A team of more than 35 experts will today launch an exercise to inspect a simulated nuclear test site near the Dead Sea in Jordan — a step forward in completing the global verification system of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Then on Nov. 12, the world’s Nobel Peace laureates will hold a summit in Hiroshima to stress the need for nuclear disarmament and affirm their commitment to promoting it.
Countless other international initiatives are also underway that reflect a wider revolution in thinking about nuclear weapons — a revolution that is welcome and long overdue.
After all, despite much talk of nuclear disarmament when the Cold War ended 20 years ago, more than 20,000 of these weapons still exist, with many on high alert, and each much larger than the devices that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Nine countries are known or believed to possess them, and all are improving them in various ways.
Let’s be clear, the very existence of these weapons aggravates three global nuclear threats — from existing arsenals (accidents, miscalculations, unauthorized use, or willful use), their proliferation to additional states and their acquisition by terrorists.
However, a new global consensus is now emerging that these weapons are militarily irrelevant in dealing with emerging threats, impossible to use without violating international humanitarian law, a source of proliferation and terrorist threats, and a waste of money and scientific talent.
This helps to explain why we are seeing new demands to start good-faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament, as has long been required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a persuasive case for work to begin on a nuclear-weapons convention, or a framework of separate agreements resulting in a global ban.
Even the leaders of the nuclear-weapon states are now officially supporting the goal of global nuclear disarmament. They are joined by former statesmen, national parliaments and regional organizations, mayors, retired military experts, women’s organizations, human rights activists, environmentalists and countless other groups worldwide.
Yes, nuclear disarmament has gone viral. It is now mainstream — a fitting subject for even die-hard realists to consider and no longer a cause promoted by peace groups alone.
We believe that this momentum is absolutely vital to international peace and security, and there are many ways to reinforce it. Achieving global nuclear disarmament will surely require new legal obligations for all states, nuclear and non-nuclear. To be blunt, the rule of law must be brought to disarmament. Commitments in this sensitive field must be made irreversible and subject to strict verification.
These tasks cannot be accomplished unilaterally — multilateral cooperation is indispensable. Of course, some progress in treaty making by smaller groups of states is possible, particularly by those with the largest nuclear arsenals, the Russian Federation and the US. Early ratification of the US-Russia START treaty would be a step in the right direction.
Yet other advances of the rule of law in nuclear disarmament will require cooperation on a global scale. One of the most important and overdue developments in this area is the entry into force of the CTBT, which will outlaw all nuclear explosions, regardless of their size, location, or declared purpose.