On October 27, the United Nations First Committee (disarmament and international security) voted on a measure to ban all nuclear weapons. The non-binding document, presented by Austria, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa, was approved by a vote of 123 to 38, with 16 abstentions. The document titled «Taking Forward: Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations» now goes to a full General Assembly vote in December. A UN conference will be set up in March, 2017, to launch talks on global ban and total elimination of nuclear weapons. The negotiations will continue in June and July.
Nuclear powers the United States, Russia, Israel, France and the United Kingdom were among those that opposed the measure. China, India and Pakistan abstained.
According to ICAN report, there are still more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, mostly in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. Other nuclear states include: the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all expressly prohibited by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, yet nuclear weapons are legal under international law.
The move comes twenty years after a multilateral nuclear disarmament agreement was last negotiated within the UN framework. The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has yet to enter into legal force not being ratified by a number of nations, including the United States.
The renunciation of nuclear weapons is a noble goal. The problem is how to achieve it. It cannot be done in one fell swoop. Russia does not view the idea of introducing an international ban on nuclear weapons to immediately coming into force as realistic. It has reasons to substantiate this position.
A ban would break an established multilateral agreement that the nuclear arms possessed by the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council are legitimate under the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A separate treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons without the participation of nuclear powers could risk undermining the security afforded by the NPT. A proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons through a new agreement could result in two parallel regimes.
It should be taken into consideration that no international agreement adopted by the UN would convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program or prevent terrorist non-state actors from attempts to acquire nuclear materials.
Nuclear disarmament is making progress as the New START Treaty is successfully carried out by Russia and the US. Statements that nuclear disarmament is slowed down or stymied hold no water.
Prohibition of on nuclear weapons might have made sense if all nuclear-weapon states were ready to participate but they do not. Nuclear disarmament should not undermine strategic stability and the system of checks and balances or threaten the non-proliferation regime. These are the issued to be addressed before discussing a total ban on nukes.
There are practical steps to bring the world closer to minimizing the role of nuclear weapons. For instance, an international ban on weaponization of space. Russia and China have already proposed a draft treaty for the Conference on Disarmament. The United States opposes the initiative.
The threat posed by US plans to deploy ballistic missile defense is still not addressed internationally. The plans involve Romania, Poland and South Korea – non-nuclear countries. The program provokes Russia into modernizing its strategic nuclear potential to overcome the air defenses. Besides, the use of target-missiles and attack unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) constitute a violation of the INF Treaty.
The Pentagon plans to spend roughly $3.2 billion on programs to modernize the military’s nuclear submarines, bombers, intercontinental missiles and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in 2017. Last month, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter defended the massive «modernization» of the US nuclear arsenal, citing a potential war with Russia as a reason. According to him, the US nuclear stockpile is «the bedrock of security».
The Obama administration has dismantled fewer nuclear devices than any of its predecessors.
Last month, Russia withdrew from the bilateral Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PDMA) due to US non-compliance with the agreement’s provisions. The document treaty drafted in 2000 would require the countries to destroy military stockpiles of plutonium, the material used in some nuclear weapons.
The recent deployment of NATO forces near Russia’s borders make Moscow take measures to guarantee its security. It also increases the role of tactical weapons in Russia’s defense planning in view of NATO’s superiority in conventional forces, including the long-range strike capability.
The grievances listed above are not addressed internationally. For instance, the military activities and arms control talks in Europe are stalled. No attempts to control the arms race in the Asia Pacific region are underway. The UN Geneva Conference on Disarmament is actually stymied. The arms control and non-proliferation are on the verge of collapse globally. There are many areas where international efforts to rein in arms race and put nuclear weapons under control have produced no tangible results. There is a venue for discussing the issues mentioned above – the negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It should be used efficiently, which is not the case at present.
Adding another venue for addressing the very same issues will not help. There is no magic wand to make the world a place free of nuclear weapons. The way to achieve results is a constant hard effort to make gradual progress wherever it is possible. That is what the UN should be doing using existing mechanisms. Convening more conferences and holding parallel talks to tackle the very same issues discussed at other events will not help.