Nine Points For Abolishing Nuclear Weapons

By Frederick N. Mattis

As the new millennium approaches, many questions about nuclear weapons re main unanswered. Will they continue to exist indefinitely or will they be abolished? Will the number of nuclear weapon states increase or decrease? Will states withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

Over 90 per cent of the world's states have decided against possession of nuclear weapons and are "non-nuclear" parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, the NPT does not prohibit five of its signatories (the long-standing declared nuclear states) from possessing nuclear weapons-although all signatories have an NPT obligation (Article VI) 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."

The NPT is inadequate to permanently ban nuclear weapons because it doesn't cover all states, the most notable non-signatories being India, Pakistan, and Israel. Also states are permitted to withdraw from the NPT with three months' notice and develop nuclear weapons with legal impunity.

The United States has stated that elimination of nuclear weapons is the "ultimate goal," but it is evidently unwilling to negotiate a worldwide treaty banning nuclear weapons. However, complete elimination of nuclear weapons would enhance its own security for three reasons: U.S. civilians and military personnel would no longer face the threat of nuclear attack; the threat of nuclear terrorism would be diminished by the accountancy of nuclear materials under a nuclear weapons ban with mandatory worldwide inspection; and the chance of war caused by "false alarm," accident, or miscalculation would disappear.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons is feasible and fair to all states if based on the following principles:

1. The treaty would have to be unanimous before entering into force, because neither the U.S. nor the other declared nuclear weapon states will agree to relinquish and renounce nuclear weapons unless all other states do so also. Unless unanimity is required, a treaty banning nuclear weapons would largely duplicate the current NPT, which has over 170 non-nuclear signatories. Arms control treaties in general have not required unanimity, but unanimity is necessary before entry into force of a nuclear ban treaty and reductions-to-zero of warheads.

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties purports that treaty signatories should not flout the intent of treaties while awaiting their entry into force. Since a worldwide nuclear ban treaty would have to go into effect for all states simultaneously, such a treaty would have the following provision: "Notwithstanding the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, States party to this treaty have no obligations whatsoever under this treaty until it enters into force six months after all States have become ratifies signatories and deposited their instruments of accession."

2. During the progress toward unanimous signing and the treaty's entry into force, the United Nations should announce, on a monthly basis, which of the world's states are signatories, ratified signatories, and non-signatories. This would focus world attention on the prospective nuclear weapons ban and encourage all states to join.

Regarding accession to a nuclear ban by all states, Israel (a presumed possessor of nuclear weapons) is probably the most difficult case. However, Israel might sign and ratify a worldwide treaty which does not go into effect until all states have signed and ratified it. Such a ban would greatly reduce the chance of nuclear terrorism against Israel and would cut off to putative foes the path of nuclear weapons development, possession, and deployment.

India and Pakistan have also not signed the NPT. The oft-stated reason Pakistan will not join is because India will not, and India will not join because the NPT discriminates by allowing five signatory state (including China) to retain nuclear weapons.

3. The treaty should not permit withdrawal by any state. If withdrawal is permitted-as it is with the current NPT-then a state could destroy the worldwide ban on nuclear weapons by withdrawing and creating a domino effect. With the tremendous geopolitical force of an unanimously signed treaty, the chance of a treaty "break-out" would be almost infinitesimal. A treaty violator would face serious consequences from all other states.

4. Inspection under a worldwide nuclear ban treaty should be rigorous and include a limited maximum number of challenge inspections (such as six) per year against any single state and with any state limited to two challenges per year against another state, to minimize possible harassment.

5. The duration of the nuclear weapons elimination period, such as ten years or less, should be specified by treaty. I propose that states other than the U.S. and Russia should be required eliminate 20 per cent of their warheads within one year of the treaty entering into force (the U.S. and Russia would be destroying hundreds of warheads, but probably less than 20 per cent, due to the high starting point). Thereafter no state would be required to eliminate more nuclear weapons until the U.S. and Russia had dropped to its level.

6. The treaty should stipulate that states which are parties to the current NPT will not withdraw from the NPT until completion of the nuclear weapons elimination period, and at that time all NPT parties will withdraw from the obsolete NPT, rendering it extinct.

7. Only ratified signatories of the current Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) should have standing to sign the nuclear ban treaty; therefore abolition of nuclear weapons would also result in worldwide elimination of biological and chemical weapons.

If accession to the BWC and CWC by states was not a prerequisite for signing the nuclear ban treaty, then states such as the U.S. might not sign the nuclear ban-because of the existence of other, non-nuclear "weapons of mass destruction" possessed by states which had not acceded to the BWC or CWC.

The CWC does contain compliance/verification provisions, but the BWC does not. A BWC inspection protocol is currently being drafted and probably will be instituted before worldwide accession to a nuclear ban. In that case all nuclear ban signatories (i.e. all states) would have to agree, by terms of the treaty, to the BWC protocol before the nuclear ban treaty goes into force.

8. All "new" or emergent states should be required to conform to the worldwide nuclear ban treaty. (The initial signing of the treaty by all states must of course be voluntary.)

9. Initial funding of a nuclear ban treaty administration and inspection regime might be provided by international contributions from individuals, foundations, and religious groups. This would probably provide sufficient funds for at least the first few years of treaty operation. Thereafter, states would be assessed according to their general United Nations contribution.

Today, especially because of the threat of terrorism, a ban on nuclear weapons would enhance everyone's security. But their elimination can probably only be achieved if unanimity is required before a ban enters into force, if all states join the BWC and CWC, and if withdrawal from all three of these agreements is prohibited.

Frederick Mattis works for the abolition of nuclear weapons from Annapolis, MD.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1997

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1997, page 8. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Frederick N. Mattis here

Peace Magazine homepage