The agreement by the US and Russian presidents to renew strategic arms reductions has revived hope for the global abolition of nuclear arms. The urgency can hardly be exaggerated: Nuclear weapons may come into the possession of states that might use them, as well as of stateless terrorists — creating new threats of unimaginable proportions.
A noble dream just several years ago, the elimination of nuclear arms is no longer the preserve only of populists and pacifists; it has now been adopted by professionals — politicians known for their realism and academics known for their sense of responsibility.
The invention of nuclear weapons — which served the goal of deterrence during the Cold War, when the world was divided into two opposing blocs — answered the needs and risks of the time. Security rested on a balance of fear, as reflected in the concept of mutually assured destruction.
In that bipolar world, nuclear weapons were held by only five global powers, all permanent members of the UN Security Council. Today, the global picture is different. Sparked by Poland’s Solidarity movement, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the bipolar world and its East-West divide vanished.
An order based on the dangerous doctrine of mutual deterrence, was not, however, replaced with a system founded on cooperation and interdependence. Destabilization and chaos followed, accompanied by a sense of uncertainty and unpredictability.
Nuclear weapons are now also held by three states engaged in conflicts: India, Pakistan and Israel. Given the development of the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, they, too, may become nuclear-weapon states. There is also a real danger that this group may expand further to include states where governments will not always be guided by rational considerations, and the risk that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of non-state actors, such as terrorist groups.
A non-proliferation regime will not be effective unless the major nuclear powers, especially the US and Russia, take urgent steps toward nuclear disarmament. Together, they hold nearly 25,000 nuclear warheads — 96 percent of the global nuclear arsenal.
It gives us hope that US President Barack Obama recognizes these dangers. We note with satisfaction that the new US administration has not turned a deaf ear to responsible statesmen and scientists who are calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the goal of a nuclear-free world was incorporated in the US administration’s arms control and disarmament agenda. We appreciate the proposals from the UK, France and Germany as well, while Russia also signaled recently in Geneva its readiness to embark upon nuclear disarmament.
Opponents of nuclear disarmament used to argue that this goal could not be attained without an effective system of control and verification. But, today, appropriate means of control are available to the international community. Of key importance are the nuclear safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The world must have guarantees that civilian nuclear reactors will not be used for military purposes — a condition for non-nuclear-weapon states’ unrestricted access to nuclear technologies, as proposed recently by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his initiative on a global nuclear bargain for our times.