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Hiroshima for Global Peace

[Column 5] Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Nuclear Disarmament

[Column 5] Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Nuclear Disarmament

Anton Khlopkov

I first visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki in December 2016 – almost 20 years after I began to study nuclear physics. I probably should have paid that visit a lot sooner. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum are must- see places for everyone involved in nuclear issues, nonproliferation, and arms control. They cannot leave anyone indifferent. They are a stark reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy used for military purposes. They also enable a deeper understanding of the nonproliferation crises we are facing today, as well as the history and roots of those crises. For example, when I visited the memorial in Hiroshima, I was taken aback that of the 120,000 people who died in the nuclear bombing on August 6, 1945, some 20,000 were Korean.

I am delighted that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki prefectures have recently been hosting a much greater number of various seminars, forums and conferences that draw experts – beginners as well as experienced professionals – specializing in nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and international security. Visiting the two museums and meeting the hibakusha is an integral part of such events. These efforts are an important long-term investment in upholding peace and security, and advancing the cause of nuclear disarmament.

The goal of nuclear disarmament is impossible to

achieve overnight, because a world free of nuclear weapons does not equal the world as we know it, minus nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, such an approach – in other words, the idea of immediate mechanical renunciation of nuclear weapons – is pursued by the authors of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Nuclear weapons are deeply integrated into the complex, multi-tier, and multi-component national security systems of the nuclear-weapon states and their allies. One simply cannot mechanically snatch one of the crucial blocks from the foundation of that multi-tier pyramid without risking the whole construct teetering and perhaps falling over. What we can do, however, is use a phased, step-by-step approach to reduce the reliance of the construct on that particular block. In the longer term, we should try to re-design the construct, which is just as steady as the one we have now, but which does not rely on nuclear weapons as one of its key blocks – a construct in which the nuclear weapons block is replaced by something else.

Over the past 30 years, Russia and the United States have reduced their nuclear arsenals by 85%. Additionally, it is safe to say that Moscow and Washington have accumulated a wealth of experience in negotiating and implementing legally- binding commitments on nuclear arms reductions. With sufficient political will, that experience will enable them not only to make progress towards further reductions of their nuclear arsenals, but also to expedite the negotiations to that effect. Talks on the START I treaty, signed in 1991, took more than six years to complete. In contrast, the New START treaty, signed in Prague in 2010, took only 10 months to negotiate.

What, then, should be the nuclear disarmament priorities for the foreseeable future? As the possessors of largest nuclear arsenals, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to maintain strategic stability and reduce nuclear risks. But this is not a task for Russia and the United States alone – or even just for the five official nuclear-weapon states. This task requires multilateral efforts, undertaken either jointly or in parallel, depending on the specific issue.

Talking of Russia and the United States, the primary objective is to preserve and strengthen the already existing arms control architecture. The New START Treaty expires in 2021. The INF Treaty is facing difficult time. These and many other related issues require a resumption of regular, systemic dialogue between official representatives of the two states in the format of inter-agency delegations. Such dialogue would enable Russia and the United States to preserve the already concluded agreements and lay the ground for new steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Also, it is high time for all other nuclear-weapon and nuclear-armed states to make their own practical contribution to the nuclear disarmament process. They could start, for example, by making unilateral announcements of their first – perhaps symbolic – steps to reduce their arsenals.

The non-nuclear-weapon states should also make tangible steps to create an environment that would be conducive to further nuclear disarmament measures. Speaking especially of the nuclear- umbrella states, these countries should reduce the role of foreign nuclear weapons in upholding their own national security. The countries that host foreign nuclear weapons in their territory should move steadily towards those weapons’ withdrawal. The non-nuclear-weapon states that have stockpiles of weapons-usable nuclear materials in their territory should consider the possibility of irreversible disposition of such materials – preferably using an economically sustainable technology (in other words,

by using those materials as nuclear fuel).

Complete nuclear disarmament could not be done “at one stroke”, as authors of the TPNW propose. It requires long-term investments and multilateral efforts and should proceed on the basis of increasing rather than reducing strategic stability.

Mr. Anton Khlopkov

Director, Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS)