Getting to Global Zero (Nuclear Weapons)

I went to a great press event today, for the new worldwide movement ‘Global Zero’, which has rolled out what looks like a quite achievable plan to verifiably rid the world of all nuclear weapons by 2035.
Hallelujah. A new day is dawning… (Sorry, I can’t get that spiritual out of my head today.)
One of the most striking aspects of today’s event was the participation of two retired high-level security officials from each of India and Pakistan… And they all seemed to agree that their countries’ nuclear weapons have no actual utility, either militarily or politically.
This judgment was particularly striking given the current tensions between the two countries in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Shaharyar Khan, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, said explicitly, “Since India and Pakistan exploded their nuclear weapons in 1998 there has been a qualitative change in terms of seeing that they do not have utility. We’ve gained much maturity in this realm.”
His compatriot Lt. Gen. (ret) Talat Masood said,

    The fact of us having nuclear weapons has been neither stabilizing nor destabilizing, because we all knew beforehand that these are weapons of great foreboding. Meanwhile, other factors and threats have prevented the situation between us from escalating even to the level of a conventional war. Nuclear weapons don’t have either the political or military utility they once had.

K. Shankar Bajpai, the former Secretary-General of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, noted meanwhile that what has stimulated the current interest in “Global Zero” has been “the growing risk of non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons, whether these actors are supported by a state, or not.”
The main presentation at the event had been given by Amb. Richard Burt, who was the chief U.S. negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) with the Soviet Union, back in the day.
The “illustrative” GZ plan that he laid out would proceed in phases, roughly as follows:

    Phase 1, 2009-10: Establish a US-Russian Partnership committed to further deep strategic NW reductions. Meanwhile, also begin consultations on a new international arrangement for verifiable Nuclear Fuel Cycle Management (NFCM).
    Phase 2, 2010-15: In the US-Russia track, the size of each country’s arsenal is brought down to 1,000 warheads. Negotiations are held on the International NFCM agreement.
    Phase 3, 2015-20: In the US-Russia track, both sides come down to 500 warheads. NFCM negotiations reach an agreement.
    Phase 4, 2020-25: All the world’s other nuclear powers– both those inside and those outside the NPT– are brought into multilateral negotiations on the reductions of everyone’s arsenals to 100 warheads. NFCM agreement starts to get implemented globally.
    Phase 5, 2025-2030 or 2035: The Multilateral “Global Zero” negotiations bring everyone’s arsenals down to zero. Meanwhile the NFCM agreement has built confidence and technical capability in verification and enforcement measures that can be applied to all former and still-remaining nuclear facilities (the remaining ones being for peaceful nuclear products only.)

Okay, that wasn’t the precise plan presented by Burt. It’s my combination of what he said with a nice chart we all got as handouts. (I don’t see the chart or the accompanying ‘bullet-point’ slides on the GZ website. But maybe someone from GZ can send us the link?)
The plan was first rolled out at a big gathering held in Paris, on Monday. The list of “high-profile” international signatories is here.
Here in DC, Burt noted that many of the signatories were “hardheaded people… and many had previously been big supporters of nuclear weapons.” But he, like K. Shankar Bajpai, said one of the main reasons to act decisively now is the risk that, as more countries get nuclear weapons, the risk of unpredictable non-state actors getting hold of them also increases.
Burt noted that the group of launchers at the Paris event included :people from every single US administration since the Nixon administration.” Among those participating were many known to be close advisers to Barack Obama, like Tony Lake, Chuck Hagel, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Strobe Talbott.
Burt stressed that the GZ plan lays the heaviest responsibility on the US and Russia in the first instance , “because they have 96% of the world’s nuclear weapons, so they really have to be the first to act.” He noted that the original commitment of the US and Russia to the plan would have to be accompanied by a change in each country’s nuclear posture, including public adoption by each of a “No First Use” commitment.
I have signed the Global Zero petition, and I urge everyone else to do so, too.
As I understand the organizing strategy of the (slightly inchoate?) group that has been steering this impressive effort, it is to try to work at a number of different levels at once. Including raising awareness and support from regular grassroots citizens internationally, as well as among a broad group of global “influentials”– and of course, also to get governments to commit to the plan. And to use the regular citizens and the influentials to try to keep the pressure up on them, to do so.
Personally, I think it might well be possible to get to “Global Zero” in less than the 20-27 years that this plan would allow. But I realize that building confidence among still-wary governments and publics, as well as the technical capabilities for very extensive monitoring of all countries’ nuclear fuel cycles and warhead-dismantlement efforts, will all take some time.
(And anyway, no-one in the GZ effort is saying that the whole process has to be spread out over this many years.)
But really, the international tide does seem to be turning against nuclear weapons in a significant new way in these days. This is truly great news.

8 thoughts on “Getting to Global Zero (Nuclear Weapons)

  1. Shirin

    This really is great news.
    In the mean time:
    Obama’s atomic umbrella: U.S. nuclear strike if Iran nukes Israel
    U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will offer Israel a “nuclear umbrella” against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran.
    What I find most alarming about this is all this apparent nuclear sabre rattling by Obama (before he even gets into the White House) is taking place in the complete absence of any evidence of nuclear weapons plans by Iran. In fact, there is no real reason to believe that Iran intends to attack Israel or anyone else. After all it’s been nearly 300 years since Iran attacked another country.
    And why does Obama even need to talk about nuking Iran on behalf of Israel? Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons it its arsenal, so why can’t it use its own nukes?
    Sigh!

  2. Ned

    I, too, see this as encouraging, and will sign the petition. However, I am skeptical of its success simply because nuclear power–especially nuclear weapons–has become a preeminent status symbol in a world dominated by Western modernity. Moreover, it has always been justified by “legitimate” state actors as primarily a “psychological” weapon.
    To have the Bomb represents, in the words of President Truman upon the dropping of the Bomb on Hiroshima, “a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.” It is to achieve, symbolically if not in reality, a form of ultimate power, and it is a means of inducing both fear and awe. Therefore the desire among non-state groups and so-called “rogue” states for the Bomb, or at least the appearance of being able to possess it.
    It was the fear and arrogance of the first half of the twentieth century that created this symbolic regime, and the fear and arrogance of the second-half which crowned it. I have a hard time seeing its symbolic power dethroned any time soon.

  3. Titus

    “In fact, there is no real reason to believe that Iran intends to attack Israel or anyone else. After all it’s been nearly 300 years since Iran attacked another country.”
    Really, then the Argentinians have requested a bunch of Iranians through Interpol just for kicks. Imagine nuclear terrorism by the same treacherous methods that the Iranians used to blow people in Buenos Aires.
    Are you also on Theran’s payroll?

  4. Tosk59

    I really don’t understand the sequence at all… Instead of “2020 – 2025 everyone else”, why not “2009 the UK and France immediately draw down to zero?”
    These two countries can immediately be seamlessly covered under the US umbrella (along with other European countries), is there any **real** argument for them keeping an “independent” nuclear force (I put independent in quotes – can anyone imagine any scenario where the British would use nuclear weapons without a U.S. green light?)
    An actual example of a nuclear ‘have’ disarming would have an outsize impact by showing that it actually can happen. Truth be told, the only reason these 2 countries keep their nukes is for reasons of prestige, etc. (a particularly bad example to numclear ‘have-nots’ that want to acquire them for precisely that reason!!)

  5. John R

    Am I brainwashed or a bad person?…. Trusting the system and being able to trust every other Regime and surrender to a verification system…. What am I a product of that this seems very hard?
    Am I a pessimist to say the war machine (Military industrial complex) will not go gently into the night?

  6. Shirin

    Really, Titus! You really are wasting your time and definitely not enhancing your credibility by bringing up that Argentinian nonsense here. There is a reason they have never been able to make any kind of real case against Iran for that, and the reason is there is no case. Iran was not involved.
    Now go away, play with the other children and stop bothering the grown ups, OK?

  7. Titus

    One example to refute your ridiculous and pompous statement and you get all bent out of shape Shirin. Here is just one link. The justice system of the victim has solicited the perps. Your moslem can do no wrong attitude is pathetically lame, just get your head out and look around. Are you Sunny? I was just listening to Robert Baer’s experiences in the Middle East and his observation that Sunnys are essentially irrational.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/13/AR2007011301253.html
    BUENOS AIRES — As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Latin America this weekend to strengthen economic and political ties with the region, Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner will not be in the line of presidents turning out to greet him.
    Kirchner’s government has reinvigorated attempts to prosecute Iranian figures for their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center here, recently issuing arrest warrants for nine former Iranian officials. Among those sought is former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, accused of ordering the attack that killed 85 people and injured more than 200.
    In late October, Nisman said that his team traced the bombing to a planning session held in 1993 in the Iranian city of Mashhad. He said the motive for the attack had been Argentina’s decision to withdraw some of its support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and for its decision to strengthen relations with the United States and Israel.
    In November, an Argentine judge said that Nisman’s team had provided convincing evidence and issued arrest warrants for the nine former Iranian officials, including Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997.

  8. Shirin

    Am I sunny? Well, I don’t know what that has to do with any of this, but I guess most people would say I have a pretty good disposition, so I guess I am fairly sunny. Unless, of course, by sunny you mean optimistic since I do tend to be more on the pessimistic side.
    As for the article you quoted, you are quite right. A newspaper article reporting that some Argentine official said that another Argentine official said that he alleged so-and-so did this or that is certainly all the proof anyone should need for anything at all!

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