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Q&A: Nuclear Disarmament a Non-Starter, “But I Would Love to Be Proven Wrong”


Interview with Dr Jennifer Allen Simons, Founder and President of the Simons Foundation, dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Albert Einstein, the internationally-renowned physicist who developed the theory of relativity, once famously remarked: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Perhaps Einstein visualised a nuclear annihilation in the next world war, with disastrous consequences in its aftermath: humanity going back to the Stone Age. [P09] GERMAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

According to most peace activists, the move to eliminate nuclear weapons is not gaining traction, with no hopeful signs of an ideal world without deadly weapons of mass destruction.

Over the last few decades, the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – have been joined by four more: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

And if Iran goes nuclear – even later than sooner – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are likely to follow in its footsteps.

The most frightening worst-case scenario is the new Cold War between the United States and Russia, triggered primarily by the political crisis in Ukraine and Russian annexation of Crimea.

A proposal on the sidelines of a month-long review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which concludes next week, is to begin negotiations on a proposed international convention to eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.

Asked if the proposal will be a reality, Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons, founder and president of the Simons Foundation, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, bluntly told IPS: “I think it is a non-starter,” but added: “I would love to be proven wrong.”

She pointed out that nuclear weapons states (NWS) are offering the same old rhetoric while upgrading their arsenals and planning for a long future with nuclear weapons.

“The most that may happen is consensus on lowering the operational status of nuclear weapons,” said Dr Simons, who was an adviser to the Canadian government delegation to the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 2002 NPT Prepcom.

The global zero commission report on de-alerting has been well received, said Dr Simons, who was at the United Nations last week for the NPT Review Conference, and whose foundation, established to eliminate nuclear weapons, is commemorating its 30th anniversary this year.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Judging by the current NPT negotiations, do you think the Review Conference will succeed in adopting an outcome document, by consensus, by May 22?

A: Though it is too early to tell, so far it seems likely they will get a consensus document, and if so, it will not contain the convention/ban, humanitarian impact issues. I heard that several delegations are prepared to push for disarmament convention/ban or framework of agreements through the open-ended working group if NPT consensus on this issue fails.

Q: Will the new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia have an impact on the outcome of the Review Conference?

A: It may not have an impact because the NWS are not going to eliminate their arsenals. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is on track with reductions, but I do not believe we will see another bilateral commitment for further reductions.

Q: What, in your view, are the major obstacles for total nuclear disarmament?

A: The major obstacle may be fear! Lack of trust between Russia and the West, lack of trust that the over 30 nuclear-capable states may move forward to nuclear weapon capability. My greatest fear is that the catalyst to elimination will be the detonation of a nuclear weapon, by accident, miscalculation, design or a successful cyberattack will trigger the highly automated system or a spoofed attack.

While the U.S. feels its system is impenetrable, however a recent report from the U.S. Defence Science Board warned that the vulnerability of the U.S. command and control system had never been fully assessed. It is not known whether Russia’s and China‘s systems are vulnerable. It also cannot be assumed that India’s and Pakistan’s systems are invulnerable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s flaunting of Russia’s nuclear option is worrying and an obstacle to changing the political salience of nuclear weapons and also provides the other NWS states with a rationale for retaining and upgrading their weapons.

Q: Will we ever see nuclear disarmament in our lifetime or perhaps within the next 50 years?

A: It could happen within my lifetime — and probably only if there was a detonation. This would be such a tragic event and a crime against humanity that it would prompt a ban.

The irony of all this is that everyone is afraid to use them, the military don’t like them not only because of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, but worse, they cost so much to maintain and the military would rather have the money for other weapons.

Frankly, I will never understand why people want to kill. (IPS | 11 May 2015)

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