Albert Einstein, when asked why physicists were able to invent nuclear weapons but politicians were hard pressed to control them, said “Because politics is more difficult than physics.” That remains the crux of the problem—the science and technology already exists to dismantle and eliminate nuclear warheads and associated weapon-usable materials; what are lacking though are the political commitment, leadership and engagement to realize a world without nuclear weapons.
General Lee Butler, the last Commander of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC)[$1] at a 1999 speech in Ottawa, cited WWII General Omar Bradley, who had said on Armistice Day 1948 that, “We live in an age of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” Recent statements by the Twitter Man and the Rocket Man, reflect the prescience of General Bradley’s words nearly 70 years ago.
The depressing reality today is that nine States—China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—possess approximately 4,150 operationally deployed nuclear warheads. In all, these States together possess a total of approximately 14,935 nuclear warheads. The unit of measure should be nuclear warheads, not delivery systems.
Though the five nuclear-weapon States have undertaken a legally binding obligation pursuant to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to disarm, they have not discussed in any multilateral forum other than the NPT review process. The Russia-US track has yielded several nuclear arms limitation and reduction treaties, but these have been concluded under a bilateral track and not pursuant to implementation of NPT Article VI. The four other nuclear-armed States, absent any binding commitment, are not accountable in any forum.
Worse yet, divisions between the nuclear-armed States and the non-nuclear-weapon States and amongst the non-nuclear-weapon States themselves are at their lowest ebb since the NPT entered into force in 1970.
With regard to the specific risks associated with nuclear weapons, there is no better analysis than that in the report of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction: De-Alerting and Stabilizing the World’s Nuclear Force Postures[$1] which was presented during the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Unfortunately, not many NPT delegations were in attendance. The Global Zero Commission was chaired by the former Vice-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright and included some 30 diplomatic and military experts, drawn from nearly all of the nine States currently deploying nuclear weapons and supported by more than 75 former national security experts, military commanders, and senior political officials. The Global Zero Commission highlighted some risks that still persist, including:
Fifty per cent of deployed Russian and US strategic nuclear forces are maintained on continuous ready-to-launch high-alert—nearly 1,800 nuclear warheads are on launch-on-warning status. The current nuclear modernization programs in both Russia and the US essentially are replicating the inherently risky Cold War postures with new weapons systems. Former US Defence Secretary William Perry and former US Senator Sam Nunn continue to actively promote de-alerting.
Nuclear deterrence theorists maintain that leaders behave more cautiously in the face of real risks and apocalyptic threats to their homeland. In practice, deterrence is a poor way of reducing operational nuclear risks; nuclear weapons have become tools of coercive diplomacy, blackmail, and intimidation. This was evident in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, and the current DPRK-US confrontation.
Stuxnet and other cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities have let the genie out. Nuclear weapon deployment and storage sites, critical early-warning, command and control systems, are not immune to cyber-attack. All computer systems are vulnerable to theft of sensitive information, interruption or spoofing of critical communications, manipulation of security and warning systems, or catastrophic acts of sabotage.
General Butler recalled that as a principal nuclear advisor to the US president, he was required to be prepared day or night, seven days a week, 365 days a year to be within three rings of his telephone and to respond to this question from the US president: “General, the nation is under nuclear attack. I must decide in minutes how to respond. What is your recommendation with regard to the nature of our reply?”
Butler stated that “in the monthly exercise known as a missile threat conference, virtually without exception the scenario encompassed one, then several dozens, then hundreds and finally thousands of inbound thermonuclear warheads to the United States. By the time that attack was assessed, characterized, and sufficient information available with some certainty in appreciation of the circumstances, at most he had 12 minutes to make that decision. Sad to say, the poised practitioners of the nuclear art never understood the holistic consequences of such an attack, nor do they today.” Former US Defence Secretary William Perry recently said that, “we have today the situation where one person, the President of the United States, can give a command which nobody can override, which would launch all of our missiles, would basically start a nuclear war which could end our civilization.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly has said that in such a scenario the last two or three minutes would be taken over by machines with little chance of override. And every United Kingdom prime minister handwrites four letters—one for each ballistic missile nuclear submarine; it is not known exactly what they say, but they could order a full nuclear strike. As for the other nuclear-armed States, we have very few clues. This situation is clearly unsatisfactory, especially for Canadians so close to the US.
Most nuclear-armed States are modernizing their nuclear forces without reducing dependence on high-alert systems. Some are acquiring nuclear forces that lower the threshold for use, including by blurring the operational differences between nuclear and conventional weapons.
De-alerting—the removing of nuclear forces from ready-to-launch operational status, especially by Russia and the US—should be a high priority for Canada. An international “de-alerting” agreement could mitigate the risks of nuclear weapons launch.
Reducing the risks of nuclear weapons has been high on the global agenda for decades. These risks include, but are not limited to, accidental detonation (whether by accident or design), systems failure, political or military miscalculation or adventurousness, or terrorist use. In recognition of the risk of accidental launch, the US and the USSR set up the “Presidential hot line” in 1963 after the 1962 “Cuban missile crisis.”
The concept of “Nuclear Risk Reduction” was first proposed by a working group co-sponsored by US Senators Sam Nunn and John Warner in the mid-1980s. They envisaged the creation of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres (NRRC) to lessen Cold War tensions between the US and the USSR. Risk reduction was discussed at the November 1985 Geneva Summit between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. On 15 September 1987, US Secretary of State George Shultz and USSR Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze signed the NRRC Agreement, establishing the first direct communications link between the two capitals since the hotline.
Russia and the US cooperated to deal with the Y2K problem, or Millennium Bug, and set up the Joint Strategic Stability Centre in Colorado. This was followed in June 2000 by their agreement to establish a Joint Centre for the Exchange of Data from Early Warning Systems and Notifications of Missile Launches (JDEC MOA). It would minimize the consequences of a false missile attack warning and prevent a missile launch caused by such a false warning.
Now Canada could well propose the establishment of Global Nuclear Risk Reduction and Strategic Stability Centres. The nuclear-armed States should participate in reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons, especially those on high alert. If Centres of Excellence can be established to strengthen security of civilian nuclear materials, surely risk reduction and strategic stability centres could be established to secure nuclear weapons pending their dismantlement and elimination.
The history of the Cold War demonstrates the pernicious effects of the quest for nuclear deterrence. This was a conclusion reached by Professors Janice Stein and Richard Ned Lebow in their 1995 study entitled We All Lost the Cold War. More recently Ward Wilson reached similar conclusions in his book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons (2012), and earlier by US presidential adviser McGeorge Bundy in his seminal work Danger and Survival (1988).
The irony is that the strategy of deterrence undermined the political stability that the reality of deterrence should have created.
In the 1960s US Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara adopted “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) as the official US strategic doctrine based on a US capability to destroy 50 percent of the USSR’s population and industry in a retaliatory strike. Then he recommended to Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in 1967 that the USSR develop a similar capability to ensure stable deterrence. Equal opportunity, balance of terror, in other words. Never mind respecting their citizens’ lives. But those who support the concept of nuclear deterrence still cannot prove that nuclear weapons preserved the peace in Europe or elsewhere.
Discussions of nuclear disarmament are hampered by faith-based fervour at the altar of deterrence and stability. Nuclear deterrence is based on readiness for war fighting that targets predominantly civilians. This is not surprising; nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led nearly exclusively to civilian deaths and casualties.
Nuclear deterrence is based on targeting cities—holding civilians hostage. This is the logical evolution of the targeting of cities and civilians during World War II. General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers “Mad Bomber” Harris pioneered strategic bombing of cities that led eventually to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Later nuclear deterrence strategy became based on long-range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. This legacy is still with us and all the nuclear-armed States remain enamoured with the targeting of cities and civilians—“counter-force targeting.” The targeting of military installations remains secondary. There are no scenarios that in any way warrant nuclear strikes, let alone on cities and civilians. The use of nuclear weapons and the threat to use them should be regarded as a crime against humanity.
But in the current standoff between the DPRK and the US, threats of nuclear attacks are being exchanged without any concern for international legalities or civilian casualties. Some US senators have advocated a nuclear attack on the DPRK “as the casualties would be over there” and not in the US!
Moreover, law-abiding countries such as Canada have remained silent. “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” said Ronald Reagan. Earlier, John F. Kennedy had said following the Cuban Missile Crisis: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”
Nevertheless, a handful of self-appointed nations arrogate to themselves the privilege of owning nuclear weapons, and extol the ultimate security assurances they assert such weapons convey.
Verifying the dismantling and elimination of nuclear warheads remains a major challenge. There are both legal and practical impediments. Articles I and II of the NPT prohibit the sharing of classified nuclear weapons information about the details of warhead design, fissile material shapes and isotopics, fusing and firing mechanisms, and safety and security features.
It is impractical for nuclear-armed States to share nuclear weapon information with their counterparts or adversaries for both military-strategic and legal reasons. For two decades the UK and US have cooperated on the technical challenges of verifying nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, they still have differences of opinion on key technical matters and have yet to agree on a methodology to characterize a nuclear warhead. The Joint US-UK Report on Technical Cooperation for Arms Control noted that “An overarching lesson learned is that the ability to strike a balance between information protection and information sufficiency is key to an effective monitoring and verification regime.”
The chain of custody over nuclear warheads throughout their lifecycle is remarkably complicated. The verification of warhead dismantlement and elimination is complex, cloaked in secrecy and confidentiality. Devising verification procedures is a time-consuming exercise. Few States have the facilities to monitor and verify nuclear warhead dismantlement, but the only true measure of nuclear disarmament is dismantlement and elimination of those warheads.
On 4 December 2014, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced a new initiative to develop the tools to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons—the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV). It would channel expertise from both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon States toward the verification of nuclear disarmament. Following an inaugural meeting in Washington, the 29 countries, including Canada and the EU, agreed to form three working groups.[$1] They would study verification issues at all stages of the nuclear weapons lifecycle to build capacity and explore solutions to monitoring challenges. Except for Sweden, the chairs of the working groups all come from States that are parties to nuclear-armed defence alliances — there is no representation from the global South.
In the House of Commons on 8 June 2017, The Hon. Andrew Leslie, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the IPNDV as one example of positive progress for nuclear disarmament policy. Canada, he noted, is contributing $175,000 to build an IPNDV website, organize an IPNDV meeting, and provide communications, outreach and administrative support for the IPNDV.
On 5 December 2016, the General Assembly adopted a resolution led by Norway on nuclear disarmament verification. The resolution called on the UN Secretary-General to establish a group of up to 25 governmental experts to consider verification issues. Pursuant to the resolution, the group would meet in Geneva in 2018 and 2019 for a total of three sessions of five days each. The resolution also encouraged the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission to substantively address verification.
While all these may be worthwhile exercises, many years probably will elapse before the problems can be resolved—if at all. The protracted negotiations on verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty should be instructive in this regard.
In my view, the practical way forward would be for each of the nine nuclear-armed States to follow the South Africa model—dismantle their own nuclear warheads; make records available for international verification; and place all nuclear material from dismantled warheads under international monitoring and verification. While this is not an ideal solution, let not the good be the enemy of the best.
On 23 December 2016, the General Assembly adopted a resolution led by Canada on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons (FMCT). The resolution requested the UN Secretary-General to establish a high-level preparatory group of 25 States, with equitable geographical representation. It will operate by consensus to recommend elements of a future non-discriminatory, multilateral, and internationally verifiable FMCT. The group also is expected to draw on earlier work in this field, including the Shannon Mandate (CD/1299) and the 2015 report of the previous GGE, as well as the views of member States.
The chair of the high-level preparatory group, Ambassador Heidi Hulan of Canada, is to organize two open-ended informal consultative meetings of two days each in New York. The first of these would consider the report of the 2015 GGE. At the second in 2018 the chair will report on the work of the high-level preparatory group. The final report of the group will be presented to the General Assembly at its 73rd session and to the Conference on Disarmament before its 2019 session.
A treaty prohibiting the production and stockpiling of nuclear material for nuclear weapons has been on the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda since the 1950s. Until 1998, the proposals for such a treaty covered only the prohibition of future production and stockpiling of fissile material for nuclear weapons, i.e. a “fissile material cut-off treaty” (FMCT). Following the nuclear explosive tests first by India, and then by Pakistan, in May 1998, the discussion in the Conference on Disarmament also focused more specifically on a treaty that should cover existing stocks, or past production, of weapon-usable fissile materials; that is, a “fissile material treaty” (FMT).
Only a FMT covering future production and stockpiling as well as current stocks can contribute to the irreversibility of nuclear disarmament.
The March 1995 Report of the Special Coordinator (CD/1299), Ambassador Gerald Shannon of Canada, fudged the key differences on the issue of scope—whether the treaty would be limited to banning the future production of fissile material or it also would cover existing stocks of fissile material. This disagreement is crucial, in view of the asymmetries in fissile material holdings between the various nuclear-armed States.
The Shannon report had been cobbled together quickly as many Western delegations wanted to achieve some consensus on a FMCT negotiation at the CD before the critically important 1995 NPT Review Conference (NPTREC). Hence, Western delegations that were opposed to including existing stocks in the negotiating mandate successfully manoeuvred consensus on the so-called “Shannon mandate.” Ambassador Shannon’s report said that, while stocks were not included specifically, any delegation could raise the matter during negotiations in an ad hoc committee. This in-built defect in the “Shannon mandate” has blighted discussions on a FMCT for more than two decades. In my view, the Shannon mandate now is dead and a new negotiating mandate is required.
The debate over scope is also split on another level—whether the treaty is meant to further the goal of nuclear disarmament, or is merely a non-proliferation instrument. The cause of nuclear disarmament would get a huge boost if the treaty covered the existing stocks of fissile materials as well as future production. In the words of one expert, “a legal prohibition on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes would do nothing to reduce already accumulated stocks of material and would consequently help to preserve the status quo in nuclear arms levels.” Also, excluding existing stocks from the treaty’s scope would leave “a major loophole if the prescribed verification regime were unable to differentiate between stocks held at the date of entry- into-force and stocks produced illegally after that date.”
Another question relates to the verification and implementing of a FMT. Three possible options could be considered: (1) assigning the verification to the IAEA; (2) the establishment of a Fissile Material Treaty [Verification] Organization (FMTO); and (3) a hybrid arrangement in which verification is assigned to an independent new Department for FMT Verification (FMTV) within the IAEA.
About 1,800 metric tonnes of weapon-usable materials are now located across 25 countries, with about 83% of these materials in non-civilian use and thus relevant for purposes of a FMT. Not all weapon-usable nuclear materials are contained in active nuclear warheads, for some are in retired warheads, naval fuel cycle and reserve, material declared excess to defence requirements, in government-owned stocks, as well as in civilian use.
All nuclear material in non-nuclear-weapon States party to the NPT is under IAEA safeguards and remains in civilian use. This civilian nuclear material already under international monitoring and verification by the IAEA is not relevant for a future FMT, which should cover all military nuclear material. The plutonium contained in used or spent nuclear power reactor fuel, known as reactor grade plutonium, contains on average 50%-60% Pu-239 isotope. Weapon-grade plutonium typically contains more than 90% Pu-239 isotope and is produced in dedicated production reactors, not in power reactors.
Because of its relatively low rate of spontaneous release of gamma rays and neutrons and low heat generation through radioactive decay, weapon-grade plutonium is relatively easy to work with for nuclear weapon designers. Plutonium contained in used or spent nuclear fuel needs to be separated using complex chemical reprocessing[$1] and requires heavy shielding for conversion into usable plutonium and is not readily usable for nuclear weapons.
Non-proliferation experts, however, consider nearly all isotopic forms of plutonium to be usable for weapons. Growing stocks of separated civilian plutonium exacerbate the risk that States or terrorists might acquire this material to build improvised nuclear explosive devices. Recycling used or spent nuclear fuel in the form of mixed oxide (MOX) uranium-plutonium fuel for power and advanced reactors is being championed by some countries, but others are opposed to plutonium-based fuel because of non-proliferation concerns and high cost compared to low-enriched uranium fuel.[$1]
The NPT was negotiated in 1967-1968 at the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva, a forerunner to the CD, following a number of initiatives at the General Assembly led by Ireland and Sweden. Canada was an early staunch supporter of the NPT and plaiyed a key role in achieving its indefinite extension in 1995. And Canada’s emphasis on “permanence with accountability” established new benchmarks for the review process and the implementation of non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.
But it was the New Agenda Coalition—not Canada—that delivered the “13 steps” on nuclear disarmament in 2000 and the “action plan” in 2010 on implementing the three pillars of the NPT and the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.
Canada’s role in the NPT review process has slowly diminished since 1995. It came as a rude shock in 2015 when Canada joined the US and the UK on the matter of the Middle East. Canada had played no role in the multilateral consultation process. While the previous administration in Ottawa diminished Canada’s credentials in nuclear arms control and disarmament, the “sunny ways” administration has made no material improvements.
Canada continues to champion FMCT negotiations based on the Shannon mandate; chaired the 2014-2015 GGE and chairs the new GGE, but the value of such expert groups remains doubtful. And Canada is supporting the US led IPNDV and the Norwegian-led GGE on verification. But, again, effective multilateral verification of nuclear warheads likely is not achievable and will devour many years of negotiations without resulting in any dismantlement of nuclear warheads.
The recently concluded Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been signed by more than 50 States. The Maple Leaf was not flying at the opening for signature ceremony at the United Nations in New York, though the Prime Minister was dispensing “sunny ways” elsewhere in that city.
The new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has rattled the five nuclear-weapon States, NATO members and others relying on extended deterrence (Australia, Japan and South Korea). Last October, a US-drafted letter was circulated by NATO admonishing its members not to support TPNW negotiations.
On 7 July, the day 122 States approved the TPNW, France, the UK and the US issued a Joint Statement that they had not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty, and did not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. India and Pakistan too have rejected the treaty. The North Atlantic Council’s Statement said,
“The ban treaty is at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture. This risks undermining the NPT, which has been at the heart of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts for almost 50 years, and the IAEA Safeguards regime which supports it. … As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. …We call on our partners and all countries who are considering supporting this treaty to seriously reflect on its implications for international peace and security, including on the NPT.”
What is deplorable is that some nuclear-weapon States are warning non-nuclear-weapon States to not sign the TPNW and threatening them if they do. One case in point is Sweden, as reported in a Stockholm newspaper. Kazakhstan and Switzerland, along with some others that voted for the TPNW, also will not be signing, citing various reasons.
The criticisms against the TPNW levelled by the nuclear weapon States and their allies do not stand up to scrutiny and reflect their desperation in the face of the international community’s rejection of nuclear weapons. The “international community” is not the 15 States of the Security Council, or the 29 NATO States, but it is the 159 States that signed up to the Humanitarian Pledge and it is the 122 States that have approved the TPNW—122 out of 193 UN member States are the international community and not “populism.”
Let me briefly address some of the criticisms.
Canada was the first country ever to formally renounce nuclear weapons, but it was absent from the negotiations on a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. Instead, it now places its chips with NATO, which has the self-contradictory policy of being a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist.
This is a betrayal of Canadians’ aspirations. Any objective poll of Canadians would show overwhelming support for a world free of nuclear weapons and for the TPNW as a starting step. Adherence to concepts of nuclear deterrence invariably means that governments disregard the wishes of their populace and show fealty to foreign capitals and outdated alliance structures.
Instead, Canada could benefit from:
Let me conclude by quoting the renowned American newscaster Edward R. Murrow. In the spring of 1940, as the clouds of war were gathering over Europe, Murrow said in reference to UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, “The people here feel the machine is out of control, that we are all passengers on an express train traveling at high speed through a dark tunnel toward an unknown destiny. The suspicion recurs that the train may have no driver”!
But the last comment I want to quote here was by a school child at the United Nations kindergarten in New York. She said that she could not understand “why a country that makes atomic bombs would ban fireworks.”
Tariq Rauf was Senior Advisor to the Chair of Main Committee I (Disarmament) at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, Senior Advisor to the Chair of the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee, Alternate Head of IAEA NPT Delegations 2002-2010, and a member of Canada’s NPT Delegations 1987-2000. He was Head of Nuclear Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, IAEA, and Senior Research Associate at the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament. Only personal views are expressed in this presentation.
1 The US Strategic Air Command was created on 21 March 1946. With the end of the Cold War, on 1 June 1992, SAC was stood down and that same day U.S. Strategic Command was established.
2 Global Zero, Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction: De-Alerting and Stabilizing the World’s Nuclear Force Postures, www.globalzero.org/files/global_zero_commission_on_nuclear_risk_reduction_report.pdf.
3 Working Group One: “Monitoring and Verification Objectives,” chaired by the UK and the Netherlands. Working Group Two: “On-Site Inspections,” chaired by Australia and Poland. Working Group Three: “Technical Challenges and Solutions,” chaired by Sweden and the United States.
4 World Nuclear association, “Processing of Used Nuclear Fuel”, www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/fuel-recycling/processing-of-used-nuclear-fuel.aspx.
5 Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Risks of Civilian Plutonium Programmes”, www.nti.org/analysis/articles/risks-civilian-plutonium-programs.
6 IAEA, Model Additional Protocol, INFCIRC/540 , “Foreword: The IAEA Board of Governors requested the Director General to negotiate additional protocols with NWS incorporating those measures provided for in the Model Protocol that each nuclear-weapon State has identified as capable of contributing to the non-proliferation and efficiency aims of the Protocol, when implemented with regard to that State, and as consistent with that State’s obligations under Article I of the NPT; and further the Board requested the Director General to negotiate additional protocols with other states that are prepared to accept measures provided for in the Model Protocol in pursuance of safeguards effectiveness and efficiency objectives”: www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/infcirc540.pdf.