What would zero look like? A treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Author:Koplow, David A.
Position:Continuation of III. The Biggest Issues B. Four Key Stumbling Points 4. Collateral Measures through V. Draft Zero Treaty, with footnotes, p. 732-781

In the same vein, countries cannot reasonably contemplate abolition of their nuclear weapons without pondering the roles, missions, and capabilities of their non-nuclear forces. For the United States--surrounded by friendly neighbors and ocean buffers, possessing unmatched weapons technology and logistics capabilities, and boasting superb fighting units--the prospect of a world that could resort "only" to conventional warfare would be most welcome. But for other star-crossed countries an imbalance in non-nuclear capabilities may create unwelcome exposure, and international peace and stability cannot long tolerate important security vulnerabilities or asymmetries. Creating the conditions for the elimination of nuclear weapons will therefore require addressing constraints upon general purpose conventional forces as well, even if we cannot today outline what the simultaneous solution may look like or how (if at all) it would be reflected in treaty text. (189)

Defenses against nuclear attack--including anti-missile and antiaircraft systems, as well as civil defense programs--pose a similar puzzle. On one hand, effective defenses could conceivably stabilize nuclear abolition, by raising the threshold for a militarily-successful breakout and helping to ensure that even a successful treaty violator would still face formidable obstacles in making effective use of its illegal, unilateral nuclear capability. Especially if the potential aggressor's arsenal were small (surely much smaller than the ICBM, SLBM, and bomber fleets maintained by the United States and Russia today) even a modest interception capability could blunt a threatened attack, frustrating the violator's malign purpose. On the other hand, an efficacious defense before abolition has been accomplished could also provide a shield for aggression, enabling a bad actor to strike a vicious first blow, confident that it could largely protect itself from any disorganized, hasty retaliation.

The question of missile defense is particularly fraught today, as some in the United States pursue anti-missile technology with a fetishist's zeal, and as the Russian leadership claims, perhaps unreasonably, to find the capabilities inherent in the emerging U.S. programs threatening to it. When both sides dig in their heels so rigidly, the immediate prospects for arms control are dim; even more ambitious undertakings, such as nuclear abolition, will have to deal with (or dodge) this question sooner or later. (190)

Finally, this succession of treaties may have to address the topic of "sweeteners" in a serious way. The scope of a modern arms control agreement often extends somewhat beyond the specific question of reductions or limitations on weaponry, and this political reality may well apply to several of the steps on the path to nuclear elimination, too. One of the three main pillars of the NPT, for example, concerns each party's "inalienable right" to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and many NNWS parties vigorously complain that the advanced civil nuclear technology holders have failed to fulfill their end of the bargain about facilitating "the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information" (191) for those ends. The Chemical Weapons Convention similarly contains obligations relating to "the fullest possible exchange of chemicals, equipment and scientific and technical information" (192) relating to peaceful applications of chemistry and to the removal of undue restrictions on international trade in chemicals--and, once again, many economically disadvantaged states resent the crabbed implementation of those provisions.

The draft Zero Agreement and Zero Treaty accordingly contemplate that sweeteners of some sort may be necessary to help induce countries to join in the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons. In principle, no state should need to ask, "What's in it for me?" regarding nuclear abolition--the improved safety and security for the entire planet should be sufficient incentive for all to participate. But some states--who have never possessed or pursued nuclear weapons, but who might nonetheless be required to submit to intrusive and expensive verification procedures--may need more persuasion about the value of joining the instruments. Accordingly, some textual acknowledgement, similar to that of the NPT, about sharing the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy, could be appropriate.


    This section offers a draft text, with annotations, presenting one picture of what the next or initial step on the road to nuclear disarmament might look like: a non-legally-binding instrument through which the participating states confirm (or, for most of them, re-confirm) their commitment to the ultimate objective and their determination to take immediate steps in pursuit of it. This "framework" document, reifying the concept of getting to zero, could be negotiated and signed relatively soon, perhaps in 2015, in conjunction with the next Review Conference for the NPT.

    Zero Agreement (193)

    For the Elimination (194) of Nuclear Weapons

    The Participating States, (195)

    (PP1 (196)) Determined for the sake of all mankind to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons; (197)

    (PP2) Desiring to take prompt, effective steps in a joint enterprise in pursuit of that goal; (198)

    (PP3) Anticipating that a systematic series of agreements will be developed, and cooperative reciprocal unilateral actions will be undertaken by many states, (199) in the coming years to approach that goal in a manner that is global, comprehensive, timely, balanced, predictable, secure, verifiable, enforceable, sustainable, irreversible, and legally-binding; (200)

    (PP4) Fearing that the catastrophic power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time, and has the potential to destroy all civilization, to devastate the entire ecosystem of the planet, and to jeopardize the survival of the human race; (201)

    (PP5) Believing that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the possibility of their proliferation and use cannot be forever precluded, and thus they will continue to pose the most extreme threat to all humanity; (202)

    (PP6) Affirming that all human life is sacred, and that all members of the human family have the equal, inalienable right to life, liberty, peace, security and dignity; (203)

    (PP7) Underscoring the legal obligation contained in Article VI of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control"; (204)

    (PP8) Reaffirming the statement of "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament," adopted at the 1995 Conference on the Review and Extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty; (205)

    (PP9) Commending the recognition, in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of "an unequivocal undertaking" by the states possessing nuclear weapons to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, through implementation of a series of "practical steps" and of the applicability of the principle of irreversibility in nuclear disarmament; (206)

    (PP10) Noting that the Final Document of the 2010 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty affirmed that "all States need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons" and called, inter alia, for discussion of "policies that could prevent the use of nuclear weapons and eventually lead to their elimination." (207)

    (PP11) Recalling Resolution 1(1) of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted unanimously on January 24, 1946, calling for proposals "for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons," and the many subsequent resolutions of the General Assembly also calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons; (208)

    (PP12) Recalling also the Final Document of the United Nations General Assembly's First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, which recognized the imperative of removing the threat of nuclear weapons and halting and reversing the nuclear arms race until the total elimination of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems has been achieved; (209)

    (PP13) Emphasizing the determination of the United Nations Security Council, as expressed in its Resolution 1887 of September 24, 2009, "to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all"; (210)

    (PP14) Recalling the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice of July 8, 1996, in which it affirmed that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law; (211)

    (PP15) Concluding that the financial, (212) social, environmental, medical, (213) intellectual, and psychological burdens of developing and maintaining nuclear weapons are an intolerable waste of human and material resources;

    (PP16) Judging that urgent progress toward nuclear disarmament can facilitate resolution of regional security issues, and conversely that amelioration of those regional tensions can also assist in advancing the progress toward global elimination of nuclear weapons; (214)

    (PP17) Appreciating the value of nuclear energy for diverse peaceful purposes in electrical power generation, medicine, and other fields, when conducted under appropriate and effective international safeguards; (215)

    (PP18) Assessing that the creation and operation...

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