(Part One) The Nuclear Weapon Debate

The Canberra Commission is persuaded that immediate and determined efforts need to be made to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to it. The Commission acknowledges that the debate between those for and against the elimination of nuclear weapons is not new. Both sides claim that their positions are rational and moral. But the circumstances that created and sustained the nuclear arms race of the Cold War have all but disappeared, and an uncertain global strategic future lies ahead. This uniquely favourable moment should be seized to eliminate the class of weapons which, alone, can destroy all life on earth. The Commission believes that to be compelling, the case for a nuclear weapon free world must be convincingly argued from two sides of the issue: why these weapons should be eliminated; and a rebuttal of the rationale most commonly cited for retaining them. Simultaneously the security concerns of the present day including, in particular, nuclear proliferation must be addressed. The Case for a Nuclear Weapon Free World The case for elimination of nuclear weapons is based on three major arguments:

No theoretical calculation of the damage can give a true picture of the consequences of nuclear warfare. The explosion of a nuclear weapon causes damage through intense thermal radiation, a blast wave and nuclear radiation from the fireball and radioactive fallout. The effects of a major exchange of nuclear weapons, or even a more limited exchange, would not be confined to those states directly involved in a nuclear conflict. On the contrary, the consequences of nuclear war would stretch beyond the immediate destruction, and into non-belligerent states and the lives of future generations, through fallout, widespread contamination of the environment and possible genetic damage. The survivors of a major nuclear war would face extraordinary difficulties, especially in reconstruction, and the restoration of domestic and international order. In the case of the two world wars the most powerful states were engaged in prolonged combat, but the international system survived, though at a terrible cost, and the resulting physical damage was repaired relatively quickly. A major nuclear war or exchange would make this sort of recovery immensely difficult and for some perhaps impossible.

The world has lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud continuously since 1945, and the cumulative psychological impact has been overwhelmingly negative. The threat that the existence of nuclear weapons poses to the future of the human species and the global environment remains undiminished. It must not be ignored or forgotten by the international community. The initial development and proliferation of nuclear weapons meant that, for the first time in history, the fate of humankind was delivered into the hands of a small group of leaders and decision makers. An unprecedented responsibility was placed on those controlling the deployment, use and maintenance of nuclear weapons. That is still the case. With the end of the Cold War, the risk that nuclear weapons might be used deliberately by a major power in a global war has lessened, but other dangers must also be considered. Foremost among these are the risks that nuclear weapons can be detonated accidentally, used as a result of strategic miscalculation during a crisis or used in an unauthorised way by those with access to the weapons, leading to further escalation and the retaliatory use of nuclear weapons. The complexity of the command, control, communication and early warning systems associated with nuclear weapons, coupled with the speed with which nuclear weapons can be delivered, creates a broad environment for such accidental or miscalculated use. In the 1960s, the world looked at the prospect of dozens of nuclear weapon states, recoiled and rejected it. The result was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968 with its promise of a world free of these weapons. The overall success of the NPT and other nuclear non-proliferation regimes has been gratifying, but it has been hard won, and is by no means guaranteed. The prospects of a renewal of horizontal proliferation have become real.

In parallel with the risks associated with the nuclear arsenals in the five declared nuclear weapon states, there are the dangers of undeclared nuclear arsenals. The states concerned have neither articulated the doctrines supporting their nuclear forces, nor is anything known of the arrangements they have in place to ensure the non-use of these weapons. These states must be urged strongly to adhere to the NPT or other equivalent non-proliferation obligations as non-nuclear weapon states. Equally the acquisition of nuclear weapons or material by terrorists or other sub-national groups is a matter of grave concern.

During the Cold War, American and Soviet strategic nuclear forces were designed to cope with sudden attack, not least by keeping large portions of their forces on alert and ready to strike on the shortest notice. Although the forces were structured to be able to ride out a first nuclear strike, they also had 'launch-on-warning' or 'launch-under-attack' options, choices that would have to be exercised after no more than a few minutes of deliberation. The need for such a prompt response had grave drawbacks: information on the scale and nature of the attack might be unclear and difficult to verify in the minutes available. The recommended response might compound the disaster or, worse, the early warning systems might be wrong. False alarms have occurred, although never in the midst of a severe crisis. The profound anxiety and uncertainties imposed on advisers and decision makers under this scenario, faced as they would be with the imminent destruction of their society and the loss of a significant fraction of their retaliatory forces, invoke a powerful predisposition toward the option to 'launch-on-warning' or 'launch-under-attack'. The acute urgency of the circumstances, and the logic of inflicting severe retaliatory damage, posed the real likelihood that a nuclear first strike of any significant size would trigger a massive response, despite the availability of an array of graduated response options. Elaborate theories of escalation control and 'intra-war bargaining' notwithstanding, the fatal flaw of strategic nuclear deterrence is that if it fails, it will do so with catastrophic consequences.

The continuing practice of maintaining nuclear weapons systems on high states of alert also increases the danger of accidental detonation, if only from the handling of nuclear weapons and their components which such postures entail. Servicing complex systems on alert 24 hours a day, year in and year out, requires elaborate planning and organisation. It demands tight discipline and continuous judgements at the margin between the requirements of safety and responsiveness. Certainly, elaborate technologies were developed to try to preclude the accidental or unauthorised launch of a delivery vehicle or the detonation of the warheads it carried. The success of these measures over five decades is a credit to those who managed and maintained the weapons systems. But accidents did occur. During the period from 1945 to 1980, about 100 accidents were reported which damaged nuclear weapons and could have caused unintended detonation. A number of serious accidents involving United States airborne alert forces prompted the termination of this practice, although plans permit its reinstatement in a period of acute crisis.

The US decision in 1991 to terminate entirely the 30 year practice of maintaining a portion of its strategic bomber force on peacetime alert further reduced the exposure of these unsheltered forces to the likelihood of accident or deliberate damage. However salutary these steps to reduce alert levels, and despite the transformation of relations between the United States and Russia, the fact remains that both of these states, and other nuclear weapon states, maintain thousands of nuclear warheads on continuous alert. This perpetuation of the most overly hostile and risky aspects of the Cold War defies logic. It needlessly prolongs an atmosphere of mistrust and the potential for accidents. It is entirely out of keeping with the urgent interest of fully integrating Russia into the institutions and norms of a global community moving rapidly toward democratic government and free and open markets. The end of the bipolar confrontation has by no means removed the danger of nuclear catastrophe. In some respects the risk of use by accident or miscalculation has actually increased. Political upheaval or the weakening of state authority in a nuclear weapon state could cripple existing systems for ensuring the safe handling and control of nuclear weapons and weapons material, increasing the odds of a calamity. The same fate could befall other states or sub-state groups with a less developed nuclear weapon capability or those that seek to develop such a capability in the future.

The proposition that large numbers of nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility. The fact that nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945 is a great relief but provides little comfort. The United States and the former Soviet Union came perilously close to outright nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. It is highly doubtful that a full accounting has been made of accidents and incidents involving nuclear weapons since their introduction over 50 years ago. And present and prospective nuclear weapon states have yet to resolve the inherent contradiction of nuclear deterrence: that forces should be postured to convey a credible capability of use, but they should not at the same time provoke countervailing reactions that lead to expanded arsenals, crisis instability and mounting consequences should deterrence fail.

Limited Military Utility Nuclear weapons have long been understood to be too destructive and non-discriminatory to secure discrete objectives on the battlefield. They came increasingly to be regarded as weapons to be employed only in extremis, and then with the dismaying knowledge that the ensuing consequences would obviate whatever military or political objective prompted their use. As early as the 1970s, under the provisions of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT) and subsequently according to the obligations of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START), the United States and Russia began to constrain and reduce the capabilities and size of their strategic forces. In addition, they began to reduce the dangers of tactical nuclear weapons. These weapons have been largely withdrawn from overseas deployment and removed from ships and sea-based aircraft to stockpiles on their own territory.

Even at the height of the Cold War, the ostensible use of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons to prevail against a conventional attack- the 'flexible response' strategy - never satisfied the conflicting concerns of NATO allies nor was perceived as guaranteeing either a controllable nuclear exchange or ensuring an automatic link to United States strategic nuclear forces. Indeed, whether nuclear weapons were the decisive factor in or superfluous to the deterring of Warsaw Pact aggression against Western Europe has been a matter of contention for some time. What is clear, however, is that possession of nuclear weapons has not prevented wars, in various regions, which directly or indirectly involve the major powers. They were deemed unsuitable for use even when those powers suffered humiliating military setbacks (as in Korea) and, ultimately, defeat (as in Vietnam and Afghanistan).

The asserted necessity, much less the utility of nuclear weapons, of whatever yield, to deter use of such terror-inspiring devices as chemical or biological weapons, is also greatly overstated. Moreover, the advisability of such use is profoundly suspect. To the first point, the nuclear weapon states have such an overwhelming strength in military and civilian technology that a combination of defensive measures and advanced conventional forces can deter or powerfully retaliate against chemical or biological weapon threats. States with less conventional capability than the nuclear weapon states would likely find nuclear weapons highly impractical to deter attacks or threats from their neighbours, from many standpoints. But the cost of developing even a rudimentary capability would be extremely high and selecting an appropriate target for retaliation would be difficult. The consequences of nuclear retaliation are so disproportionate and uncertain as to render this option at best implausible and at worst self-defeating. The most appropriate course for dealing with chemical or biological weapon threats is for the world community, and most especially the nuclear weapon states, to press ahead with chemical and biological disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states, through negative security assurances and other multilateral commitments, have already placed sharp limits on the utility of their nuclear weapons in respect to the non-nuclear weapon states. Further, these weapons have no feasible role in deterring terrorists or sub-state groups armed with nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Most importantly, apart from their highly constrained military utility, the use of any type of nuclear weapon, of any yield, would irretrievably diminish, if not destroy, the vitally important threshold or firebreak between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons that has been so carefully sustained by all states since 1945. It would thereby raise the grim prospect of a world of enmities, of states armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and of wide acceptance of the consequences of their employment.

Over the period of the Cold War, deterrence proved to be an open- ended, highly risky and very expensive strategy for dealing with the reality of nuclear weapons in a world of nation states with enduring, deep-seated animosities. Conversely, given the origins and peculiar ideological character of the East-West conflict, the extreme alienation of the principal antagonists, the vast infrastructures put in place and the sense of imminent, mortal danger on both sides, deterrence may have served to at least introduce a critical caution in superpower relationships. Whatever the final judgement may be with respect to this era of unprecedented threats and risks, in the post-Cold War environment, the argument for deterrence is largely circular. Its utility implies and indeed flows from an assumption of the continued existence of nuclear weapons, but in a world of dramatically reduced global tensions. The only military utility that remains for nuclear weapons is in deterring their use by others. That utility implies the continued existence of nuclear weapons. It would disappear if nuclear weapons were eliminated.

Reversing Nuclear Proliferation

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is amongst the most immediate security challenges facing the international community. It is a palpable threat to the security of both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. The inherent risks attending the possession of nuclear weapons as recounted above can only multiply should the possession of nuclear weapons expand.

There is as much cause for alarm as there is for satisfaction regarding the record to date. Despite the impact of the international nuclear non- proliferation regime, the disconcerting reality is that several states have made, and some continue to make, clandestine efforts to develop nuclear arsenals. Indeed, the world may well find itself at a crucial juncture with respect to the future course of proliferation. Should the ranks of declared or undeclared states grow by even one beyond the present roster of known or widely presumed members, the risk of a new chain reaction of proliferation is substantial. Some argue that it is precisely because of this possibility that major powers such as the United States must retain nuclear weapons in perpetuity. Such logic turns the singular role of the major nuclear powers in the arms control arena on its head. The undeniable truth is that these powers collectively, and the United States in particular, govern the pace, possibilities and prospects for nuclear arms limitations, reductions and elimination. Should they elect to preserve their arsenals, over time other states will acquire nuclear capabilities. But, should they make an unequivocal and demonstrated commitment to shrink and ultimately eliminate their nuclear arsenals, over time they will establish a global norm for honouring this obligation. It is false to claim that the world has traversed successfully the most dangerous phase of the nuclear era and is now on the path to modest, passively deployed nuclear forces that will deliver the asserted benefits of deterrence at much reduced risk - the so-called 'low-salience nuclear world'. Such confidence is out of keeping with the unhappy reality that even if START II is fully implemented, the United States and Russia in 2003 will still have a large stock of tactical nuclear warheads and a combined strategic nuclear arsenal of around 7000 operational warheads. Beyond even this enormous residual capability, they will likely retain a substantial reserve not accountable under the agreement. And, of course, the forces of the other three nuclear weapon states remain outside of any reduction agreement, and thus will remain unconstrained. Under these circumstances, there is no assurance whatever that a low-salience nuclear world can ever be achieved or sustained, especially as the number of actors multiplies. Nuclear forces by their mere existence will have high salience.

The possible acquisition by terrorist groups of nuclear weapons or material is a growing threat to the international community. It adds a disturbing new dimension to the more well established concern about proliferation among states. During the Cold War, the most probable targets of nuclear attack were the nuclear weapon states themselves who targeted each others' military installations and even cities. Today, the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons or material, including by terrorist and sub-state groups, has become a serious threat to the international community. Even the most powerful country in the world, the United States, is now vulnerable to such threats. In the absence of extremely tight controls, the development of an already significant illegal trade in fissile material - particularly from sites in the former Soviet Union - will make it easier for terrorist or sub-state groups to obtain enough nuclear material for a nuclear device. The perpetuation of a nuclear weapons culture and its supporting infrastructure, and the increasing availability of relevant expertise from scientists and technicians formerly employed in nuclear weapons establishments, will also make it feasible for terrorist or sub- state groups to assemble a workable nuclear device able to threaten large population groups. While this does not imply that illicit nuclear weapons will become widely available or the weapon of choice for terrorists, it cannot be excluded that some extreme act of terror might in the future be carried out with a nuclear device. The most recent Harvard study on the subject makes a telling point: It does not require a large step to get from terrorist acts like Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center to the first act of nuclear terrorism. Suppose that instead of mini-vans filled with hundreds of pounds of the crude explosives used in Oklahoma City and New York, terrorists had acquired a suitcase carrying one hundred pounds of highly enriched uranium (HEU), roughly the size of a grapefruit. Using a simple, well- known design to build a weapon from this material, terrorists could have produced a nuclear blast, equivalent to 10,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. Under normal conditions, this would devastate a three-square-mile urban area. In this context it cannot be excluded that one possible future source of fissile material is plutonium, in vitrified form, in former underground nuclear weapon test sites. Accordingly, these sites must be declared and safeguarded to prevent the illicit retrieval of this material.

It is unlikely that terrorist threats involving a nuclear device or material can be eliminated by state-to-state cooperation, even where a terrorist group has the backing of another state. The logic of deterrence fails when one side does not have an easily identifiable or vital asset at which the other can aim. In addition, terrorists are likely to employ unconventional means of delivery for their nuclear devices, making it even more difficult for target states to predict, prevent or limit the successful use or threat of use of these devices.

The nuclear weapon states, as part of the decision taken in 1995 at the NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) to extend the NPT indefinitely, reaffirmed their commitment to Article VI of the Treaty and agreed to a specific program of action which includes the determined pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of elimination. The NPT rests on this promise and it must be kept. In the long run, the nuclear weapon states cannot realistically expect to dampen proliferation pressures by retaining their own, albeit modest, passively deployed forces. To deal effectively with proliferation therefore means also tackling head on the problem of nuclear disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons at the earliest possible time.

As to the issue of legality, the Canberra Commission notes with satisfaction that, in response to a request from the UN General Assembly for , the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in July 1996, stated unanimously that "a threat or use of force by means of nuclear weapons that is contrary to Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter and that fails to meet all the requirements of Article 51, is unlawful", and that "a threat or use of nuclear weapons should also be compatible with the requirements of the international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, as well as with specific obligations under treaties and other undertakings which expressly deal with nuclear weapons".

By majority vote the ICJ also stated: "It follows from above-mentioned requirements that the threat or use of nuclear weapons will generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law; However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake." Moreover, in its advisory opinion the Court unanimously stated that there existed "an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control". It is precisely this obligation the Canberra Commission wishes to see implemented.

Canberra Commission Report Continued

Proposition One