Only when nuclear powers take the responsibility of reducing their arsenals will it be possible to eliminate the most destructive weapons ever created.
Only when global nuclear powers take seriously the responsibility of reducing their arsenals will it be possible to eliminate the most destructive weapons ever created. To reduce the incentive for other countries to acquire nuclear material, we have to gaurantee their access to nuclear energy. But most importantly, we must create a more balanced international system.
Imagine this: a country or group of countries serves notice that they plan to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to acquire nuclear weapons, citing a dangerous deterioration in the international security situation. "Don't worry," they tell a shocked world. "The fundamental purpose of our nuclear forces is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. Nuclear weapons provide the supreme guarantee of our security. They will play an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of our response to military aggression."
Withdrawing from the NPT is a drastic step, but every state party to the Treaty has the right to do so, giving a mere three months' notice, if it decides that "extraordinary events have jeopardized its supreme interests. The international uproar that would follow such a move is predictable. Yet the rationale I have just cited to justify nuclear weapons is taken from NATO's current Strategic Concept.
A similar rationale underpins the military doctrines of the other states with nuclear weapons. So the obvious question is: if leading world powers believe their security depends on having weapons that could annihilate our entire planet, and if they keep modernising and upgrading their nuclear arsenals and even conducting research into their actual use, how can we credibly expect other nations - in the name of maintaining international security - to refrain forever from seeking the same weapons?
The simple answer is that we cannot. The only way to prevent nuclear weapons from spreading and ultimately being used is to abolish them. At the same time, we must build an inclusive and equitable international security system in which no country feels the need to rely on nuclear weapons.
Fortunately, there is growing momentum behind the idea that eliminating all nuclear weapons is not just a Utopian ideal, but both possible and necessary. Not only the Kissinger-Shultz-Nunn-Perry quartet in the United States, but also other eminent figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Schmidt, Fernando Cardoso, and Desmond Tutu have called for them to be scrapped. I am greatly encouraged that President Obama has made a firm commitment to making the elimination of all nuclear weapons a central tenet of his policies. So what do we need to do as an international community to build on the new momentum?
First, resume disarmament negotiations between the United States and the Russian Federation. Despite major cutbacks in the last 20 years, there are still some 27,000 nuclear warheads on the planet, 95 percent of which are held by these two countries. An initial target could be to cut to 1,000, or even 500, verified warheads on each side. This needs to be accompanied by the long-overdue entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and early negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty that would verifiably ban the production of material for nuclear weapons.
Second, we need to establish a mechanism for multinational control of the production of fissile material. This would counteract an emerging phenomenon of more and more countries becoming "nuclear-weapon-capable states, possessing the technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons in a matter of months, if they so chose. A multinational assurance-of-supply mechanism is a must to ensure that countries that want peaceful nuclear energy have guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel without having their own uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing technology. For any such mechanism to succeed, however, it must be universal, equitable, and apolitical.