RAMESH THAKUR. Urgent appeal to save nuclear agreements (Japan Times 25-8-19)

The Hiroshima Round Table held its seventh annual meeting last Wednesday and Thursday. For the first time, in recognition of the uniquely dangerous international security environment since the dawn of the atomic age in this beautiful city, the Round Table issued an urgent appeal to maintain existing nuclear arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation pacts and to build on them in order to deepen strategic stability. The Hiroshima Urgent Appeal, signed by all participants with the exception of those whose institutions preclude individual officials signing any public appeals, was in addition to the regular chairman’s summary that covers all topics discussed at the meeting.

The appeal listed four pacts. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in December 1987, prohibited both conventionally armed and nuclear-tipped ground-launched missiles in the 500-5,500 km range. By the implementation deadline of mid-1991, around 2,700 missiles had been destroyed, of which two-thirds were Soviet-made. Thus the INF made a significant contribution to the security of Europe as the front line of the Cold War divisions, and also underpinned broader international security for 30 years.

As the first nuclear disarmament agreement, it also made a tangible contribution by the two nuclear weapon states with the largest arsenals to the implementation of their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

When the United States pulled out of the INF treaty in February, Russia quickly followed suit and on Aug. 2 the treaty lapsed. On the eve of the Hiroshima Round Table, the Pentagon announced the U.S. had successfully flight-tested a medium-range, conventionally armed cruise missile on Aug. 18 off the coast of California.

Russia accused the U.S. of taking “the course of escalating military tensions” and called the test a matter of “deep regret.” The Hiroshima Urgent Appeal noted the abandonment of the INF with regret and, bearing in mind the destabilizing consequences of any intermediate-range missiles arms race, strongly urges all countries to exercise maximum restraint, and to explore all possibilities for reciprocal restraint.

Second, we called on Russia and the U.S. to extend the New START Treaty for an additional five years beyond 2021. Signed in Prague on April 8, 2010, and in force since Feb. 5, 2011, the 10-year treaty required the reduction of strategic missile launchers by Russia and the U.S. to half the existing numbers, regulated the numbers of warheads that could be deployed on the missiles, and established a new inspection and verification regime to monitor implementation.

It has a provision for a one-off extension by five years. Although Russia has called for discussions to extend it, U.S. President Donald Trump has thus far rebuffed Moscow, calling it one of several bad decisions by the Obama administration. We believe extending it would help maintain stability and provide time to negotiate a follow-on agreement. Indeed, Moscow and Washington should discuss additional measures to control new types of strategic offensive arms under development, as well as strategic defensive arms.

Third, we noted that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an important constraint on nuclear proliferation and the arms race. It is unique in being fully operational yet not legally in force because of an egregious entry into force requirement that has stood as an own goal for over 20 years since the treaty’s adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in September 1996. It has been signed by 184 states. But it requires all 44 countries with significant nuclear activities to sign and ratify before it can enter into force; eight have yet to do so.

Meanwhile the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) has been established in Vienna and is fully operational with an international monitoring system that has over 300 facilities around the world to detect nuclear explosions.

Among the eight critical holdouts, China and the U.S. have signed but not ratified, while India and Pakistan have not even signed. There is some speculation in Washington circles that the U.S. may be contemplating “unsigning” the CTBT, just as it did with the International Criminal Court. This would be a retrograde step. The CTBTO would have a critical role to play, for example, in verifying North Korea’s compliance with no testing obligations consequent to any denuclearization agreement.

Spurred by fears of the negative consequences of any unsigning of the CTBT by the U.S., an entirely plausible development with the present administration, the Hiroshima Urgent Appeal urges the relevant states to sign and/or ratify the CTBT in order to enable its entry into force as soon as possible. Until such time, all countries should refrain from activities that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty.

Fourth, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, 2015) that checked any possible nuclear weapon ambition by Iran has made a significant and effective contribution to achieving nonproliferation goals in the Middle East and globally.

The Trump administration’s decision to walk away from an international agreement that had been multilaterally negotiated, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, and was being faithfully implemented by all other parties, was especially egregious. It put a big question mark on how trustworthy the U.S. is in honoring international deals. The Round Table participants deeply regret the unilateral decision by one party to abandon the JCPOA and urge all parties to continue to uphold its commitments.

The rapid deterioration of nuclear arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation pacts adds to the rising risk of the use of nuclear weapons. The Hiroshima Round Table participants remain strongly committed to verifiable and effective treaty-based nuclear arms control and disarmament. Amid the heightened global tensions, entering the path of a new arms race would offset the significant reductions achieved during and since the Cold War under the auspices of the various arms control pacts. We therefore encourage the preservation, extension and broadening of their achievements.

The steadily eroding credibility and effectiveness of the nuclear nonproliferation regime based on the NPT damages the chances of a successful outcome of next year’s NPT Review Conference, 50 years after this critical pillar of global security entered into force. The last review conference in 2015 collapsed without any final agreement and a second successive failure could destroy the NPT completely.

Therefore, it is imperative that all states do their utmost to preserve, uphold and further advance nuclear arms control and disarmament pacts for the maintenance of peace and stability. This will help to protect the integrity of the rules-based international system with effective multilateralism as a key principle.

Ramesh Thakur is an emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.

This article was published by The Japan Times on the 26th of August 2019. 

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