Rebutting six deceptive arguments against a nuclear weapons ban
Should we still strive for a world without nuclear weapons, despite global security concerns? Absolutely, writes Cesar Jaramillo, as he debunks the justifications for not taking current negotiations seriously. BY: CESAR JARAMILLO MARCH 31, 2017
This year’s multilateral negotiations toward a legally binding prohibition on nuclear weapons reflect a growing global recognition that a nuclear-weapons ban is an integral part of the normative framework necessary to achieve and maintain a world free of nuclear weapons. For some observers of nuclear issues, in and out of government, they also constitute a welcome shock to an otherwise lethargic nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime.
UN Resolution L41, which calls for negotiations toward a new ban on nuclear weapons, was adopted by a wide majority at the General Assembly last December (123 for, 38 against, 16 abstentions). It epitomizes a new political reality in the nuclear disarmament realm: Founded on the humanitarian imperative for nuclear abolition, it bears witness to a widely held perception that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as currently implemented, does not constitute a credible path to abolition.
Negotiations stemming from L41 began this week at the United Nations in New York and, after the first round ends Friday, will continue June 15 to July 7. All UN member states, along with international organizations and members of civil society, were called on to participate. Yet, several did not.
A majority of nuclear-armed states and their allies — including the United States and most other NATO members, such as Germany and Canada — have actively opposed this effort and have openly tried to undermine its rationale.
The U.S. envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, attempted to justify her country’s absence this week by telling reporters, “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic… Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?” (As she said this, she confirmed that the U.S. itself did not agree to a nuclear weapons ban. The irony, of course, was not lost.)
And while it is hardly surprising that the very states that rely on nuclear deterrence would oppose a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, the primary arguments used to oppose the ban cannot withstand close scrutiny. They are either misleading, based on a dead-end logic, or outright wrong.
Let us consider six of the most commonly cited arguments.
1. Negotiations fail to consider the global security environment.
This point has been frequently raised by opponents to condemn negotiations before they even start. In reality, however, neither the way in which the talks will unfold nor possible outcomes are predetermined. These naysayers have been repeatedly urged by a majority of NPT and UN states parties to participate in the talks, which would allow them to raise any and all international security concerns they may have. Instead, they preemptively indict the process and choose instead to boycott the negotiations.
2. A nuclear-weapons ban would be ineffective…… Remarkably, one of the best articulations of the significance of a legal ban comes from the U.S. and reflects NATO thinking and policy.
In an unclassified NATO document from October 2016 entitled “United States Non-Paper: ‘Defense Impacts of Potential United Nations General Assembly Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty,’” a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons is presented as anything but insignificant or ineffective. …….
3. The process to ban nuclear weapons is divisive and not based on consensus…….Indeed, these talks will be divisive. But they simply shed further light on longstanding divisions, which continue to be exacerbated by the blatant disregard of nuclear-weapon states for their obligations to disarm.
It should be noted that the very countries that blocked consensus in the process surrounding the nuclear-weapons-ban negotiations, including the adoption of Resolution L41, are now criticizing the lack of consensus……Perplexingly, states wishing to undermine the negotiations continue to point to their own unwillingness to participate as an inherent flaw in the process.
4. A legal prohibition of nuclear weapons is no substitute for actual weapons reductions……..The historic adoption of Resolution L41 and the process surrounding it constitute the strongest diplomatic signal in decades that the peoples of the world reject these horrifying instruments of mass destruction. Critically, these developments could well signal a turning point in the humanitarian, diplomatic and political struggle toward their elimination……… Many recent and current international efforts related to nuclear weapons did not and will not reduce the size of nuclear arsenals. Various UN panels of governmental experts, high-level meetings related to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and NPT-endorsed plans of action, which produced no warhead reductions, have received multilateral support over the years. Why should negotiations on a ban be denied similar backing?
The NPT was designed to prevent non-nuclear-weapon states from acquiring nuclear weapons and to compel nuclear-weapon states to eliminate their arsenals. In no direct or implied phrase does the treaty limit complementary efforts, such as negotiations toward a nuclear-weapons prohibition, to implement its provisions and advance nuclear disarmament.
6. Better than a ban is a so-called progressive, pragmatic approach to nuclear disarmament…….No credible multilateral undertaking now exists that will lead to nuclear disarmament in the foreseeable future. Efforts to further the nuclear disarmament agenda have withered when denied support by nuclear-armed states……. Developments such as the rapid, costly modernization of nuclear arsenals and related infrastructure (some estimates put the price tag at more than $1 trillion), heightened tensions between superpowers, and a dysfunctional multilateral disarmament machinery, underscore the inadequacy of the current approach to nuclear disarmament.
The nuclear-weapons-ban movement must be understood in this context. It developed out of the failure of the NPT to deliver on the promise of complete nuclear disarmament. The “pragmatic” approach advocated by those resisting a legal ban has already been tried — and has been found wanting. https://www.opencanada.org/features/six-deceptive-arguments-against-nuclear-weapons-ban/
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