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It’s Time to Ban and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm

By Kazumi Matsui, September 26, 2016

The mayor of Hiroshima calls for a global security paradign based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats.

September 26, the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is a fitting time to take stock of current nuclear dangers and rededicate ourselves to the urgent task of abolishing nuclear weapons. I encourage all readers of The Nation to take this opportunity to listen to the earnest message of the atomic-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (hibakusha) who have been telling their tragic real-life experiences, expressed in their words that “no one else should ever again suffer as we have.”

The August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki incinerated tens of thousands of children, the elderly, women, and men in an instant, with their fierce heat rays, blast, and radiation. By the end of that year, more than 210,000 people were dead. Among them were many Koreans, as well as international students from China and Southeast Asia, and American prisoners of war. Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. Even today, 71 years after the atomic bombings, the hibakusha and their families continue to suffer physical, psychological, and sociological effects of the bombings.

More than 15,000 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity. Not only that, but all of the nuclear-armed nations are modernizing their arsenals with plans to maintain them for the foreseeable future. As global awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons expands, the international community has also learned through a series of international conferences that the risks of inadvertent nuclear weapons use due to accident or miscalculation are quite high. And we cannot ignore the possibility of nuclear terrorism.

As a result, more members of the international community, especially those of non-nuclear-armed states, have started paying attention to the firsthand experiences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha, and have developed a keen awareness that they themselves could become victims of nuclear detonations caused by accident or miscalculation, if not by a limited or all-out nuclear war. In response to this shared awareness and these growing concerns, the United Nations earlier this year convened an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), open to all UN member states, to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The OEWG met three times in Geneva. As president of Mayors for Peace, an international non-governmental organization with a current membership of 7,132 cities in 161 countries representing over a billion people worldwide, I had the privilege of addressing the OEWG about the urgent need to promote nuclear disarmament.

International security still depends on the threatened use of nuclear weapons as prescribed by the doctrine of “nuclear deterrence”—a notion based on mutual distrust and the unspeakable horror the term implies. However, this theory’s power exists only in the minds of its policy-makers. Not only does nuclear deterrence offer no effective solution to the global security challenges we face, nuclear weapons are useless both in preventing and responding to terrorism—rather, their very existence brings new risks of use each day.

In order to address emerging challenges, world leaders must solidify their commitment to seek security without relying on nuclear weapons, with a sense of urgency based on a deep understanding that people at the grassroots level expect them to do so. Along the way, these leaders will also come to understand that the wider international community places great emphasis on uniting through a growing awareness that we all belong to the same human family.

It is time for the policy-makers of the world to change their perspective and exercise the decisive leadership required for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. It is only with such decisiveness that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives can be accelerated. We believe that efforts to conclude a nuclear weapons convention will advance when government representatives who have understood the fervent desire of the hibakusha for nuclear disarmament can reach out to others to transcend their differences and overcome the obstacles to nuclear abolition.

A growing number of policymakers are visiting the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the persistent call of Mayors for Peace and hibakusha to do so. On May 27, President Obama visited Hiroshima where he called for a “world without nuclear weapons” and declared: “[A]mong those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

Regrettably, none of the nuclear-armed states took part in the OEWG. However, in August the nearly 100 participating states adopted a final report with recommendations that will be forwarded to the UN General Assembly for action this fall. These recommendations include pursuing additional efforts to elaborate concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that will be needed to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons, and implementing various measures relating to reducing and eliminating the risks of nuclear-weapons use, enhancing transparency about nuclear weapons, and increasing awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In addition, the working group, with “widespread support,” called on the General Assembly “to convene a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination.”

Mayors for Peace welcomes the outcome of the OEWG, in particular its clear mandate for the commencement of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. While we understand that the nuclear-armed states and states under their “nuclear umbrellas” oppose starting these negotiations, the serious sense of crisis shared by the majority of the international community must not be neglected. When government representatives gather at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee to consider the recommendations of the OWEG, they must engage in cooperative dialogue, overcome their political and ideological differences, and bring us closer to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. We especially expect the nuclear-armed states and their allies to take innovative approaches and demonstrate decisive leadership.

Mayors for Peace, with a wide range of civil-society partners, wholeheartedly supports initiatives by world leaders to develop a new global security paradigm based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats. We will also intensify our efforts to promote such understanding and cooperation within international society. Now is the time for state and city governments, as well as diverse civil-society actors, to consolidate their efforts and promote the legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

Monday, September 26, 2016

United Nations General Assembly
Special Plenary Session

“The consequences of any further use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by mistake, would be horrific. When it comes to our common objective of nuclear disarmament, we must not delay — we must act now.”
Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon

Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. After general and complete disarmament first came onto the General Assembly’s agenda in 1959, nuclear disarmament has remained the most important and urgent objective of the United Nations in this field. Since 1975, it has been a prominent theme of the review conferences of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 1978, the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament reaffirmed that effective measures for nuclear disarmament have the highest priority. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.

Yet today, some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2016, while there have been major reductions in deployed nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear warhead has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. This is so—despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them.

Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Should we let an unstable person have control of the nuclear arsenal? No, but that’s not the right question

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm

By Ira Helfand and Robert Dodge. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2016.
A growing chorus of politicians and national security experts have questioned whether it would be safe to have Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button. But are they asking the right question?

In an open letter, 50 leading Republican national security experts warned that Trump possesses “dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, it would be very dangerous for an unstable, ill-informed person to have control of the nuclear arsenal.

Implicit in these admonitions, however, is the notion that it is OK to have a “normal” person in charge. In fact, many of Trump’s critics explicitly endorse the idea that nuclear weapons, in the right hands, constitute an effective deterrent to nuclear attack by other powers and are the best, even the ultimate, guarantors of our national security.

Their argument — for the continued maintenance of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying human civilization — depends on the assumption that these weapons only exist to persuade other nuclear powers not to attack, and that we will never actually use them.

The “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.
Unfortunately, the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review explicitly rejects the notion that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence, and the U.S. has threatened to use them many times. Leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance, the U.S. refused to take the nuclear option off the table. Russian nuclear policy is even more dangerous, explicitly endorsing the early use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional war with NATO.

Pakistan has a similar nuclear doctrine that envisions the early first use of nuclear weapons if it should find itself in another war with India.

So the “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.

Even if none of these nuclear powers ever makes a deliberate decision to use its nuclear arsenal, there is a very real danger that these weapons will be deployed because of miscalculation or computer error.

An article published this summer in the journal Space Weather described for the first time how a solar flare in May 1967 knocked out communication with a number of key radar installations in the Arctic. The U.S. military incorrectly concluded that the Soviets had disabled these early warning stations as the opening move in a surprise attack and prepared American nuclear armed bombers for takeoff. War was averted at the last minute when the Air Force received information about the true cause of the black out.
There have been at least five other major episodes when computer errors or misinterpretation of intelligence data led either Moscow or Washington to prepare to launch a nuclear war in the mistaken belief that the other side had already initiated an attack. The most recent of these took place in 1995, well after the end of the Cold War.

Furthermore, studies have shown that we don’t need to have a full-scale nuclear war to destroy human civilization. Even a very limited nuclear war, confined to one corner of the globe, would have disastrous consequences across the planet. The use of just 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — against targets in urban areas could loft enough soot into the upper atmosphere to disrupt climate worldwide, cutting food production and putting 2 billion people at risk of starvation.

For the nuclear weapon states, these are most inconvenient truths. They view their nuclear arsenals as tools to project national power that they do not want to give up. All nine are currently spending enormous sums on upgrading their arsenals, and they have shown a fierce opposition to the efforts of non-nuclear weapon states that wish to legally prohibit the possession of these weapons.

Commenting on the Cuban missile crisis, the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said, “It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” Nuclear weapons do not possess some magic power that keeps them from being used. We have survived the nuclear era so far because of an incredible string of luck, and we cannot expect that luck to last forever. Sooner or later, if we do not get rid of these weapons, they will be used and they will destroy us.

The right question for us to ask is: “Should anyone be able to press the nuclear button?” And the right answer is a resounding “No.”

Ira Helfand is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Robert Dodge is president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles.

We Need to Ban Nuclear Weapons (In Spite of Canada)

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 7:09 am

By Cesar Jaramillo. Huffington Post, Sept. 22, 2016
Make no mistake: neither North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test nor the recent high-stakes stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program are the root of nuclear insecurity. They are but symptoms of a nuclear disarmament regime in a severe state of disrepair.

While every other category of weapons of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, nuclear weapons — by far the most destructive of them all — remarkably still have not. What is needed is a global legal ban on nuclear weapons, with specific provisions for the elimination of existing arsenals and a timeline for verified implementation.

A rare opportunity for progress on this front has opened up. A UN-established Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) met in Geneva three times this year with a mandate to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The final OEWG report included a recommendation, supported by a majority of participating states, to convene a conference in 2017 “to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” The expectation is that there will be a resolution to operationalize this proposal at the UN General Assembly First Committee (on disarmament and international security) when it meets in October.

Notably, Canada voted against the OEWG recommendation — along with most other members of NATO, itself a nuclear weapons alliance.

Despite being a non-nuclear weapons state, Canada stands not with the growing number of nations, organizations, and individuals that believe that a legal prohibition on nuclear weapons is long overdue. Instead, Ottawa’s position is aligned with that of the few who question the merits of a nuclear weapons ban.

Canada’s current stance — and that of most nuclear weapons states — is that conditions are not ideal for a ban on nuclear weapons. But the reality is that they never may be. Nuclear disarmament negotiations must therefore be started, realized and concluded under geopolitical conditions that are predictably less than perfect.

An increasingly loud denunciation of the intransigence of states with nuclear weapons, however, has done little to persuade them to change course. Nuclear-weapons states still purport to be at the same time arbiters and direct beneficiaries of global norms on the acceptability of nuclear weapons possession.

Consider the lopsided logic by which the very states that have developed, stockpiled, tested, and used nuclear weapons deem themselves fit to chastise others on the risks of proliferation. The moral high ground they claim is built upon an extremely weak and inherently unjust foundation.

They demand immediate, consistent compliance with non-proliferation obligations, but disregard their own responsibility to disarm. They extol the value of nuclear weapons in safeguarding their national security, but expect no one else to embrace the same rationale.

Some countries deem the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons by certain states unacceptable, but seem content to accept the nuclear-weapons programs of military or economic allies, even outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) framework.

The United States and Canada, for instance, not only turn a blind eye to the notoriously opaque Israeli nuclear weapons program, but engage in nuclear cooperation agreements with India, contravening the longstanding principle that such cooperation should be reserved for NPT states parties.

The pervasive notion that the primary problem of nuclear weapons is the risk of their proliferation, and not their very existence, cannot be further perpetuated.

So let us be clear: the main problem with the existence of nuclear weapons is the existence of nuclear weapons. Proliferation concerns are no doubt important, but they will not be fully allayed unless and until the responsibility to disarm is taken seriously by states with nuclear weapons.

Especially problematic is the determination of several nuclear-weapons states to retain a nuclear arsenal as long as such weapons exist. This strategic, political, and logical straitjacket all but ensures that a world without nuclear weapons will never be achieved.

Today, more than 15,000 nuclear warheads continue to threaten civilization. Even a limited nuclear exchange would bring about incalculable loss of human life and catastrophic effects for the environment. So the objective cannot be nuclear weapons management or containment. Nor are sporadic reductions and reconfigurations of nuclear systems sufficient. Only complete and irreversible disarmament will do.

Tired arguments over the purported value of nuclear weapons possession have been replaced by a renewed emphasis on the humanitarian imperative for nuclear disarmament. The catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use outweighs any and all alleged benefits.

Further, billions of dollars (some estimates put the price tag at more than $1-trillion) are slated to be spent modernizing arsenals and related infrastructure while the most basic needs of a significant segment of the world’s population are still unmet. From this perspective, the time certainly seems ripe for turning nuclear swords into ploughshares, so to speak.

The UN First Committee resolution on a legal instrument to ban nuclear weapons will afford Canada a unique opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the security of a world free of these instruments of mass destruction. Come October we will know whether it was seized. Or squandered.

Cesar Jaramillo is the Executive Director of
Project Ploughshares, Waterloo, Ontario.

Storing nuclear waste: Is ‘consent’ OK when future generations can’t weigh in

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health on September 23, 2016 at 6:55 am

By TERI SFORZA, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
PUBLISHED: September 21, 2016 at 8:52 am | UPDATED: September 21, 2016 at 8:57 am

There are barbs about “mobile Chernobyls” and “floating Fukushimas,” fears of “coerced consent” and “economic racism,” and deep philosophizing about the nature of “consent” itself. Is such a thing possible when generations unborn will be impacted by decisions made today?

“‘Consent’ to dump nuclear waste in America’s back yard is not going to be approved by the American people no matter how your PR strategists massage the lipstick on that pig,” David Osinga told the U.S. Department of Energy in an email.

The DOE’s latest idea for figuring out where to stash millions of pounds of nuclear waste garnered more than 10,000 comments from concerned citizens nationwide, according to documents released last week. And while many disagree vehemently on the particulars, they are largely united on one point: After decades of dithering, the federal government must finally take action on its long-broken promise to permanently dispose of highly radioactive spent fuel.

This collection of carping and commentary (“I’ve seen people grow old in this business of trying to solve the nuclear waste problem”) is part of DOE’s new push to create temporary nuclear waste storage sites in regions eager for the business, such as West Texas and New Mexico. Several such sites could be up and running while the prickly question of finding a location for a permanent repository – the root of the present paralysis in nuclear waste disposal – is hashed out.

That could mean removing spent fuel from the bluffs beside the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station a decade or so earlier than currently envisioned, which is now 2049, according Southern California Edison’s decommissioning plan.

Across America, some 165 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel cools at 75 commercial reactor sites, due to the federal government’s failure to honor the contractual promise it made to utilities back in 1982. But more on that in a minute.

NUCLEAR FUTURE?

The day before this treasure trove of public opinion was compiled, nuclear power’s future in America was the focus of a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

There, Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed deep frustration.

“I can’t just support nuclear power generation if there is no strategy for the interim storage and long-term disposal of the waste,” she said.

“If we can’t properly store the waste, we shouldn’t build the reactors.”

Feinstein, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – who dearly wants to see more reactors as part of a clean energy future – have worked across the aisle for five years in an effort to break bureaucratic paralysis on nuclear waste policy. So far, they have gotten nowhere.

“This is one of my great disappointments,” Feinstein said.

Some 130 million people live within 50 miles of a nuclear storage site in the U.S., she said – more than 2 in 5 Americans. In California alone, there are nearly 8,000 highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies stored in pools and dry casks at four sites, including San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. All are shut down, or will close shortly, leaving behind what is known in the industry as “stranded waste.”

“The future of nuclear power in this country depends on a solution to the waste problem,” Feinstein said. “Public safety and public acceptance of nuclear power, I believe, depend on it.”

The lesson of the moribund Yucca Mountain repository – largely a waste of time and $10 billion – is that state governments and local communities must be willing to host a repository, she said.

Storage should also be far from population centers. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact we’re dealing with very dangerous materials,” she said. “Problems at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico are a prime example of the risks we face.”

That New Mexico plant is a deep geologic repository to permanently dispose of waste from nuclear weapons research and production. On Valentine’s Day in 2014, radioactive materials leaked from a damaged storage drum. Cleanup could top $2 billion and still is not complete.

“Here we have one of the premier laboratory facilities in world, at Los Alamos, making a basic chemistry error on the packaging of waste drums,” Feinstein said. “One mistake in a single drum contaminated more than a third of the entire site.

“That, to me, is really striking. If we can’t trust these experts to handle radioactive waste safely, what confidence can we have in other efforts to manage this material safely and securely, long-term, at 78 sites around the country?”

The same question was raised in many ways in the public comments to DOE.

WHAT NOW?

By the end of December, the Department of Energy will publish details on how the consent-based siting process will work, as well as “considerations for interim storage and deep geologic repositories,” Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz told Feinstein’s committee last week.

The department’s 2017 budget sets aside $39.4 million for the consent-based siting effort, including $25 million for grants to interested states, Native American tribal nations and local governments. The money will help communities learn more about nuclear waste management and explore their potential roles in the effort.

Such interim storage facilities would allow the federal government to begin meeting its contractual waste management commitments; enable the permanent removal of spent nuclear fuel from shutdown reactors like San Onofre; provide crucial flexibility for the overall nuclear waste management system, such as the ability to conduct thermal management activities and repackage spent nuclear fuel; and be a useful learning experience with research on the behavior of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste over time, he said.

Private initiatives are in addition to the DOE’s efforts and may accelerate the schedule to remove spent fuel from the shutdown reactor sites, Moniz said.

“These initiatives present a novel approach that is distinctly different from DOE’s consent-based siting approach, as they essentially already include an aspect of community, state and tribal consent,” he said. “DOE is encouraged by the opportunities presented by these private initiatives, and we are preparing to seek public input on how a privately owned storage facility could fit into the overall integrated waste management system.”

That will move us toward a solution, and avoid leaving the burden to future generations, he said.

UNCLE SAM’S PROBLEM?

To encourage the development of nuclear power, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Act in 1982. It promised to accept and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from commercial reactors by Jan. 31, 1998. In return, utilities operating nuclear plants promised to make quarterly payments into a Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for disposal.

The utilities, and consumers, held up their end of the bargain – pumping about $750 million a year into the fund – but the DOE has not accepted a single ounce of commercial nuclear waste for permanent disposal.

Saddled with decades’ worth of waste, utilities sued the DOE for breach of contract and won. The federal government has paid more than $3.7 billion to utilities thus far, and taxpayers could fork over another $21 billion to $50 billion before Uncle Sam figures it all out, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Nuclear Waste Fund cannot collect more money. A federal judge said DOE couldn’t charge for a service it not only wasn’t providing, but wouldn’t provide for many decades. In 2014, utilities all across America stopped charging customers the disposal fee (some 20 cents a month on the average electric bill).

About $41 billion had been collected by the Nuclear Waste Fund over three decades. Some $30 billion remains in the fund, after spending $10 billion on a Yucca Mountain disposal site.

Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s owner, has recovered more than $300 million from the federal government over this failure. Dry storage is being built on a bluff above the Pacific, and spent waste will remain there until the government finds a solution.

WHAT WE SAID ABOUT NUKES

The Department of Energy received more than 10,000 comments on its plans for interim, consent-based storage for nuclear waste. Full text with attribution can be found here, but here are some highlights:

“Two key questions for reaching a siting agreement are who negotiates and who decides?”

“There is a fine line between incentives and coerced consent. We need to acknowledge that line, and walk it carefully.”

“Economically disadvantaged communities are especially at risk. Special effort must be made to inform and engage disadvantaged groups that could possibly be affected.”

“We are talking about something that stays toxic and dangerous for generations to come. How can one generation give ‘consent’ for future generations?”

“I think this process is going to work for DOE. It just has to be done carefully and tactfully to be a success. Benefits of accepting a site must be communicated to communities.”

“My concern is what I feel is the lack of urgency in dealing with this…. We’ve already been dealing with this problem for 70 years. It’s time to get the solution done, resolved and unless we can’t get it done very quickly, I contend that we need to stop making this stuff.”

“I’m tired of hearing DOE talk about being in the early stages of something we’ve been at for decades.”

Austria announces UN General Assembly resolution to prohibit nuclear weapons in 1917

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 1:02 am

ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) September 22, 2016

Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, announced on Wednesday that his country would join other UN member states in tabling a resolution next month to convene negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.

Speaking in the high-level debate of the UN General Assembly in New York, he said that “experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms”.

The announcement follows a landmark recommendation last month by a UN working group in Geneva for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The Austrian-sponsored resolution would take forward this recommendation by establishing a formal mandate for negotiations. The deadline for tabling the resolution in the General Assembly’s First Committee, which deals with disarmament matters, is 13 October.

Following the tabling, nations will debate the resolution, then vote on whether to adopt it in the final week of October or first week of November. A second, confirmatory vote will take place in a plenary session of the General Assembly early in December.

ICAN warmly welcomes Austria’s announcement. “This is a major breakthrough in global efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The resolution will be of enormous historical importance,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

“The proposed treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been prohibited under international law. It will be a major step towards the goal of elimination,” she said.

In 2014 Austria hosted an intergovernmental conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, at which it launched a diplomatic pledge, supported by 127 nations, “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”.

Why Nuclear War Looks Inevitable

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on September 16, 2016 at 9:35 am

By Jason Fields, REUTERS, September 14, 2016

Several developments have the potential to move the hands of the nuclear doom clock closer to midnight.

A new U.S. nuclear policy has a chance of destabilizing the balance of terror by creating a larger arsenal of smaller weapons.

Why?
Smaller weapons are more tempting to use. The argument for so-called “tactical” nukes is that they would destroy a smaller area and create less fallout, making them more “safe” to use than traditional many-megaton bombs. And that could lead to temptation to use them.

Just as importantly, that could give other nuclear-armed powers the impression that the U.S. would be more likely to use the weapons – a dangerous spiral that could culminate with…the end of the world, literally.

The United States is hardly the only nation adding stress to a system that is always a hands-breadth from tragedy.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has rattled the nuclear sabre, even threatening to station missiles in annexed Crimea. Pakistan, another nuclear-armed country, is a divided nation with government agencies linked to Islamic extremism and a beef with India. India has a beef with Pakistan and territorial disputes with China.

North Korea is a wildcard with an accelerating nuclear program that may still be getting help from Pakistan – which denies it. Recent tests by North Korea and China’s lack of overt response has set U.S. teeth on edge.

Incredible as it may seem, at the height of the Cold War the world might actually have been safer, experts say. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had a death wish, and those were clearly the stakes.

And, of course, nihilistic militants have no such qualms.

 

 

America’s New Nuclear-Armed Missile Could Cost $85 Billion

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on September 7, 2016 at 10:33 pm

By Andy Capaccio, Bloomburg

September 6, 2016 —

Pentagon estimate rises from preliminary Air Force projection
Acquisition chief warns of ‘significant uncertainty’ on cost

The U.S. Air Force’s program to develop and field a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the aging Minuteman III in the nuclear arsenal is now projected to cost at least $85 billion, about 36 percent more than a preliminary estimate by the service.
Even the $85 billion calculated by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office is a placeholder number that’s at the low end of potential costs, according to an Aug. 23 memo from Pentagon weapons buyer Frank Kendall to Air Force Secretary Deborah James. It includes $22.6 billion for research and development, $61.5 billion for procurement and $718 million for related military construction.
Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are all competing to build the new ICBMs. But the latest estimate may add to debate about the cost and need for the planned modernization of all three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad of land, air and sea weapons. The nuclear modernization plan contributes to what defense analysts call a gathering “bow wave” of spending in the coming decade on major weapons that the next presidents will face.
At this stage of the ICBM program “there is significant uncertainty about program costs” because “the historical data is limited and there has been a long gap since the last” such development program, Kendall wrote.
The $85 billion estimate must be revised no later than March 2018 once missile designs are more advanced, technical risks are reduced and the service has a better understanding of overall costs, Kendall said in the memo.
Earlier Story: Pentagon Poised to Approve Work on Missile
Nonetheless, Kendall approved proceeding with early development and efforts to reduce technology risks of the new ICBM. He directed the service to move toward buying 642 missiles at an average cost of $66.4 million each to support a deployed force of 400 weapons and to budget at least $1.25 billion annually from 2036 to 2040 for operations and support costs.
The Pentagon’s ability to estimate the cost of the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent was limited by the “incompleteness and significant age of” the “data for comparable ICBM and submarine launched ballistic missiles dating back to the 1960s through the early 1990s,” Kendall wrote.
‘Greater Risk’
The Pentagon and Air Force are “accepting greater risk by going with” the $85 billion estimate that’s at the lower end of its calculations, Kingston Reif, an analyst with the Arms Control Association in Washington who follows the program, said in an e-mail. “From a good-government perspective” it is “better to build in contingency and plan for and prioritize around a bigger bill now, lest a sudden big cost increase threaten to wreck the budget and the program five to 10 years from now.”
Kendall wrote that inflation assumptions and the defense industry’s capability to produce the missiles are major sources of cost uncertainty. Still, he said the $85 billion placeholder is “the most reasonable estimate of program cost at this point.”
In addition to the new nuclear systems, the bow wave of coming costs includes nine Air Force conventional systems and plans for increased construction of naval vessels such as a second Ford-class aircraft carrier.
For the air component of the nuclear triad, Northrop defeated a Lockheed-Boeing team in October for the right to build a new dual-use bomber that can carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, a project valued at as much as $80 billion.
At sea, the Navy is planning to replace its Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines through a production program now estimated at $122 billion, which doesn’t include development.
That estimate will be updated by year’s end as the Pentagon reviews moving the program into full development.
Official Beginning
Kendall’s decision to let the ICBM program move forward marks the official beginning of the technology development stage, with spending increasing from about $75 million this year to $1.6 billion in 2021 and $2.6 billion in 2022, according to the Pentagon estimate.
The “program plans to buy enough missiles to maintain a 400-missile deployed force through 2075,” Air Force spokeswoman Leah Bryant said in an e-mail. “The overall number of missiles acquired in the inventory may vary depending on testing, evaluation, maintenance,” she said.
The Air Force made its early estimate last year that the new ICBM program would cost $62.3 billion for research, development and production as well as command and control systems and infrastructure. That number, as well as the new $85 billion estimate, is calculated in so-called “then-year,” or current-year, dollars.
Bryant said “it is important to keep in mind that at this stage,” as “in any acquisition program, there can still be some uncertainty about projected” ICBM costs because “the historical data used for estimates, whether ours or another organization’s estimate, are limited and very dated.” The last ICBM development occurred in the 1980s, she said.
Kendall’s memo was provided to the staff of the Senate and House defense committees last week.

Controversial New U.S. Nuclear Bomb Moves Closer to Full-Scale Production

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on September 7, 2016 at 9:54 pm

By Len Ackland, Rocky Mountain PBS News, August 23, 201

The most controversial nuclear bomb ever planned for the U.S. arsenal – some say the most dangerous, too – has received the go ahead from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

The agency announced on Aug. 1 that the B61-12 – the nation’s first guided, or “smart,” nuclear bomb – had completed a four-year development and testing phase and is now in production engineering, the final phase before full-scale production slated for 2020.

This announcement comes in the face of repeated warnings from civilian experts and some former high-ranking military officers that the bomb, which will be carried by fighter jets, could tempt use during a conflict because of its precision. The bomb pairs high accuracy with explosive force that can be regulated.

President Barack Obama has consistently pledged to reduce nuclear weapons and forgo weapons with new military capabilities. Yet the B61-12 program has thrived on the political and economic clout of defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp., as documented in a Reveal investigation last year.

The B61-12 – at $11 billion for about 400 bombs the most expensive U.S. nuclear bomb ever – illustrates the extraordinary power of the atomic wing of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex,” which has now rebranded itself the“nuclear enterprise.” The bomb lies at the heart of an ongoing modernization of America’s nuclear arms, projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Virtually everyone agrees that as long as nuclear weapons exist, some modernization of U.S. forces is needed to deter other countries from escalating to nuclear weapons during a conflict. But critics challenge the extravagance and scope of current modernization plans.

In late July, 10 senators wrote Obama a letter urging that he use his remaining months in office to “restrain U.S. nuclear weapons spending and reduce the risk of nuclear war” by, among other things, “scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans.” They specifically urged the president to cancel a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, for which the Air Force is now soliciting proposals from defense contractors.

While some new weapons programs are farther down the road, the B61-12 bomb is particularly imminent and worrisome given recent events such as the attempted coup in Turkey. That’s because this guided nuclear bomb is likely to replace 180 older B61 bombs stockpiled in five European countries, including Turkey, which has an estimated 50 B61s stored at Incirlik Air Base. The potential vulnerability of the site has raised questions about U.S. policy regarding storing nuclear weapons abroad.

But more questions focus on the increased accuracy of the B61-12. Unlike the free-fall gravity bombs it will replace, the B61-12 will be a guided nuclear bomb. Its new Boeing Co. tail kit assembly enables the bomb to hit targets precisely. Using dial-a-yield technology, the bomb’s explosive force can be adjusted before flight from an estimated high of 50,000 tons of TNT equivalent force to a low of 300 tons. The bomb can be carried on stealth fighter jets.

“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons? Absolutely,” Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said in the earlier Reveal coverage.

And General James Cartwright, the retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command told PBS NewsHour last November that the new capabilities of the B61-12 could tempt its use.

“If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc., does that make it more usable in the eyes of some – some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.”

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Ackland can be reached at lenackland@gmail.com. He wrote this story for Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Len Ackland is a former newspaper reporter and editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists magazine. He wrote a book about the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb factory near Denver. This current assignment’s most haunting memory was his visit to the desert Trinity site in New Mexico where the nuclear weapons age burst upon us 70 years ago.

Germany: In Defense of Nuclear Weapons?

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 7, 2016 at 2:29 am

By Leo Hoffmann-Axhelm, The Green Political Foundation

24 August 2016

I highly recommend this article as a very clear explanation of where things stand between nations on the question of nuclear abolition. LeRoy

 

Negotiations on a treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal are planned for 2017. So far, Germany and others have tried to block this process, even while officially supporting a nuclear-weapon-free world. These contradictions will soon end, however: states will have to pick sides.

On the occasion of his historic visit to Hiroshima, US President Obama called for a moral revolution on nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, his administration is boycotting the current initiative to stigmatize them, and plans to spend over one trillion dollars on the renewal of the US arsenal.

The path of least resistance
German disarmament policy is similarly contradictory: officially it demands a nuclear-weapon-free world, but in fact Germany opposes a prohibition of nuclear weapons. It wants the weapons to disappear, but declines to create the basic legal framework for this to happen. Germany has a broad societal consensus against the last remaining weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Yet since the end of the Cold War, they are rarely ever discussed, enabling Germany to tread the path of least resistance: questioning its reliance on nuclear weapons would require a huge diplomatic effort within NATO. The Foreign Ministry contents itself with getting Russia and Eastern alliance members to at least tone down their rhetoric and stop bringing nukes into the picture. A number of institutional constraints ensure that NATO remains a nuclear alliance.

It is therefore difficult to make out Germany’s actual position on nuclear weapons. To find out where the country really stands, outside pressures will have to be brought to bear.

The end of “constructive ambiguity”
This is now happening. The time for “constructive ambiguity” is slowly but surely running out. The majority of states no longer wants to accept lowest-common-denominator compromises, and instead is forcing the hand with the start of concrete treaty negotiations on an international ban on nuclear weapons. This is when Germany and other NATO countries will need to decide: will they participate in or boycott the negotiations?

While the exact date is not clear, the start of negotiations is now almost inevitable. Even the promoters of the initiative were surprised how forcefully the overwhelming majority of UN members announced their intention to proceed with the ban as soon as possible. This would herald a turning point in the disarmament discourse: the special status of nuclear weapons would finally come to an end, giving them the same legal status as the other WMDs, which have already been banned.

The prohibition will bring about actual progress, challenge decades-old arguments in favor of nuclear deterrence and clarify that nuclear disarmament is a process, not a black-and-white dichotomy. Indeed, countless steps need to be taken in parallel to reduce nuclear dangers. Embarking on this path would start with a clear recognition of the source of this danger, a loud and clear stigmatization of nuclear weapons, if need be even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states.

The breakthrough
Ten states, among them middle powers like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines, have formally proposed negotiations should start in 2017. Many states have spoken out in favor: all states of Latin America and the whole of theAfrican Union have explicitly called for a ban. Ireland, Austria, Mexico and New Zealand brought forward especially eloquent endorsements of a near-term ban treaty, as have smaller states like Jamaica, Nicaragua and Palau. All in all, 127 states – two thirds of the international community – have demanded in a jointworking paper that negotiations be commenced “urgently”. The Austrian authors of the paper are even more explicit and underscore that the majority want a ban “as soon as possible”. Brazil, Jamaica and New Zealand in their statements emphasized that a majority wants negotiations to begin “immediately”, which is to say independently of the participation of the nuclear-weapon states. Of course, the negotiations can easily drag on in the intricacies of the UN machinery. But the ban is coming, this much is clear.

We from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have long pushed for this treaty, with the support among others of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation. When we launched in Germany in 2013, German diplomats and think tanks regarded the proposition as fanciful. Step by step, we were able to convince those states that do not currently rely on nuclear weapons, and today the same think tanks are already planning for the time after the ban. This progress was made possible because the majority of states is now ready to take the next step, even if the nuclear-armed minority and their allies are not on board (this beautifulinteractive map shows the nuclear-weapon fans and their arguments).

As Jamaica recently declared, democracy has come to nuclear disarmament. The hitherto silent majority is taking the initiative and has recognized that you cannot wait for the smokers to institute a smoking ban. Finally, the nuclear-armed states are no longer being asked for permission by handing them the power of a veto. This is common sense: even today, a number of states have not ratified the conventions on chemical and biological weapons. Still, their absence in 1975 and 1993 respectively did not keep the rest of the world from banning the weapons anyway. This aspect was taken up by the Austrian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Thomas Hajnoczi, when he emphasized that historically speaking, the prohibition of weapons precedes the hard labor of reducing and ultimately eliminating stockpiles.

The OEWG: late democratization of nuclear disarmament
The road towards this realization was a long one. Even the simple creation of the one-off debating forum in Geneva was met with fierce resistance. You may think that an “open-ended working group to bring forward negotiations on nuclear disarmament” (OEWG) would be in the interest of all states. But the mandate to negotiate “concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms” was already too far-reaching for the nuclear-armed and their allies. All nuclear-weapon states boycotted the meetings. Of course, this reticence strengthened the conviction of the nuclear-free that progress is only possible if they are willing to go it alone.

The OEWG presented a unique forum for this, as it operates under the rules of procedure of the UN General Assembly, the most democratic of UN organs. If a minority attempts to block progressive initiatives, as they have done in the past by demanding consensus (i.e. a veto right for all), then the majority can simply call a vote.

In spite of Obama’s enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament and his visit to Hiroshima, it is hardly surprising that the rest of the world has run out of patience. The permanent Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has not been able to agree on so much as a program of work for the past 18 years, let alone actual negotiations. The reason for the complete standstill is the consistent use of the veto, while nuclear-weapon states refuse to negotiate such treaties in any other forum. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) operates by the same rules. Because even the steps agreed to by consensus are, however, not implemented when it comes to disarmament, the NPT has also come in for mounting criticism. No wonder: if France and the UK continue to publicly praise the putative value of nuclear weapons, how can we expect Iran and North Korea to understand that they do not have the same right to “deterrence”?

Up to 2 billion deaths
Continuing to accept the blockade of the disarmament machinery would mean to fundamentally misjudge the present danger that continues to emanate from this weaponry. Three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons have shown how unspeakable the destruction would be, and how the risk remains that one of the many accidents, miscalculations or nuclear terrorism will lead to catastrophe. Again and again, the Red Cross organizations repeat how futile the crisis response would be, saying that it would be all but impossible to build the necessary capacities even if it were attempted.

While the overwhelming majority of states gets by without nuclear weapons, they can only look on as their own populations are exposed to the incalculable risk of nuclear detonations. The consequences would be felt across state borders, and already a “limited” nuclear war (100 of the 15,000 warheads worldwide) may lead to the starvation of between one and two billion people. Nuclear-weapon free-states have a responsibility and an obligation to do everything within their power to protect their populations against these risks.

But how do the nuclear-armed react to the legitimate concerns of the majority? They boycott almost all meetings on the humanitarian impact of such weapons. None of the nuclear-weapon states showed up for the OEWG. The defense of nuclear weapons was instead left up to “nuclear-free” allies, like Germany, Italy, Australia and Canada, whose diplomatic maneuvering caused further resentment.

Contradictory position of NATO states
An example for this was the allies’ insistence that states that are currently boycotting the open-ended working group must not be “excluded”: members of the group should only pursue approaches that hinge on the participation of those states that are currently absent. To this effect, they make “new” proposals that rehash initiatives that already failed 20 years ago. While all states have agreed to these proposals many times and by consensus, doing so again in no way increases the chances that they will be implemented this time around.

The ever-new packaging of the same old proposals further underscores the absurdity. It used to be the “step-by-step process”, which was adopted in 2000 as the “13 steps”, and 10 years later again as the 64 points of the NPT Action Plan. Pending their implementation, they were renamed “building blocks”, and marketed again in 2015 as the “full-spectrum approach”. In February 2016, those states that rely on nuclear weapons in their security doctrines claimed to have new ideas: the “progressive approach”, which, you guessed it, contains the exact same steps.

But can you legitimately qualify measures like the test ban treaty (CTBT) that never entered into force, or the never-negotiated fissile material treaty (FMCT) as “effective”, as demanded by the OEWG mandate? Can these two treaties, which are exclusively concerned with non-proliferation measures, really count as “disarmament”? And can treaties that were negotiated or proposed two decades ago really represent “new” legal norms?

German diplomats assure us that their proposals are serious. And yet things get even more contradictory: Germany and the Netherlands have for years called for more transparency on the deployment and operational plans of nuclear weapons, yet they have not even officially acknowledged to their own populations that nuclear weapons are currently stationed on their own territory, making them into a target – never mind the numbers or precise locations of such weapons. Meanwhile, German fighter pilots train the delivery of weapons of mass destruction with jets expressly fitted for the purpose, which does not exactly contribute to the credibility of Germany’s disarmament policies.

So who is blocking all these sensible and urgent proposals such as the CTBT andFMCT? The exact same nuclear-armed states that, according to Germany, should hold a veto over the negotiation of all further disarmament measures as well. The same states that, in spite of lip service to nuclear disarmament, are pumpingbillions upon billions into the modernization of their arsenals. The US plans to spend over a trillion dollars over the next three decades on weapons that must never be used under any circumstances. The other nuclear-weapon states havesimilar plans. France has even gone as far as claiming that the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament had “proven” that it is the most efficient path towards nuclear disarmament – a forum that has been at a complete impasse since 1998. Instead of disarmament commitments, they offered to update a “glossary of nuclear terms” – this is not a joke! The nuclear-armed live in a parallel universe.

Until these states reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons, we will have to create a lot of pressure. If need be, international law will need to be updated without their participation. We cannot create urgency as long as we afford them a comfortable, veto-wielding chair at the negotiating table.

ICAN has for years been encouraging the international community to courageously lead the way and change the rules of the game, even without the nuclear-armed states. The fact that the combined might of US diplomats and their allies have not come up with a single coherent argument against a ban treaty after many years of brainstorming is the strongest indication yet that we might be on the right path.

Germany’s difficult position
In its security doctrine, Germany relies on NATO’s “extended deterrence”. The US has promised to use its nuclear weapons in the defense of NATO, Japan, South Korea and Australia. This puts these states into a contradictory pickle: on the one hand, they claim nuclear disarmament as a priority and officially hold on to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. On the other hand, they can hardly criticize their “protectors” for their WMDs, and defend the status quo as best they can.

The most popular strategy to this effect is to allege exaggerated claims on the other side of the debate, and proceed to falsify those claims. For example, a prohibition will not “guarantee” disarmament – which no-one has ever claimed, as nothing is ever guaranteed in the highly political sphere of international law. In May in Geneva, Germany also lamented attempts to change customary international law “via the back door” – a devious charge, as customary law can only emerge if not a single state publicly opposes a new norm.

Further, assertions include that a ban treaty would be ineffective and should therefore not be tried, but would at the same destabilize the non-proliferation regime or even reduce the pressure on nuclear-weapon states. Poland and the US even claimed that a ban treaty would increase the danger of nuclear detonation. So the ban would be both inconsequential AND dangerous. The obvious contradiction has not kept NATO states from repeating both arguments in parallel.

The putative weakening of the NPT remains the most interesting argument, as it flies in the face of all principles of international politics. As international law cannot be enforced, its legitimacy is often strengthened through repetition and overlap. Complementary treaties, instruments and statements reinforce each other. For non-proliferation, this is welcomed: the NPT was complemented by the CTBT, the informal Nuclear Security Summits, and perhaps in the future by the FMCT. A prohibition, which would obviously serve to implement Article VI of the NPT and more clearly spell out the obligation to disarm, would allegedly endanger it somehow. Ironically, the true reason for the current weakness of the NPT is the inability of nuclear-weapon states to make good on the disarmament promises made at NPT conferences. Experts like Harald Müller (PRIF) have argued as early as 2006 that the disarmament dimension of the NPT is, for structural reasons, insufficient.

Luckily, NATO member Canada has spelt out this argument, which was also employed by Germany, in further detail in a working paper. The concern is that states that boycott the ban will call into question their NPT compliance. This analysis is, as our colleagues at Wildfire have argued before, correct. If a state is not willing to declare nuclear weapons unequivocally illegal, then this is hardly compatible with Article VI of the NPT. This article commits all state parties, not just the nuclear-armed, to pursue effective measures on nuclear disarmament in good faith, including through additional legal measures.

A boycott of a ban treaty is therefore difficult to reconcile with NPT obligations. However, this is not due to the ban treaty. The difficulty arises from the questionable position of those states that fear the concrete implications of a ban. These states already have a difficult relationship with Article VI. Making these contradictions obvious for everyone to see does not weaken the NPT. The weakening arises from the fact that these states never intended to disarm to begin with.

Another argument is Ukraine, and the renewed tensions between NATO and Russia. That military conflict in Europe once again seems conceivable should, if anything, strengthen efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the saber-rattling. Those who ascribe an important role to nuclear weapons in this context, or even blame Ukraine for giving up its nuclear weapons in the mid-90s, are in fact promoting nuclear weapons and their proliferation and acting irresponsibly. This holds for conversations in the pub as much as it does for diplomats.

Germany’s diplomatic machinery shares many of these concerns. The confusion over customary international law or the weakening of the NPT does not arise from a lack of understanding of international law. Germany is just lacking the political will to confront its allies with some unpleasant questions.

Security at the expense of others
A fundamental conflict that cannot always be openly discussed lies at the root of this unwillingness: a minority of states thinks they need “nuclear deterrence” for their security. This requires that adversaries be threatened with the use of nuclear weapons as credibly as possible, 24/7. They hold on to this belief, even though deterrence has clearly failed often enough. Nonetheless, they subject all other states to continuous danger while elevating nuclear weapons to a status symbol and supposed security guarantor.

The hitherto silent majority is now demanding that their security interests also be taken into account – via a drastic reduction with a view to the eventual elimination of the last WMD. The nuclear-armed counter that the “security dimension” of the weapons should not be ignored. Yet precisely this security dimension – the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that are supposed to make nuclear weapons an instrument of deterrence – constitute, from the perspective of states not partaking in any deterrence relationships, a direct threat to their national security. The security of all humans, and not that of a few privileged states, constitutes the core of the Humanitarian Initiative and the renewed push for the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

In the end, the arguments against a ban are untenable precisely because they are intended to conceal the true reason that stands in the way of a ban treaty – one that comes close to constituting a straightforward breach of the NPT: the nuclear-weapon states and their allies simply have no plans to disarm.

Thus, a ban treaty would finally create clarity: which states are really in favor of a nuclear-weapon-free world, and which ones are only claiming to be, while otherwise playing for time?

This effect is already being felt by some governments. Dutch and NorwegianMembers of Parliament have, thanks in part to the debates in the OEWG, found out that their own governments are trying to prevent the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Since these parliamentarians were assuming the opposite to be the case, this led to heated debates and finally resolutions that will at least constrain these governments’ room to maneuver: if negotiations on a ban treaty begin, both NATO states are in principle committed to participate.

From the OEWG to the ban treaty
These are highly relevant indications at a critical juncture. Taking a step back, one could even reduce the whole dynamic within the OEWG to the overarching question: how many states would participate in ban treaty negotiations, if these were to begin in 2017? Since 2012, more and more states have joined the Humanitarian Initiative, which culminated in the Humanitarian Pledge to close the legal gap on nuclear disarmament, co-signed by 127 governments. Ever since, a “critical mass” is in principle ready to take the leap into the unknown, and go ahead even without the nuclear-armed.

A critical mass suffices to kick-start negotiations. But the aim must remain to maximize the number of states participating, including those on the fence. The ban becomes more effective the more sign up, for example by helping to extend the prohibition of the funding of nuclear-weapon-related commercial activities to an ever larger share of international banks. This is why the OEWG was set up as a UN-mandated forum, open and inclusive for all states. Many at ICAN had been slightly less patient and called on South Africa to unilaterally organize a negotiating conference as a natural continuation of the humanitarian impact conferences.

As things stand, the OEWG will adopt a summary of its deliberations and direct recommendations to the UN General Assembly in August, paving the way for a further UN resolution to be adopted in November/December, which may then mandate a conference for the actual treaty text negotiations. Independently of possible diplomatic tricks following the release of the first draft summary in early August, there can no longer be any doubt that the majority for such a course of action is rock-solid.

Naturally, some NATO states will continue to evoke the impression that they will simply not partake in any such negotiations. But as soon as the majority goes ahead, many nuclear allied states can be expected to come around, if only because it would be in the interest of their nuclear-armed protectors to be at least indirectly represented at the negotiating table.

The front against a treaty ban of nuclear weapons is thus crumbling. Six EU states have joined the Humanitarian Initiative and NATO members Iceland and Denmark are sympathetic to it. With Norway and the Netherlands, two more have committed to take part in negotiations. In other words, Western and EU states that are not committed to the consensus-based formulation of nuclear policy within NATO have a supportive approach towards the ban.

Germany could greatly profit of nuclear ban
The realization that Germany, as a peace-loving nation committed to the respect of human rights, is coming to the defense of the worst of all WMDs, is a difficult pill to swallow. A representative study commissioned by ICAN Germany and IPPNW in early 2016 showed that an overwhelming 93 percent of German citizens support a treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons. The people of Germany presume that they have a broad societal consensus against nuclear weapons – and are unaware of the fact that their government is undermining their position.

The German government knows that its position is a hard sell. A controversy erupted in December 2015, underscoring how much attention the topic can still generate today: Germany had voted against the UN resolution promoted by neighboring Austria, which demanded a closing of the legal gap on nuclear disarmament – voting “No” rather than abstaining is a strong diplomatic statement. A series of videos of German federal government press conferences highlighted how government spokespersons struggled to respond to video journalist Tilo Jung when he confronted them with our press release. The videos went viral, reaching over half a million views.

If Germany were to boycott negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons next year, the outrage will only grow. At the same time, this could come in handy for German diplomats and their reading of the Humanitarian Initiative. Clearly, they cannot wilfully maneuver themselves into an awkward spat with NATO’s nuclear-armed members. But in a dispassionate assessment, the German bureaucracy and think tanks do agree that human security should lie at the core of their considerations, not zero-sum national security at the short-sighted expense of the majority. After all, we share the worries surrounding the humanitarian consequences, and the government has for years been trying to convince NATO partners and the US to withdraw nuclear weapons from German territory, with multiple parliamentary resolutions passed to this effect.

A ban treaty would constitute the perfect backdrop against which to get NATO partners to acknowledge that some NATO states will indeed want to ratify the prohibition of nuclear weapons. A ban would generate sufficient domestic pressure on the Germans to overcome challenges within NATO and justify a tailored deterrence architecture that does not necessarily include all allies. NATO has always been flexible enough for such opt-outs: France has not participated in the nuclear components of the alliance for decades, while Denmark, Iceland and Norway have long stopped allowing dual-capable allied ships from entering their harbors.

Indeed, the NATO treaty is silent on nuclear issues. The political, but not legally binding Strategic Concept defines NATO as a “nuclear alliance”, but also formally commits it to “create the conditions for a nuclear-weapon-free world”, even while the latest NATO summit in Warsaw further backtracked on NATO’s commitments in this regard. At the end of the day, NATO’s constraints are a double-edged sword: on the one hand, NATO hampers the development of new international law, as allies often move at the speed of the slowest member. On the other hand, once new treaties such as the ban on landmines (1997) and cluster munitions (2008) are ratified, NATO helps extend their reach even into the military planning and rules of engagement of those states that have not (yet) ratified them.

It goes without saying that nuclear-free countries cannot eliminate nuclear weapons. But they can codify their conviction that the last weapons of mass destruction are simply unacceptable: exactly the “moral revolution” Obama so eloquently demanded in Hiroshima. To achieve this, it is of fundamental importance that Germany and other progressive NATO states join the initiative for a ban of nuclear weapons under international law. Last year, Germany abstained from the UN resolution establishing the OEWG. Will Germany vote “Yes” this time around?

The time for contradictory excuses and procrastination is running out. The overwhelming majority of UN members has made their intention clear and can no longer be stopped. At the latest when negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons begin in 2017, the question as to the positioning of Germany and other NATO states will answer itself.

They will have to make up their minds: should nuclear weapons be legal, or illegal?