Reviving Nuclear Disarmament

Vienna, Austria

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

It is always a special pleasure to visit Oslo - and not just because this is the city where I had the privilege and joy of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IAEA and myself. Norway is a staunch advocate of human dignity and human security. It spearheaded the Seven Nation Initiative on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation three years ago. And it continues to provide much-needed leadership at a time when this crucial human security issue has gone out of fashion and indeed almost disappeared from the international agenda.

Norwegian politicians and diplomats are not mere visionary humanists. They are both practical and pragmatic. As my friend, and our host today, Jonas Gahr Støre, likes to say, Norway is impartial in helping to end conflicts throughout the world but it is never neutral in standing up for universal human values. These are the same values which the IAEA, and I, endeavour to uphold in carrying out our mandate.

In 1986, President Reagan and Chairman Gorbachev came tantalisingly close to agreeing to scrap their entire nuclear weapon arsenals. The official transcripts of their summit meetings in Reykjavik, make breathtaking reading. From the perspective of 2008, the sheer boldness of the proposals is almost unimaginable. Our keynote speaker Secretary Shultz had a front-row seat at that time. Unfortunately, the two leaders were unable to deliver the "zero option" as differences proved intractable. But in 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev did agree to abolish an entire class of nuclear weapons - shorter- and intermediate-range missiles - in the INF Treaty.

They also created a legacy of dialogue, trust and verification. Significant cuts were subsequently agreed by the two opposing power blocs in everything from military manpower, tanks and warplanes to attack helicopters. There were also verified reductions in strategic nuclear weapons in the START process. Unfortunately, the momentum got lost. The world changed. But the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of all war.

In recent years, nuclear threats have become more dangerous and more complex. The number of states known to have nuclear weapons has expanded to nine. Virtually all are extending or modernizing their nuclear weapon arsenals. Others have tried to develop clandestine nuclear programmes. Extremist groups have shown keen interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. Nuclear materials have become more difficult to control. A new phenomenon of illicit trade in nuclear technology has emerged. Energy security and climate change are driving many countries to revisit the nuclear power option. But the growing interest in mastering the nuclear fuel cycle - seen by some countries as an implicit deterrence or insurance policy - raises the prospect of a steadily increasing number of nuclear-weapon-capable states.

Roughly 27 000 nuclear warheads still remain in the arsenals of these nine countries, 95 percent of which are in the hands of the United States and the Russian Federation. Strategic reliance on these weapons by these countries and their allies undoubtedly motivates others to do the same. And naturally, plans to replenish and modernize these weapons create a pervasive feeling of cynicism among many states - which sense a "do as I say, not as I do" posture. Some of them question the compliance by the weapons states with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires parties to pursue negotiations in good faith "on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

In 1996, the International Court of Justice unanimously interpreted this as an "obligation to achieve a precise result - nuclear disarmament in all its aspects." Security of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials is also a constant concern. After all, out of 27 000 warheads and many tons of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, what are the chances that some weapons or material might go astray? In the past year alone, we have heard alarming stories about aircraft armed with nuclear missiles going missing and of nuclear facilities and equipment protected by little more than bicycle locks.

Today´s keynote speaker George Shultz and his distinguished colleagues Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger and William Perry - the Four Horsemen, as I have heard them called - deserve great credit for their landmark op-ed a year ago calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. They followed up last month with another hard-hitting piece with the backing of a blue-chip list of supporters - the list reads like a "Who´s Who?" of the U.S. security and foreign policy establishment of the last 50 years. I am hopeful that their work - capping the efforts of many others in the past - will now trigger a revival of nuclear disarmament.

Quick Action Possible

I echo almost everything Secretary Shultz and his colleagues say about creating a nuclear-free world. I would like, however, to provide a different perspective on a couple of points.

First, their call for "agreement on plans for countering missile threats to Europe, Russia and the U.S. from the Middle East." This, in my view, would not necessarily lead to a viable solution. It is tantamount to building a wall around this deeply troubled region, which I am sure could be punctured in different ways, particularly in our increasingly globalised world.

What the rest of the world should actually concentrate on is reaching out to the Middle East by helping to address the dire conditions in the region - chronic and festering conflicts, poverty and social injustice, repression and inept governance. These very conditions are at the root of the pervasive sense of injustice and humiliation that translates into extremism and violence, the drivers for most of the world´s major non-proliferation and security concerns. We should not, therefore, quarantine the region but instead make a serious effort to integrate it. What we need is a security structure that is inclusive and not based on "us" versus "them," the very mindset we are trying here to change.

Second, the authors say the creation of a reliable system of supply of nuclear fuel should be done "by advanced nuclear countries and a strengthened IAEA." Control of the nuclear fuel cycle is key to curbing proliferation risks. But it must be unambiguously under multinational control, not just managed by the leading nuclear powers. Otherwise it would fail to win the confidence of countries on the receiving end, who would perceive it as yet again perpetuating a nuclear order of "haves and have-nots." I will come back to this point shortly.

I trust that all of us in this room share the hope that we will see a world free of nuclear weapons. I also expect we are all realistic enough to accept that this will not happen overnight and will be a long-term process. But it is not an impossible dream. So what practical steps could we take now to curb proliferation and move towards disarmament?

It is clear that the nuclear-weapon-states should lead by example. They should also understand the symbiotic link between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Neither will function without the other. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility. As holders of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, their actions would help to shape the actions of others. Their continued reliance on nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of their security sends the wrong message. At the NPT Review Conference in 2000, the weapon states gave an unequivocal undertaking "to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." I will highlight a few measures which I believe are do-able in the short term but would nonetheless have a significant impact.

The first step should be significant reductions in nuclear arsenals.

There is no reason why the two largest nuclear-weapon-states cannot slash the number of warheads they hold, without diminishing their security or that of their allies. Russia and the United States have already reduced their stockpiles dramatically, but much more needs to be done. In December, President Bush approved a significant cut in the deployed U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile, which will make it less than a quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War. But there is considerable scope for further radical reductions of deployed weapons and the elimination of undeployed ones. And as the process moves forward, other states possessing nuclear weapons should follow suit.

Second, the operational status of nuclear weapons systems needs to be changed.

There is no reason for nuclear weapons to be on permanent high alert - ready to be launched at perhaps 30 minutes´ notice. The risk of accident or miscalculation would be dramatically lowered if weapons were taken off the Cold War hair-trigger alert. As Sam Nunn and his colleagues stated last month: "Reliance on launch procedures that deny command authorities sufficient time to make careful and prudent decisions is unnecessary and dangerous in today´s environment." They go on to propose that Russia and the U.S. should introduce "mutually agreed and verified physical barriers in the command-and-control sequence" - an idea which is long overdue.

Third, multilateral disarmament negotiations must be resumed without further delay.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty must be implemented and work should be resumed on a verifiable Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. The CTBT - signed more than a decade ago and seen by some as the longest sought, hardest fought arms control agreement - must be brought into force as soon as possible. And pending the early start of negotiations on a verifiable Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty, there should be a universal moratorium on the production of fissile material.

Fourth, we must develop a new framework for the utilisation of nuclear energy. As I continue to advocate, a multilateral approach would ensure security of supply of nuclear fuel, while reducing the risk of proliferation. A number of proposals have been made, including a fuel bank under IAEA auspices and multinational enrichment facilities. The ultimate goal, in my view, should be to bring the entire fuel cycle, including waste disposal, under multinational control, so that no one country has the exclusive capability to produce the material for nuclear weapons. I do not believe that any country will give up its right to engage in fuel cycle activities unless the multinational framework is based on equal rights and obligations for all participants.

Fifth, we need to improve the security of nuclear materials. The Agency aims to track all illicit activities such as smuggling, theft and loss of nuclear and radioactive materials. It is quite alarming that a large percentage of the materials reported as lost or stolen are never recovered; and, conversely, that a large percentage of materials which are recovered have not been previously reported as missing. There continue to be many gaps in the current security system which make it vulnerable to abuse by organised crime, or worse - by extremists. This is actually the greatest danger we face - that nuclear weapons or material could fall into the wrong hands. If this were to happen, the weapon or material would almost certainly be used, since the concept of deterrence that operates between States is irrelevant to an extremist ideology.

Sixth, we must strengthen the verification authority and capability of the IAEA.

International verification will be a vital part of any disarmament effort and the Agency, with its credibility and technical expertise, should be expected to play an important role in that process. Experience has shown that when the IAEA is equipped with the necessary legal authority, state-of-the-art technology and adequate financial and human resources, it is in a position to draw credible conclusions about compliance by states with their non-proliferation obligations.

The Additional Protocol to safeguards agreements, adopted in 1997 in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle when the Agency missed Iraq´s clandestine 1980s nuclear programme, gives us better access to information and locations. Regrettably, this mechanism is in force in less than half the countries party to the NPT. In fact, we have more than 30 NPT member countries that have not even concluded a safeguards agreement - and for which we cannot perform any verification activities.

I regret to report that the Agency´s funding is also becoming untenable. Demand for our services is constantly expanding, without corresponding increases in funding. We urgently need sufficient resources to fulfil our mandate effectively, credibly and independently. That includes giving the Agency the resources to gain access to top-quality satellite imagery and to develop new state-of-the-art verification laboratories and equipment, among other requirements.

Drivers for Acquiring Nuclear Weapons

The measures I have outlined would undoubtedly help to make the world a safer place. But in order to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons in the long term, we should take a hard look at the reasons why countries are tempted to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. Whether the reason is insecurity - the need to acquire a shield or insurance policy - or the desire to seek stature, prestige, or dominance, we need to re-visit our collective security system to address these various drivers. This means engaging in negotiations to re-engineer our global security architecture.

In that structure, the inextricable linkage between different aspects of insecurity must be recognised. If a fraction of the more than one trillion dollars presently being poured into military spending were to be spent on basic needs and good governance in the troubled parts of the world, we could do much to address the hopelessness and sense of injustice which fuel violence and extremism. The prospects for progress in preventing nuclear catastrophe will remain grim unless we begin working on such a structure: a structure in which no country relies on nuclear weapons for its security and in which we have an effective system to deter and respond to possible violations of a nuclear weapons prohibition. And, importantly, a structure in which there is an effective mechanism for resolving conflicts through peaceful means. We must engage in a sustained effort to resolve conflicts that have plagued us for generations, such as the Palestinian issue and the Korean conflict.

We are at a crucial juncture. The system is faltering. We need to bolster the non-proliferation regime and to move on nuclear disarmament. Our approach to arms control and disarmament must be rule-based. An effective arms control regime must be universal, equitable and robust. As I have argued for some time, we must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction, yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for their security. Ultimately, the prohibition of nuclear weapons should be a peremptory norm of international law, which is not treaty-dependent, similar to the prohibition of genocide, torture and slavery.

Mobilise Public Opinion

Despite the setbacks of the past decade, I continue to believe that achieving nuclear disarmament is possible. But preaching to the converted is not enough. We need to mobilise public opinion. People must understand the danger we face, the Sword of Damocles that hangs over all our heads. I am not sure that many people realise just how devastating today´s nuclear weapons are - hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs which obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A handful of missiles carried today on a single bomber or submarine could wipe out the entire population of a country.

That message needs to be brought home to a wider public. It is heartening to see the issue of nuclear disarmament being debated in the U.S. presidential election campaign. I was also greatly encouraged to see the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger - a man clearly attuned to the concerns of ordinary people - put his considerable muscle behind the cause of scrapping nuclear weapons a few months ago. Schwarzenegger said: "The attention focussed on nuclear weapons should be as prominent as that on global climate change." Who knows - perhaps the combination of the Governor´s muscle with the fine minds represented here may kick-start an effective world-wide disarmament campaign.

This coming Thursday, it will be 22 years since the world lost Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who campaigned actively for nuclear disarmament throughout his life. He once said: "It is very unlikely that disarmament will ever take place if it must wait for the initiatives of governments and experts. It will only come about as the expression of the political will of people in many parts of the world."

Let us hope that this conference will help to launch a process in which the vision of a world free from nuclear weapons will turn into a reality in our lifetime.

Last update: 21 October 2014