Nuclear Nonsense The profound hypocrisy of the ownership of nuclear weapons is growing. Sideshows such as those wanted by Trump, in Singapore and Hanoi will change nothing. A return to serious discussions by the two nuclear weapons mega-powers, Russia and US, is needed, urgently.
The second US/DPRK summit was bound to have no result on nuclear arms control, let alone the proclaimed US goal of “complete, irreversible and, verifiable disarmament”, of DPRK. (CIVD).
There were three reasons for this. They existed going into the meeting and, nothing which took place in Hanoi, changed them.
First, Kim has no intention of giving up DPRK’s nuclear weapons and delivery capability in the prevailing and possibly any conceivable circumstances. This is because he assesses that the survival of DPRK depends on the existence of that capability.
This basic view is, in fact, understood by many other states and forms a central part of the strategic doctrine of all existing nuclear weapon states, including the US.
There is eight such states, five of which are the permament members of the UN Security Council and, thus, dominate the multilateral structure of international security. Two of the permament members, Russia and China, are comfortable with DPRK as a nuclear weapon state.
Current US policy is to insist that DPRK must not be permitted to maintain nuclear weapons capability. The same is true of it’s stance on Iran.
The problem this focuses on is not the intrinsic one, that is, of the dangers posed, fundamentally, by nuclear weapons. This concern is notably absent from US policy statements on both DPRK and Iran. Instead its stance against a nuclear capability by DPRK and Iran, in fact, rests on their hostility to those States, as such.
Elementally, they assert that nuclear weapons are dangerous when they are in the wrong hands: DPRK, Iran; while in the hands of others they are either completely acceptable because they are on “our” side ( French, UK nuclear weapons ), or must be accepted because there’s nothing we can do about it ( Russia and China’s) or, in the case of Israel, are prepared to do about it. Indeed, in Israel’s case, the US protects it.
This is all very tortuous because it both describes a self- evident reality and, a profound hypocrisy. It establishes an inherently unstable situation. Such situations are not trusted and rarely lead to positive outcomes.
Secondly, in both Singapore and Hanoi, there was always going to be the issue of the sincerity of the negotiators, and in the particular case of Trump, the dual problem of his vanity and incompetence.
In Singapore, Kim Jong UN, walked in with the wind in his sails, having obtained his meeting with the US President. He was manifestly set fair to say: I’ll go away and think very positively about CIVD; and, that would be all he would have to give; which is exactly what he did.
Trump, went away channelling Neville Chamberlain , saying we could all sleep more easily, now that the de-nuclearisation of DPRK was at hand.
Nothing of any importance happened towards CIVD, in subsequent seven months.
In Hanoi, Kim made the token offer of the YongByong reactor in return for which he wanted sanctions relief. We are asked to believe that US refusal to accept this “deal” was why the talks were ended summarily, without any agreement.
It is hard to believe this yarn: because, it is so distant from the overall issues considered to be at stake; both sides are given to untruthful, propagandist public statements; and, the expectations that had been signalled, were for more. It thus appears that the meetings were simply botched or that a spanner was thrown into them, late.
If the latter; by which side and, why?
Thirdly, while the US claims to be working to save us all from the threat of Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons: it has withdrawn from the Iran agreement and is actively attempting to sabotage it; withdrawn from the Russia/US intermediate range nuclear missile Treaty (INF); and, has embarked on a massive programme of renewal and expansion of it’s nuclear weapons holdings.
Russia has now announced its intention to leave the INF Treaty and described its similarly large scale work on expanding and up-grading its nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities.
Russia and the US already hold some 90% of the nuclear weapons in existence. That they have now embarked on acquiring more of them and increasing their potency has led analysts to conclude, credibly, that a second nuclear arms race is underway.
These are deeply dangerous circumstances; made more dangerous by numbing myths that continue to attend the existence of nuclear weapons, such as: those weapons held on our side are for good and justifiable purposes; our leaders are rational and would not use them for mad, panicked or confused reasons; their existence in our hands, will deter others and keep us safe; all systems will work; there will be no accidents.
Anyone who takes these notions seriously is merely proclaiming their awful level of ignorance of the history of warfare and, of the unique destructiveness of nuclear weapons, including of the planetary environment.
Today’s circumstances demand that a dialogue between the US and Russia on nuclear arms control be resumed. They alone can foster that process. If they do not, it will not occur and no amount of telling DPRK, for example, that they may not defend themselves in precisely the way that the US and other nuclear weapon states insist is essential for their defence, will be accepted.
The nonsense of such nuclear hypocrisy will be rejected.
And, threatening them with the use of nuclear weapons in order to prevent them from making those same weapons would be obscene and, ludicrously self-defeating.
The continuing insistence by our political leaders that, under the Alliance, Australia is protected by US nuclear weapons is grossly misleading. More pertinently, because of our participation in the US nuclear communications, command, and control system, we have made ourselves a high profile target.
An important use of our Alliance relationship would be to add our voice to that of the many others urging the US to resume dialogue with Russia and, to take other steps, all well known, to reduce the possibility of any use of nuclear weapons.
Richard Butler AC was convenor of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons; as Ambassador to the UN, he managed the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Footnote: In his article on the Hanoi talks (Pearls and Irritations, March 4th), Richard Broinowski reported that a senior Asian diplomat, in Canberra, had told him that an important reason for the break-up of the talks was that Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, had persuaded Trump to add, at the end, the demand that DPRK also disclose it’s holdings of chemical and biological weapons.This report has now been confirmed by a report published in the March 4th edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which cites a statement by the DPRK Foreign Minister, Ri Yong-Ho, in Hanoi, that “John Bolton disrupted the talks by demanding that North Korea disclose it’s chemical and biological arsenal as well as it’s nuclear arsenals”. This would seem to answer the question I posed in my article on whether or not a spanner had been thrown into the works and if so, by whom? Not unusually, there seems to have been no report of this highly salient fact by western mainstream media.