Two messages have popped up on the news feed, one right after the other: on Dec. 7 in Seoul at the Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the destruction of all nuclear weapons in the world, while almost simultaneously, Poland’s deputy defense minister, Tomasz Szatkowski, announced that Warsaw is considering asking NATO to station American nuclear weapons on Polish soil.
Of course one could point out that it is part of Ban Ki-moon’s job description to speak out against all forms of war and armed violence and to advocate for total disarmament, but rose-colored glasses and detachment from reality do not suit a good politician.
Today it is clear to any sober-minded person that a third world war was prevented only by the fact that the Soviet Union was capable of enforcing a policy of nuclear deterrence. All the doctrines Washington was devising – of «preemptive nuclear war», «massive retaliation», «flexible response», and «limited war» – lost their worth once Moscow acquired a nuclear bomb and could potentially threaten the US with a devastating retaliatory strike. Nuclear weapons have become an instrument of strategic deterrence and continue to remain so. Incidentally, the UN’s International Day against Nuclear Tests is celebrated on Aug. 29 – the same day that the Soviet Union first tested an atomic bomb in 1949.
And to put it bluntly, in response to the question as to whether we can today bid farewell to all the world’s existing nuclear arsenals – the answer is no. And Ban Ki-moon knows this better than many others. As recently as last May he expressed his natural disappointment over the outcome of the Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was held at UN headquarters in New York. The participants in the forum failed to reach agreement on how to move forward toward nuclear disarmament. In particular, the UN Secretary-General expressed regret that the parties had failed to overcome their differences regarding the establishment of a zone in the Middle East that would be free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
This would be a fitting moment to recall that it was the Russian delegation that suggested the creation of the working document about convening a conference in regard to the establishment of this zone in the Middle East. However, a positive verdict on that document was blocked by the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, despite the fact that everyone else had been prepared to sign the final document – 162 states, plus observers representing 115 intergovernmental and NGO organizations.
The dramatic deterioration of the international situation in regard to Syria has renewed the urgency of establishing an NPT for the highly volatile Middle East, but apparently Washington and London think otherwise. So this is not the time for fairy tales about the «destruction of all nuclear weapons in the world»…
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) seems destined for a dismal fate. That agreement bans nuclear-weapons tests in any environment – on the ground, in the atmosphere, underwater, or underground. This prevents countries that do not yet possess nuclear weapons from building them, and stops those who already have them from improving them or developing new ones. Countries began to sign the treaty in 1996, but it was acknowledged that before it can enter into force, the agreement must be both signed and ratified by the 44 states that possessed nuclear technology at the time of the final negotiations on the treaty. However, as of today only 36 of those countries have ratified the document, including the Russian Federation, Great Britain, and France. The US, China, Israel, Iran, and Egypt have not. Plus North Korea, India, and Pakistan have all flatly refused to sign the CTBT.
The fact that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been inactive for 15 (!) years clearly says a lot about the reluctance of the members of the nuclear club to take a serious approach to the renunciation of nuclear weapons as a means to address major policy issues. With admirable persistence, diplomats meet annually and hold talks, but without making the slightest progress. As Mikhail Ulyanov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, has explained, «countries have different priorities and different views about what the CD should do». And this is despite truly dire problems such as how to stop weapons from being deployed in outer space! For Moscow, that subject is one of its highest priorities, «because if weapons are positioned in space, strategic stability will be disrupted … because more and more countries are capable, or almost capable, of deploying weapons in space or of creating weapons that can be used against targets in space or directed from space toward targets on Earth».
Recognizing this threat, several years ago Moscow and Beijing submitted a draft treaty that would prevent this, but no progress has been made on it. Nor is anything being accomplished on such issues as security assurances to non-nuclear states, nuclear disarmament, or new types of weapons of mass destruction, including radiological weapons.
As usual, the US is categorically opposed to any measures to prevent weapons from being positioned in outer space, even proposals that have won the approval of many parties. Mikhail Ulyanov claims that America «is determined to retain an entirely free hand and not be bound by any obligations».
The US has proposed a further reduction in nuclear arsenals, but prefers «not to notice» that nuclear disarmament does not exist in a vacuum and can take place only in an environment of strategic stability and equal security for all. It is that very strategic stability that Washington is undermining with its plans to create a missile-defense system in Europe and an «instant global strike» program that employs nuclear weapons. Nor is Russia willing to accept the imbalance in conventional arms in Europe that has arisen as a result of NATO’s expansion. Without taking all these factors into account, there is no point in discussing further steps towards disarmament.
Strategic stability is also being undermined by events such as the possibility of Poland joining NATO’s nuclear mission. No matter the guise under which that maneuver was communicated (the press office of the Polish Ministry of Defense has already hastened to clarify that there is presently no work underway for that country to join NATO’s Nuclear Sharing program), it is perfectly clear that NATO’s program of joint nuclear missions is in conflict with the most basic provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s permanent representative to NATO, has pointed this out.
On Dec. 7 he called attention to the fact that the treaty directly forbids nuclear states from transferring nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states, and requires that non-nuclear states forgo any attempts to acquire control over such weapons. The Russian diplomat noted however «We nevertheless possess information that the Polish air force has taken part in a number of exercises that included, among other things, possibility of carrying out nuclear missions. We can see that, unfortunately, NATO is not about to alter its nuclear policy».