Global nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment: Don’t aban­don the dream

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Gareth Evans Gareth Evans is chair of the Asia-Pa­cific Lead­er­ship Net­work for Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion and Dis­ar­ma­ment (APLN). He is former Aus­tralian for­eign minister. He con­cur­rently serves as the chan­cel­lor of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, and a

With North Korean ne­go­ti­a­tions go­ing nowhere fast, talk about a South Korean “bomb” grow­ing, all the nu­clear-armed states mod­ern­iz­ing and ex­pand­ing their ar­se­nals, and ex­ist­ing U.S.-Rus­sia arms con­trol agree­ments fall­ing apart, achiev­ing global nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment looks ever more like an im­pos­si­ble dream.

But we aban­don that dream at our peril. The risk of cat­a­strophic mis­use of nu­clear weapons, de­lib­er­ately or — more likely — by ac­ci­dent or mis­cal­cu­la­tion, is as grave and im­me­di­ate as it has ever been. Cli­mate change is also an ex­is­ten­tial risk to life on this planet as we know it, but nu­clear weapons can kill us a lot faster than CO2.

To re­cap­ture the com­mit­ment of pol­i­cy­mak­ers, cam­paign­ers for nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment need to do four things: uti­lize the power of emo­tion; uti­lize the power of rea­son; unite around a com­mon, re­al­is­tic dis­ar­ma­ment agenda that does not make the best the en­emy of the good; and, above all, stay op­ti­mistic.

As to emo­tion, it is im­por­tant not to un­der­es­ti­mate the ex­tent to which, in real world gov­ern­ment nu­clear de­ci­sion-mak­ing, the sheer in­dis­crim­i­nate in­hu­man­ity of any nu­clear weapons use al­ready plays a part.

Even the most hard-headed pol­i­cy­mak­ers have to take se­ri­ously the pro­found nor­ma­tive taboo which still ex­ists in­ter­na­tion­ally against any de­lib­er­ate, aggressive use of nu­clear weapons, at least in cir­cum­stances where the very sur­vival of a state is not at im­mi­nent risk.

Bot­tom-up civic pres­sure is a nec­es­sary part of most ma­jor po­lit­i­cal change, and the Hiroshima mes­sage will al­ways have raw power. But com­mu­nity voices alone are un­likely to move the hard-heads, many of whom quite unashamedl­y ar­gue that the sheer aw­ful­ness of nu­clear weapons is what makes them so ef­fec­tive as a de­ter­rent.

What they need to be per­suaded about are the strate­gic ar­gu­ments against nu­clear weapons — that their ben­e­fits are neg­li­gi­ble, and far out­weighed by the risks in­volved. It is not hard to make such a ra­tio­nal case.

In terms of de­ter­ring war be­tween the ma­jor pow­ers, of course “mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion” en­cour­aged a de­gree of cau­tion in how the Soviet Union and U.S. ap­proached each other. But no ev­i­dence has ever emerged that ei­ther side wanted at any stage to cold-blood­edly ini­ti­ate a war and was de­terred only by the ex­is­tence of the other side’s nu­clear arse­nal.

As to nu­clear weapons de­ter­ring large-scale con­ven­tional at­tacks, there are many cases where non-nu­clear pow­ers have ei­ther di­rectly at­tacked nu­clear pow­ers, or have not been de­terred by the prospect of their in­ter­ven­tion: Think of Korea, Viet­nam, the Falk­lands, Afghanista­n and the first Gulf war for a start.

As to the ap­par­ent be­lief of some smaller states — like North Korea — that a hand­ful of nu­clear weapons is their ul­ti­mate guar­an­tor against ex­ter­nal regime-change-mo­ti­vated in­ter­ven­tion, that is just not well-founded.

Posses­sion of nu­clear weapons that it would be man­i­festly sui­ci­dal for a state to use are not a cred­i­ble de­ter­rent, nor are weapons not sup­ported by in­fra­struc­ture (for ex­am­ple, mis­sile sub­marines) that would give them a rea­son­able prospect of sur­viv­ing to mount a re­tal­ia­tory at­tack. The DPRK knows that nu­clear homi­cide — against the ROK, Ja­pan or the United States — means na­tional sui­cide.

In pur­su­ing both dis­ar­ma­ment and non-pro­lif­er­a­tion — and in­deed in many other pol­icy con­texts — it is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to learn the art of com­pro­mise. Never make the best the en­emy of the good. And that means be­ing par­tic­u­larly careful about how we ar­tic­u­late the “global zero” ob­jec­tive.

How­ever emo­tion­ally ap­peal­ing, the Nu­clear Weapons Pro­hi­bi­tion Treaty re­cently ne­go­ti­ated through the U.N. is man­i­festly not go­ing to get a buyin from nu­clear armed and um­brella states, now or per­haps ever.

Nu­clear weapons elim­i­na­tion is only ever go­ing to be achiev­able on an in­cre­men­tal ba­sis, build­ing into the process a se­ries of way-sta­tions. Such a cred­i­ble way for­ward was mapped by the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion and Dis­ar­ma­ment (ICNND), which I co-chaired in 2009 with former Ja­panese For­eign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

We urged that ini­tial ef­forts fo­cus not on elim­i­na­tion but on a “min­i­miza­tion” agenda, sum­ma­riz­able as the “4 Ds”: Get­ting a uni­ver­sal buy-in to No First Use (Doc­trine), which is al­ready sup­ported at least by China and In­dia; giv­ing that cred­i­bil­ity by tak­ing weapons off high-alert (Deal­ert­ing); dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the num­ber of those ac­tively de­ployed (De­ploy­ment); and re­duc­ing over­all num­bers to around 2,000, down from the 15,000+ now in ex­is­tence (De­creased num­bers).

A world with very low num­bers of nu­clear weapons, with very few phys­i­cally de­ployed, prac­ti­cally none of them on high-alert launch sta­tus and ev­ery nu­clear-armed state vis­i­bly com­mit­ted to never be­ing the first to use nu­clear weapons would still be very far from be­ing per­fect. But it would be a much safer world than the one we live in now.

While the present en­vi­ron­ment for good pol­i­cy­mak­ing on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment as on much else, is des­o­late, it is im­por­tant to keep things in per­spec­tive. Wheels do turn and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers do change. Op­ti­mism is self-re­in­forc­ing in the same way that pes­simism is self-de­feat­ing. So it is up to those of us who hope for a nu­clear weapon-free world to be­lieve in it, and get out there and work for it.

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