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.