29 June 2016 - Netherlands starts to pay the price
As regular readers will know, since October 2015 we have been urging the 127 states that have joined the Humanitarian Pledge to exercise their power by using their vote in the 2016 Security Council election as a lever to persuade arch-weasel the Netherlands to take steps to start reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons and to join (or at least stop obstructing) the international effort to stigmatise and outlaw them. You can read more about our campaign here.
The election was held in the General Assembly yesterday, with Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden competing for the two vacant non-permanent seats allocated to the Western European and Other States group (WEOG). Sweden was elected in the first round, easily gaining the required two-thirds majority. But in repeated rounds of voting, the Netherlands was unable to muster anything close to a two-thirds majority, languishing at around 95 votes (out of 193). With neither the Netherlands nor Italy able to clinch the vote, it now appears that the two countries will make a deal to share the seat.
Our assessment, which could certainly be wrong but which is shared by many informed observers, is that the Netherlands should have won the election easily - the Dutch campaign was sophisticated, wide-ranging and doubtless very expensive. And in other areas of international relations, the Dutch have an enviable record. It therefore appears that a significant number of Humanitarian Pledge states have taken our advice and voted against the Netherlands on the basis of its weasel nuclear weapons policy and hypocritical, obstructive behaviour.
We hope that this leads to some sober reflection in the Dutch foreign ministry. This result was very much an own goal: the cost to their Security Council campaign was totally unnecessary. The Netherlands could easily have engaged with the concerns of the Humanitarian Pledge states, for example by announcing a review of nuclear weapons policy or starting an internal discussion on possible steps towards reducing reliance on nuclear weapons. No actual change of policy would have been required.
For their part, the Humanitarian Pledge states can take heart from this demonstration of their own power and influence. They have shown it is possible for non-nuclear-weapon states to raise the political cost of reliance on nuclear weapons, in very practical and concrete ways. We hope this interesting little experiment will encourage and embolden them to press ahead with a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
For more details, please have a look at our press release.
15 June 2016 - Hypocrisy's sorry harvest
At its plenary meeting in Seoul later this month, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will decide whether to admit India as a member. India has been campaigning hard at the highest political levels for membership, and its bid is being strongly supported by the United States.
Now, it might strike you as preposterous that a country that chose to stay outside the NPT, to develop and test nuclear weapons, to refuse to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-test-ban Treaty and - most recently - to boycott UN-mandated nuclear disarmament talks would ever be considered as an NSG member. But then you're the sort of naive person who probably finds it preposterous that India could develop nuclear weapons and then have various Western leaders describe it as having a "sound", "solid", "strong" or even "absolutely impeccable" non-proliferation record. (By this intriguing measure of non-proliferation, Iran has an even more absolutely impeccable record.)
Even if you're of a more cynical bent, and are used to the rank hypocrisy and blatant double standards of the NPT nuclear-weapon states and their weasel allies, you might still be taken aback to learn that Mexico - champion of the humanitarian impact initiative and leading proponent of the ban treaty - is also supporting India's admission to the NSG.
Why would Mexico do that? Not surprisingly, Mexico's usually vocal disarmament diplomats have been awfully quiet about it. The situation reminds us of some immortal advice from an Australian political adviser to his minister: "We're eating a turd sandwich on this one and we're gonna have to say it's yummy". In fact, Mexico's awkward plight derives not so much from policy failings on its part, or even from the triumph of commercial expediency over principle, but from the inherent contradictions of an arrangement where possession of nuclear weapons is accepted for an essentially self-selected group of countries, but not for others (and let us here recall India's own views on the matter).
Mexico and the other NSG members that do not possess or rely on nuclear weapons have to work with the members that do, in order to reduce the risks of further proliferation. This is in their security interests, and it is in their security interests to work with India too. But just as happens in the NPT, their participation acts to legitimise the continued possession of nuclear weapons by some. So they end up trapped by their good intentions, are left with no good options, and consequently from time to time face the inevitable turd sandwich that Mexico is now gamely trying to swallow.
The ban treaty will put an end to this. By removing the notion that any state can legitimately retain nuclear weapons, or can aspire to join an "approved" group of nuclear-weapon possessors, the ban will put the non-proliferation efforts of its states parties on a sound and consistent footing. This will not mean stopping cooperation with nuclear-armed states on non-proliferation, but it will mean an end to the double standards and grubby compromises that undermine non-proliferation objectives.
Hypocrisy is a poor basis for effective international action on non-proliferation. The ban treaty will not only bring us closer to disarmament, it will strengthen non-proliferation efforts too.
2 June 2016 - The deer in the headlights
The nuclear-armed states, and particularly the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (P5), don't like the ban treaty - although they have struggled comically to articulate any kind of coherent reason for their opposition (John Kerry's recent effort is typical). So now that it appears likely that negotiations on a ban treaty will actually begin in 2017, how would you expect the P5 to react? We wondered in an earlier item if they might "suddenly wake up and get their act together". What might this involve? New announcements or initiatives? Purposeful movement to implement the 2010 NPT Action Plan? A concerted effort to turn the Conference on Disarmament into something other than a perverse joke? A frank acknowledgment of the problems they face in meeting their disarmament obligations? Something, anything, to at least hint at a return to credibility?
Well, no. In fact, all the P5 have done since the OEWG is to continue the routine that drove the non-nuclear-weapon states to the Humanitarian Pledge and the ban process in the first place - only more so. First, we had Barack Obama's much-anticipated visit to Hiroshima, where it turned out he had nothing to offer but lofty rhetoric. He restated the goals of his famous Prague speech only in the vaguest terms, did nothing to correct the backsliding of the G7's "Hiroshima Declaration", said nothing about how the trillion-dollar modernization of the US nuclear arsenal fits into his vision, and called for a "moral revolution" on nuclear weapons while the US is pointedly ignoring the one that is already well underway. As an eloquent demonstration of exactly why non-nuclear-weapon states need to press ahead on their own with a ban, Obama's Hiroshima speech is hard to better.
But never happy to be outdone, France gave it its best shot with a magnificently oblivious address to the Conference on Disarmament about the P5 "process". Reading it is like stepping into a parallel universe (as once memorably illustrated by Disarmament Diaries). Here are some highlights:
"The NPT and the existing machinery set out in the Final Document of SSOD-I have proven to be efficient venues to advance nuclear disarmament through a constructive and mutually respectful dialogue."
We can only assume that in the parallel universe that French officials inhabit, this is true.
"With regard to substance, my country intends to increase and deepen the work already carried out with its partners during the last review cycle in several areas."
OK, that at least sounds positive. What did you have in mind?
"We would in particular see merits in updating and expanding the P5 glossary on key nuclear terms, including considering future editions."
Oooh, bold! Yet prudent not to rashly commit to a future edition.
"We are also open to a strengthening of our engagement with the wider disarmament community, in particular by furthering our interaction and dialogue with non-nuclear weapon States, as well as with civil society."
By boycotting UN-mandated disarmament discussions, for example?
Seriously, one has to wonder what they are thinking. What more could France do to push non-nuclear-weapon states towards a ban treaty? Every time a French representative opens his or her mouth, a doubt is removed in the mind of a Humanitarian Pledge supporter. If France and its P5 partners continue in this vein, support for the ban at the General Assembly will be overwhelming.
To finish, here's a nice photo we found of the P5 preparing their strategy to deal with the approaching ban treaty:
18 May 2016 - Security Council survey results
With apologies for the delay, we now publish the results of our survey of nuclear disarmament policies of candidates for election to the Security Council in 2016. Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Thailand provided full written responses; Sweden gave an oral response on the grounds that a number of relevant policies are still being considered by the Swedish government. We have transcribed Sweden's response as faithfully as we could in the published results, but the exact wording should not be quoted as Sweden's official position.
Italy and the Netherlands did not respond at all. You can make what you will of this, but we think it is significant that the two nuclear weasel states were the only ones that did not respond. After we reported the results of the survey to the Open-ended Working Group, a Dutch official tweeted rather lamely, "Answer to Q1: yes we are committed to a world without nuclear weapons!". But if the Netherlands was really committed to a world without nuclear weapons, surely it would have responded to the survey promptly and in full. Ignoring it just fuels suspicions that the Netherlands is insincere about nuclear disarmament, is committed only to relying on extended nuclear deterrence indefinitely, and would prefer to avoid talking about this. Is this really the sort of country you want on the Security Council?
Only support NPT NNWS for membership in the United Nations Security Council that are not party to nuclear-armed alliances and defence arrangements buttressed by nuclear weapons, do not host nuclear weapons on their territory and have demonstrated tangible support for achieving a world without nuclear weapons;
We hope our survey will help non-nuclear-weapon states to decide their votes in a way that raises the political costs of relying on - and obstructing efforts to outlaw - nuclear weapons, and that will add to political momentum for negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Find out more here on how to make your vote count on 28 June.
We are grateful to Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Sweden and Thailand for their genuine commitment to nuclear disarmament and their considered and thoughtful responses to our survey.
16 May 2016 - The game changes
The May session of the Open-ended Working Group ended with a formidable majority of UN member states clearly supporting the start of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. With the ten cross-regional sponsors of WP.34 leading the way, closely supported by the 33 members of CELAC and the 54 members of the African Group, and backed up by the less specific but still solid commitment of the 126 sponsors of WP.36 (and the Humanitarian Pledge), it appears that there is more than sufficient support to pass a resolution at the UN General Assembly later this year, convening a negotiating conference in 2017.
For those of us who have laboured long against a frustrating - and what at times seemed wilful - failure to understand how a ban treaty would work, the discussion in the second week of the OEWG session was a joy to witness. As various weasel delegations rehearsed their unswerving devotion to the "progressive approach" (i.e. the status quo), in some cases literally repeating the same statement several times, an impressively wide range of delegations took the floor one after the other to advocate the ban treaty and - better still - to discuss the specific elements they thought it should include. As the ban expanded to dominate the discussion, the weasels were driven back into ever more explicit endorsements of the benefits of nuclear weapons - until they were pressed so hard up against the edge of the NPT, they threatened to break through into outright violation (see this extraordinary statement from Poland, for example). The game is pretty much up, for them.
Perched above this dramatic scene, Sweden and Switzerland (the "sweasels") swayed precariously on the fraying tightrope that represents all that is left of the middle ground. They will not be able to stay up there for long. Among the others, only Iran and perhaps Cuba said anything that could be interpreted as opposing the ban.
So, what now? The OEWG will meet again in August to conclude its report. Dark rumours are already circulating of weasel plans to sabotage the report, while others are worrying about how to get the ban proposal reflected adequately in a report that could be adopted by consensus. None of this matters very much. Dirty tricks, arm-twisting or blackmail by the weasels (or indeed by the nuclear-armed states) are at this stage likely only to strengthen the resolve of the majority. And the report of the OEWG is much less important than the degree of support for the ban that has already been demonstrated. Whatever the fate of the OEWG report, ban proponents can now proceed confidently to the General Assembly.
Of course, many obstacles and pitfalls remain. The path through the General Assembly will not be smooth. The NPT nuclear-weapon states, which have played every move wrong so far, may suddenly wake up and get their act together. And then there will be the actual negotiations, with all the risks of dilution and premature compromise, along with the glacial pace and boundless opportunities for delay of UN processes.
But there is simply no doubt that we have turned the corner. Perhaps the best encapsulation of where we now stand is Winston Churchill's famous quote after the battle of El Alamein: "Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
The game is changing at last. Now we have to prepare to play it - and win.
13 May 2016 - OEWG draws to close
On the final day of the May session of the Open-ended Working Group, a ban treaty seems closer than ever. We will have a full report on Monday, but in the meantime, here are three things you should read:
1. Presentation by Dr Nick Ritchie of the University of York on pathways to nuclear disarmament.
3. Closing statement to the OEWG by Richard Lennane, Chief Inflammatory Officer of Wildfire>_.
On Monday we will also publish the full results of our survey of nuclear disarmament policies of UN Security Council candidates. In the meantime, you can listen to our presentation of the results in the OEWG. Of the six candidate states, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Sweden and Thailand responded to the survey. Italy and the Netherlands - both nuclear weasel states - did not respond.
8 May 2016 - Weasels adrift as OEWG sails towards ban
The first week of the May session of the Open-ended Working Group indeed proved to be a useful opportunity to put the nuclear weasel states on the spot about their own role in taking forward nuclear disarmament (or not). Along with Wildfire>_ and ICAN, several states proposed that the OEWG recommend that weasels take specific steps to reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons, share information about risk management, and provide transparency reporting on nuclear weapons hosted on their territory. The weasel delegations clearly didn't want to discuss such matters, with the result that no state spoke against the proposals. So we presume - and indeed we confirmed in an intervention from the floor - that the OEWG report will include these proposals as consensus recommendations.
This minor victory was satisfying. But much more exciting was the backdrop of massively growing support - in anticipation of discussion in the second week of "concrete effective legal measures" - for negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Four working papers issued in the course of last week have pushed the ban to the top of the list of legal measures to be considered by the OEWG:
A/AC.286/WP.34 by Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Zambia is the most specific and direct, stating that "the most viable option for immediate action is to negotiate a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons, establishing general interdictions and obligations and pronouncing an unambiguous political commitment to the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons". It goes on to list the main elements of such a treaty, and concludes that the OEWG should recommend that the General Assembly "convene a Conference in 2017, open to all States, international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons".
A/AC.286/WP.15 by the 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) asserts that "a global prohibition on nuclear weapons can contribute to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. For the majority of the international community, there is no reason why a universal prohibition of nuclear weapons should not be pursued immediately". It concludes that the OEWG should recommend that the General Assembly "begin a multilateral diplomatic process for the negotiation of a legally binding instrument for the prohibition of nuclear weapons towards their total elimination".
A/AC.286/WP.14 by Fiji, Nauru, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu considers the need for a ban from the perspective of small island states, lists the possible elements of a treaty, and concludes that negotiations should begin in the latter part of 2016 and be concluded within two years.
A/AC.286/WP.36, by 126 states that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge, is more general - reflecting its massive level of support across all regions - but reiterates the pledge to "identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" and to "stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks", and adds a recommendation to "pursue an additional legal instrument or instruments with urgency and to support international efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons".
With this kind of clear, explicit support from such a wide range of countries, the ban treaty can no longer be dismissed as an "unrealistic, impractical" proposal from radical and deluded NGOs. It is now a real prospect. It will be very interesting to see both how the possible components of the treaty are fleshed out in the OEWG this week, and how the weasels react.
2 May 2016 - Essential reading for the OEWG
The May session of the Open-ended Working Group starts today in Geneva, and runs until 13 May. Most of the action will be in the second week, which is dealing with "concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons" - in other words, a ban treaty. This first week, however, will tackle "other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations", including such things as transparency and risk reduction measures.
This is a useful occasion to explore the role of the nuclear weasel states in impeding progress on nuclear disarmament, and to look at some realistic, practical measures that such states might take on their own to improve the situation. Indeed, there are already some OEWG working papers that do exactly that. So to prepare for this week's discussion, here is some recommended reading:
Wildfire>_ will of course be participating actively in the session. Check back here for our reports on the action, and follow us on Twitter for live updates. We also heartily recommend Reaching Critical Will's daily reports.
25 April 2016 - Canada's accidental insight
As the May session of the Open-ended Working Group draws closer, weasel delegations are busy preparing working papers explaining why nothing should change. Both the Netherlands and Canada have submitted papers examining the notion of the legal gap, which really seems to be bothering them. Both papers appear to have been written by adherents of the Franz Kafka School of International Law: they argue that there can only be a legal gap if something is already "inherently illegal", in which case of course there is evidently not a legal gap.
We really struggle to understand the fixation weasel states have with this legal gap business. Once you sweep away the smoke and mirrors and tortuous legal argumentation, it comes down to this:
- In contrast to other weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons are not explicitly prohibited under international law.
- They should be.
That's really all there is to it; it doesn't require pages of arcane legal analysis. But Canada's paper is fascinating for another reason: it tackles the consequences of "precipitous negotiations" on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Here is the relevant part:
...it is possible that the imposition of a ban might have the unintended consequence of imperiling the stability achieved under the NPT.
10. For instance, proponents of this approach may incorrectly assume that all non-nuclear weapon States, by virtue of having already signed the NPT, would also sign a ban treaty. It is quite conceivable, however, that some NPT States Parties may actually be reluctant to do so, particularly if they are in regions where proliferation threats exist. Such a situation would generate new doubts about the actual commitment of these countries to their NPT obligations for non-proliferation or cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In other words, a ban, negotiated without adequate engagement of major parties, risks creating a less certain world of the sort that existed before the entry into force of the NPT, when many regions were faced with the prospect of nuclear proliferation and uncertainty impeded access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Simply imposing an outright ban would not achieve the requirement of undiminished security for all.
Now, can anyone think of an NPT non-nuclear-weapon state that might be reluctant to sign a ban treaty? What about one that has consistently criticised and resisted such a treaty? Like ... well, like Canada. Let's imagine a ban treaty is concluded and Canada does not sign. Would this "generate new doubts" about Canada's commitment to its NPT obligations? Why yes, Canada, you're absolutely right - it would!
THAT IS THE POINT.
Non-nuclear-weapon states will not be able to stay out of a ban treaty without calling into question their compliance with the NPT. That is why weasel states like Canada will eventually have little choice but to join the treaty, and will consequently be obliged to review their reliance on nuclear weapons. And this is why a ban treaty, even without the involvement of the nuclear-armed states, is a powerful means of changing the status quo.
Now we suspect that in this section of its working paper, Canada was thinking not so much of itself and other weasels, but of "rogue states". Let's make this easier for Canadian officials to follow, and call these rogue states "Iran". Let's imagine a ban treaty is concluded and Iran does not sign. Would this "generate new doubts" about Iran's commitment to its NPT obligations? Again, yes! Now you know; you can deal with it. Is that a bad thing? Would it be better for Iran to be backing away from its NPT obligations in secret?
This is all hypothetical, of course. We are confident that both Canada and Iran will demonstrate their commitment to their NPT obligations and to a world free of nuclear weapons by joining the ban treaty. But we are indebted to Canada for this astute piece of analysis that has highlighted a key benefit of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
19 April 2016 - Survey of Security Council candidates
Wildfire>_ is a public-spirited organization, determined to play its part in building a vibrant and well-informed global community. As part of our public service commitment, we are conducting a survey of the nuclear disarmament policies of states that have so far announced themselves as candidates for election as non-permanent members of the Security Council in June 2016: Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Sweden and Thailand.
The survey is designed to help UN member states make an informed choice on which candidates to support. States will of course take many factors into consideration in deciding how to vote, but nuclear weapons are a pressing security concern for many states, and it is important that they have accurate and up-to-date information on the relevant policies of states that wish to serve a two-year term on the paramount body of the global community responsible for international peace and security.
We have sent the survey to the Geneva ambassadors of the candidate states, and invited them to respond by 29 April. We plan to share the results with UN member states at the next session of the Open-ended Working Group, which starts in Geneva on 2 May.
Please help us to help you, by encouraging the states concerned to complete and return the survey by the deadline. We look forward to publishing the results.
15 April 2016 - G7 walks backwards in Hiroshima
Earlier this week, foreign ministers of the G7 met in Hiroshima. The highly symbolic setting, coupled with signals from Japan's foreign minister Fumio Kishida (who is from Hiroshima) that Japan would push for a renewed commitment on nuclear disarmament, led to some excitement in anticipation of the event.
But not here at Wildfire>_. We knew it would amount to nothing, since the G7 consists of three nuclear-weapon states and four weasels. What could we expect, but more commitments to implement commitments? Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) tweeted "Time to commit to nuclear abolition". But the G7 members have already committed to nuclear abolition - on many occasions. They just haven't done it.
We were impressed, however, that not only did the G7 Hiroshima Declaration not move forward in any sense, it actually retreated from existing commitments. Here is the part on nuclear disarmament:
"In this historic meeting, we reaffirm our commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability. This task is made more complex by the deteriorating security environment in a number of regions, such as Syria and Ukraine, and, in particular by North Korea’s repeated provocations."
Compare this woolly and heavily qualified waffle with the consensus outcome of the 2010 NPT review conference:
"The Conference reaffirms the unequivocal undertaking of the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI."
And with US president Barack Obama's famous Prague speech of 2009:
"So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
So the G7, which in 2010 was unequivocally committed to the total elimination of nuclear arsenals, is now only committed to "creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons". The commitment to seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons appears to have been replaced by a commitment to seek the peace and security the G7 judge necessary for a world without nuclear weapons. One small change in text, one giant leap backwards for nuclear disarmament.
So is it any wonder that non-nuclear-weapon states are now looking seriously at going ahead without the nuclear-armed states to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons? The nuclear-armed states and weasels still seem to be in denial about this. At least two years after the idea took shape, they are still floundering and incoherent in their response to it. Here's US secretary of state John Kerry explaining to the media in Hiroshima why a ban treaty is a bad idea:
"some countries, and I understand the emotion of it, want to just outlaw every nuclear weapon tomorrow. I understand why people want to do that. But to do that without working through all of these other things that we know we have to work through is not to make the world safer. This has to be done, and we’re for it, but it has to be done in a way that works up to the capacity to accept that you, in fact, are not making the world more dangerous because you’ve done away with a level of deterrence for activity, you’re actually making the world safer."
Persuaded? We might be if we could make head or tail of it. After two years of careful thought, the State Department has managed to refine its case against the ban treaty into, well, gibberish.
And what does all this mean for non-nuclear-weapon states? It's yet another crystal clear sign: you cannot wait for the nuclear-armed states. You need to go ahead and negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
4 April 2016 - A grand unified treaty
From the very beginning of Wildfire>_ in 2013, we have been pushing non-nuclear-weapon states to take control by separating prohibition from disarmament and going ahead to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons, without waiting for the nuclear-armed states. Also from the outset, we have been careful to differentiate the ban treaty from the older, long-established idea of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention - rigid devotion to which we saw as an obstacle to progress. As we said on our cold hard truths page, "Nuclear-weapon states will not engage in negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty. Not now, not ever", and "Negotiating detailed disarmament procedures and verification provisions for nuclear weapons is vastly complex - and pointless without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states".
We have been critical of the NAM in particular for its stubborn insistence on negotiating a nuclear weapons convention in the Conference on Disarmament, in the face of overwhelming evidence that this strategy has been a total failure. We have also been critical of ICAN and others for blurring the distinction between a ban treaty and a nuclear weapons convention in an attempt to maintain the widest possible base of support. And we have had to combat the disingenuous efforts by various nuclear-armed states and weasels to sow confusion and disarray by conflating the ban and convention concepts.
But now the ban treaty idea is finally gaining traction, and is becoming more clearly defined and understood (the UNIDIR/ILPI prohibition study, although flawed, has done much to clarify the landscape). So it is perhaps time to take a fresh look at how the ban treaty relates to a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, and how these two approaches might work together.
Here we must again acknowledge the excellent work of Brazil at the February session of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG). Like Wildfire>_, Brazil proposed that states without nuclear weapons should go ahead and negotiate a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, without waiting for the nuclear-armed states. Also like Wildfire>_, Brazil suggested that disarmament and verification provisions could be negotiated and added later, as and when nuclear-armed states are ready to join the treaty - indeed, constituting the means by which they would join.
But Brazil ingeniously cast this arrangement as a way of constructing a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention in stages. Since the three main components of a nuclear weapons convention would be prohibitions, provisions for disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons, and verification measures, a ban treaty can be seen as being the first component of a comprehensive convention. This component can be negotiated, concluded and brought into force now; the other two components can be added later. Here's an animated illustration:
Brazil's innovation is important, because it opens the path to support for the ban treaty from those countries that have hitherto been wedded solely to the traditional nuclear weapons convention. Now NAM members and others can retain their formal commitment to a comprehensive convention, but endorse and pursue the ban treaty as a practical and achievable step towards it.
We sincerely hope they use the May session of the OEWG to seize this opportunity.
17 March 2016 - Norway shows us the future
Norway is well-known internationally as a leader in humanitarian disarmament, having been a driving force behind the treaties banning anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. As a NATO member and nuclear weasel state, however, Norway has been much more reticent on banning nuclear weapons. Although Norway started the humanitarian consequences initiative with the Oslo conference in 2013, the current government - having seen where the conclusions of the humanitarian conferences lead - has been steadily backing away.
And yet Norway is, in a sense, once again leading the way forward. Over recent weeks, the Norwegian parliament and media have been embroiled in a rollicking controversy over the government's nuclear weapons policy. An increasingly vehement exchange of questions and recriminations over the government's commitment to (a) nuclear disarmament and (b) its NATO alliance obligations has been further enlivened by dark suggestions of US interference, and questions on the constitutionality of parliament's role. (We don't have space to do the story justice here, but you can read this helpful summary by NPA, and watch this entertaining video of highlights of the parliamentary debate.)
The immediate consequences of all this are relatively minor (if satisfying); what matters is that the controversy has erupted at all. In Norway, as in other weasel states, there has long been political consensus on nuclear disarmament: it is something that everyone supports - as a distant, vague and rather abstract goal. As we have written before, as long as nothing was actually happening, weasel governments could safely and even vocally support nuclear disarmament, without having to confront the awkward reality of their own reliance on nuclear weapons. Domestically, the result was a political "pax pragmatica": a tacit agreement to subsume any policy differences in the interest of a comfortable status quo.
But the humanitarian impact conferences, and especially the consequent proposal to pursue a ban treaty without waiting for the nuclear-armed states, have torn up this tranquil political landscape. The controversy we are seeing in Norway now is a direct result of moves towards a ban. Because it makes the traditional weasel policy fudge untenable, the prospect of a ban has illuminated the stark policy choices at stake (nuclear weapons: yes or no?) and thus reignited domestic political debate.
It is fascinating to see how this works. Much of the media commentary in Norway has been against pursuing a prohibition, portraying it as risking Norway's security and marginalizing Norway within NATO. This has forced the government to defend disarmament and reaffirm its commitment to pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons. That in turn has prompted opposition parties to ask why the government opposes prohibiting nuclear weapons, which has obliged the government to expose its rather flimsy excuses to the harsh glare of parliamentary and media scrutiny.
And it is more than just fascinating: it is the future. What is happening in Norway now is what awaits all weasels. If you doubt the effectiveness of a ban treaty that does not include the nuclear-armed states, you should reflect on this. If the mere proposal of a ban can prompt political upheaval and a media firestorm in Norway, what will happen when treaty negotiations actually start? What will happen when the treaty is concluded and enters into force?
Weasel governments know full well the ban will have an impact. That's why they are trying to stop it. You can be sure they are watching developments in Norway with growing unease.
14 March 2016 - A reminder of why we're here
Why are we pushing for a treaty banning nuclear weapons? The reason is that the nuclear-armed states are not serious about disarming. The game didn't begin yesterday: the nuclear-armed states have had decades to show that the "step-by-step" approach works. It doesn't. Not because of any inherent problem with the concept - the steps proposed are all perfectly sensible - but simply because the steps are never taken.
This should, by now, be obvious to all. But since there are still tedious voices bleating about the need to "engage" the nuclear-armed states in an "inclusive" process, let's have a quick refresher and look at some recent indicators that show the truth of the matter.
First, there is modernization: all the nuclear-armed states, despite repeatedly avowing their commitment to disarmament, are modernizing and upgrading their nuclear arsenals. This has been thoroughly covered by RCW and others, so we won't go into details. But consider this: in France, although the word "modernisation" exists in French, official sources use the term "pérennisation", which translates as "perpetuation". What could be a clearer indication of French intentions?
Then you have a slick new line from the United States, recently deployed by NPT special representative Adam Scheinman: "before nuclear disarmament can make the world safe, the world must be made safe for nuclear disarmament". We challenge you to read without laughing out loud Scheinman's enumeration of the specific ways in which the world would have to be made safe. Suffice to say that when Scheinman's conditions are met, humans (or whatever humans have evolved into by then) will not need to bother with disarmament. For further entertainment, you might like to apply the US formulation to other fields:
- Before non-proliferation can make the world safe, the world must be made safe for non-proliferation.
- Before nuclear security measures can make the world safe, the world must be made safe for nuclear security measures.
- Before better policing can make the streets safe, the streets must be made safe for better policing.
And let's not forget Incredible India, which after a quiet interval has returned to form in its testimony to the International Court of Justice in the Marshall Islands case. Here, India's counsel kept referring to India's "alleged nuclear weapons program". Alleged? India has previously been proud to tell everyone at every opportunity that India is a "responsible nuclear-weapon state". Is it now only an "alleged responsible nuclear-weapon state"? India's counsel went on to highlight India's commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament forums, only weeks after boycotting the UN-mandated Open-ended Working Group. India then punctuated its earnest testimony by testing a nuclear-capable missile.
We could go on, and on. Wherever you look, you only see more evidence that the nuclear-armed states are not serious about disarmament. But perhaps the clearest indication is their opposition to a ban treaty. None of them has been able to explain this opposition in any coherent way. If you are genuinely committed to nuclear disarmament, opposing a ban treaty makes no sense - even if you know you will not be able to join the treaty for many years, or even decades. Why oppose a legal prohibition of a weapon you have "unequivocally" undertaken to eliminate?
As we have said before, the fact that a ban treaty is opposed only shows that it is needed. So get on with it, whatever the nuclear-armed states say.
10 March 2016 - The dual role of non-nuclear-weapon states
We mentioned in our previous item that we would have more to say about the intriguing dual role of (genuine, non-weasel) states without nuclear weapons (which we'll call NNWS here for the sake of convenience, although we really need a better short name for them).
On the one hand, nuclear-armed states and their weasel henchmen (henchweasels?) like to say that while all states can contribute to nuclear disarmament, nuclear-armed states have a "special responsibility". The implication, sometimes made explicit, is that the serious work has to be done by the states with the nuclear weapons; others are merely supportive spectators who should maintain a decorative and respectful silence while the big guys sort it all out.
On the other hand, the nuclear-armed states and weasels are constantly insisting that NNWS must do (or refrain from doing) particular things to allow nuclear disarmament to move forward, implying that the NNWS are thus somehow responsible for the lack of progress in general, and for the neglected commitments of the nuclear-armed states in particular.
So, when the NPT nuclear-weapon states ignore their promise to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines, the NNWS are enjoined to take account of the "important security dimensions" of nuclear weapons, and to understand and respect the "legitimate security concerns" that drive these states to rely on nuclear weapons - or disarmament will not be possible.
When the nuclear-weapon states damage trust by repeatedly failing to implement their agreed NPT review conference commitments, NNWS are lectured on the need to rebuild trust with the nuclear-weapon states and to avoid "divisive" measures - or disarmament will not be possible.
When the nuclear-armed states decide not to participate in the humanitarian impact conferences and to boycott UN-mandated open-ended working groups, NNWS are told they need to "engage" the nuclear-armed states, and to eschew approaches that are not "inclusive" - or disarmament will not be possible.
You see the pattern: nuclear-armed states claim a special responsibility for disarmament, fail to discharge their obligations, then blame the NNWS. At each stage in this process, they are ably abetted by the weasels.
And do you see an interesting gendered aspect here? Women should stay out of the way and watch and admire while the men tackle the serious business. But when it all goes wrong, it's the women who are to blame - for being insufficiently supportive, for not understanding, for nagging and making unreasonable demands, and, well, just for existing.
Time to shatter the nuclear patriarchy. NNWS should put a stop to this dual-role nonsense by taking control and negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
7 March 2016 - The "case" against a ban
In last week's report on the Open-ended Working Group, we mentioned that those weasel delegations that had engaged in discussion of a treaty banning nuclear weapons had only succeeded in revealing the flimsiness of arguments against such a treaty (you can listen here to one particularly telling exchange). Let's take a closer look at these arguments, because they are truly bizarre.
First is the contention that a ban treaty that did not include the nuclear-armed states would not be effective in bringing us closer to actual disarmament. This is certainly possible, but (a) the only way to find out for sure is to do it; and (b) it is a strange argument to make while supporting a range of other measures that have already been proved over many years not to bring us any closer to disarmament.
Even stranger, this argument is often deployed in conjunction with the second argument: a ban treaty would be destabilizing and even dangerous. Here is how Canada's foreign minister Stéphane Dion put it to the Conference on Disarmament on 2 March (apparently having learned nothing from the OEWG the previous week):
"It is clear that the current environment is hardly conducive to encouraging states that possess nuclear weapons to participate in negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban. Without these states, an immediate outright ban on nuclear weapons might be an appealing gesture, but its practical impact would be highly questionable. Without the participation of the countries possessing nuclear weapons, a ban would not bring us any closer to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Indeed, premature action risks undermining international stability by creating a false sense of security, without any reliable underpinnings."
An empty gesture of little practical impact, yet potent enough to somehow risk undermining stability? Make up your mind, Mr Dion! Did you even read the speech before delivering it? How would a ban create "a false sense of security", if it doesn't lead to disarmament? And what on earth does "reliable underpinnings" mean? Did it not occur to you to question the officials who wrote this gibberish? Fortunately for you, the Canadian media is unlikely to pay attention anything you say in an obscure and irrelevant backwater like the CD.
A third argument often heard against a ban is that it would be "divisive": it would "fragment" the international community, shattering the fragile unity needed to make real progress on nuclear disarmament. This is an obvious case of circular reasoning: nuclear-armed states and weasels oppose a ban because it would be divisive, but it is only divisive because they oppose it. If they supported and participated in the negotiation of a ban treaty, not only would it not be divisive, it would have a better chance of being effective.
A fourth argument is that pursuing a ban treaty would "distract" non-nuclear-weapon states from "practical, realistic" measures such as the NPT, CTBT, FMCT and so on. Aside from the fact that there is no reason that these other measures cannot be pursued in parallel with a ban (and that a ban would likely support and strengthen them), it is curious that the undivided attention of non-nuclear-weapon states is seen as indispensable for actions that nuclear-armed states - undistracted by a pesky ban - are supposed to take. Irrelevant yet indispensable: we will have more to say on this intriguing dual role of states without nuclear weapons.
In summary, the arguments against a treaty banning nuclear weapons fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. This must by now be obvious to even the most deluded weasel. So why don't they give up, and start supporting a ban? ICAN's Beatrice Fihn makes a persuasive case for Canada doing just that; the same applies to other weasels too.
The sooner they start, the less harshly history will judge them.
29 February 2016 - Open-ended Working Group... works!
As indicated in the previous news item, we approached the OEWG with our usual weary cynicism (or was it cynical weariness?). But we were pleasantly surprised. The OEWG proved to be both an illuminating discussion and a significant step forward towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
- For the first time, government representatives engaged in a serious, substantive exchange on what effective legal measures (including a ban treaty) would involve, how they could work without the nuclear-armed states, and what their effects might be.
- There was welcome and refreshing focus on what can actually be done, in practical terms, given the decades of impasse and failure - in contrast to just calling for things that will never happen.
- Weasel states were split into two groups: those that bravely attempted to engage in the discussion (Australia, Japan), and those that hid behind sad collections of boilerplate platitudes fished from the sewers of the Conference on Disarmament (Germany, Belgium, Italy). The first group looked vulnerable as it revealed the flimsiness of arguments against a ban; the second simply looked obtuse, irrelevant and stupid.
- None of the nuclear-armed states showed up. It didn't matter. This in itself was a powerful boost to the notion that non-nuclear-weapon states can go ahead on their own.
- The idea that progress on nuclear disarmament requires finding a "middle ground", and "building bridges" between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states, was thoroughly trashed.
The debate was impressive, not just for its quality, but for the new entrants that brought with them important new material. As usual, Mexico, Austria and Ireland did sterling work applying the conclusions of the humanitarian consequences initiative and attacking the status quo. But they were joined - unexpectedly - by Brazil, Costa Rica and Malaysia, among others. Brazil set out in clear, detailed and persuasive terms both the rationale for a ban treaty and the means by which it could work, including a mechanism for the eventual accession of nuclear-armed states. Malaysia and Costa Rica jointly presented two significant working papers: the first an empirical analysis of possible disarmament measures, showing that all are blocked apart from a ban treaty and variants; the second showing the potential of a ban treaty for building and strengthening a global norm against nuclear weapons. (These fitted nicely with our own working paper.)
Among the weasels, Australia and Japan entered into the debate, attempting to answer specific points and explain their reasons for opposing a ban treaty. They certainly earned some credit for honest engagement, but their arguments fared poorly once exposed and dissected. This may explain why the other weasels chose to shelter behind an impenetrable wall of recycled drivel, but if anything they came out looking even worse. The weasel dilemma has never been so starkly illustrated. We capitalized on their woes by releasing this list of unanswered questions.
The "middle ground" came under constant attack, including at the Wildfire>_ side-event (watch the video introduction and the slide presentation). Many weasels lamented the absence of the nuclear-armed states, and whined about the need for "inclusiveness" and "trust", but this largely backfired, since the nuclear-armed states had reduced trust by excluding themselves. A number of anonymous weasels further undermined the "middle ground" cause by complaining about our weasel exhibition, leading to its removal after two days.
So what now? We hesitate to say that the game has changed ... but there are definite signs it is changing (at last). Optimism is unfamiliar here at Wildfire>_, but perhaps it is time to become acquainted. We will have further thoughts on this in the next few days.
21 February 2016 - The Open-ended Working Group
The first substantive session of the OEWG gets underway at the United Nations in Geneva tomorrow. What to expect? It's hard to get excited about, as history and all indications so far suggest it will be More Of The Same (MOTS). Still, here at Wildfire>_ we have been busy preparing. We have:
- An official OEWG working paper
- A helpful handout on the Hoffmann Doctrine
- Best of all, a side-event on Thurs 25 Feb: "The Middle Ground" (mark your diaries now!)
And of course we will have our usual commentary here on Wildfire>_ news, as well as on Twitter (hashtag #OEWG). We look forward to your company.
2 February 2016 - Theatre of the absurd
Multilateral disarmament is something of a specialized backwater that does not attract much attention or scrutiny from outside its arcane little puddle. This is perhaps just as well, given the mindbending levels of absurdity routinely displayed by the apparently well-educated, highly-qualified and intelligent participants. Even the hardened cynics here at Wildfire>_ are still recovering from the surreal performances of nuclear-armed states and (especially) weasels last week at the opening meeting of the 2016 session of the Conference on Disarmament, and the organizational meeting of the new Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament.
In this strange, quantum-mechanical world (not only stranger than you imagine, but stranger than you can imagine), reality and logic simply do not apply. Here are some of the things we were told, in all seriousness:
- The CD, entering its 20th year of doing nothing, "risks becoming completely marginalized" - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
- In this body, which has been hopelessly paralysed for nearly 20 years, "we can blaze a trail for progress" - United States
- We are considering whether to participate in the OEWG [which may or may not succeed], but the CD [which definitely has not succeeded] is our "priority" - Japan
- The OEWG [open to all] needs to be "inclusive"; we prefer the CD [excludes majority of states, and all international organizations and civil society] - assorted weasels
- The OEWG should not "hamper the operation [sic] of the CD" - Belgium
- North Korea is very naughty for heeding our advice to "take the important security aspects of nuclear weapons into account" and for following our example of using nuclear deterrence to assure national security - assorted weasels
While the puerile statements at the CD are a well-established ritual, the performance of the weasels at the OEWG meeting was truly eye-opening. None of the NPT nuclear-weapon states showed up; among the wider group of nuclear-armed states, only India demonstrated its stated commitment to disarmament by attending and speaking. In the absence of the P5, it was left to weasel delegations (some of whom appeared to be wearing earpieces) to express their uneasiness, disquiet and caution about (gasp!) possibly making progress on nuclear disarmament. Anyone would think they feared being tricked into achieving something. So much safer in the CD, where there is a solid record of failure to rely upon!
13 January 2016 - The Hoffmann Doctrine (yet again)
Regular readers will be familiar with the Hoffmann Doctrine, which, as our NPT glossary defines, is "a diplomatic strategy of doggedly continuing to pursue approaches that have not worked in the past, that are not working now, and that show no signs of ever working in future, while actively resisting any attempt to try something new". Usually, the new year will see various governments announcing their intentions to do, well, the same thing they did last year - and the 17 years before that.
But this year, there is a very funny example from Canada. The new Canadian government, led by Justin Trudeau, has arrived back on the disarmament scene after almost ten years in the cryogenic deep freeze. And like Austin Powers and Dr Evil, they are finding it a little difficult to adjust. This article in CBC News reports on an exciting new Canadian plan to kickstart negotiations on a fissile material treaty in the Conference on Disarmament. We'll let Dr Evil tell the story:
Great idea, Canada! Why didn't anyone think of that before?
While it is of course easy to make fun of proponents of the Hoffmann Doctrine, the sad part is that they are never seriously challenged. Governments of non-nuclear-weapon states, even those that have joined the Humanitarian Pledge, seem content to tolerate indefinitely this certain recipe for maintaining the status quo and avoiding progress on nuclear disarmament. They are enabling the inaction of the nuclear-armed states and weasels, and so deserve as much or more blame for the sorry state of nuclear disarmament.
Which brings us to the Open-ended Working Group that will meet in Geneva for 15 days in 2016. What are the Humanitarian Pledge states going to do with this? Something new? Or will it just be a series of the same old, tired, recycled speeches in a slightly different setting?
Any number of self-help books make rather obvious the point that you cannot expect to change results unless you change behaviour. If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always got - in this case, nothing. The OEWG is an opportunity to change. Take it.
7 January 2016 - New year starts with a bang
North Korea decided to get the year off to a lively start, testing what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb on 6 January. International condemnation was swift, united - and deeply hypocritical. Nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies dependent on nuclear weapons stood shoulder to shoulder to express their righteous outrage at someone following their own example. "How dare North Korea attempt to ensure its security through nuclear deterrence?" they chorused. "It is irresponsible, dangerous and a threat to international peace and security. And how dare North Korea use our own words and reasoning to justify its action?"
The official North Korean announcement of the test certainly makes for lively and entertaining reading. But in between the colourful epithets are lines that might have been lifted straight from a NATO press release or P5 statement. "This test is a measure for self-defence," the official statement says, "to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing nuclear threat and blackmail," and "to reliably safeguard the peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional security". Acquiring a nuclear weapon "is the legitimate right of a sovereign state for self-defence". (North Korea has clearly been paying attention to the earnest entreaties of the weasel states to "take into account the important security dimensions of nuclear weapons".)
Make no mistake: North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons is irresponsible, dangerous and a threat to international peace and security. But so is the continuing possession of and reliance on nuclear weapons by the eight other nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies. By insisting on the legitimacy of nuclear weapons for their own defence, nuclear-armed states and weasels are inciting proliferation, providing moral and legal cover for the likes of North Korea, and undermining the NPT. We examine this further, with particular attention to Australian weasel policy, in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
As our friends at ICAN have eloquently explained, the North Korean test only further demonstrates the importance and urgency of banning nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons must be stigmatised and rendered illegitimate, no matter who possesses them. If the nuclear-armed states and weasels are serious about stopping North Korea, they should begin by dropping their opposition to a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and take practical steps towards reducing their own reliance on nuclear weapons.
Want to read more? See our news archives from previous years:
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