Nuclear proliferation and terrorism represent the single most important threat to global security. Yet fundamental differences of opinion remain on how to deal with this ever growing menace to our survival. Should we opt for diplomacy or force? What are the relative merits of collective versus unilateral action? Is it more effective to pursue a policy of containment or one based on inclusiveness?
These are not new questions, by any measure. But they have taken on renewed urgency as nations struggle, both regionally and globally, to cope with an extended array of conflicts, highly sophisticated forms of terrorism, and a growing threat of weapons of mass destruction.
In a real sense, we are in a race against time — but it's a race we can win if we work together.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) remains the global anchor for humanity's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and move towards nuclear disarmament. There is no doubt that the implementation of the NPT continues to provide important security benefits — by providing assurance that, in the great majority of non-nuclear-weapon States, nuclear energy is not being misused for weapon purposes. The NPT is also the only binding agreement in which all five of the nuclear-weapon States have committed themselves to move forward towards nuclear disarmament.
Still, it is clear that recent events have placed the NPT and the regime supporting it under unprecedented stress, exposing some of its inherent limitations and pointing to areas that need to be adjusted. The question is how do we best move ahead to achieve the security we seek?
Clearly, the world has changed. The key features of the international security landscape have been altered significantly over the past two decades. Whatever value the concept of nuclear deterrence may have served during the Cold War — as the volatile currency on which the standoff between two superpowers was balanced — they have now become the ultimate "elephant in the parlor". For the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon States under the NPT, their nuclear arsenals are increasingly becoming either a focal point for resentment or cynicism among the nuclear "have-nots", or worse, a model for emulation for States that wish to pursue clandestine WMD programmes, hoping that this will bring them security and status.
It is the height of irony that, in today's security environment, the only actors who presumably would find the world's most powerful weapons useful — and would deploy them without hesitation — would be an extremist group. A nuclear deterrent is absolutely ineffective against such groups; they have no cities that can be bombed in response, nor are they focused on self-preservation. But even as we take urgent measures to protect against nuclear terrorism, we remain sluggish and unconvinced about the need to rapidly rid ourselves of nuclear weapons.
Why? The answer, in my view, is that the international community has not been successful to date in creating a viable alternative to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence as the basis for international security.
Nuclear weapons will not go away until a reliable collective security framework exists to fill the vacuum. The aftermath of the Cold War should have served as the logical lead-in to such an effort. The resulting changes to the international security landscape have been obvious; it is only that we have not acted to adapt to these changes.
If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that the window of opportunity is still open. The latest efforts to counteract Iraq's phantom weapons of mass destruction, to unveil a clandestine nuclear-weapons programme in Libya, to understand the extent and nature of Iran´s undeclared nuclear programme, to bring North Korea back to the NPT regime and dismantle any nuclear programme they may have, and to prevent nuclear terrorism have all brought worldwide attention to bear on issues of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security.
That energy is ours to harness. If we are ever to build a global security culture based on human solidarity and shared human values — a collective security framework that will serve the interests of all countries equally, and make reliance on nuclear weapons obsolete — the time is now.
The question remains, how? Whose responsibility is it to create this collective security framework? Is this an initiative for policy makers? The UN Security Council? The scientific community?
The answer, of course, is that it will take all of us. Progress must be made on all fronts — political, scientific and societal. We must all take the responsibility for action.
Reliance on nuclear weapons is a recipe for self-destruction. I find it encouraging that people from all sectors of society have been coming forward with proposals on how to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear arms control. In my view, this could be the beginning of a much needed discussion on security — and we should do all we can to stimulate this dialogue, move it forward, and keep it in public focus.
On the political and policy front, leadership must be focused on restoring and strengthening the credibility of multilateral approaches to resolving conflicts and threats to international security — conflicts and threats ranging from preserving the environment to ensuring respect for human rights, working for sustainable development, and controlling weapons of mass destruction — which, in our globalized world, can only be resolved through a collective and multilateral approach, in which competing interests and powers can be contained and harmonized. The system of collective security hoped for in the United Nations Charter has never been made fully functional and effective. This must be our starting point.