Can the Genie be put back in the bottle? Nuclear disarmament, an eternal struggle

Nuclear disarmament is a live issue at the present time with the recent anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such man-made devastation in a single moment is only possible via these most powerful and terrible weapons. It is for this reason that the campaign for nuclear disarmament is and must always be an integral part of the United Nations mission. As Ban Ki-moon recently stated “We must eliminate all nuclear weapons in order to eliminate the grave risk they pose to our world”. This risk is not only from their use. It is also from the threat of their use and the fear, uncertainty and instability this invokes in the international community. However, the science that created this threat can never be undiscovered, the engineering and technical expertise may be vital for our future, and the industrial capacity to build a nuclear weapon is likely only to be lost as the result of mass nuclear war (or some other global catastrophe). What then can be done? The only part of the puzzle left open to our influence and able to prevent a repeat of what was seen in Japan 68 years ago is ourselves. We must peruse the goal that American Presidents have desired since their first use, the total elimination of nuclear weapons. This is easier said than done.


America has an extensive arsenal of nuclear weapons that it could choose to decommission, vastly decreasing overall global numbers. Together with Russia they hold 95% of all nuclear weapons. However, Obama talks only of decreasing their numbers, retaining 1’000 and only if Russia would reciprocate. Britain for its part is seemingly determined to retain its place as a nuclear power with David Cameron referring to it as an “insurance policy”. And here lies the problem. Nuclear weapons are still seen as serving the national interest. Those who have them keep them and those who do not, try to obtain them precisely because they are seen to serve a purpose. They are believed to insure a countries security and insure one will not suffer the fate of those annihilated Japanese cities. However, as Ban Ki-moon asserts, “we must educate the world on the benefits of disarmament” and dispel the myth that “security is achieved through the pursuit of military dominance and threats of mutual annihilation”.


Obama rejects “the nuclear weaponisation that North Korea and Iran may be seeking”. However, it is inevitable that countries so often threatened by the foremost nuclear power (and the only country to have deployed them) are themselves going to seek their own nuclear deterrent. It is unclear how we can argue against this logic. As the major nuclear powers, America and Russia must create the political climate and international conditions that would eliminate the perceived threat and consequently perceived need for such weapons by any country, including their own. International cooperation is the only way to peace and security.


The many treaties concerning nuclear weapons must be given their proper place in international law. They must be observed by all those currently possessing nuclear weapons. The “New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty” (START) is a welcomed step. It engages the two states that control the vast majority of weapons, America and Russia. This is a major victory for the disarmament movement as it successfully gained the support of the US political system. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) however, long after its ratification is no closer to one of its goals, the disarmament of the five permanent Security Council members. Indeed, many more states have since become the bearers of the nuclear menace with more likely to follow. This is in direct conflict with the aim of the “Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty” (CTBT) which is meant to prevent new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This treaty should be a vital part of international law and as such give a firm code to abide by and enforce. However, it is still awaiting ratification by some key countries including America, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, preventing it coming into force. While 159 states have already ratified this treaty (including Russia) the lack of America is a real blow. It undermines the international efforts of the United Nations and relevant international bodies to prevent the proliferation of these weapons. It also undermines the US position towards Iran and North Korea, opening the US to the charge of hypocrisy.


Ultimately the answer lies in political will and the continued pressure being applied by the United Nations and the many NGO’s dedicated to this issue. The global citizenry must also pressurize and call for their respective governments to carry through their commitments regarding this most pressing issue. The Secretary-General’s “five point proposal on nuclear disarmament” is just such a call, asking for the CTBT to be brought into law. If headed, this is a step we would all welcome. Even so, creating a climate of trust, peace and stability, in which possessing nuclear weapons is no longer seen as in the national interest will ultimately be needed to finally deal with the scourge of nuclear weapons. Although, it may be a threat that now found will never be lost, just forever controlled. However, we must always strive for a world devoid of the desire for such destructive power.


Michael Stagg