article VI of the NPT: “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.”]

These states are parties to the NPT, and yet they have joined in the virtual negation of this most fundamental feature of the treaty text that undoubtedly explains the willingness of most non-nuclear states to become parties to the treaty. We can only speculate as to whether the NPT would have ever come into force without having this reciprocal feature that bound the two states in an encompassing agreement. The NPT seemed to have the intrinsic merit of seeking to rid the world of nuclear weapons by negotiation while freezing nuclear membership. The treaty has been reasonably successful in inhibiting further acquisition of this highly dangerous and legally dubious category of weaponry, while being an unacknowledged failure so far as its reciprocal goal of denuclearization.

 

In the end, this double standard raises the question as to whether the NPT should be repudiated, or at the very least subjected to sharp criticism by non-nuclear parties. From a legal point of view the nuclear weapons states appear to have violated material provisions of the treaty, giving non-nuclear parties an option to void the agreement. As matters now stand, the NPT provides a legal rationale. for the claims put forward by the NPR. Yet the repudiation of the NPT could be interpreted as a green light to acquisition of the weaponry as an insurance policy. In view of such a dilemma, the best response might be a heightened effort to apply the treaty as drafted, especially insisting on compliance with Article VI, and further construed by seeking a second Advisory Opinion from the World Court.

The NWPT is another sort of pushback against both NPT and NPR, as well. It obviously challenges the legality and legitimacy of the geopolitical nuclear apartheid as pertains to the control of nuclear weaponry by putting forward a treaty seeking a wide-ranging normative prohibition of nuclear weaponry that is applicable to all states.  

 

Alongside concerns about proliferation is the absence of concern in response to the maneuvers of geopolitics as these bear on the sovereign right of states to uphold their security and to exercise their inherent right of self-defense. Actually, Iran and North Korea have far more reasonable security arguments for acquiring nuclear weapons than do any of the other nuclear weapons states. This recognition does not justify acquiring the weaponry, but it helps explain the reasonableness of their behavior as compared the examples being set by leading states. Such vulnerable states are faced with defending their territorial sovereignty against coercive diplomacy and possible interventions and encroachments on their security carried out and promoted by neighboring political actors controlling vastly superior military forces, and in these instances allied with nuclear weapons states.

 

By this pronounced unwillingness of the NPR to allow certain states to determine their own security needs if it undermines efforts to prevent further proliferation, unaccountable and often irresponsible geopolitical managers of NPR are effectively given the authority to override national security policy of these weaker states. For instance, Iran is threatened with military attack if it crosses certain technological thresholds. As significant, geopolitical forces make no effort to take steps to reassure Iran with respect to security or to replace a nonproliferation approach by pushing for the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. There has been no response by the West to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who presented a peace plan for the Persian Gulf in 2019 at the UN General Assembly, given the name Hormuz Peace Endeavor with the fitting acronym of HOPE.

 

The example of Libya haunts this topic of forgoing the nuclear weapons option, as many believe that if Muammar Qaddafi had not abandoned plans to acquire nuclear weapons, he would be alive today. Similarly, if Saddam Hussein had really possessed a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, many believe that Iraq would never have been attacked in 2003. In other words, nuclear deterrence is possibly a more effective approach to national security if invoked by relatively weaker nuclear states. The NPR offers no compensatory steps to offset security concerns of such obviously vulnerable states as Iran beyond their rather tenuous conditional willingness to remove sanctions, and thus it is not surprising that nonproliferation is tied to militarism.

 

It is also notable that the most prominent instance in which hawkish foreign policy establishment figures advocated nuclear disarmament was in reaction to their skepticism about the viability of NPR in containing future proliferation. [George P. Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007; see by same authors, “Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,” WSJ, March 7, 2011.]. In effect, these geopolitically oriented political figures, influential former holders of high-profile security positions, favored nuclear disarmament not because of any moral scruples or fear of an impending apocalypse, but because of their worries that the NPR was breaking down. In effect, their belief that further proliferation would likely occur, and make it so much more difficult to achieve geopolitical political goals that they were uncharacteristically willing to recommend phased denuclearization as a grand strategy. They did this in the belief that the West would enjoy military dominance in a denuclearizing world through their retention of far superior non-nuclear capabilities, which were in any event, more usable in the course of foreign policy if there seemed to be no risk of an unwanted escalation above the nuclear threshold. I believe these complexities need to be discussed, while arms control proponents tend to believe that such issues are often ‘academic’ distractions that fail to keep the proper focus on what is wrong about the weaponry and how to get rid of the weapons before they get rid of humanity.

 

 

(4) Can we have Stage III nuclear disarmament without non-nuclear demilitarization?

A final issue touched upon is whether a credible posture toward a disarmament process for nuclear weapons must at some stage also address issues relating to non-nuclear demilitarization, and indeed war itself. Arms control oriented thinkers place more stress than I would on the distinctive policy priority arising from the acute dangers posed by nuclear war. Those who favor nuclear disarmament tend to focus more on the obstacles to nuclear disarmament created by existing levels of militarism as well as by the role of war and nuclear apartheid in international relations, and as embedded in the political realist mentality that continues to regulate the behavior of national leaders.

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There is a practical argument about inducing the weaker nuclear states to enter into a treaty framework that leaves them more vulnerable after giving up their arsenal of nuclear weapons. The governments of such states to the extent that their leaders believe that exposure to hostile states wielding superior conventional weaponry would discourage any effort to tamper with the nuclear status quo. Such security minded states likely include Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and possibly India (in relation to China).

 

As a nuclear disarmament process deepened, there would be more attention given to a denuclearizing security environment. To achieve the goal of total abolition, the only acceptable outcome of a denuclearizing process, parallel steps would need to be taken to reduce non-defensive armaments, which might be difficult with the emergence of drones and accurate long-range missile technology.

 

 

 

Concluding Note

 

Some anti-nuclear moderates believe that the most promising way to reach a world without nuclear weapons is to convince society that fears of a nuclear war are well-founded, that the results of a war fought with nuclear weapons would be unimaginably horrible in its devastation and aftermath, and that phased, verified nuclear disarmament offers a safer and more humane alternative that would give permanent nuclear peace its best chance. [See Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017)]

 

I do not agree. In contrast, I am convinced that to move forward toward total nuclear disarmament we need to take much better account of the obstacles, frictions, and nuances, explaining why the anti-nuclear movement has so far failed to challenge effectively the nuclear weapons establishment. This position is open to criticism as being overly concerned with obstacles, and less focused on issues of morality, prudence, political action, and war prevention (relating to the implicit arms control claim that nuclear deterrence has prevented all major wars for more than 75 years, including those that might have been fought had nuclear weapons not existed).

 

In the end, I think we need to continue to have dialogues between those anti-nuclearists who are uncritical about the friction between pursuing arms control and disarmament, and those who believe that their antagonisms must be addressed. It remains crucial

to keep mobilizing moral outrage as the foundation for political action. By contrast, I believe that ant-nuclearism will not get far until it clarifies the tensions between seeking arms control and favoring nuclear disarmament. It seems a serious confusion to suppose that arms control is a halfway house and a serious moral and political failure not to critique the nonproliferation regime that sustains nuclear apartheid which is self-servingly asserted to be the only path to global security.[See George W. Bush, U.S. National Security Strategy, 2002, an important interpretation of global security that fails even to acknowledge nuclear disarmament as a desirable goal].

 

My assessment of the arms control/disarmament interface can be summarized in a series of propositions:

         –that it is morally, legally, politically, and prudentially imperative to rid the world of nuclear weaponry through a verified

nuclear disarmament treaty and accompanying implementation regime, and this should be regarded as the paramount goal of anti-nuclearism, taking precedence over other goals;

         –that arms control approaches must be explicitly understood as managing nuclear weapons, which is often not consistent with achieving the paramount goal, and may actually make the goal of total nuclear disarmament less attainable;

          –that the two top priorities of the managerial approach to nuclear weaponry are to prevent a major war and to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weaponry to additional sovereign states, and especially to those potential nuclear weapons states that have adversary relationship to regional and global geopolitical regimes;

         –that despite the NPT, avoiding further proliferation of nuclear weaponry requires reliance on implementation by geopolitical regimes, by threats, and if necessary, by military action;

         –that the coercive maintenance of non-proliferation has produced a structure of nuclear apartheid, which is inconsistent with the world order premise of the equality of sovereign states and will be resisted from time to time by states whose security is under threat or who harbor hegemonic ambitions;

         –that the final stages in any disarmament process must also address global militarism in general and reduce non-nuclear military capabilities;

         –that overcoming current high levels of complacency about the risks and effects of a nuclear war will depend on civil society activism and a more peace literate public opinion, and will not be achieved by normal diplomacy.

 

 

Rethinking Nuclearism

6 Oct

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is the writeup of a presentation in Lund, Sweden at a peace gathering organized and moderated by Stefan Andersson on Oct. 3, 2018.]

 

Rethinking Nuclearism: Thirty Years Later

 

 

More than thirty years ago I applied the term ‘nuclearism’ to the association between the hardware dimensions of the weaponry and their various software dimensions ranging from strategic doctrine to the infatuations of powerful men with their awesome destructive capabilities. This weaponry gave humanity limitless power, not only potentially destructive of a civilization or many civilizations, but threatening the future viability of human and non-human species alike. Such a capacity to wreak destruction had previously belonged in the province of apocalyptic myth and religious foreboding. So when actualized by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the results of breathtaking technological breakthroughs., the effects recast the very essence of human condition. Myth and religion lost much of their historical agency, with final agency over human destiny seemingly transferred from God (or the gods) to ordinary human beings.

 

Yet those atomic explosions also challenged the rationality of the modern world, which supposedly replaced superstition and faith as the foundation for action and security in the world. Why retain a weaponry with such irrational properties now, which would only get worse in the future? The early reaction to nuclear weapons was accompanied by this rational imperative, which at first was widely endorsed by many political leaders, as well as the public. The vision of a world without nuclear weapons was at first not a dream of global idealists but viewed as a rational necessity if the modern world was going to survive and flourish. Before long this mood of foreboding was overcome by realists who managed to build a rational edifice encompassing enough to house nuclear weaponry, initially against the geopolitical background of the emerging Cold War. This grand exercise in establishing the rationality of irrationality was given the name ‘deterrence,’ and despite many changes in the global setting has persisted in a variety of formulations until today.

 

At the same time, there needed to be ways to reduce the dangers of geopolitical challenges, expensive and risky extensions of nuclearism, and above all, a way found to curtail the spread of such equalizing power to other states. In effect, it was recognized early on that nuclearism, to be sustainable, needed to be managed.To achieve this goal required a Faustian Bargain was needed to induce the great majority of non-nuclear states to forego a nuclear option in a manner that did not compromise their rights as sovereign states. The silver bullet of constructing a management system was nonproliferation, formalized in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that entered into force in 1968.  The inducements for the non-nuclear states seemed substantial: unrestricted access to the benefits of what were called ‘peaceful uses’ of nuclear technology (Article IV) and a right to withdraw from the treaty on three months notice if ‘supreme interests’ reflecting the occurrence of ‘extraordinary events’ so dictated (Article X). The biggest inducement of all was a pledge by the nuclear weapons states, as a matter of urgency and good faith, to agree to pursue nuclear disarmament, and beyond this, general and complete disarmament (Article VI). It should be noted that the NPT fully respected the sovereign rights of non-nuclear states to pursue their security as a matter of national policy, including even the right to withdraw from the treaty, and provided no enforcement mechanisms for verifying non-compliance or providing enforcement in the event of serious violations by either taking steps to acquire the weaponry or through a refusal to negotiate disarmament in good faith.

 

What has happened since in the 50 years since the NPT was negotiated is both startling and almost totally overlooked even by the most severe critics of nuclearism. The NPT framework has been unilaterally supplemented by a geopolitical regimeof Western powers, headed by the United States. This regime undertakes to enforce the NPT against actual and potential violators, that is, exceeding the obligations accepted by the parties to the NPT. As the attack on Iraq in 2003, the coercive diplomacy directed at North Korea, and especially Iran, has shown, this geopolitical regime takes precedence over international law restraints on the use of force in international disputes, and overrides claims of sovereign rights. At the same time, the nuclear weapons states, without renouncing Article VI, have completely failed to fulfill their commitment to seek nuclear disarmament, a failure that the International Court of Justice identified in its 1996 Advisory Opinion. There is no clearer or more significant demonstration of the primacy of geopolitics in the current enactment of state-centric world order. This impression is reinforced by the refusal of the United States to allow parties to the NPT to exercise their legal right of withdrawal in accord with Article X of the treaty. Compliance with the NPT should be demanded and the geopolitical regime of selective enforcement should be abandoned.

 

These extremely serious unilateral modifications of the NPT bargain has met with relatively little formal opposition from the affected non-nuclear states and the peoples of the world. The nuclear weapons states have been successful in diverting attention from these modifications by introducing arms controlas a complement to deterrence,even presenting arms control arrangements as steps toward disarmament. Actually, the opposite is true. Arms control is dedicated to cutting risks and costs associated with nuclearism. Its core claim is ‘to make the world safe with nuclear weapons’ rather than the transformativeidea of ‘a world without nuclear weapons.’ These steps involve various international agreements designed to avoid unintended or accidental uses of nuclear weapons. Their dominant goal is to stabilize the managerial approach while treating transformative or abolitionist demands that the weapons be eliminated in a reliably supervised manner as utopian and imprudent.  

 

The confusion that arises from the failure to distinguish these two approaches has helped explain the neutralization of anti-nuclear forces over the decades, despite their enjoyment of overwhelming popular support. The anti-nuclear movement has been unable to mount and sustain a focused campaign against nuclearism. My view is that until this antagonism between management of nuclearism is understood and overcome, there will be no meaningful denuclearization of world politics. Until the managerial approach is directed challenged and repudiated, anti-nuclear forces will be frustrated, forever beating their heads against an iron wall of resistance by the politics of nuclearism. In other words, to move toward a world without nuclear weapons requires an initial conceptual clarity that has so far been lacking. It may, of course, continue to be prudent for intrinsic reasons to adopt certain arms control measures, but to do so now with eyes wide open, which means recognizing that such a step is likely to be a step awayfrom adopting a transformative approach to nuclearism.

 

What is wrong with this reliance on the managerial approach to regulating nuclearism based on the NPT, the NPT geopolitical regime, and arms control, especially given the apparent political unattainability of nuclear disarmament? I believe a series of strong critical assessments make the managerial approach ethical unacceptable and politically flawed:

 

–by adopting a geopolitical solution to nuclearism the reliance is placed on hierarchyor nuclear apartheid rather than on equalityamong states and norms that treat equals equally;

 

–by relying on deterrence, premised on assumptions of strategic infallibility and unconditional rationality the weight of human experience is ignored, which in contrast exhibits pervasive fallibility and sporadic irrationality;

 

–by prohibiting some states (e.g. Iran) while permitting other states (e.g. Israel) to acquire nuclear weapons the geopolitical regime also suffers from unprincipled discrimination;

 

–by claiming rights to enforce the NPT, the geopolitical regime violates the UN Charter, authorizes aggression, and specific Charter norms prohibiting non-defensive threats and uses of international force;

 

–by rejecting a reactive approach to violations of the NPT, the geopolitical enforcers adopt a preemptive war/preventive war rationale that is inconsistent with contemporary international law;

 

–by threatening massive retaliation and avoiding no first use commitments, nuclear weapons states violate prohibitions against disproportionate, indiscriminate, and inhumane uses of force as embodied in customary international law and international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocols of 1977);

 

–by relying on a managerial approach to nuclearism the NPT/AC approach as enhanced by the geopolitical regime evades the bioethical challenges associated with civilizational and survival threats directed at the human species as a whole;

 

–by overriding the explicit obligations of an international treaty through the imposition of a geopolitical regime, the approach taken diminishes respect for international agreements, political compromise, and the role of international norms of morality and law.

 

 

Concluding Concern. If transformational approach is unattainable and the managerial approach deeply flawed, what does that suggest about the current phase of the struggle of the peoples of the world and their governmental allies against nuclearism? It implies, first of all, clarity of analysis so that false hopes are not raised. Secondly, by exposing the serious flaws of the managerial approach there are many reasons to explore and revive support for a transformational approach. Thirdly, in responding to specific initiatives, their relationship to stabilizing the management of nuclearism should be taken into account. Fourthly, a group of BAN states should consider submitting a complaint to the International Court of Justice alleging violations of Articles VI and X of the NPT, as well as organizing in the General Assembly a request for an Advisory Opinion on whether the management of nuclearism is consistent with international law.

 

As has been the case ever since 1945 ‘living with nuclear weapons’ has been problematic, although the political context has varied over time.  The most effective tactics at the present time is to promote an educational understanding of why transformation is necessary and desirable, while management is unacceptable. Additionally, it is vital to mount sustained pressure by the governments of non-nuclear states and international civil society on nuclear weapons states to comply with all the material provisions of the NPT and abandon the geopolitical option of unlawful enforcement that is selective and discriminatory, besides being unlawful, dangerous, and a major cause of international tensions and warfare.

Why Arms Control is the Enemy of Nuclear Disarmament

9 Jul

Why Arms Control is the Enemy of Nuclear Disarmament

 

No First Use: Arms Control versus Disarmament Perspectives

 

I have long believed that it is important to disentangle the advocacy of nuclear disarmament from the prevailing arms control approach. The core difference in perspective can be summarized as follows: arms controllers seek to stabilize nuclearism, reserving nuclear weapons for use as deterrent weapons of last resort; nuclear disarmers seek to get rid of nuclear weapons as reliably as possible, and forever; disarmers regard their possession, development, and potential use as deeply immoral as well as dangerous from the perspective of long-term human security.

 

President Barack Obama ever since his 2009 speech at Prague projecting a vision of a world without nuclear weapons has confused public understanding by straddling the fence between these two incompatible perspectives. He often talks like a potential disarmer, as during his recent visit to Hiroshima, but acts like an arms controller, as in the appropriation of $1 trillion for the modernization of the existing nuclear weapons arsenal over the next 30 years or in NATO contexts of deployment.

 

There is a quite prevalent confusion among those constituencies that purport to favor nuclear disarmament of supposing that the adoption of arms control measures is not only consistent with, but actually advances toward the realization of their objectives. Such reasoning is deeply confused in my view. It is not just that most formulations of arms control regard nuclear disarmament, if at all, as an ‘ultimate’ goal, that is, as no goal at all falling outside the domain of policy feasibility.

Obama signaled his own confusion in two features of his Prague speech: first, indicating without giving any rationale (there is none) that achieving nuclear disarmament might not be achieved in his lifetime; secondly, avoiding any mention of the legal imperative of a good faith commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament that was unanimously endorsed by an otherwise divided court in the International Court of Justice historic Advisory Opinion of 1996.

 

Incidentally, the label ‘advisory’ is deeply misleading as this legal pronouncement by the highest judicial body in the UN System is the most authoritative interpretation attainable of relevant international law by distinguished jurists drawn from the main legal and cultural traditions active in the world. For such a diverse group to agree on the legal imperative of disarmament is notable, and for it to be ignored by a supposed advocate who is in a position to act is both revealing and irresponsible.

 

My view of the tension between the two perspectives can be briefly articulated: arms control measures unless tied to a disarmament scenario make the retention of nuclear weapons less prone to accident, inadvertent use, and unnecessary missions while reinforcing the logic of deterrence and indirectly expressing the view that a reliable nonproliferation regime is the best that can be hoped for ever since the nuclear genie escaped confinement. Such an approach makes the advocacy of nuclear disarmament

appear to be superfluous idealism, at best, and an imprudent

challenge to deterrence and realism, at worst. There is a coherent argument for such a posture, but it is not one that credible supporters of a nuclear zero or nuclear disarmament should feel comfortable with as it undercuts their supposed priority to eliminate the weaponry once and for all, although moving to zero by verified stages. This contrasts with the central undertaking of the arms control community to live with nuclear weapons as prudently as possible, which translates into nonproliferation, safety, prudent foreign

policy, non-provocative weapons development and deployment, and trustworthy crisis management.

 

Printed below is a recent editorial of the Arms Control Association proposing the American adoption of a no first use policy as a crucial declaratory step in advancing their agenda of nuclear prudence. Its line of argument well illustrates the overall nuclearist logic of the arms control establishment, which also tries to justify its proposal by showing that nuclear weapons are not needed to fulfill America’s worldwide geopolitical ambitions. These ambitions can be satisfied in all circumstances, it is alleged, except a nuclear attack by a nuclear weapons state, by relying on U.S. dominance in conventional weaponry.

 

Here is a further issue raised: for states that possess or contemplate the possession of nuclear weapons, yet are vulnerable to conventional weaponry of potential adversaries, the implicit rationale of the Arms Control Association editorial is that such states have strong

justifications for retaining, and even for developing such weaponry. In effect, countries such as Iran and North Korea can read this editorial as suggesting that they need nuclear weapons to deter surrounding countries with superior conventional weaponry from exerting undue influence via intervention or coercive diplomacy. In effect, the Arms Control Association no first use position, by treating that the U.S. Government and think tank policy community as its target audience, is undercutting the ethical and political rationale for nonproliferation as a rule of world order. As security is the acknowledged prime value in state-centric world order, an argument justifying nuclear weapons for the leading military power in the world is in effect providing non-nuclear states that feel threatened with a powerful

argument for acquiring a nuclear deterrent.

 

A final clarification: I have long favored the adoption of a no first use policy on its own merits, including at the height of the Cold War. It not only underscored the immorality and criminal unlawfulness of any initiating use, but if properly explained could be taken as a vital step in a disarming process. As long as no such posture was adopted even by the United States, with its formidable conventional military options, it meant that the potential use of nuclear weapons was never taken off the geopolitical table. This meant, as well, that the nuclear weapons labs were encouraged to envision potential roles for these weapons of mass destruction and design weaponry configured to carry out such missions.

 

In effect, a nuclear disarmament position also entails a repudiation of geopolitical ambitions to project worldwide military power as the United States has done ever since the end of World War II. This grandiose undertaking has weakened the UN, undermined respect for international law, and subverted democratic institutions within the United States and elsewhere, all while making the country more insecure than at any time in its history and its enemies more bold and aggressive. The common flaw of dominant political actors is to underestimate the will and capability of its militarily weaker adversaries to develop effective modes of resistance. Both the Vietnam experience and 9/11 should have imparted this basic message that the United States was endangering its future (and that of the world) by its posture of geopolitical hubris built on the false belief that the effective agent of change in the twenty-first century is military

dominance. The nuclear dimension of this hubris is particularly dangerous, and ultimately debilitating.

 

It is long overdue to distinguish arms control from disarmament. Arms controllers have made such a choice, purging genuine advocates of disarmament from their ranks as dreamers. The arms control voice is welcome in government even when their proposals are rejected because they collide with geopolitical goals. In contrast, the voice of disarmers is popular among the peoples of the world. Obama’s Prague speech made such a worldwide social impact, and continues to resonate, because it was widely heard (incorrectly) as putting the United States firmly on a disarmament path.

 

Unfortunately, after eight years of an Obama presidency it is as clear as ever that it is civil society alone that carried the disarmament torch during this period, somewhat backed by a series of non-nuclear governments that are not complicit beneficiaries of America’s nuclear umbrella (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan). In this spirit, although not always sufficiently clear about the policy implications of their nuclear disarmament agenda, the best vehicle for those favoring nuclear disarmament is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and such initiatives as Chain Reaction 2016 and the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.

 

*********************************************************************

 

Editorial Published on Arms Control Association (http://www.armscontrol.org); posted June 30, 2016

 

Take Nuclear First-Use Off the Table

The Cold War standoff that gave rise to tens of thousands of nuclear weapons ended a quarter century ago, and U.S. and Russian deployed arsenals have been slashed through verifiable arms control agreements.

Unfortunately, the risks of nuclear weapons use are still far too high, in part because the policies developed to justify their possession and potential use remain largely the same.

President Obama in 2009 at Hradčany Square Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: White House)

Early in his presidency, President Barack Obama made clear that he sought “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

On June 6, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes pledged that the president “will continue to review whether there are additional steps that can be taken to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our own strategies and to reduce the risk of inadvertent use.”

One very important step would be for Obama to declare that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Such a decision could unwind dangerous Cold War-era thinking and greatly strengthen U.S. and global security.

Limiting the circumstances under which the United States would use nuclear weapons was a goal laid out by the “Nuclear Posture Review Report” in 2010, which said the United States should pursue the objective of making deterrence against a nuclear attack the “sole purpose” of the nuclear arsenal.

Nevertheless, current policy still leaves several dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons-use options on the table, including the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict to pre-empt a real or suspected nuclear attack, to counter the possible use of chemical or biological weapons, or to halt a massive conventional military threat against U.S. forces or allies.

Today, the United States and Russia still deploy thousands of nuclear warheads on hundreds of bombers, missiles, and submarines. Current U.S. strategy requires that there are enough nuclear forces available to destroy nearly 1,000 enemy targets, many in urban areas, and that these weapons can be launched within minutes of a decision to do so.

Maintaining such a capability plays a large role in compelling Russia—and may soon help to lead China—to field a sizable portion of their nuclear forces in a launch-under-attack mode in order to avoid a disarming nuclear strike. This, in turn, increases the chance that nuclear weapons might be used or dispersed by U.S. adversaries in a crisis.

As Obama correctly said in 2008, the requirement for prompt launch is “a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”

By adopting a no-first-use policy, the United States could positively influence the nuclear doctrines of other nuclear-armed states, particularly in Asia. Such a shift in U.S. declaratory policy could also alleviate concerns that U.S. ballistic missile defenses might be used to negate the retaliatory potential of China and Russia following a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear attack against their strategic forces.

Shifting to a no-first-use policy would not, in any way, undermine the U.S. ability to deter nuclear attack by another state. It is well established that U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack, and given the size, accuracy, and diversity of U.S. forces, the remaining nuclear force would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

Given the overwhelming U.S. conventional military edge, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify—legally, morally, or militarily—the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. U.S. nuclear weapons are useless in deterring or responding to nuclear terrorism or to a potential chemical, biological, or cyberattack by state or nonstate actors.

A no-first-use policy would not undermine confidence in U.S. defense commitments to key allies. Even if there were to be a conventional military conflict with a nuclear-armed state, such as Russia in the Baltic Sea region or elsewhere, the employment of nuclear weapons would be counterproductive because it would trigger an uncontrollable and potentially suicidal escalation of nuclear weapons use. As a result, the threat of nuclear weapons first-use to counter non-nuclear attacks lacks credibility.

In remarks delivered in Hiroshima May 27, Obama declared that “among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Yes, we must.

A U.S. no-first-use policy would reduce the risk of nuclear catastrophe, improve the prospects for further Russian nuclear cuts, and draw China into the nuclear risk reduction process. It would put a spotlight on the dangerous nuclear doctrines of Pakistan and North Korea, where the risk of nuclear weapons use is perhaps most severe, and challenge them to reconsider the first-use option.

By encouraging a new norm against first-use of nuclear weapons, Obama could help ensure, for this generation and those to come, that nuclear weapons are never used again.

 

 

Making the Most of Obama’s Hiroshima Visit

11 May

Message to President Barack Obama with respect to forthcoming Hiroshima visit

 

 

[Prefatory Note: I sent the following message to the White House today, and encourage readers of this blog to do the same <www.whitehouse.gov>This symbolic visit by Obama creates a major opportunity to advance a denuclearization agenda, and we should take as much advantage as possible. I am against the mainstream advice that suggests that the best way to give meaning to the event would be to announce the adoption of arms control measures such as suspending development of a new nuclear cruise missile. These measures, while intrinsically valuable, have the downside of stabilizing the nuclear weapons status quo. What would be most helpful would be a step, as suggested below, that gives primacy to nuclear disarmament instead of continuing the deceptive practice of taking prudent steps to cut risks of accidental use and curtail provocative developments and deployments. These steps take the public eye off the supposed target of nuclear disarmament. The only was to honor the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is by moving toward Nuclear Zero, and President Obama is one of the few persons on the planet that has this precious chance to aim at the true target. Of course, it would be appropriate, and long overdue, to apologize to the Japanese public for the ghastly suffering inflicted by the atomic attacks, but that is more than we can reasonably expect a cautious president to do.]

 

 

 

 

Message to President Barack Obama upon the announcement of his intended

                                                Visit to Hiroshima

 

Mr. President:

 

I applaud your decision to visit Hiroshima during your upcoming visit to Japan.

 

I would encourage you to supplement your acknowledgement of a MORAL responsibility of the U.S. in your 2009 Prague Speech with an acknowledgement of a LEGAL responsibility to seek in good faith nuclear disarmament, a point unanimously asserted by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion of 1996. Such a move would also recognize the legal obligation embedded in Article 6 of the NPT.

 

Making such an historic affirmation would give new life to the pledge to give real meaning to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and

act to heighten your legacy in this vital area of your presidency. It would put legal, as well as moral, pressure on all nine nuclear weapons states to comply with their obligations under international law, and in the American case, since the since the NPT is a duly ratified treaty, to act in accordance with the Constitution’s recognition of treaties as ‘the supreme law of the land.’

 

Respectfully,

 

 

Richard Falk

If Obama Visits Hiroshima

24 Apr

 

 

There are mounting hopes that Barack Obama will use the occasion of the Group of 7 meeting in Japan next month to visit Hiroshima, and become the first American president to do so. It is remarkable that it required a wait of over 60 years until John Kerry became the first high American official to make such a visit, which he termed ‘gut-wrenching,’ while at the same time purposely refraining from offering any kind of apology to the Japanese people for one of the worse acts of state terror against a defenseless population in all of human history. Let’s hope that Obama goes, and displays more remorse than Kerry who at least deserves some credit for paving the way. The contrast between the many pilgrimages of homage by Western leaders, including those of Germany, to Auschwitz and other notorious death camps, and the absence of comparable pilgrimages to Hiroshima and Nagasaki underscores the difference between winning and losing a major war. This contrast cannot be properly accounted for by insisting on a hierarchy of evils that the Holocaust dominates.

 

The United States, in particular, has a more generalized aversion to revisiting its darker hours, although recent events have illuminated some of the shadows cast by the racist legacies of slavery. The decimation of native Americans has yet to be properly addressed at official levels, and recent reports of soaring suicide rates suggests that the native American narrative continues to unfold tragically.

 

The New York Times in an unsigned editorial on April 12 urged President Obama to make this symbolic visit to Hiroshima, and in their words “to make it count” by doing more than making a ritual appearance. Recalling accurately that Obama “won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 largely because of his nuclear agenda” the editorial persuasively criticized Obama for failing to follow through on his Prague vision of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons. A visit to Hiroshima is, in effect, a second chance, perhaps a last chance, to satisfy the expectation created early in his presidency.

 

When it came to specifics as to what Obama might do the Times offered a typical arms control set of recommendations of what it called “small but doable advances”: canceling the new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile and ensuring greater compliance with the prohibition on nuclear testing by its endorsement coupled with a recommendation that future compliance be monitored by the UN Security Council. The Times leaves readers with the widely shared false impression that such measures can be considered incremental steps that will lead the world over time to a nuclear-free world. Such a view is unconvincing, and diversionary. In opposition, I believe these moves serve to stabilize the nuclear status quo have a negative effect on disarmament prospects. By making existing realities somewhat less prone to accidents and irresponsibly provocative weapons innovations, the posture of living with nuclear weapons gains credibility and the arguments for nuclear disarmament are weakened even to the extent of being irrelevant. I believe that it is a dangerous fallacy to suppose that arms control measures, even if beneficial in themselves, can be thought of as moving the world closer to nuclear disarmament.

 

Instead, what such measures do, and have been doing for decades, is to reinforce nuclear complacency by making nuclear disarmament either seem unnecessary or utopian, and to some extent even undesirably destabilizing. In other words, contrary to conventional wisdom, moving down the arms control path is a sure way to make certain that disarmament will never occur!

 

As mentioned, many arms control moves are inherently worthwhile. It is only natural to favor initiatives that cancel the development of provocative weapons systems, disallow weapons testing, and cut costs. Without such measures there would occur a dangerous erosion of the de facto taboo that has prevented (so far) any use of nuclear weaponry since 1945. At the same time it is vital to understand that the taboo and the arms control regime of managing the nuclear weapons environment does not lead to the realization of disarmament and the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

 

Let me put it this way, if arms control is affirmed for its own sake or as the best way to put the world on a path of incremental steps that will lead over time to disarmament, then such an approach is nurturing the false consciousness that has unfortunately prevailed in public discourse ever since the Nonproliferation Treaty came into force in 1970. The point can be express in more folksy language: we have been acting for decades as if the horse of disarmament is being pulled by the cart of arms control. In fact, it is the horse of disarmament that should be pulling the cart of arms control, which would make arms control measures welcome as place holders while the primary quest for nuclear disarmament was being toward implementation. There is no reason to delay putting the horse in front of the cart, and Obama’s failure to do so at Prague was the central flaw of his otherwise justly applauded speech.

 

Where Obama went off the tracks in my view was when he consigned nuclear disarmament to the remote future, and proposed in the interim reliance on the deterrent capability of the nuclear weapons arsenal and this alleged forward momentum of incremental arms control steps. What is worse, Obama uncritically endorsed the nonproliferation treaty regime, lamenting only that it is being weakened by breakout countries, especially North Korea, and this partly explains why he felt it necessary back in 2009 to consider nuclear disarmament as a practical alternative to a continued reliance on nonproliferation, although posited disarmament more as a goal beyond reach and not as a serious present political option. He expressed this futuristic outlook in these words: “I am not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime.” He never clarifies why such a goal is not attainable within the term of his presidency, or at least its explicit pursuit.

 

In this regard, and with respect to Obama’s legacy, the visit to Hiroshima provides an overdue opportunity to disentangle nuclear disarmament from arms control. In Prague, Obama significantly noted that “..as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” [emphasis added] In the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the judges unanimously concluded that there was a legal responsibility to seek nuclear disarmament with due diligence. The language of the 14-0 ICJ finding is authoritative: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all aspects under strict and effective international control.” In other words, there is a legal as well as a moral responsibility to eliminate nuclear weapons, and this could have made the Prague call for a world without nuclear weapons more relevant to present governmental behavior. The Prague speech while lauding the NPT never affirmed the existence of a legal responsibility to pursue nuclear disarmament. In this respect an official visit to Hiroshima offers Obama a golden opportunity to reinvigorate his vision of a world without nuclear weapons by bringing it down to earth.

 

Why is this? By acknowledging the legal obligation, as embedded in Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty, as reinforcing the moral responsibility, there arises a clear

imperative to move toward implementation. There is no excuse for delay or need for preconditions. The United States Government could at this time convene a multinational commission to plan a global conference on nuclear disarmament, somewhat resembling the Paris conference that recently produced the much heralded climate change agreement. The goal of the nuclear disarmament conference could be the vetting of proposals for a nuclear disarmament process with the view toward establishing a three year deadline for the development of an agreed treaty text whose preparation was entrusted to a high level working group operating under the auspices of the United Nations, with a mandate to report to the Secretary General. After that the states of the world could gather to negotiate an agreed treaty text that would set forth a disarming process and its monitoring and compliance procedures.

 

The United States, along with other nuclear weapons states, opposed in the 1990s recourse to the ICJ by the General Assembly to seek a legal interpretation on issues of legality, and then disregarded the results of its legal findings. It would a great contribution to a more sustainable and humane world order if President Obama were to take the occasion of his historic visit to Hiroshima to call respectful attention to this ICJ Advisory Opinion and go on to accept the attendant legal responsibility on behalf of the United States. This could be declared to be a partial fulfillment of the moral responsibility that was accepted at Prague. It could even presented as the completion of the vision of Prague, and would be consistent with Obama’s frequent appeals to the governments of the world to show respect for international law, and his insistence that during his presidency U.S. foreign policy was so configured.

 

Above all, there is every reason for all governments to seek nuclear disarmament without further delay. There now exists no geopolitical climate of intense rivalry, and the common endeavor of freeing the world from the dangers posed by nuclear weapons would work against the current hawkish drift in the U.S. and parts of Europe toward a second cold war and overcome the despair that now has for so long paralyzed efforts to protect the human interest. As the global approach to nuclear weapons, climate change, and neoliberal globalization should make clear, we are not likely to survive as a species very much longer if we continue to base world order on a blend of state-centric national interests and dominant actor geopolitics. Obama has this rare opportunity to choose the road not often traveled upon, and there is no better place to start such a voyage than at Hiroshima. We in civil society would then with conviction promote his nuclear legacy as ‘From Prague to Hiroshima,’ and feel comfortable that this president has finally earned the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize prematurely bestowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuclear Challenge: 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1)

18 Aug

 

[Prefatory Note: I have been preoccupied for many years with the multiple challenges posed by nuclear weapons, initially from the perspective of international law and morality, later with regard to prudence diplomacy and political survival in international relations, and in all instances, with an eye favoring deep denuclearization associated in my mind with an abiding abhorrence over the use of atomic bombs against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and with the avoidance of any future use of nuclear weaponry or even threatened use. The annual observance of these terrible events encourages reflection and commentary on this darkest of legacies. Zero nuclear weapons is the unconditional goal that I affirm, achieved in a manner that creates as much public confidence as possible that the eliminations of weaponry and enriched uranium stockpiles are being faithfully carried out.

 

In this spirit, I want to call attention to a notable volume on the continuing menace posed by nuclear weapons that has just been published under the editorship of Geoffrey Darnton, bearing the title Nuclear Weapons and International Law, and available via Amazon or the bookseller Ingrams. The book contains the entire text of the judgment issued by the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal (1985), a civil society initiative presided over by four judges, three of whom were Nobel Prize winners, the great dissenting opinion of C.G. Weeramantry in the Advisory Opinion on The Legality of Nuclear Weapons issued in 1996 by the International Court of Justice, and other documents and texts discussing the continuing imperative of nuclear disarmament. I recommend the book highly to all those who seek a broad understanding of why the citizen pilgrims of the world should unite in an urgent effort to create a climate of public awareness that pushes governments to make a genuine effort to fulfill by way of a practical disarming process the often articulated and affirmed vision of a world without nuclear weaponry. What is crucial is to shift the discourse from affirming the elimination of nuclear weaponry as an ultimate goal to the adoption of nuclear disarmament as a programmatic goal of practical politics, especially in the nine nuclear weapons states. Whether this entails a simultaneous partial disarmament of conventional weaponry by some states, especially the United States, is a further issue to consider.

 

At the invitation of Geoffrey Darnton, David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Foundation (NAPF), and I contributed a jointly authored foreword to the volume as well as a dialogue on nuclear weapons and international law. Krieger, a lifelong advocate of a zero nuclear world, as well as a poet whose poems are often responsive to his humane concerns, has devoted his professional life to the attainment of this goal, traveling throughout around the globe to reach diverse audiences and take part in a variety of NGO anti-nuclear efforts. The NAPF heads a coalition of civil society support for the historic Marshall Islands legal initiative currently under consideration in the International Court of Justice and in American federal courts that demands fulfillment of the nuclear disarmament provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. More information about the NAPF and the Marshall Islands litigation can be found at the NAPF website. A second post will contain our foreword together with David’s poem, “A Short History Lesson: 1945” that raises in the most pointed form the moral tensions and civilizational hypocrisies that related the atomic bombing to the Nuremberg Judgment that held surviving Nazi leaders accountable for their complicity in state crime.]

 

There are many reasons why nuclear weapons have been retained and acquired by sovereign states, and it is an instructive insight into the workings of the war system at the core of state-centric world order that the first five nuclear weapons states happened to be the five states given preeminent status in the United Nations by being made permanent members of the Security Council with a right of veto. Because of the devastating potentialities of nuclear weaponry to destroy the human future there was from the start of ‘the nuclear age’ a public outcry against their retention and widespread revulsion about dropping atomic bombs on densely populated Japanese cities. This dialectic between hard power maximization and public canons of sensitivity to state-sanctioned atrocity has been evident ever since 1945. The outcome has been the retention and development of the weaponry with related efforts to limit access to the extent possible (the ethos of nonproliferation) and vague affirmations of a commitment to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of policy and even law. This asymmetry of goals has given us the situation pertaining to the weaponry that haunts the future of humanity. It is epitomized by the geopolitical energies devoted to implementing the nonproliferation provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (1970; 190 states), as evidenced by making the feared apprehension of future acquisition a casus belli in Iraq (2003) and with respect to Iran, hopefully a second nonproliferation war being averted by the Iranian willingness to limit their nuclear program in such a way as to minimize any prospect of acquiring ‘the bomb.’ In contrast, the nuclear disarmament provision, Article VI, of the NPT is treated by the nuclear weapons states as pure window dressing, having the outward appearance of being a bargain reached between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, but in reality a commitment by the latter to forego the weaponry in exchange for an empty promise that has been discredited by the absence of credible efforts at implementation over a period of almost half a century. Part of this reality is the unwillingness of the non-nuclear states to raise their voices in concerted opposition to the one-sided implementation of the NPT, exhibiting their reality as states but without geopolitical leverage.

 

The liberal version of this deceptive Faustian Bargain is the claim that the NPT and nuclear disarmament are complementary to one another, and should be linked in thought and action. The statist reasoning that offers a rationale stresses the desirability of limiting the number of nuclear weapons states while efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament move forward. Among the world’s most astute commentators on nuclear weapons policy is Ramesh Thakur, who heads the Secretariat on the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. In a recent article in The Japan Times [“Link Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation Efforts,” Aug. 12, 2015] Thakur tells us that “there is an inalienable and symbiotic link between nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.” He regards “[t]he key challenge..is to how to protect the political gains and security benefits of the NPT, while also working around it to impart momentum into the disarmament process leading to the total abolition of all nuclear weapons.” From this perspective, Thakur laments the failures of the nuclear weapons states to embrace this linkage in a credible manner, and worries that non-nuclear states are threatening to disrupt the benevolent NPT regime that he credits with greatly restricted the number of states possessing the bomb and has helped avoid any recourse to the weaponry over the 70 years that have elapsed since Nagasaki: “Globally, more and more countries are coming around to the conclusion that the NPT is being used cynically by the nuclear powers not to advance but to frustrate disarmament.”

 

What is surprising is that it has taken so long for the non-nuclear governments to reach this conclusion, or at least to acknowledge their disaffection in a public space. The mind game played so well by the nuclear weapons states, above all, the United States, rests on the proposition that the main threat posed by the existence and possession of the weaponry is its spread to additional states, not the weaponry itself, and certainly not the nuclear weapons states themselves. This inversion of the real priorities has shifted the policy focus away from disarmament for decades and put the spotlight on proliferation dangers where it doesn’t belong, Iran being the current preoccupation resulting from this way of thinking. The geopolitical discriminatory nature of this mind game is further revealed by the treatment of Israel, what Thakur calls “The global double standards” that are “reinforced by regional hypocrisy, in which all sides stayed studiously silent on Israel’s bombs. ”Sanctions and war threats directed at Iran, silence and denial conferred on Israel.

 

My disagreement with Thakur rests on his central assertion of linkage. In my view, the NPT regime has been posited for its own sake (operationalizing the sensible global consensus that the fewer nuclear weapons states, the better) but even more robustly, and here is the unacknowledged rub, as a long-term alternative to nuclear disarmament. In other words, while it is theoretically possible that the NPT regime could have been established as a holding operation to give time for a nuclear disarmament process to be negotiated and acted upon, it has been obvious from an early stage that the government bureaucracies of the leading nuclear powers had no intention of accepting an arrangement that would deprive themselves of the bomb. What the Faustian Bargain imposed was the false pretension that nuclear disarmament was integral to the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states. From time to time political leaders, usually with sincerity, express their commitment to nuclear disarmament. At various times, several American presidents, including even Ronald Reagan, have affirmed their dedication to such a nuclear free future, most recently Barack Obama at his Prague speech in 2009, but after a flourish of attention, nothing happens.

 

Understanding why nothing happens is the real challenge facing the global disarmament movement. It is here that attention should be given to the ideologies of realist geopolitics that shapes the worldview of the policy elites that control the formation government policies and the supportive self-interested bureaucracies deeply entrenched in the media, think tanks, weapons labs, and private sector (the phenomenon Eisenhower flagged as ‘the military-industrial-complex’ in his Jan. 17, 1961 Farewell Address). It is these ideological and structural factors that explain why nothing happens, and is never allowed to happen. In what should have been treated as a startling confirmation of this disheartening assessment occurred when four former top government officials with impeccable hard power realist credentials decided a couple of years ago that the only way to uphold U.S. security dominance in the future was to abolish nuclear weapons, even their eminence did not prevent their hard power arguments for nuclear disarmament being shunted to one side by the nuclear weapons establishment. [See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007; see also Shultz et al., “Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,”Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011.]

 

Winning the mind game is a process that needs periodic diversions from the actuality of the global apartheid approach to nuclear weaponry that has never been seriously challenged, but is deeply antithetical to Western professed repudiation of genocidal tactics and ethos. When fears mounted of a breakdown in the bipolar standoff during the Cold War there did take place a popular mobilization of opposition to nuclearism. The anti-nuclear movement reached peaks in Europe after the scares of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and in response to some of the weapons deployment decisions by NATO. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND). The main ground of anti-nuclear opposition was fear, although the most articulate leader of CND, E.P. Thompson expressed antipathy to nuclear weapons and doctrine on essentially ethical grounds. Thompson argued on the basis of an illuminating analysis that the culture that embraced the then prevailing policies of mutual deterrence was already an active accomplice of Satan by its announced willingness to annihilate tens of millions of innocent people should its will to survive as a state be tested by an unacceptable enemy provocation. [See “Notes on Exterminism: The Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review I/121 , May-June 1980] It is indicative that the governments of the nuclear weapons states, and here most notably again the United States was most adamant, never were unequivocally willing to commit themselves to ‘no first use policies’ even in relation to non-nuclear adversaries. In other words, nuclear weapons were treated as instrumental to foreign policy contingencies, and not tainted with illegitimacy based on the supposed ‘nuclear taboo.’

 

Nonproliferation was the most brilliant of all diversions from the transparent acknowledgement that, whatever rhetoric was used to the contrary, the lead states never accepted nuclear disarmament as a genuine goal of their foreign policy. Quite the contrary. All moves to manage the arms race, including reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals and arrangements about communications during times of crisis, were also designed to reduce public fears of nuclear war and thereby weaken anti-nuclear movements—first, through the message that steps were being taken to minimize risks of an unintended or accidental nuclear war, and secondly, that these steps were steps on a path leading to eventual nuclear disarmament.

 

This double coded message providing the policy rationale for arms control. Militarist contributors to this process, raising their doubts about whether risks were in fact being reduced if military options were being constrained by arms control measures. But it was the second element in the arms control approach that enjoyed tacit and sometimes explicit bipartisan support in the United States where this kind of debate mainly took place. The entire spectrum of policymaking elites agreed that the enactment of nuclear disarmament was both unrealistic and dangerous, and if a visionary president allowed his moral enthusiasm to get the better of him the backlash was swift and decisive as even Reagan found out after informally agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev at their Reykjavik summit in 1986 on a treaty framework that was premised on getting to zero. In reaction, even liberal democrats in the political establishment chided Reagan for being naïve and insufficiently informed when he was blamed for mindlessly stepping across the invisible but rigorously enforced red line that separates managerial arms control from transformational nuclear disarmament. The lesson was learned, as the next presidential administration headed by George H.W. Bush, adopted as a cautionary internal slogan ‘no more Reykjaviks.’ The ‘No’ of the American establishment to nuclear disarmament could not be clearer, nor could the belligerent ‘Yes’ to upholding by war if necessary the NPT regime.

 

With such an understanding, my disagreement with Ramesh Thakur becomes clear and fundamental, and to make it unmistakable, I would conclude by saying the time is now ripe for the total de-linkage of nonproliferation from disarmament with respect to nuclear weapons policy. Without such a de-linkage false consciousness and confusion are unavoidable. It is time to generate populist impatience with the refusal of decades by government establishment to act on the basis of reason, ethics, and prudence: this requires the adoption of policies truly committed to the total abolition of nuclear weaponry in a period of not more than seven years.