PURSUING A VERIFIABLE AGREEMENT AMONG NUCLEAR ARMED STATES TO ELIMINATE THEIR NUCLEAR ARSENALS
Given the extraordinary destructive power of nuclear weapons, it should be the highest US national security priority to seek the elimination of these weapons — those possessed by other countries and those in our own arsenal.
Even our own nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to our survival. Recent studies have shown that the use of any significant portion of our nuclear arsenal against cities, even against an adversary who never fired back, could cause worldwide climate disruption and global famine. The United States needs to initiate negotiations with all of the nuclear weapons states on a verifiable agreement to eliminate these weapons.
The United States — like Britain, China, France and Russia — is already obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to take concrete steps toward eliminating its nuclear arsenal. Nations that joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states, pledging that they would not develop their own nuclear weapons, did so in part on the basis of this promise of disarmament. These states have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress among the nuclear weapons states toward meeting their treaty obligations.
“Nuclear weapons have always been immoral. Now they are illegal. Together let us go forward and change the world.”
Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima survivor, speaking at UN on the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons July 7, 2017
One response to this frustration was the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was approved in July 2017 by 122 states and has so far been signed by more than 50. The treaty is modeled on existing treaties outlawing other types of weapons considered inhumane, such as biological and chemical weapons, land mines, and cluster munitions, and makes it illegal under international law to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
The United States refused to participate in the negotiating process.. Such an attitude will not serve it well in the long run. Although it cannot sign the new treaty while it still possesses nuclear weapons, the United States should recognize reality and live up to its responsibility to begin negotiations on a staged approach that would end in the verifiable elimination of all nuclear arsenals.