International Meeting
2001 World Conference against A & H Bombs

Alyn Ware
Consultant at Large, Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy

Neither Sword nor Shield: Nuclear Disarmament as the Response to Military Threats


On July 23 US President George Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the Group of Eight Meeting in Genoa, Italy, where they agreed to a compromise over US plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile defense system.  Evidently Russia will drop opposition to the plan in exchange for the US agreeing to further deep cuts in their nuclear stockpiles.  On the surface, this appears to be a very good deal. Fewer nuclear weapons, plus protection against emerging missile threats.  Does this mean an end to nuclear deterrence?  President Bush appeared to indicate this when he said "What we're talking about doing is changing a mind-set of the world. We're saying the Cold War is forever over."

If the US and Russia were really to abandon nuclear deterrence I'd be one of the first to be dancing in the street.  Deterrence is a fallacy, an emperor with no clothes, a continuing threat to our very existence, and it deserves to be sent to the dustheap of unconscionable ideas like slavery and torture.

Unfortunately the reality is light years away from the rhetoric - and rapidly speeding in the opposite direction.  The US proposal for ABM and a reduction in nuclear weapons does not mean the end of deterrence, but rather an enhanced nuclear deterrence coupled with a new military arena - that of space.

The US is not considering going below 1500 nuclear weapons - more than enough to destroy every major city in the world.  The US, Russia, France and the UK maintain policies of first-use of nuclear weapons and entertain the possibility of threatening or using nuclear weapons in a wide range of scenarios.  Once their nuclear arsenal is backed up with an ABM defense, the US would be more likely to consider using nuclear weapons confident (possibly over-confident) that they could absorb any retaliation.

The US claims that the ABM system is a shield to protect against possible missile attacks from other countries. At the very least this is stupidity.  There are 101 ways to get around an anti-ballistic missile system even if one could be made to work.  More likely the claim is outright deception - a public relations exercise to cover up the development of new aggressive military systems utilizing and dominating the space arena.  US intentions in space were mistakenly made obvious by the US Space Command in a document Vision for 2020, which called for "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment," and "integrating space forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."

The ABM system, which is a vital component of US space warfare plans, involves the development of "Boost Phase capabilities," i.e. missile systems which could attack and reach targets within the territories of other countries within minutes of launch.  It will involve lasers based in space which could hit any target anywhere in the world.  It would involve anti-satellite weapons thus threatening the world's communication systems.

No.  ABM systems are not shields. They are part of the new generation of high-tech swords that threaten us all.

So what is the answer?  If not nuclear weapons to deter attack or ABM systems to shield against an attack, how do we protect ourselves from the threats from missile systems and weapons or mass destruction which may be used by some aggressor state?

The answer is non-discriminatory missile control and nuclear disarmament under international verification.

Non-discriminatory missile control means controlling the aggressive potential of everyone's missiles.  One cannot expect North Korea to willingly give up its missiles if they feel threatened by missiles from the US or Japan.  The ultimate goal would be the prohibition of any short or medium range missiles and the elimination or conversion of all ballistic missiles to space launch vehicles and verification of this.  NWS are unlikely to agree to this in the near future, but steps along the way could include the establishment of missile free zones, such as the one proposed for the Middle East, and restrictions on existing missiles including a flight test ban and trajectory control.

There is also a carrot approach - i.e. one that would provide incentives for missile control. Countries of concern, such as North Korea, currently pursuing missile technology might be convinced to abandon missile programs if they have access to space for civilian purposes through cooperative space launch programs - in fact North Korea has indicated this.

Of course the major threat is not caused by the missiles themselves but by what they carry. Missiles can only carry a relatively small payload.  Thus conventionally armed missiles are not a huge threat - nor are chemically armed missiles unless there are a lot of them. Biological weapons would not survive without sophisticated temperature resistance technology.  That leaves nuclear weapons as the weapon of greatest concern.  It is also the weapon that would be easiest to prohibit and eliminate.  Nuclear weapons require either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Both materials are difficult to manufacture and relatively easy to monitor and control.

There are of course other reasons to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.  The International Court of Justice, in a historic decision in 1996, determined that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal and that there is an obligation to eliminate them.  The United Nations followed-up this decision with a resolution calling on negotiations to conclude a nuclear weapons convention, which would prohibit nuclear weapons and include a plan for their complete elimination.

In response to this call, an international consortium of lawyers, scientists and disarmament experts drafted a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear disarmament and to consider the legal, political and technical requirements for nuclear abolition.  This Model Convention was submitted to the United Nations by Costa Rica in 1997 and then circulated by the United Nations Secretary General as a discussion document.

The nuclear weapons convention has widespread global support.  Support for a nuclear weapons convention is one of the principal calls of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Appeal - the world's largest petition.  Abolition 2000, an international network calling for a nuclear weapons convention, now has over 2000 supportive organizations.   In every country polled over the past five years, including in all the nuclear weapons states and their allies, the proposal for a nuclear weapons convention has been supported by a considerable majority.  The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for a nuclear weapons convention.  And the United Nations continually adopts a resolution with overwhelming majority support for a NWC - albeit not yet with the support of the Japanese government.

While the NWS, with the exception of China and India, have not yet endorsed the call for a nuclear weapons convention, at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the nuclear weapon states did commit themselves to implementing their obligation to achieve nuclear abolition and agreed on a series of steps to achieve this.

Now is the time to call on them to demonstrate this commitment in actions not just words.  Middle Power countries like Japan can play a vital role in this.  It is time to come out from under the nuclear umbrella and embrace instead a path towards genuine security through nuclear disarmament and missile control.  This is not unilateralism.  A nuclear weapons convention would be multilateral, negotiated, verifiable and enforceable.  It would take into consideration the security concerns in the different regions, whether that be in the Middle East, on North East Asia or in Europe.

Of course there are many other initiatives for nuclear disarmament to which Japan could lend support - many of these derive from the disarmament steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.  They include:
reducing the operational role of nuclear weapons through such measures as de-alerting;
strengthening existing nuclear weapon free zones by proscribing the transit of nuclear weapons or the threat or use of nuclear weapons from within the zones;
negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty;
creating new nuclear weapon free zones;
developing an inventory of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials;
adopting no-use declarations (or no-first-use);
developing further verification measures for the elimination of nuclear weapons;
commencing multi-lateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament in the Conference on Disarmament.

Many things have changed since 1945 making nuclear abolition that much more achievable.  Technology for verification has improved markedly.  Globalization has eroded the need for defense of geographical territory and thus the spurious rationale for nuclear deterrence. International legal and political systems for conflict resolution to respond to injustice and aggression have strengthened, thus reducing the need to rely on State military force.  Most importantly, global communications and economic integration have brought people from different countries together and changed ideology and day-to-day reality from one of aggressive self-interest to cooperative mutual interest.

There should now be no impediment to achieving nuclear disarmament.  Unfortunately there are still some dinosaurs in power who, so far, refuse to relinquish control of this most destructive technology.  Before it is too late, we must act.  ICJ President Bedjaoui noted when explaining the historic ICJ decision in 1996 that "the goal of nuclear disarmament is no longer utopian and it is the duty of all to seek to attain it more actively than ever."

His words could not be more true.