Reframing the Debate
Against Nuclear Weapons

by Rhianna Tyson

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"Some 35,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, with thousands still deployed on hair-trigger alert. Whatever rationale these weapons may once have had has long since dwindled. Political, moral, and legal constraints on actually using them further undermine their strategic utility without, however, reducing the risks of inadvertent war or proliferation. The objective of nuclear non-proliferation is not helped by the fact that the nuclear weapon States continue to insist that those weapons in their hands enhance security, while in the hands of others they are a threat to world peace. If we were making steady progress towards disarmament, this situation would be less alarming. Unfortunately, the reverse is true." - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Something is wrong with the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Although seemingly well-equipped with an arsenal of legal and political mechanisms, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), decades' worth of General Assembly (GA) resolutions and even a recent slew of ad-hoc, plurilateral initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, the regime created to prevent the catastrophe of nuclear war remains inadequate.

This insufficiency is even starker when viewed in relation to the regimes controlling other weapons of mass destruction. Despite its own challenges, the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons remains relatively well-funded and well-situated to facilitate the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Even the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), while still lacking the necessary verification mechanisms, has managed to effectively criminalize not just the use and threat of use of biological weapons, but also their production, development and stockpiling. ?Meanwhile, the anti-nuclear regime seems to be faltering. Progress made in recent years has been all but negated; consensus-based agreements are rejected just a few years after being reached. Despite the threats posed by State or non-State proliferation, an increasing likelihood of a return to nuclear testing and the development of new nuclear weapons, a handful of powerful people continue to view these weapons as a legitimate source of security.

All States Parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should approach the seventh NPT Review Conference in May 2005 as a major opportunity to reinvigorate the nuclear disarmament regime and transform it into an effective tool by which a true collective security can be ensured. First, however, we must reclaim the ground that has been eroded in recent years by the vertical and horizontal proliferation threats stemming from various corners of the globe.

A Dangerous Delinkage

One of the most disastrous trends in recent years has been the systematic attempts to break the inextricable link between disarmament and non-proliferation.

Many non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS) have noted the "mutually reinforcing" and complementary nature of the nuclear regime, a relationship of twin goals that Uganda has dubbed an "umbilical link between non-proliferation and disarmament." This link ensures that, as UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe asserted, "working on disarmament in the long run serves the cause of non-proliferation."

Likewise, de-linking one from the other inarguably serves to undermine both. Recent non-proliferation measures, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and Security Council resolution 1540, are led by the very countries which hold nuclear weapons as an integral source of their own security. Furthermore, these initiatives are pursued in a context of abysmal progress on nuclear disarmament. As a result, "non-proliferation" is viewed by some as a goal for the nuclear mighty, leaving NNWS to harp only on disarmament objectives of the Treaty. This results in a false polarization, grossly demonstrated by the failed Third Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, with NNWS on one end of the advocacy spectrum and nuclear-weapon States (NWS) on the other. In the end, progress is made nowhere and threats to global security are exacerbated.

It is not enough to reiterate the now clichéd truism of a two-sided coin; we need to explain that it is precisely the evil, cancerous nature of nuclear weapons that comprise the foundation of this inter-linkage. In a sick body, doctors do not try to contain cancerous cells to one organ of the body. Physicians understand that if even one cell contains a cancerous mutation, it will inevitably spread to other organs and eventually kill the person entirely. Likewise, the continued development, stockpiling and threats to use nuclear weapons (inherent in nuclear deterrence theory), by the NWS will ensure that eventually, at some point, despite decades of treaties, GA resolutions and ICJ rulings, others will succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves.

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