An important shift has taken place in the debate on nuclear disarmament in recent years. A number of military and political strategists have drawn the same conclusion as peace activists and international humanitarian organizations: that the world would be safer without nuclear weapons.
Perhaps the most significant development is that the largest nuclear weapons states – the US and Russia – now subscribe to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
The NPT platform
The Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York in May was seen by many as a “make or break” for the viability of the NPT regime. I am aware that many NGOs and observers were disappointed that the outcome document did not set specific timelines for the elimination of existing nuclear weapons, or initiate a process to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention.
However, compared with the alternative scenario – a failure on the scale of what we saw in 2005 – the 2010 Review Conference was an important achievement. The fact that the outcome succeeded in salvaging the credibility and relevance of the treaty is in itself of great importance. The alternative would have left us with little to build on and even greater challenges to overcome.
Looking at what was actually achieved in New York, I see more reason for optimism than for despair. The Review Conference agreed on 64 concrete actions along the three pillars of the NPT, including specific steps to be taken towards a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The Conference further emphasized the fundamental goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, and explicitly brought the concept of international humanitarian law into the discussion. Equally important, it was made clear that a convention (or other legally binding arrangement) was the ultimate objective of the disarmament obligations under the NPT.
NATO’s new Strategic Concept
Another important event this year is the upcoming review of NATO’s Strategic Concept. The new concept is scheduled to be adopted at the Lisbon summit in November, and the nuclear doctrine is one of the key issues on the agenda. The Norwegian Government is engaged to help move the issue of nuclear disarmament further up on NATO’s agenda. We will work towards a forward-looking document by which NATO can contribute towards the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in international security policy.
While some countries in the alliance are committed to reducing and eventually eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security policy, it is clear that some do not. It is also a fact that some members of NATO consider the continued deployment of US nuclear weapons to be a kind of transatlantic “superglue”, a fundamental bond.
In my view, the cohesion of NATO is founded on a joint commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, political solidarity, collective defense and joint decision-making – not on the continued presence of a particular category of weapons of mass destruction.
Geopolitical shifts and the new security challenges facing NATO increase the urgency of updating NATO’s Strategic Concept. It is important that NATO’s new nuclear doctrine reflects these new realities and that the document we present in November does not in any way create an obstacle to the NPT objective of eliminating nuclear weapons.
Reframing the challenge
Over the last ten years or so, it has become clear that the multilateral institutions established to deal with disarmament lack the efficiency needed to meet today’s challenges. Hence, it is no surprise that the only significant progress on multilateral disarmament in this period has taken place outside these forums. In my view, we should build on these experiences.
First, there is clearly a need for a renewal of the intergovernmental machinery, based on the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness. It should be oriented towards practical on-the-ground impact and structured in a manner that enables an agenda of opportunities.
Secondly, there is no reason why the arena for debate on nuclear disarmament should be limited to diplomats and technicians. A broader range of actors who share the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons should be engaged in these efforts.
It is particularly crucial to apply the humanitarian perspective and to engage humanitarian actors. They were key partners in the processes that led to the banning of anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, and they will be equally important in our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Over the last century, the concept of international humanitarian law has developed dramatically. The principle of avoiding unnecessary suffering and unacceptable harm has led to bans on certain conventional weapons, as well as two categories of weapons of mass destruction, i.e. biological and chemical weapons.
In the long run, it is hard to justify an exemption from this principle for the most inhuman weapon ever created. It is therefore encouraging that the humanitarian dimension was included in the outcome document of the NPT 2010 Review Conference.
We also need to forge new partnerships with the business community. Obviously, any use of nuclear weapons, intentional or by accident, would have devastating effects on economic activity. It is perhaps no coincidence that the famous articles by Kissinger, Schultz, Nunn and Perry on this subject were published in The Wall Street Journal.
Partnerships should also be developed with scientific and academic actors and communities, with the aim of gaining better understanding of how full nuclear disarmament should be undertaken. Furthermore, it is important to engage military leaders, whose strategic and operational perspectives are important for consolidating the view that nuclear weapons serve no military purpose. Such partnerships provided important, if not decisive input to the preparatory work on the conventions on landmines and cluster munitions.
The debate on whether nuclear deterrence worked during the Cold War is, in my opinion, becoming increasingly irrelevant. What we know is that we were on the brink of nuclear war several times. The choice is not between status quo and proliferation, but between a world with many more nuclear weapon states or none at all.
Over the last two years, the acknowledgement of this rationale has led to a shift in the international debate on nuclear disarmament, and the implication of this should not be underestimated.
As political leaders, military strategists and humanitarian activists increasingly find themselves aligned and in agreement over the need for and urgency of full nuclear disarmament, the focus of the debate should be shifted. The challenge we are faced with today, which should be at the top of our agenda, is not whether a world free of nuclear weapons is desirable but how to get there – and how to get there in a secure, efficient and irrevocable manner.