Presentation: Words Into Action

Presentation delivered at the Forum for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World

by GSI President Jonathan Granoff

Astana – Semey, Kazakhstan
October 11-13, 2011

It is an honor and privilege to be here with so many deeply committed people whose efforts to end threats posed by nuclear weapons simply must succeed. The people of Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev deserve our gratitude for convening this important gathering. I would also like to thank Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov for bringing us together. Thank you.

We should all be grateful for the accomplishment of the START treaty and I express our strongest commendations to this successful work of Russian and US diplomats such as Ambassadors Rose Gottemoeller and Mickail Ulyanov in particular. We might also recognize the people here today who are working hard to fulfill the important work in securing nuclear materials initiated at the Global Nuclear Summit. As critically significant as this work is, the task demands more. That is why we are here, so appropriately  in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has been subjected to more than 450 nuclear tests. Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered serious medical injuries.  Kazakhstan was instrumental in creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Asia and at the end of the Cold War gave up an arsenal of over a thousand nuclear weapons, many in the megaton range. Kazakhstan’s efforts are further amplified by its leadership in having August 29th     of each year at the United Nations dedicated to ending nuclear testing forever. It is a country that knows nuclear weapons.

More significantly it is a country willing to do something about the threat.

To quote President Nazarbayev, “The memory of the sacrifices, made by our people, gives us a historical and moral right to act as one of the leaders of the global antinuclear movement.” The world needs this leadership.

Such bold leadership will be needed to fulfill the aspiration expressed so eloquently by President Obama as “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” which will constitute in the words of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “a global public good of the highest order.” 

Failure to achieve greater progress in fulfilling this moral and practical imperative will result cynicism toward the most important tool the world presently has to ensure peace — solemnly negotiated and agreed upon commitments. Without such explicit commitments — conventions, treaties — we rely upon ad hoc arrangements which are only as strong as short term perceived interests. With treaties norms are set and common purposes achievable.  

But, these explicit arrangements are only as strong as the integrity of the parties and their adherence to them. The term in international law to remember is always pacta sunt servanda – agreements must be kept and honored in good faith. Or, in the words of President Obama: “words must mean something.”

The 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review’s Final Statement, contains a reaffirmation of an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish”, not just to aspire, but “to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons,”

It calls upon states “to undertake concrete disarmament efforts…” in fact “special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain the world without nuclear weapons.” It highlights that this a matter that requires our most committed actions by saying “there is an urgent need”.  

“Urgent”, “concrete”, “unequivocal” – These are strong words requiring the strongest of actions. 

Many of us were heartened by the attention paid to the progressive five point agenda of the Secretary General which considers “negotiations of a nuclear weapons convention or agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification.”

Without such clarity of purpose the dynamism required to obtain the significant threat reducing steps such as a weapons grade fissile material cut off agreement, entry into force of the test ban, and enhancement of  existing safeguards and verification systems remains difficult. The galvanizing effect of collectively seeking the common goal of a nuclear weapons free world will make all the steps needed to move there so much easier.

In the recent United States Nuclear Posture Review, there is a “commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world” and there is even a commitment “to initiate a comprehensive national research and development program to support continued progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” including, but not limited to, “expanded work on verification technologies.” 

What have we seen since these commitments were made?

Nearly every state with nuclear weapons seems to be upgrading, expanding, or modernizing their weapons. For example in the United States, as part of the negotiations for obtaining the START treaty, made a new commitment to allocate over potentially over 200 billion dollars to modernizing the arsenal – modernizing delivery systems, modernizing the weapons.  There may also be some commitment to initiating a comprehensive national research and development program, as called for in the Nuclear Posture Review, but if any funds have been allocated to this task they are dwarfed by the commitment to modernize the arsenal. 

The language of the final statement of the NPT Review Conference is very consistent with initiating a comprehensive research and development program at an international level. And if anything is needed now, it is a clear, unambiguous, unequivocal, irreversible, well-funded effort by like-minded states, or all states if possible, on laying out the framework necessary to obtain and maintain a nuclear weapons-free world. There is no ongoing forum in which nuclear disarmament is being discussed and advanced on a daily, regular, systematic basis. There is language, there are statements, but we don’t see the institutionalization, we don’t see the commitment being operationalized and that’s what’s really important. 

Without such a clear course of action, we become subject to backsliding.  The ongoing debate should be about how to get rid of nuclear weapons. Yet, continually we are forced to return to the argument whether we should get rid of nuclear weapons. That argument should have been laid to rest in 2000, when the “unequivocal undertaking” to elimination was made at that NPT Review Conference.  

I assure you, we will again be faced with bureaucracies and think-tanks and politicians who will force us to revisit the argument whether we should get rid of nuclear weapons again and again unless we lay out the framework or proceed to negotiate the preparatory process for a nuclear weapons convention.

Some people say working on a framework or convention is a distraction from the NPT. I very much disagree with that analysis. The NPT contemplates subsidiary instruments to fulfill its non-proliferation and disarmament purposes. Nobody argues that a test ban treaty is a distraction from the non-proliferation purposes of the NPT or Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty is a distraction. The NPT contemplates subsidiary instruments. We need subsidiary instruments to achieve non-proliferation goals and likewise to achieve disarmament goals.  In the final text the recent NPT Review, there is a very welcome reference to creating that framework, which is followed by a direct reference to the Secretary General’s five point agenda which calls for a framework or a convention. It is to fulfill the disarmament pillar of the treaty that a framework of agreements or a convention is needed.

Some people say there are many preconditions to beginning this process.  There seems to be a proliferation of preconditions. For some the precondition is the elimination of bad people. For others it’s the elimination of bad states. For others it’s a utopian world in utter harmony. But there is no language in the Final Statement of the NPT Review and there is no language in the Nuclear Posture Review that there are preconditions to beginning this process of making progress to move toward negotiating the elimination of nuclear weapons. There is no legal basis for that position.

It is a political basis and it is for countries’ leaders to educate their populations on the consequences of not commencing this now.

There appear to be three paths before us:

One is ad hoc incremental steps with numerous preconditions before actually commencing the real work of negotiating disarmament. 

Two is beginning the creation of a comprehensive framework that incorporates both incremental steps, but insures the clarity of purpose of disarmament, thus forming a basis to critique diversions from the disarmament process and a context to integrate many programs and approaches. 

Third is a fast-track toward a convention with prompt commencement of preparatory work, leading to negotiations as early as possible.

I think the latter two are much preferred and the ad hoc incremental approach is proving to be too slow.

I believe that what can drive this process is the understanding that nuclear weapons are morally, culturally, and humanly repugnant.

Imagine if the Biological Weapons Convention said that no countries can use smallpox or polio as a weapon, but nine countries can use the plague as a weapon.  We would all say this is incoherent and utterly immoral.  We recognize the plague is unacceptable.

The weapon itself is unacceptable. It is not legitimate, legal, or moral for any country, good or bad, to use or threaten to use such a weapon. Such conduct would clearly violate our most basic universal civilized standards which are embodied in international humanitarian law. That is why in the final statement of the 2010 NPT Review Process one of the most important elements is the explicit, positive, and unambiguous commitment to the application of international humanitarian law in nuclear weapons policy. 

This is an area for nuclear disarmament advocacy that should be utilized very forcefully. International humanitarian law is the body of law that governs the use of force in war. It prohibits the use of weapons that are unable to discriminate between civilians and combatants. It necessitates that all weapons must be proportionate to specific military objectives. They must not cause unnecessary or aggravated suffering even to combatants. They must not affect states that are not parties to the conflict. And they must not cause severe, widespread, or long-term damage to the environment. The International Court of Justice in its landmark advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons highlighted the fact that it is impossible to control nuclear weapons in space and time. 

Indeed, one can with great imagination imagine certain uses that would be compliant with international humanitarian law. A depth charge in the high seas might do so. A small nuke in a desert might do so. But the vast majority of missions and deployments of nuclear weapons are not those exceptions. The vast majority of deployments and missions of nuclear weapons I believe violate those principles of international humanitarian law. And that highlights the need to operationalize creating the framework of instruments needed to eliminate nuclear weapons, begin the preparatory process for a convention, begin the process now.

The threat covers everyone on the planet and thus every state, not just nuclear weapon states, have a responsibility to start this process.

There are not good reasons to wait and there are many good reasons to seize this political moment, a moment where those states that possess nuclear weapons are not existential enemies.

I bought my gas this morning from a Russian concession. My computer did not work last week and I was on the phone with a young lady from Bangalore and the money that I used to pay for these goods and these services was borrowed from China. We live in one world. It is time that we started living in a civilized fashion. As the late Senator Alan Cranston used to say, “Nuclear weapons are unworthy of civilization.”  We have to get rid of them.  Thank you.

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