Stable nuclear zero is feasible
Before World War II broke out in 1939, German-born Nobel laureate Albert Einstein recommended President Franklin D. Roosevelt begin research on a nuclear weapon since Germany under Adolf Hitler might be developing such a destructive tool. The result was the Manhattan Project, which culminated in the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Einstein deplored use of the new discovery of nuclear fission as a weapon, and signed with the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, highlighting the danger of nukes.
That was back in July1955. Since then, major atomic powers have looked at nuclear deterrence as guarantor of enduring world peace and security. It was not before April 2009 – a few months before being announced the winner of Nobel Peace Prize – that President Barack Obama in his historic speech in Prague called for “a world without nuclear weapons.”
But in the fall of 2009, another Nobel laureate, Thomas Schelling, vehemently questioned the desirability of a world without nuclear weapons. In an essay — titled ‘A world without nuclear weapons?’ — in Dædalus, founded in 1955 as the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Schelling challenged the wisdom of going to “zero” and asked what would happen in the event of another war. Schelling’s essay would appear to have stimulated the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) to organize an international seminar and a panel discussion to find answers to the question ‘Stable Zero: Feasible, Realistic?’ That is crucial for the survival of Earth and humankind.
The event was organized in cooperation with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) — Norway’s leading independent center for research and information on international political and economic issues as well as on areas of central relevance to Norwegian foreign policy — and the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, named after Josei Toda (1900-1958). Toda was a Japanese educator and philosopher who was imprisoned together with his mentor Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) for upholding the belief in the dignity of life despite persecution by the Japanese military government during World War II. Makiguchi died in prison but Toda was able to survive the ordeal, devoting the rest of his life to the development of a grassroots peace movement in post-war Japan.
The Institute was established in 1996 by Toda’s main disciple Daisaku Ikeda, the President of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a worldwide movement for peace, culture and education based on Buddhist Humanism. Describing the purpose of the seminar, VCDNP, which is backed by the Austrian Foreign Ministry and James Martin Center of Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies as its partner, said: One might hope that major war would not happen in a world without nuclear weapons, but it always did, and Schelling worries that the necessary scenario analyzes to find the strengths and weaknesses of proposals for a nuclear weapon-free world have not been done.
“Considering how much intellectual effort in the past half century went into the study of the ‘stability’ of a nuclear deterrence world, it ought to be worthwhile to examine contingencies in a nuclear-free world to verify that it is superior to a world with (some) nuclear weapons,” VCDNP said quoting Schelling. It added: This taps into the question of the meaning of “zero” — reconstitution capabilities; going more or less below “zero” — and in this respect a variety of views have been expressed. Schelling, on his part, emphasizes that a world without any reconstitution capability is illusory.
Panelists included besides Schelling, a distinguished university professor emeritus in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, who was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics; former Swedish ambassador Rolf Ekeus, chairman emeritus of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and a board member of Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI); Sverre Lodgaard, senior research fellow of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs; and Andreas Persbo, Executive Director of the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center (VERTIC).
Schelling’s argue: “A world without nuclear weapons would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations’ nuclear facilities, all in a high alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.”
Such arguments do not detract Ekeus or Lodgaard from pleading the cause of a world without nuclear weapons — a world that would usher in only if the five permanent members of the UN Security Council do not insist on their “divine right” to develop, produce and stockpile nuclear weapons, while denying half a dozen or a dozen other countries such a right in the name of non-proliferation.
The Federation of American Scientists estimates there are more than 19,000 nuclear warheads in the world as of 2012, with around 4,400 of them kept in “operational” status, ready for use. There is no denying the fact, therefore, that transforming today’s heavily nuke-armed world into a world without nuclear weapons is not an easy task. And this particularly against the backdrop, as VERTIC’s Executive Director Persbo, points out: ” ... We do not really know what conditions will enable a world free of nuclear weapons. Will it, as some argue, require a fundamental transformation of world affairs? Do we, as others say, need to live in a world with considerably reduced international tension, and a massive reduction in conventional arms, before we can consider giving up nuclear explosives?” Persbo adds: “We do not have any good answers to these questions. As we do not, almost every answer assumes almost equal weight. The argument becomes articles of faith, not carried by empirical evidence. You either believe in deterrence, that nuclear weapons preserved world peace, or you do not. Neither advocate can disprove the other.”
With this in view, Persbo rightly stresses the role of safeguards in the future. “Safeguards, as administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency, will become increasingly important in a nuclear weapon free world. Fissile material will need to be accounted for, and the absence of undeclared stockpiles of these materials would need to be confirmed.”
He explains: “I think that verification in a nuclear weapon-free world will look very similar to safeguards in non-nuclear weapon states, but on a much larger scale. The fuel cycles of the two largest nuclear weapon states, the US and Russia, are fundamentally different, and much larger, than cycles found elsewhere. It will be challenging to take them on, and to bring them under full-scope safeguards. There are some large uncertainties in the stockpile numbers, and it may take decades, many decades, before anything resembling a completeness determination can be drawn.”
But Persbo thinks that these challenges can be overcome. “Putting some political capital into the negotiation of an FMCT will be a good start. Empowering the IAEA secretariat to be able to address some of the technical tasks that await them is a step that can be taken today. The IAEA already has a reasonably completed technical protocol for material disposition, but need to start to prepare for future verification challenges as well. And let me be clear. I believe that this task belongs with the agency. Perhaps not the agency as we know it today, but a stronger, more powerful version of the body.”
In fact, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) also plays an important role in bringing about a nuke-free world. The treaty has a unique and comprehensive verification regime to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. The International Monitoring System (IMS) will, when complete, consist of 337 facilities worldwide to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Over 85 percent of the facilities are already up and running.
The importance of such verification regimes cannot be underrated. But political will to do away with nuclear weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction, whoever might use these, is of utmost importance. For this reason, SGI and the Toda Institute are wedded to the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons. In fact, back in September 1957. Josei Toda made a declaration against nuclear weapons in Yokohama. He said that the willingness to use these weapons was an expression of the devilish nature lurking within human beings, leading them to control and dominate others through fear and threats rather than choosing dialogue and collaboration. Based on Toda’s declaration, SGI President Ikeda has been outlining his vision for a peaceful global civilization in numerous proposals.