A cul­ture of peace?

Re­cent meet­ings in Europe and Asia il­lus­trate the bar­ri­ers to a nu­clear-weapons-free world

The Daily Observer - - FORUM - ERIKA SIMP­SON

Will the U.S. ac­tu­ally strike North Korea’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties and an­ni­hi­late its cap­i­tal Py­ongyang some­day soon?

For now, the con­fronta­tion be­tween the two coun­tries widely seen as more hot air com­ing from their lead­ers, Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. But high-level diplo­matic dis­cus­sions last month in Brus­sels at NATO head­quar­ters and in As­tana, Kaza­khstan, dur­ing a five-day meet­ing on new nu­clear dan­gers in­di­cate more ac­tion is needed if the world is go­ing to cre­ate a cul­ture of peace and end these kinds of threats.

In July, 122 states agreed on a UN Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons, which bans their pos­ses­sion and use. But all the nu­clear weapon states, plus NATO al­lies such as Canada, are re­fus­ing to be­come par­ties when sign­ing be­gins on Wed­nes­day.

Diplo­mats from nu­clear-armed coun­tries ar­gue that un­til the U.S. and Rus­sia meet at the bar­gain­ing table, they won’t give up their nu­clear weapons ei­ther.

But re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

At NATO head­quar­ters, there is no ready ex­pla­na­tion for why the NATO -Rus­sia Coun­cil rarely meets — ex­cept NATO diplo­mats blame Rus­sia for its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. NATO’s Weapons of Mass De­struc­tion Cen­tre will be dis­man­tled soon and un­der a new name­plate will fo­cus on the re­gional sit­u­a­tions in Korea and Iran. Dis­cussing how to dis­arm the 15,500 nu­clear weapons shared by the U.S. and Rus­sia is not on the table.

In As­tana, Sam Nunn, a U.S. Demo­cratic sen­a­tor who fa­mously spear­headed the Nunn-Lu­gar de­nu­cle­ariza­tion pro­gram and was chair of the Se­nate armed ser­vices com­mit­tee, crit­i­cized NATO, say­ing the Korean sit­u­a­tion is pre­cisely the kind of cri­sis diplo­mats ought to be ne­go­ti­at­ing.

In­stead, NATO’s cor­ri­dors are eerily empty, as peo­ple lack­adaisi­cally re­turn from sum­mer hol­i­days. De­spite Trump’s threats to put all the op­tions on the table re­gard­ing North Korea, there is no sense of ur­gency, as in days of yore when NATO hall­ways were filled with ur­gent de­bate about what it should do in Afghanistan.

They also de­fend the planned $1-tril­lion mod­ern­iza­tion of the U.S. ar­se­nal on the grounds that de­ter­rence needs mod­ern­iza­tion.

On the other hand, NATO of­fi­cials say the de­ploy­ment of troops to the Baltic states, in­clud­ing 455 from Canada in Latvia, might de­ter Rus­sia from putting nu­clear-tipped launch­ers into Kal­in­grad, the Rus­sian en­clave on the Baltic Sea.

In As­tana, Rus­sian diplo­mats seemed to blame the stale­mate over nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment on NATO and the U.S. for de­ploy­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence launch­ers in Ro­ma­nia and Poland.

In the work­ing groups I at­tended — which fea­tured such high-level diplo­mats as the re­cently re­tired UN high rep­re­sen­ta­tive for dis­ar­ma­ment An­gela Kane and of­fi­cials from the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency — we heard of Rus­sian plans to use drones that can ma­noeu­vre un­der­wa­ter for two days be­fore fir­ing bi­o­log­i­cal or nu­clear weapons. Rus­sian diplo­mats in the room stren­u­ously de­nied such a plan was in the works. They, in turn, crit­i­cized Amer­i­cans for de­vel­op­ing nu­clear-tipped cruise mis­siles.

Mean­while, a French gen­eral de­flected crit­i­cism of his coun­try’s nu­clear strike force, ar­gu­ing it was the Rus­sian propen­sity to use its tac­ti­cal first-strike ca­pa­bil­i­ties that would lead to nu­clear war.

It seemed strange, and rather like Cold War times again, but we spent an in­or­di­nate amount of time de­bat­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween strate­gic and tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons — and no one could agree on def­i­ni­tions any­way. Al­though the ef­fects of nu­clear war on cli­mate change mean such dif­fer­ences no longer make sense, some Rus­sian aca­demics rea­soned their tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to be un­der­stood be­fore de­bat­ing the mer­its and de­mer­its of a nu­clear weapons ban.

Some par­tic­i­pants hear­kened back to the need for the nu­cle­ar­armed states to de­clare they would not be the first to use nu­clear weapons — an old idea that res­onates now that Trump has threat­ened to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea. Diplo­mats re­vealed that pres­i­dent Barack Obama had wanted to make no-first-use part of Amer­i­can strat­egy, but was per­suaded not to by al­lies in NATO and the Mid­dle East.

My ques­tions about a ne­go­ti­at­ing a fis­sile ma­te­rial cut­off treaty and es­tab­lish­ing an Arc­tic nu­clear-weapon-free zone were dis­missed as im­pos­si­ble in today’s cli­mate of dis­trust. The fact that the 20-year old Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty still has not en­tered into force lent weight to their point.

It was a small con­so­la­tion, then, that the out­go­ing pres­i­dent of the Pug­wash Con­fer­ences on Sci­ence and Global Af­fairs — a for­mer UN un­der-sec­re­tary gen­eral of dis­ar­ma­ment — de­voted a few min­utes of his clos­ing re­marks to the pos­si­bil­ity of an Arc­tic zone be­cause his views hold con­sid­er­able weight.

A se­nior Cana­dian diplo­mat told me the pos­si­bil­ity of re­view­ing NATO’s strate­gic con­cept — as was done un­der for­eign min­is­ter Lloyd Ax­wor­thy in the 1990s — would be im­pos­si­ble. NATO con­tin­ues to rely on nu­clear de­ter­rence as the main source of sta­bil­ity in Europe. Even the dis­as­trous ef­fects on cli­mate from a lim­ited nu­clear war would not be enough to push their think­ing to­ward nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

And one high-level Cana­dian diplo­mat dis­missed the new UN treaty pro­hibit­ing nu­clear weapons as mere wall­pa­per.

Yet the fact re­mains non­nu­clear-weapon states are pre­par­ing to sign the treaty later this week. Their ar­gu­ment — and mine — is we have no choice but to con­tinue to pro­mote a cul­ture of peace that pro­motes co­op­er­a­tion, un­der­stand­ing and non-vi­o­lent be­hav­iour.

— An as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Western Univer­sity and au­thor of NATO and the Bomb and other schol­arly works, Erika Simp­son at­tended last month’s diplo­matic meet­ings in As­tana, Kaza­khstan, and NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

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