Global Nuclear Disarmament Would be Nice

Photo of Regan and Gorbachev in Iceland 1986

Global nuclear disarmament would be nice, I’d be happy about that, but what can you do? Various people have had a crack at it over the years but they all seem to loose traction after time.

In 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan came close to taking an unprecedented step. During the Reykjavik Summit in Iceland, they almost agreed to get rid of all their nuclear weapons – but that fizzled out.

Closer to home, in 1995, then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating established The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It had an opening statement declaring it was…

…persuaded that immediate and determined efforts need to be made to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to it.

Later on in 1989, in reference to the Canberra Commission, Keating said…

I wanted to put the authority of a sovereign government behind the push to rid the world of nuclear weapons

…I like that.

The current Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seems to have re-branded Keating’s idea, and in collaboration with the Japanese government, has launched the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). It’s a mouthful of a title but a worthy move, with the aim of reducing the number of nuclear weapons over time. It has a long term goal of eliminating them beyond 2025 – too long for my liking.

I much prefer Keating’s “Elimination” to Rudd’s “Non-Proliferation” but perhaps stopping the growth is a pragmatic place to start, what with the May 2010 deadline approaching for the review of The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Of course the United Nations were on the case from day one. The first resolution ever passed by the UN General Assembly, on 24 January 1946, was for the “Establishment of a Commission to Deal With the Problem Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy.” They were to…

…proceed with the utmost dispatch to [make proposals] for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction

…nice try UN.

There is one crowd who have actually had some success. The Nunn-Lugar project claims to have helped in the decommissioning of over seven thousand nuclear weapons. Seven thousand! They also claim to be chronically underfunded, or in fact criminally underfunded. Just imagine what they could get done if we threw just a fraction of the Bush-Blair-Howard-Iraq-invasion-cash at them. Nunn-Lugar state a goal…

…to lessen the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, to deactivate and to destroy these weapons, and to help the scientists formerly engaged in production of such weapons start working for peace.

That’s the practical stuff that needs to be happening. Nunn is also involved with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) who seem to be doing some good work.

Revisiting Reykjavik would be a more dramatic place to start but perhaps a less idealistic proposal is to sink a few lazy billion into projects like Nunn-Lugar and NTI.

I know I’m probably being overly optimistic but there do seem to be a few glimmers of a positive new momentum for nuclear disarmament growing again. Obama is heading in the right direction by chairing a UN Security Council summit on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. It’s the first time a US President has done that.

Earlier in 2009, in his first address to the UN, Obama promised three important things…

America intends to keep our end of the bargain. We will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers. We will move forward with ratification of the test ban treaty and work with others to bring the treaty into force so that nuclear testing is permanently prohibited.

We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons. And we will call upon countries to begin negotiations in January [2010] on a treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons.

I will also host a summit next April [2010] that reaffirms each nation’s responsibility to secure nuclear material on its territory and to help those who can’t, because we must never allow a single nuclear device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist. And we will work to strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat nuclear smuggling and theft.

If he just gets those three things happening he will have earned that Nobel Peace Prize several times over. Let’s see what happens with those promises in 2010.

While Obama may be at the beginning of something new, some of our other institutions just continue to reinforce the same old thinking. Take the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for example, perhaps instead of the paradoxical statute of “…accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace…”, we could lobby for someone who has been to the brink, like Mikhail Gorbachev, to be the head of a new United Nations body for Nuclear Abolition (UNNA). Screw peaceful use! Let’s burry this crap for good.

It will take a someone to make a move that is uncharacteristic of most of the conservative clowns mis-managing this stuff today. I suspect politicians are the wrong people to be running this disarmament show, their self-serving, small-minded, nationalism will continue to reinforce their little-dick militarism and get us nowhere. Take Chirac for example, who decided in 1995 it would be fun to screw the Pacific some more with another eight underground nuclear tests – mutha-fucker! We don’t need clowns like that in charge ever again.

We need a new paradigm of thinking to manage nuclear material. A structure that sits above nationalism and restates the purpose of the UN agencies. It should have two parallel streams of work, one to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the enriched material to make them and a second stream, to begin undoing the damage the nuclear power industry is inexorably storing up for future generations with waste from power generation that none of us can work out what to do with. We need a base-load of new thinking.

Get the power stations managed by a central global body, no one can own them any more, make nuclear power the possession of the globe. It will be a while before we can completely replace those things with clean energy options, but we have to start heading that way now rather than building more of them. If you want a nuclear power plant in the interim, it has to be managed by the one international body, the land it’s on is excised from the national boundaries – no chance to get in there and start bomb making classes again.

Further to this we should link the possession or suspected possession of nuclear weapons or the material to make them to trade in a similar way to a carbon tax. Every gram of nuclear material you are suspected of possessing will increased a hefty tariff on your exports. This way there is an incentive for transparency, and for all nations, including the US, UK, France and the others holding on to this shit, to be seen to be giving it up. Now I know this is crazy talk, I have no idea how you would administer a tariff like that – but it’s an idea.

Here ends my potted history of nuclear disarmament. Sweet dreams and throw down your guns.

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