A World Without Nuclear Weapons - Feasible and Desirable?

Posted in Other | 15-May-09 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, William J.Perry, Sam Nunn: "I am convinced, that Kissinger and his colleagues know that a world without nuclear weapons is not attainable."

The four heavyweight US strategic thinkers and political leaders Henry A. Kissinger, William J. Perry, George P. Shultz and San Nunn have reanimated the old dream of a nuclear weapons-free world.

They triggered a discussion in the Western world and Japan in which most politicians - especially in Europe - have been applauding this initiative. There is an asymmetry in the public debate between the West, Russia and China. There is no public debate on this topic in Russia and China. The public debate is limited to the West and Japan. There is the risk that the legitimacy of nuclear weapons might further erode and that this debate will be misused as propaganda against other efforts for national and collective defense.

US President Barack Obama put the icing on the cake when he declared on April 4, 2009 that he shares the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world.

In his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2009, Henry Kissinger made clear that the rising proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction was the main motivation for him and his colleagues to launch the initiative.

Is a nuclear weapons-free world feasible?

There are two aspects - one political and one technical. The political aspect comes from the fact that nuclear weapons form the backbone of great and would-be great powers. All five veto-powers in the UN are nuclear powers. Without nuclear weapons, countries like France and the United Kingdom would lose a great deal of their political clout. I cannot see any incentive for them to give this power away voluntarily and unilaterally. India has no incentive to give up its nuclear weapons - especially when one considers that it has neighbors like China and Pakistan, both also nuclear powers. Pakistan has a mirror view.

Israel sees an urgent need to have nuclear weapons - even not officially confirmed - as a deterrent against hostile Arab neighbors and against Iran striving for nuclear weapons. Iran and North Korea want to gain nuclear power status in order to improve their power projection in their respective regions. It remains to be seen whether both will stop their nuclear weapons programs as a result of negotiations or if they will complete their programs - regardless of sanctions and negotiations. The latter is more likely. If and when both countries become "virtual" or "real" nuclear powers, there is the danger that they will trigger a nuclear arms race in their neighborhoods.

Some nuclear powers still regard their nuclear weapons as a deterrent against any aggression or nuclear weapons-based blackmail. There is no clear proof that nuclear weapons have prevented a nuclear war for more than 60 years since they were first used, but it is very plausible that this was the case during the Cold War.

The technical aspect is easy to understand. The nuclear ghost is out of the bottle. The knowledge about how to construct a nuclear weapon is widespread and will not be extinguished. The delivery systems are available.

The more than 350 nuclear power plants that operate worldwide and many more to come within the next decades give the states the status of "virtual" nuclear weapons powers since they can switch from the civilian use of nuclear energy to nuclear weapons programs within a short period of time.

Even if some or all states were to officially declare that they want to destroy all of their nuclear weapons, who would be able to control this process and who would guarantee that not even a single nuclear weapon would be hidden in an underground facility by states or non-state actors?

Can any state run the risk that nuclear disarmament might endanger the security of its people through a nuclear "Dr.No?"

Is a world without nuclear weapons desirable?

Mankind has a lot of experience with a world without nuclear weapons. Was this world safer and better? No way.

Our history is a history of conflicts and wars - with relatively short periods of peace in between. Without nuclear weapons, the deterrence is weaker and the temptation is higher to solve political conflicts with military means. This is still true in regions of the world in which the value of an individual human being is regarded as very low.

There have been many attempts through many policies and means in the world to create a new human being - without aggressions and without ambitions, in order to have and get more than the neighbor. All these attempts failed. Realistically, we have to live with the evil in our global village and we have to contain it. So far, nuclear weapons have served quite well in preventing war and in conflict de-escalation. We should not forget that nuclear weapons work as a deterrent against chemical weapons, too.

In my view, a world without nuclear weapons is neither feasible nor desirable.

What should be done in a world with nuclear weapons?

I am convinced that Kissinger and his colleagues know that a world without nuclear weapons is not attainable. They use their vision to enforce political leaders to think about attainable solutions concerning non-proliferation and reductions of nuclear weapons.

Henry Kissinger in Munich: "Affirming the desirability of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, we have concentrated on the steps that are achievable and verifiable."

There are some areas for a realistic approach, but we have to keep in mind that arms reductions are not an end in itself. A sufficient level of security comes first.

  • The US and Russia should find a follow-on for the START I treaty, which expires at the end of 2009. They should and could reduce their strategic nuclear weapons to a credible and verifiable "second strike capability" - against existing and emerging nuclear powers in combination with missile defense capabilities.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency should be authorized to develop a system that places enrichment and reprocessing - the nuclear fuel cycle - under international control and in locations that prevent nuclear proliferation.
  • The Western nuclear powers should take the lead in preparing the Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in spring 2010 in order to contain proliferation of nuclear weapons' components and strategic delivery systems.
  • The US should extend its "nuclear umbrella" to countries that feel threatened by existing and emerging nuclear powers. This step could prevent those countries from entering into a nuclear arms race.
  • The " Proliferation Security Initiative" - already signed by about 70 countries - should be extended.
  • Enhance the security of existing nuclear weapons' storage sites -especially in Russia and Pakistan.
  • The "Nuclear Suppliers Group" - signed by 47 countries -, which tries to build barriers against the illegal export of ingredients and components for nuclear weapons should be expanded and supported.
  • The "Six-states talks" coping with North Korea's nuclear program should convince North Korea to give up the nuclear weapons program and the testing of strategic delivery systems is in its own interest. The conference partners should guarantee to support the nuclear energy program and improve the living conditions of the North Korean people.
  • The greatest challenge emerges from Iran, a country that has the delivery systems as well as the doctrine "to wipe Israel off the map." Iranian nuclear weapons would alter the political landscape in the Broader Middle East. Under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, Hizballah and Hamas would be tempted to increase their terrorist attacks against Israel.

The time for negotiations is running out. Iran will reach "the point of no return" earlier than previously expected. A military operation to delay or paralyze the nuclear weapons program might become the last resort.