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Nuclear-armed States Panic as Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty Becomes International Law

Viewpoint by Tariq Rauf *

“Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat,

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,

Evil appears as good in the minds of those whom gods lead to destruction.” [2020-10-26]

VIENNA (IDN) -– On 22 January 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) becomes international law in accordance with international legal principles underpinned by the United Nations Charter and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Dreading this eventuality, the nuclear-armed States and the “captive nations” in alliances backed by nuclear weapons are panicking and resorting to unhinged arguments against this treaty adopted by 122 of 193 UN Member States on 7 July 2017 – it has been signed by 84 and ratified by 50 States.

The TPNW requires signature and ratification by 50 States to “enter into force” and thereby come into operation and become an international legal reality. The number of ratifications now stands at 50, with the deposit of the instrument of ratification with UN Secretary-General by Honduras on 24 October 2020.

The TPNW, thus, will enter into force 90 days after the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the 50th State party to the Treaty and the prohibition of nuclear weapons will become international law under which nuclear weapons shall be regarded as prohibited weapons and their possession shall be considered illegal under international law.

Not surprisingly, this assessment regarding the binding international law aspect of the TPNW is challenged by nuclear-armed States and their allied “captive nations” (NATO States, Australia, Japan and South Korea) – but their criticisms and opposition are neither credible nor tenable. The term “captive nations” is used here in the context of their blind and subservient support for US nuclear weapons policies and opposition to the TPNW as well as for inadequate implementation of the nuclear disarmament obligations relating to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

One central principle of international law is “pacta sunt servanda”—pacts or treaties must be respected—as provided for under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). A recent study by the Norwegian Academy of International Law concluded that “the fact that the nuclear-armed States feel obliged to denounce the existence of a customary norm against the use and possession of nuclear weapons is, if nothing else, a testament to the relevance of the TPNW. It would have been pointless to declare the non-existence of such a customary norm if it were obvious to everyone that the TPNW could not have an impact on how States interpret the legality of nuclear weapons”.

On 17 October, the US sent out démarches to TPNW States in which it essentially denounced the treaty and insulted them by stating that they were misguided in signing the TPNW. It is obvious that the US now is in its quadrennial season of craziness, even more so this time in 2020. In the last few years, the US has laid waste to nuclear arms control, trade and environment treaties.

In the nuclear domain, the US walked away from the 1987 Treaty on the Elimination of Shorter- and Intermediate Range Nuclear Weapons (INF) under which 2,692 ballistic missiles were verifiably eliminated – on the grounds that the Russian Federation was violating it by developing and deploying a type of ground-launched cruise missile prohibited under the INF Treaty; the Russians in turn made counter charges of US violations.

Then, earlier in 2018, the US stepped out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between Iran and the E3/EU+3 (France, Germany, UK (E3); European Union; China, Russia and the US), placing limits on Iran’s nuclear programme. Even though the JCPOA was sanctified by UN Security Council resolution 2231 (2015) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was certifying that Iran was meeting its obligations.

And, the US has been prevaricating in extending the 2010 New START Treaty limiting strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the US that will expire in February 2021 unless extended for up to five years by signatures of the Presidents of Russia and the US.

Since the adoption of the TPNW in July 2017, some influential comments from Washington on nuclear arms control in multilateral and other settings have degraded into the realm of being perceived as unhinged and violating rules of normal diplomatic discourse. Earlier, in the fall of 2016, the US through NATO had issued an edict to the “captive nations” to oppose the negotiation of the TPNW. This attack on the TPNW and its supporter States continued at the preparatory committee meetings in 2017-2019 for the 2020 NPT Review Conference (now postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The US is not alone in demonizing the TPNW; the Russian Federation has denounced the Treaty in strong terms as have France and the UK. India and Pakistan too, in copycat statements, do not accept the TPNW.

One might take the liberty to make the somewhat snide comment that the vicious opposition to the TPNW is akin to the corona virus – except that in this case the anti-TPNW corona-virus triggers amygdala hijack and attacks the neocortex in the human brain that controls rational thinking.

A clear case of such amygdala hijack and “Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” is that of the circulation in a state of panic by the US of “talking points” to the “core group” of States supporting the TPNW and a version of these circulated to other States. Confirmation of this diagnosis is supported, inter alia, by the following bizarre and insane “advice” proffered by the US to the TPNW States: “Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession”.

Obviously the foregoing and the discussion below may be perceived as somewhat harsh and unpalatable, but very unfortunately it can be justified as warranted given the use of rather brutish and disagreeable language by some of the nuclear-armed States and the “captive nations” in various forums against those making the case in favour of nuclear disarmament and the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

Thus, the option has been exhausted of “turning the other cheek” and that of an “an eye for an eye” is merited given on-going and sustained provocations, and it has become necessary to point out that the nuclear-armed States’ and the captive nations’ “emperor has no clothes”.

As indicated above, “talking points” (démarches) about the TPNW have been recently circulated by the US, ostensibly with the overt or tacit support of some of the “captive nations” and other nuclear-armed States. The following discussion is a point-by-point rebuttal to the extent feasible and includes some uncomfortable truths – the discussion below should not be perceived as targeted on any one State, but some have greater historical burdens to bear than others and open societies are held to a higher standard than closed societies.

U.S. Concerns about the TPNW

[Démarche circulated to TPNW "core group" of States]

  • Many nations in Europe and Asia found it impossible to support the TPNW in light of Russia’s and the PRC's (People's Republic of China's) ongoing nuclear build-ups and the imperative of deterring both countries from undertaking aggressive actions against their neighbours.

Build-ups or modernization of nuclear weapons is underway not only in China and Russia but also in the US. The Obama administration had authorized a $1 trillion nuclear modernization before leaving office and this continues under the Trump administration. All three of these nuclear-armed States are developing hypersonic delivery vehicles for nuclear and conventional weapons, modernizing various nuclear weapon systems, investing in offensive cyber and space war capabilities.

To say that many States in Europe and Asia did not support the TPNW is a half-truth or 50%-fake news or part-alternative fact – it is true that the “captive nations” of NATO and Australia, Japan and South Korea did not support the TPNW many under intense pressure from Washington and from the glass mausoleum of NATO headquarters that issued an edict against the treaty in fall 2016, but many States in Asia did support the TPNW.

  • The P5 are not the same regarding the nature of their governments, their plans regarding the existing democratic rules-based international order, or their military intent and weapons development.

The “P5” – the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council – have no legitimacy under the UN Charter to associate their privileged status in the Security Council with nuclear weapons, hence using the term “P5” in the context of nuclear arms control diplomacy is illegitimate and unwarranted. The political nature of their governments – democratic, authoritarian or controlling – has little to do with their actions and plans to use nuclear weapons or to wage wars with conventional weapons.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and by the time it withdrew in 1989, tens of thousands of Afghans had been killed. The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and intervened in Libya in 2014 – in these three countries countless thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans have been killed. Both Russia and the US are deeply involved in the Syrian civil war where many have been killed and even more rendered refugees – not to mention use of chemical weapons. In the Vietnam war from 1955-1975, more conventional bombs were dropped on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam than in World War II, and 19 million gallons of chemical agents air-dropped to clear vegetation not to mention environmental weapon of cloud seeding to create rain.

I will not get into the torture and “renditions” under the endless “great war on terror” or enumerate involvement in various overthrows of foreign governments, killer military coups in South America, proxy wars in Africa, Asia, Middle East and the Korean peninsula in decades past. All this to illustrate that regardless of form of government, these nuclear-armed States have been involved in ruthless armed conflicts.

As for compliance with multilateral nuclear arms control agreements, all five nuclear-weapon States are in deficit with the NPT. The vital Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has been ratified by France, Russia and the UK, but the US rejected ratification in fall 1999, and China has not yet ratified – so what does that imply? Of the five nuclear-weapon States, only China carried out nuclear test explosions on its own territory; the other four did so in Algeria, Australia, Kazakhstan, Marshall and other South Pacific islands and atolls without necessarily the informed permission of the inhabitants of these areas – not to mention nuclear detonations on the Earth’s surface, underground, in the seas and in space. France and the UK did not conduct a single nuclear test on their own national territory!

Also, on the date of the start of the negotiation of the TPNW by more than 120 UN Member States, led by the US a disgraceful press encounter was held outside the UN General Assembly Hall to pour scorn on the TPNW and its supporters notwithstanding that under the rules of the UN General Assembly and the UN Charter a clear majority of 122 out of 193 UN Member States had voted to start the negotiations on the TPNW.

Finally, in this regard, why is that the States that profess their “democratic” credentials are in the forefront in attacking the majority of UN Member States that support further measures on nuclear disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons, including those 122 that have voted to adopt the TPNW – not to ignore the fact that the representatives of these very same “democratic” nuclear-armed States feel entitled to oppose civil society efforts to prohibit nuclear weapons and to verbally attack and demonize civil society actors and individuals as well as diplomats using most unsavoury language, epithets and threats.

I can personally attest to being at the receiving end of such disgusting low-brow verbal abuse and threats both as an NPT review conference delegate and analyst, and when I was an international civil servant at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discharging my duties with regard to nuclear verification and nuclear security in accordance with the staff regulations of the Agency.

  • Russia and the PRC are engaged in a headlong nuclear arms build-up with the goal of military dominance, that if unimpeded will result in a new arms race.

< US UN Ambassador Haley and representatives of Security Council permanent members denouncing the start of TPNW negotiations at the UN in New York

Strategic nuclear weapons have been regulated through bilateral treaties between the Soviet Union/Russia and the US since the late 1960s, non-strategic nuclear weapons were removed from air- and sea-delivery systems through respective Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) of 1991 but still are not subject to any formal limitations, nor are weapon-usable nuclear materials subject to controls.

As noted above, all three nuclear-armed States – China, Russia and the US – are actively modernizing their nuclear weapons and the US maintains a clear qualitative edge (QE) in advanced conventional weapons and military deployments in some 150 countries. Which of these nuclear-armed States is aiming for “military dominance” is a moot question – they all are!

  • Should they succeed, the result will be profoundly negative for the future of the democratic way of life that the vast majority of UN Member States currently enjoy or to which they aspire. And let’s be frank: The TPNW will not stand in Russia’s or the PRC’s way in remaking the global order in their own cynical, autocratic image. This is why we have proposed our trilateral arms control initiative, in order to put constraints on all the nuclear weapons of the three nuclear powers with the largest arsenals.

This is a polemical argument that is questionable. The TPNW is an “effective measure” as called for in NPT Article VI on nuclear disarmament, in parallel with the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), 2010 New START, 1987 INF and the five nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) treaties operational in Latin America, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia. The NPT is not a self-implementing treaty; it requires enabling actions. For example, safeguards agreements by non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify non-proliferation commitments under Articles II and III of the NPT. NWFZ treaties are required to implement Article VII, while nuclear cooperation agreements are needed to implement Article IV of the NPT.

As such, to implement the nuclear disarmament provisions of the NPT under Article VI, enabling actions are required such as a CTBT, NWFZ treaties and nuclear arms reduction treaties such as the INF and New START treaties. Accordingly, the TPNW also in an enabling action to implement Article VI of the NPT and the TPNW is perfectly complementary to the NPT – in fact, essential to it. While expanding the bilateral Russia-US nuclear arms reductions framework to include China is desirable, the practical way forward is to also include France and the UK – and at a later stage India, Israel and Pakistan; and address denuclearization of North Korea and the Korean peninsula separately.

  • The United States firmly opposes the TPNW. The treaty’s fatal flaw is in its premise – that progress toward nuclear disarmament can be isolated from the prevailing security threats in today’s world, which at present continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary.

Since 2017 it has been proposed to create the “conditions” for nuclear disarmament that has been reformulated as creating the “environment” for nuclear disarmament. If the rationale for this argument is accepted, then it also can be argued that many non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) that have renounced nuclear weapons under the NPT can also posit that their security environment necessitates acquiring nuclear weapons.

Many of these NNWS are in conflict regions, have nuclear-armed States as neighbours or are indirectly threatened or pressurized by these States, and thus could make a credible case to acquire nuclear weapons. Security threats necessitating nuclear weapons and preventing nuclear disarmament is a false narrative.

The very existence of large nuclear weapon arsenals itself creates the biggest security threats. The stability of nuclear deterrence cannot be assured or ensured; hence deterrence cannot be regarded as a credible or stable means of underpinning international peace and security. As the UN Secretary-General recently stated the most appropriate way to reduce nuclear risks is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

  • Not a single state possessing nuclear weapons supports the TPNW. As a result, the treaty will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, nor will it enhance the security of any state or contribute in any tangible way to peace and security in the geopolitical reality of the 21st century. Rather, it will detract from realistic and practical efforts to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

This line of reasoning again is a false narrative. The elimination of nuclear weapons is the responsibility not only of nuclear-armed States and their “captive nations” but of all States in the world as all States are living under the threat of the accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons that would result in catastrophic global humanitarian and environmental consequences.

As noted, the five nuclear-weapon States (NWS) – China, France, Russia, UK and the US – already are legally obligated under the NPT framework to reduce and eliminate their nuclear weapons. Their rejection of the TPNW can be considered as a violation of their NPT obligations unless they implement their NPT obligations or measures similar to the TPNW. It is a matter of fact, that the nuclear weapon programmes of India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have received forms of assistance from the NWS.

Once the TPNW enters into force and like the NPT, the nuclear-armed States will be regarded as scofflaws with prohibited (illegal) weapons – thus it is in their own national interest to adhere to the TPNW, bring the CTBT into force, negotiate a treaty prohibiting fissile material for nuclear weapons and eliminate their large existing stocks of such materials (FMCT), extend New START and negotiate a follow-on treaty, and for all nuclear-armed states to reduce and eliminate their nuclear weapons.

The poor response to COVID-19 and the chronic under-investment in their national health systems is a clear indicator of misplaced priorities in the nuclear-armed States and the “captive nations”. As already noted here, the rationality and mental stability of the leaders of nuclear-armed States is increasingly open to question. And, the stability of nuclear deterrence cannot be assured or ensured; hence deterrence cannot be regarded as a credible or stable means of underpinning international peace and security.

  • The TPNW ignores the current security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary and risks undermining U.S. deterrence relationships that are still necessary to ensure the security of our allies and partners.

The policy of nuclear deterrence led to the manufacture of nearly 100,000 nuclear weapons since 1945, more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions in all environments in four continents, and more than 2 million kilogrammes of weapon-usable nuclear materials. Nuclear deterrence is based on fanciful constructs that have created situations endangering the security of the entire world – endangering the security and survival of many States with no involvement in “great power” conflicts and competition – near misses of accidental launches of nuclear weapons and daily dangerous incidents at sea and in the air involving the forces of some of the nuclear-armed States.

Nuclear deterrence policy is holding the world hostage to the questionable rationality and mental stability of some of the leaders in nuclear-armed States. Nuclear deterrence means that more than 3,000 nuclear weapons are on ready to launch status, most on short-notice launch status and cannot be recalled if launched in error or accidentally.

Even after the end of the Cold War nuclear weapons are deployed in 14 States at more than 100 locations – in five NWS, India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan; and Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey which are NNWS host US nuclear weapons under questionable legal status pursuant to the NPT. The “captive nations” have been termed as “quasi-nuclear weapon States” as they rely on US nuclear weapons for their security, five of them host nuclear weapons on their territory, but then go on to preach “nuclear non-proliferation” to other NNWS several of which are in regions of active conflict.

The concept and practice of “extended nuclear deterrence” cannot be justified under the NPT; it is a dangerous practice creating nuclear risks and calls into question the nuclear non-proliferation credentials of NNWS that rely on extended nuclear deterrence as it is a perverted form of “having one’s cake and eating it too”.

  • The TPNW also is dangerously counterproductive to the NPT and the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime, reinforcing the very divisions that hinder the international community’s ability to work together on proliferation and security challenges.

This is as spurious an argument as a three dollar or three Euro note. There is no contradiction between the NPT and the TPNW. Just as the CTBT, NWFZs and an FMCT contribute to the NPT’s nuclear disarmament goals, the TPNW also does the same. As discussed above, the NPT is not self-implementing, and the TPNW is an enabling act for the implementation of Article VI of the treaty. There is no rational reason to oppose the TPNW other than the hubris of the nuclear-armed States and the “captive nations”.

  • Proponents of the TPNW have insisted that the treaty will not undermine or conflict with the NPT; however, the text itself negates that argument. Article 18 of the TPNW makes clear that in the event of a conflict between the TPNW and a pre-existing treaty, such as the NPT, the TPNW prevails for states that are party to both treaties. The treaty also would turn back the clock on critical steps taken to strengthen IAEA safeguards since the NPT entered into force.

Another spurious argument. To be precise, TPNW Article 18 notes that, “The implementation of this Treaty shall not prejudice obligations undertaken by States Parties with regard to existing international agreements, to which they are a party, where those obligations are consistent with the Treaty”. The States party to the NPT, CTBT and NWFZ treaties already have renounced nuclear weapons, therefore, there is no hierarchy of treaties for these States – all of these treaties have a common goal, to abjure nuclear weapons.

The TPNW thus applies to the nine States with nuclear weapons, of which the five NWS are party to the NPT. For the (NPT) NWS when they become a party to the TPNW, that treaty provides for a mechanism to eliminate nuclear weapons in fulfilment of Article VI of the NPT – the NPT, unlike the TPNW, only calls for “good faith” efforts while the TPNW provides them with a path towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. The TPNW builds on the NPT; it is an additive and an implementing measure not a substitute nor an alternative.

As regards IAEA safeguards, Article III of the TPNW notes thatsafeguards obligations in force at the time of entry into force of this Treaty, without prejudice to any additional relevant instruments that it may adopt in the future”. It is indeed unfortunate that the Agency’s Board of Governors has been unable to agree to make the 1997 Model Additional Protocol (INFCIRC/540) an essential component of the IAEA NPT comprehensive safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/153) for NPT NNWS.

The IAEA General Conference too has failed in this regard, its annual safeguards resolution states that “it is the sovereign decision of any State to conclude an additional protocol” and that the AP “represent(s) the enhanced verification standard for that State” that has concluded and brought into force an AP – unfortunately not for all NPT NNWS. In this regard, it would not be inopportune to note that in 2005 in clear violation of NPT framework understandings of 1995 and 2000, the US concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with India – a serial violator of nuclear and missile norms.

Then, in 2008, the US prevailed in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a self-appointed cartel of some 48 States – to issue an “exemption” to India to benefit from civil nuclear cooperation and in doing so undermined the NSG’s own principles and put in place an understanding that a regional nuclear verification arrangement such as the quadripartite ABACC (between Argentina and Brazil) is equivalent to an Additional Protocol (AP), thus undermining the universality of the AP. Thus, collectively the 48 participating States in NSG themselves have undermined the Agency’s strengthened safeguards system.

Article 3 of the TPNW requires adhering NNWS to maintain, as a minimum, their existing safeguards agreements with the IAEA and provides for further strengthened safeguards. For the majority of States, this means an Additional Protocol. For these States, the TPNW thereby secures the current standard of non-proliferation verification, which is higher than the one stipulated by the NPT. For those currently not having an Additional Protocol in place, the comprehensive safeguards agreement stipulated by the NPT (INFCIRC/153) is set by the TPNW as the minimum requirement. Therefore, the TPNW does in no way undermine the IAEA safeguards system, but on the contrary strengthens it.

Disarmed nuclear-armed States would need to conclude new verification arrangements. Additionally, the Article 4 of the TPNW foresees comprehensive safeguards for States Parties that owned, possessed or controlled nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices after 7 July 2017 (the date on which the TPNW was adopted), which would constitute an important strengthening of safeguards, for which the NPT contains no provisions.

  • While any serious nuclear disarmament treaty would require rigorous and clear mechanisms for verification, the TPNW defers any serious consideration of verification for resolution in the future, with undefined requirements and through undefined mechanisms.

With regard to this argument, it should be noted that the NPT when it opened for signature in 1968 did not include a “rigorous and clear mechanism for verification”. The NPT specified the requirement for IAEA verification of nuclear material and activities but left the details and mechanism to the IAEA as defined by the Agency’s “safeguards system”.

Accordingly, it was at the IAEA that the rigorous and clear verification mechanism for NPT NNWS was negotiated by the Agency Member States and formalized in INFCIRC/153 in 1972. Later, in 1997, the Agency strengthened the “safeguards system” with the Additional Protocol, and in subsequent years additional measures and techniques were introduced by the Agency such as the “State-level approach” / “State-level concept” among others. Thus, under Article 4, the TPNW leaves verification to be agreed by States party through arrangements to be negotiated to verify the irreversible elimination of nuclear-weapons programmes, including the elimination or irreversible conversion of all nuclear weapons-related facilities – just as under Article III of the NPT verification arrangements were to be negotiated at and through the IAEA.

  • This is a fundamental flaw, running contrary to decades of experience on what is required for actual progress on nuclear disarmament – agreements with clear obligations and robust verification methods to ensure that parties comply with those disarmament obligations.

See the preceding text on verification.

  • The fact that the TPNW walks back existing verification regimes and does not contain one of its own demonstrates that the TPNW is not a serious agreement, and instead undermines current nonproliferation mechanisms.

Again, see the preceding text on verification.

  • TPNW proponents’ use of civil society pressure drives bad disarmament choices and disproportionately impacts democracies and democratic alliances, while allowing autocratic Russia and China, which heavily censor civil society, to pursue their nuclear weapons buildups with no real domestic dissent or discourse. Accordingly, the TPNW’s efforts to delegitimize nuclear deterrence are more likely to negatively impact-free, democratic states’ ability to deter aggression.

It is interesting that the “democratic” NWS are the ones pillorying and undermining the role of civil society in nuclear disarmament matters concerning the weapon-States but they welcome and support civil society initiatives to track and identify non-proliferation violations by NNWS. With new technologies, civil society actors are monitoring nuclear weapon developments in China, North Korea, Pakistan and Russia – though strangely there remains a dearth of civil society tracking nuclear developments in India and Israel, probably because many of these NGO programmes are funded by the US and some of the “captive nations”?

Civil society actors / NGOs are contributing valuable nuclear weapons and non-proliferation tracking, citizen verification should be encouraged, and with new tools and technologies civil society even in restrictive governmental systems can provide useful information.

As for “aggression”, as noted earlier, recent instances in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were not instigated by “non-democratic” States but were by “democratic” States – in fact in the post-World War II era the majority of cases of “armed aggression” were carried out by “democratic” States directly or indirectly. If truth be told, public opinion generally in most (though not all) nuclear-armed States and “captive nations” favours nuclear weapons disarmament and investments in health, environment, education and industry rather than in nuclear weapons.

  • For these and other reasons, the TPNW cannot be considered an “effective measure” under Article VI of the NPT. There is no credible alternative to the NPT.

As shown in the above responses to the “talking points” it is clear that it is a bogus and unsustainable argument that the TPNW cannot be considered as an “effective measure” under Article VI of the NPT – quite the contrary, if the CTBT, NWFZ treaties and a FMCT are considered as effective measures then the TPNW also passes the test.

Looking Ahead

  • The United States understands and appreciates states’ desire to make progress on nuclear disarmament. Indeed, we share the desire to achieve a security environment that would make such progress possible.

The policies of the nuclear-armed States themselves are detracting from the “conditions” or “security environment” to make progress on nuclear disarmament. And, the NWS are not fully complying with their nuclear disarmament obligations under the framework of the NPT.

  • But the TPNW will not lead to these achievements, and it cannot replace the NPT as the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the facilitator for nuclear disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We reiterate our continued commitment to the better approach reflected in the NPT, including its disarmament provisions, and reaffirm our determination to safeguard and further promote its authority, universality, and effectiveness.

Another spurious argument – TPNW supporter States do not assert that the TPNW is a “replacement” or substitute for the NPT, to the contrary the TPNW complements the NPT and in no way undermines or subtracts from the NPT as explained in the counter-arguments above.

  • In this regard, we have called for the pursuit of a “new era of arms control,” taking the experience of the past and adapting it to the future. The United States is seeking to engage Russia and the PRC in a new era of arms control to limit all nuclear warheads and provide for strong verification. Other work underway to facilitate progress on nuclear disarmament includes the two recent UNGA-sponsored expert groups addressing a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Effective, verifiable arms control and disarmament measures have proven to be useful in limiting nuclear risks and preventing nuclear war, in contrast to the unrealistic political aspirations embodied in the TPNW.

It is time to renew New START for another five years and to immediately begin negotiations on a follow-on bilateral Russia-US nuclear arms control treaty that covers all types of warheads and associated delivery systems, along with proper not notional counting rules for warheads.

As for the expansion of the nuclear arms control and disarmament framework from bilateral to multilateral – as discussed above, expansion from two to five NWS, and then to eight, and deal separately with the ninth. UNGA expert groups on verification and FMCT are useful exercises but these include only 25 or so States and thus cannot be a substitute for the Conference on Disarmament (CD) – the sole multilateral arms control negotiating forum. If the CD is now regarded as being inadequate, the solution always has been on the table – convene a Fourth UN Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD IV) to modernize the CD or to replace it with another UN mandated arms control negotiating forum.

  • We also continue to pursue a practical dialogue with other states interested in nuclear disarmament through the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Working Group and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV). These initiatives are just two of many ongoing efforts to address the security challenges we face and facilitate further progress on disarmament and provide far more constructive pathways toward that goal than the TPNW.

The CEND is a distraction, described as dreaming of rainbows, butterflies and unicorns and of sprinkling pixie dust to miraculously come up nuclear disarmament solutions through a selective group of about 43 including some “captive nations” along with reluctant and/or powerless others and some defiant nuclear-armed States – a veritable coven of witches or conclave of warlocks (States) chanting:

Hubble bubble, TPNW’s powerful trouble,
Fire of deterrence, cauldron bubble,
Captive nations’ chant and grumble,
But CEND’s a muddle and a fuddle,
For the supporters of CEND,
TPNW is double, double, toil and trouble.”

The CEND has been struggling in its three sub-groups with diverging views and engaged in a futile exercise to distract and detract from agreed “principles and objectives” (1995/NPT), “practical steps” (2000/NPT) and “actions” (2010/NPT) – the focus needs to be on honouring commitments under the NPT and related agreed outcomes of review conferences of 1995, 2000 and 2010, rather than on trying to cook up evasive measures. No amount of pixie dust sprinkled on CEND can result in being held to account under the framework of the NPT – recognized as the cornerstone of the global regime for nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The CEND exercise is a good example of the “emperor having no clothes” as many of the selectively invited States only attend either because they feel pressured or that they are not in a position to refuse the call to attend – and feel that they have no other option but to follow the siren call of the Pied Piper of CEND.

The IPNDV exercise while useful has shown that it will be near impossible to craft a credible, viable and NPT-compliant international verification mechanism for dismantling nuclear warheads. The practical way was shown by South Africa when it unilaterally dismantled its six nuclear weapons and placed the weapon-usable nuclear material under full-scope IAEA safeguards and cooperated with the Agency in a forensic examination of its weapon development/dismantlement programmes.

Though not perfect, the practical way is for each of the nuclear-armed States to dismantle their nuclear warheads themselves, present the resulting nuclear material for irrevocable monitoring by the IAEA and carry out a forensic assessment by the IAEA. The nuclear-armed States also could do mutual verification to assure themselves of nuclear weapons dismantlement by other nuclear-armed States.

No treaty can be perfect – none among the NPT, CTBT, NWFZ treaties or the TPNW is “perfect” — hence to call for a “perfect” treaty again is dreaming of rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. If the threat from the current 14,500 nuclear weapons is grudgingly tolerated, the threat from a “break out” or few “hidden” weapons can be dealt with – aiming for the unattainable and the impossible is not rational; let not the best be the enemy of the good.

The arguments and rationales presented above in support of the NPT and to counter the criticism of the TPNW also apply to the “talking points” below circulated to TPNW signatory States as these are virtually the same as those given to TPNW “core group” States except for the rash and unhinged demand below: “Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession.” The temerity and hubris to make such a statement and demand is truly indicative of amygdala hijack and a case of “Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” as already mentioned above.

U.S. Concerns about the TPNW

[Démarche circulated to TPNW signatory States]

As we have stated before, the United States cannot support the TPNW.  It fails to address issues central to progress on nuclear disarmament, including the need for effective verification and the need to address the deteriorating security environment.

Both among the NPT nuclear-weapon states and NATO allies, we stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions of the TPNW.  

Many nations in Europe and Asia found it impossible to support the TPNW in light of Russia’s violations of its arms control obligations, China’s ongoing nuclear build-up, and the imperative of deterring both countries from committing aggression against their neighbours.

The position of these European and Asian states reflects the reality that the members of the P5 are not the same regarding the nature of their governments, their plans regarding the existing democratic rules-based international order, or their military intent and weapons development.

Throughout this process, proponents of the Ban Treaty have insisted that the TPNW would not conflict with or undermine the NPT and it was not meant to detract from the NPT. However, simply stating this does not make it so.

While we understand and appreciate your desire to expedite progress on nuclear disarmament, the TPNW does not offer practical and realistic solutions to disarmament.  To the contrary, it turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous to the NPT nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Russia and the PRC are engaged in a nuclear arms buildup with the goal of becoming the dominant military powers on earth.

Should they succeed, the result will be profoundly negative for the future of the democratic way of life that the vast majority of UN Member States currently enjoy or to which they aspire.  And let’s be frank: the TPNW will not stand in Russia’s or the PRC’s way in remaking the global order in their own cynical, autocratic image.

Disturbingly, to the extent that the supporters of the treaty succeed in undermining support for deterrence, this will only happen in democracies – there is no chance they will affect the policies of authoritarian dictatorships like Russia and the PRC.

For these reasons, the treaty will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, and it will not enhance the security of any state, nor will it contribute in any tangible way to peace and security in the geopolitical reality of the 21stcentury. Rather, it will detract from realistic and practical efforts to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

The United States reiterates its continued commitment to the better approach reflected in the NPT and reaffirms our determination to safeguard and further promote its authority, universality, and effectiveness. The NPT provides the essential foundation for progress on nuclear disarmament.  There is no credible alternative to the NPT.  

We will also continue to highlight other initiatives, such as our efforts to engage Russia and the PRC in trilateral arms control efforts, IPNDV, and the CEND Working Group as examples of more constructive approaches to multilateral arms control and disarmament, as a contrast to the TPNW.

We welcome your work with us on these and other initiatives. Indeed, joining with us in publicly calling on Russia and the PRC to engage in trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States will help to reduce nuclear risks instead of heightening them. In the meantime, we urge you to refrain from advocating for the TPNW, and we ask you not to encourage states to sign or become a party to the TPNW.

The TPNW is and will remain divisive in the international community and risk further entrenching divisions in existing nonproliferation and disarmament fora that offer the only realistic prospect for consensus-based progress. It would be unfortunate if the TPNW were allowed to derail our ability to work together to address pressing proliferation.

Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession.

Many nations in Europe and Asia found it impossible to support the TPNW in light of  Russia’s violations of its arms control obligations, the PRC’s ongoing nuclear build-up, and the imperative of deterring both countries from committing aggression against their neighbours.

Join with us in publicly calling on Russia and the PRC to engage in trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and reduce nuclear risks rather than heighten them. Doing so will do more for advancing the cause of nuclear disarmament than the TPNW ever will. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 October 2020]

* Tariq Rauf is former Head of Verification and Security Policy, and Alternate Head of NPT Delegation, at the International Atomic Energy Agency; he has been an official delegate at every NPT meeting since 1986 and specializes in nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament matters. Exclusively personal views are expressed in this article.

Source: UN

IDN is Flagship Agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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