Why Disarmament Matters -- and the Need for Constant Reminders

Recently a group of disarmament scholars and policy experts met in New York City to honor Peter Weiss, President Emeritus of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), for his lifelong commitment to a subject of permanent gravity that often remains in a political, legal and generational stalemate. Just as importantly, the function served as a reminder to the public that in particular, an emotionally compelling topic such as nuclear disarmament needs to be at the forefront of not only continuous scholarship but policy discussion and, more importantly, civic action.

Five speakers representing legal approaches to nuclear disarmament analyzed the global status quo and portrayed a very realistic picture of urgency. They also evaluated the role of the United Nations and, in particular, the role of the UN Security Council.

Virginia Gamba, Director of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, reiterated the importance of the five multilateral norms that the international community identified as a standard for a feasible disarmament agreement, which can be found in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Those principles are verification, transparency, irreversibility, bindingness, and universality, standards that are mutually reinforcing and essential for trust building among states, particularly keeping in mind the ongoing issue of verification in relation to nuclear haves and have-nots alike. "Disarmament commitments must be bound to the law," Gamba summarized.

Professor Roger Clark from Rutgers School of Law in Camden referred in his remarks to the significance of the 1997 draft model Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), resulting from the unanimous ICJ declaration from July 1996. "There exists a legal obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its respects," he said. The draft convention underwent a review and update in 2007 and would, in its current state, supplement existing treaties such as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies describes the model NWC as follows:

Under the 2007 model NWC, all States would be prohibited from pursuing or participating in the "development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons." Those States that possess nuclear weapons would be obligated to destroy their nuclear arsenals in a series of phases. These five phases would progress as follows: taking nuclear weapons off alert, removing weapons from deployment, removing nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles, disabling the warheads, removing and disfiguring the "pits" and placing the fissile material under international control. Under the model convention, delivery vehicles would also have to be destroyed or converted to a non-nuclear capability. In addition, the NWC would prohibit the production of weapons-usable fissile material. The States Parties would also establish an Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that would be tasked with verification, ensuring compliance, decision-making, and providing a forum for consultation and cooperation among all State Parties. The Agency would be comprised of a Conference of State Parties, an Executive Council and a Technical Secretariat. Declarations would be required from all States Parties regarding all nuclear weapons, material, facilities, and delivery vehicles in their possession or control along with their locations.

Applying the model NWC to a current political situation, Clark wondered, "Imagine what a powerful, international inspection regime would have brought about for the situation in Syria?"

Ambassador Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations from 1994 to 2004, focused in his address on nuclear disarmament and Security Council reform and did not shy away from pointing out clear obstacles and how they can be transferred to the ongoing crisis with Russia.

Corell sees the need for a "cooperative, rules-based international order" enforced through multilateral institutions, headed by the UN Security Council as the "ultimate global authority," In order to pursue disarmament and nonproliferation effectively.

Corell refers to the problems the UN Security Council would have executing this position adequately by stating the fact that the UNSC is in need of "radical reform," a topic that is widely discussed among international scholars. Based on former Mexican President's Ernesto Zedillo's comments, Corell agrees with the skepticism toward the addition of more members to the UNSC, a viewpoint shared by many involved with various Council reform proposals.

Describing Russia as a current aggressor by violating Ukraine's sovereignty and annexing Crimea, Corell points out that the veto option of the permanent five members to the UNSC can significantly slow down if not hinder political decision making in times of crises. "Personally, I am seriously concerned at the negative effects that the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula will have on the political climate in the future. And we certainly do not know what President Putin may be up to next."

Honoree Peter Weiss shared some good news before releasing the audience, saying, "During the follow-up conference to Oslo held in Nayarit, Mexico, Feb. 13 and 14, Sebastian Kurz, the foreign minister of Austria, announced that he would convene a conference in Vienna later this year because the international nuclear disarmament efforts require an urgent paradigm shift.'"

In May 2008 Dr. Hans Blix gave me an interview in which he explained:

Al Gore woke up the world with the reality of one inconvenient truth, but I think that the second inconvenient truth exists, namely the remaining nuclear weapons of mass destruction. There is something like 37,000 of them still around. And with the increasing tension in the world it is time to discover that we need to move swiftly back to the disarmament table.

Because of the subjects' ongoing relevance, communicating this urgency to the next generation of not only policy makers but youth with political aspirations or interests should be a big part of disarmament/nonproliferation events going forward.