A Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons





Dr. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book, co-edited with Glen H. Stassen, is Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future (Paradigm Publishers).

Although few people are aware of it, there has been considerable progress over the past decade toward a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons.

For many years, there had been a substantial gap between the pledges to eliminate nuclear weapons made by the signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 and the reality of their behavior. To remedy this situation, in 1996 the New York-based Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy—the U.S. affiliate of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms—began to coordinate the drafting of a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention. Formulated along the lines of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997, this model nuclear convention was designed to serve as an international treaty that prohibits and eliminates nuclear weapons.

Although the late 1990s proved a difficult time for nuclear arms control and disarmament measures, the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, joined by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the International Network of Engineers Against Proliferation, continued its efforts. Consequently, in 2007, these organizations released a new model treaty, revised to reflect changes in world conditions, as well as an explanatory book, Securing Our Survival.

In 1997, like its predecessor, this updated convention for nuclear abolition was circulated within the United Nations, this time at the request of Costa Rica and Malaysia. In addition, it was presented at a number of international conclaves, including a March 2008 meeting of non-nuclear governments in Dublin, sponsored by the Middle Powers Initiative and by the government of Ireland.

Although the Western nuclear weapons states and Russia have opposed a nuclear abolition treaty, the idea has begun to gain traction. The Wall Street Journal op-eds by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn have once again placed nuclear abolition on the political agenda. Speaking in February 2008, the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Sergio Duarte, condemned the great powers' "refusal to negotiate or discuss even the outlines of a nuclear-weapons convention" as "contrary to the cause of disarmament." Opinion surveys have reported widespread popular support for nuclear abolition in numerous nations—including the United States, where about 70 percent of respondents back the signing of an international treaty to reduce and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Of course, it's only fair to ask if there really exists the political will to bring such a treaty to fruition. Although Barack Obama has endorsed the goal of nuclear abolition, neither of his current opponents for the U.S. presidency has followed his example or seems likely to do so. John McCain is a thoroughgoing hawk, while Hillary Clinton—though publicly supporting some degree of nuclear weapons reduction—has recently issued the kind of "massive retaliation" threats unheard of since the days of John Foster Dulles.

Furthermore, the American public is remarkably ignorant of nuclear realities. Writing in the Foreword to a recent book, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, published by the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, the Western States Legal Foundation, and the Reaching Critical Will project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (www.wmdreport.org), Zia Mian, a Princeton physicist, points to a number of disturbing facts about contemporary U.S. public opinion. For example, more Americans (55%) mistakenly believe that Iran has nuclear weapons than know that Britain (52%), India (51%), Israel (48%), and France (38%) actually have these weapons.

Although the United States possesses over 5,700 operationally deployed nuclear warheads, more than half of U.S. respondents to an opinion survey thought that the number was 200 weapons or fewer. Thus, even though most Americans have displayed a healthy distaste for nuclear weapons and nuclear war, their ability to separate fact from fiction might well be questioned when it comes to nuclear issues.

Fortunately, there are many organizations working to better educate the public on nuclear dangers. In addition to the groups already mentioned, these include Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Federation of American Scientists, Faithful Security, and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. And important knowledge can also be gleaned from that venerable source of nuclear expertise, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

But there remains a considerable distance to go before a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons becomes international law.


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Ak Malten - 5/10/2008

Dear Mark,

last time I wrote:

"
Dear Mark, you wrote:

"Ak,

The Soviets did not have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine. London and Paris commanded their own nuclear deterrent and conventional military bases were targets.

Short of dissolving NATO and adopting a policy of Finlandization, the Soviets would have continued to target European cities"

Could you point us to on-line information, with proof for what you are telling us: "The Soviets did not have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine."
"

So sorry, but I think, Mark, you are wrong. The Soviets _did_ have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine. We in Europe knew this, because we were warned about the situation by radio and news papers, by an organization which it the Netherlands was called the BB (Burger Bescherming = transl. Civil Guard) when there was a Nuclear Crisis, and we in Europe were targeted in the open. Of course this was not done in very fine detail, but detailed enough to understand the real danger of the crisis. I still remember the "duck and cover" drills in schools during the Cuba Crisis. Our Cellar under our house was prepared to overcome the, regarded dangerous, first two week. I was given my first first-aid training by my parents, both were practicing medicine.
Sorry, I found it necessary, to share some traumatic memories of a boy, ten year old at the time of the Cuba crisis.
And further memories of reading the stories in the news paper on deterrence, MAD policy, the Doomsday machine and last but not least the Nuclear Winter warning are still so clear that I could describe where I was at the moment I saw the news.

But it is not necessary to take my word for it, here is a war plan of the Sovjets c.q. Warchaupact, which recently came into the open.

The main force of the combined Conventional - Nuclear Attack first number of day would have been the polish army, who were considered to literally to fight themselves to death:

The Soviet Threat to Sweden during the Cold War

http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/collections/coll_sovthreat/Introduction.cfm?navinfo=46465

I hope, Mark, you now understand and agree that for us, in Europe there is no other way then to say "Jan Kees" go home, the Cold War is over and not to return!

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


Ak Malten - 5/8/2008

Dear Mark, you wrote:

"Ak,

The Soviets did not have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine. London and Paris commanded their own nuclear deterrent and conventional military bases were targets.

Short of dissolving NATO and adopting a policy of Finlandization, the Soviets would have continued to target European cities"

Could you point us to on-line information, with proof for what you are telling us: "The Soviets did not have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine."

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


Ak Malten - 5/7/2008

Dear Mark, you wrote:

"When nuclear arsenals approach zero each weapon's value increases because it becomes possible to carry out a successful "first strike" against a nuclear armed rival and escape retaliation. Or dominate non-nuclear neighbors. This is an exceedingly dangerous scenario."

I understand the point you are making here, but disagree. The above given deterrence strategy increase value of a Nuclear Weapon, while decreasing the total number of weapons is false. To make my point clear follows an example:
I destroy with one of my Nuclear Weapons the only weapon of the "rouge" state - if I can find it in the first place, of course. Then I might be able to slow down the reprisals with Conventional Weapons or the rest of my Nuclear arsenal, if I am taking the extreme gamble, but in case of Russia or China - we in the 60th said, they do not need any weapon as long as they are willing to sacrifice their lives, they only have to keep on walking and win the war in the end.
Then after the war they will bring the country who used the Nuclear Weapon first before the International Court of Justice and win another time, because the threat or use of a Nuclear Weapon is illegal according International Humanitarian Law, because the effects of the Nuclear Weapon explosion. Score 2 - 0 at the cost of a great number of casualties on both sides.

Peace, or
saved by
the pigeon,

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance







mark safranski - 5/7/2008

Ak,

The Soviets did not have a surgical strike nuclear warfighting doctrine. London and Paris commanded their own nuclear deterrent and conventional military bases were targets.

Short of dissolving NATO and adopting a policy of Finlandization, the Soviets would have continued to target European cities


mark safranski - 5/7/2008

hi Ak,

Oscar already made several points very effectively so I will be brief.

First, the strategic calculus of nuclear deterrence is relative to existing numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles. At present, adding one or a dozen nuclear weapons to American or Russian arsenals or removing that many is negligible in their effect.

When nuclear arsenals approach zero each weapon's value increases because it becomes possible to carry out a successful "first strike" against a nuclear armed rival and escape retaliation. Or dominate non-nuclear neighbors. This is an exceedingly dangerous scenario.

Secondly, while there has been qualitative upgrading of the American and Russian stockpiles, this has been accompanied by drastic quantitative reductions from Cold War levels, as required by the NPT.

Yes, I'm familiar with nuclear winter theory.


Oscar Chamberlain - 5/7/2008

Mark's fundamental point, that we should reduce numbers of nuclear weapons but not assume that can eliminate them, is quite valid.

A serious reduction would first reduce and then eliminate the justified fear of a global ecological cataclism. That alone is a worthy goal and, I think, achievable.

However, that first-stage reduction faces us with the dilemma of how to get from comparatively few weapons to none. As even small numbers of weapons can deter and threaten, the temptation is going to be to hold some weapons in reserve.

Your hope is that the world can get passed the dangers in that temptation by structuring a treaty that both reduces and then eliminates these weapons. I think one of Mark's concerns--and it is a concern that I share--is that as the numbers are reduced the temptation to hold on to a few weapons will become sufficiently great that nations would either withdraw from the process or keep weapons in reserve secretly.

In that context, a nation going from few to none could be taking a considerable risk, and if some governments believe that other nations are keeping weapons in reserve then it makes considerable sense for the former to also keep a few back (or even build a few, if they don't have any).

Are these problems in unsolvable? Not necessarily, but it would require something close to a revolution in how nations relate to each other to do it.

So I hope for a treaty that reduces the number of weapons. I would accept happily a treaty that promised to first reduce and then eliminate such weapons. However, I would not assume that elimination would necessarily happen unless there were considerable changes in, and strengthening of, international law and treaty enforcement.


Ak Malten - 5/7/2008

Dear Mark,

I do not quite grasp your argumentation:
"Nuclear weapons become "more valuable" in the strategic sense as their numbers decline."

What you tell us here equals: one hand gun in strategic sense is more valuable than having one in your hand and a couple in your belt in a World where there are less hand guns in total at our disposal.

It does not make sens, unless you mean that if only a few countries have Nuclear Weapons they do not need that much Weapons to keep the rest of the World hostage, so they can decrease their number of weapons. Sure and thus that is what they are doing now, isn't is? Hell NO, they are upgrading their arsenals and instead of demolishing no-longer deployed Nuclear Weapons as they could and should, they keep them as spare...

By the way regarding Nuclear War -
have you ever hear about the Nuclear Winter theory?

The Nuclear Winter would be the final outcome of a Nuclear Weapon exchange. It means the World and what lives on it would starve to death, because the dust, which is thrown up high in the atmosphere by the Nuclear Explosion, would block the sun for a number of years, so it would almost impossible to grow enough food to feed the inhabitants of the World.

A valuable links on the subject are:

http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/acp-7-2003-2007.pdf

http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/nuclear/

How is that for the outcome of the possible next war of the US - If they would Nuclear Strike Iran or some other "rouge" country....

Your numbers of death of the last wars would look pail compared to that projection....

Let us hope and pray it does not come to that!!!

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


Ak Malten - 5/7/2008

Jon, you wrote:

"
"We were and those of us who are aware of the US Nuclear Weapons stationed in Europe still are scared shit-less, if there is / was a crisis between the US ans nowadays Russia."

A more likely crisis would be between the EU and Russia, with Russia having its hands on the natural gas pipelines.
"

Although there are US Nuclear Weapons in Europe, they are under command of NATO's Nuclear Sharing Group, which is by the way an _illegal_ politics according the Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT art. I and II. As far as I know European NATO Nuclear Weapon Sharing Countries do not have the same Nuclear Weapons Posture as the US - to target countries that are threatening the "economical interest" of the US (*) - but regard those Nuclear Weapons as Weapons of last resort in case of self defense (the sharing countries neither confirm or deny the presence of the US Nuclear Weapons on their soil, but are know to be part of the NATO Nuclear Sharing Group, you might guess why!).

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance

---
* The purpose of United States Nuclear Forces: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/policy/dod/jp3_12fc2.pdf

"Nuclear Force Purpose and Principles

The US defense strategy
serves the national
objective of peace with
prosperity.

The US defense strategy aims to achieve four key goals that
guide the development of US forces capabilities, their
development and use: assuring allies and friends of the US
steadfastness of purpose and its capability to fulfill its security
commitment; dissuading adversaries from undertaking
programs or operations that could threaten US interests or those
of our allies and friends; deterring aggression and coercion by
deploying forward the capacity to swiftly defeat attacks and
imposing sever penalties for aggression on an adversary’s military
capability and supporting infrastructure; and, decisively defeating
an adversary if deterrence fails."

---


Ak Malten - 5/7/2008

Dear Mark, you wrote:

"Ak,

Why do you assume that removing American nuclear missiles would have caused the Soviets to "de-target" NATO and non-NATO countires in Europe ?
"

The Soviets would have "de-targeted" Europe for two reasons:

1. The logic of deterrence policy. "pointing the gun at the man with the other loaded gun in his hands"
2. To be able to target the _"new" bases_ of deployment of the US Nuclear Weapons, with the Missiles no longer necessarily targeted at bases in Europe.

Here is a link to the 16 Nuclear Crisis history of the Cold War:

THREATS TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS:
The Sixteen Known Nuclear Crises of the Cold War, 1946-1985

by

David R. Morgan
National President, Veterans Against Nuclear Arms
Vancouver, Canada
06 March 1996

http://www.math.yorku.ca/sfp/crises.html

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance



Jon Marte - 5/7/2008

"We were and those of us who are aware of the US Nuclear Weapons stationed in Europe still are scared shit-less, if there is / was a crisis between the US ans nowadays Russia."

A more likely crisis would be between the EU and Russia, with Russia having its hands on the natural gas pipelines.


mark safranski - 5/6/2008

Ak,

Why do you assume that removing American nuclear missiles would have caused the Soviets to "de-target" NATO and non-NATO countires in Europe ?


Ak Malten - 5/6/2008

For those, who are interested in the _model_ Nuclear Weapons Convention, here is the link to it:

http://www.cornnet.nl/~akmalten/ndocs.html#mnwc

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


Ak Malten - 5/6/2008

Dear Mark,

you wrote:

"It prevented a war being fought between the USSR and the United States. Also, in 1967-69, war between the Soviet Union and China. Even with conventional arms, such wars would have been an unmitigated catastrophe.

The wars that were fought were between either non-nuclear, third tier states India-Pakistan, Israel-Arab World or proxy wars of limited nature ( Korean and Vietnam wars) or civil wars and guerilla insurgencies. Such wars were fought precisely because nuclear deterrence was *not* at issue in any of them, except the Yom Kippur War, which caused the war to be terminated prematurely."

Living in Europe all my live up to now, my live started in 1952, I can assure you that we did not feel safe.We understood that Europe would be the battle field of the Cold War, whether it would be fought with Nuclear or Conventional Weapons, actually did not matter to us. We knew the USSR was very poor at that time, so they installed what was called "the doomsday machine" c.q. a fully automated response machinery which would fire off all their Nuclear Missiles in case of an attack. Not only the US was targeted by the system, but because the US Nuclear Weapons based in Europe, those bases with US Nuclear Weapons in Europe, where on the target list of the USSR, leaving no place to hide for us in Europe. We were and those of us who are aware of the US Nuclear Weapons stationed in Europe still are scared shit-less, if there is / was a crisis between the US ans nowadays Russia.

Being scared is not a nice feeling I can tell you! Also we had the feeling we in Europe could do nothing more then call for the withdrawal of the US Nuclear Weapons in Europe, to get us of the target list of Russia, or any other country with Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance






Jon Marte - 5/5/2008

"But one can be sure that if terrorist, or a rouge state, get their hands on a Nuclear Weapon they will not hesitate to use it."

The idea of nuclear deterrence was not intended to stop a rouge state from using a nuke, but to keep both the USA and USSR from attempting a first strike.

I'm all for nuclear disarmament, but it's probably impossible to accomplish.


mark safranski - 5/5/2008

"It simply has not prevented in any way all the war fought after 1945."

It prevented a war being fought between the USSR and the United States. Also, in 1967-69, war between the Soviet Union and China. Even with conventional arms, such wars would have been an unmitigated catastrophe.

The wars that were fought were between either non-nuclear, third tier states India-Pakistan, Israel-Arab World or proxy wars of limited nature ( Korean and Vietnam wars) or civil wars and guerilla insurgencies. Such wars were fought precisely because nuclear deterrence was *not* at issue in any of them, except the Yom Kippur War, which caused the war to be terminated prematurely.


Ak Malten - 5/5/2008

Subject: Nuclear deterrence does not work


My dear friends,

If there is one thing proven over more than 40 years it is that Nuclear deterrence does not work. It simply has not prevented in any way all the war fought after 1945.

Deterrence can be seen as two cowboys, standing opposite, with their weapons drawn, trying to figure out what is the best moment to fire. Those two cowboys are waiting for more than 40 years now. Trying hard not to fall asleep or blinking one eye.
But while the gun they are holding can only make small holes in the flesh and if aimed right it will kill - the effect of a Nuclear Weapon is however so horrendous - kills without distinction and without limitation in time and place. Because of that effect the use or threat to use a Nuclear Weapon is illegal according to International Humanitarian Law - whether there is a Nuclear Weapons Convention or not. And this is the reason, _not_ deterrence, why Nuclear Weapons are not used in the last 40 years.

But one can be sure that if terrorist, or a rouge state, get their hands on a Nuclear Weapon they will not hesitate to use it.

While I know that it is impossible to un-invent Nuclear Weapons, but that counts for all ABC c.q. weapons of mass-destruction, it would make the World a saver place, if they would be Abolished, with a Nuclear Weapons Convention in place.

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


Ak Malten - 5/5/2008

Subject: Nuclear deterrence does not work


My dear friends,

If there is one thing proven over more than 40 years it is that Nuclear deterrence does not work. It simply has not prevented in any way all the war fought after 1945.

Deterrence can be seen as two cowboys, standing opposite, with their weapons drawn, trying to figure out what is the best moment to fire. Those two cowboys are waiting for more than 40 years now. Trying hard not to fall asleep or blinking one eye.
But while the gun they are holding can only make small holes in the flesh and if aimed right it will kill - the effect of a Nuclear Weapon is however so horrendous - kills without distinction and without limitation in time and place. Because of that effect the use or threat to use a Nuclear Weapon is illegal according to International Humanitarian Law - whether there is a Nuclear Weapons Convention or not. And this is the reason, _not_ deterrence, why Nuclear Weapons are not used in the last 40 years.

But one can be sure that if terrorist, or a rouge state, get their hands on a Nuclear Weapon they will not hesitate to use it.

While I know that it is impossible to un-invent Nuclear Weapons, but that counts for all ABC c.q. weapons of mass-destruction, it would make the World a saver place, if they would be Abolished, with a Nuclear Weapons Convention in place.

Ak Malten,
Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance


mark safranski - 5/5/2008

Reducing the number of nuclear weapons and improving the security of nuclear weapons technology and material stockpiles is a meritorious effort towards improving global security. Abolition of nuclear weapons is not as wise as one might imagine.

Nuclear weapons become "more valuable" in the strategic sense as their numbers decline. The difference between country A having 2 or 3 deliverable thermonuclear warheads - or even Hiroshima-type atomic bombs - and country B having none in a world where nuclear weapons have been " banned" is enormous. The nuclear disparity would be an incentive to threaten or initiate military aggression on the part of country A.

Nuclear weapons have had one greatly beneficial effect in historical terms - making great power war prohibitively costly. WWI and WWII saw battlefield and collateral casualties at upwards of a combined 80 million people. The postwar era did not see a repeat because of the nuclear balance of terror.

This has also been the case with second and third tier state rivalries. The Indo-Pakistani standoff due to nuclear arms is preferable to the three wars and civil war/Bangladeshi indepence fought out on the subcontinent prior to nuclear parity. Presumably, the Mideast's current strategic state is preferable to another Arab-Israeli war on the scale of Yom Kippur or the Six Day War.

Abolition of nuclear weapons will make conventional war more "thinkable" as will the temptation to attain an "edge" over regional rivals with a few illegal nukes.


Oscar Chamberlain - 5/5/2008

You raise an important point.

On balance, I think working toward nuclear disarmament is a good idea. Nuclear war remains a danger. I deeply fear what would happen if someone or some nation uses a nuke and gets away with it. If that ever happens, then the taboo against using nukes would be weakened, and in that context a world with thousands of nuclear weapons would be in much greater danger.

However, speaking simply from the US standpoint, it would be much easier to get the US from the current levels down to, say, 100 nukes, than it would be to eliminate the last 100. The point you make--the difficult in using non-nuclear weapons to deter or punish a nuclear attack--is one of the reasons why.


Jon Marte - 5/5/2008

Hypothetically speaking, if a country were to successfully build nuclear weapons, how would the international community force them to disarm?

Strongly worded letters and impotent economic pressure?

In order to avoid a potential nuclear war, are we willing to take conventional war to new heights?

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