Conference on Disarmament – Civil Society Forum

Today in Geneva, a rather free flowing discussion (for Conference on Disarmament standards) took place at an informal forum between civil society and the Conference on Disarmament. I spoke about nuclear disarmament, and my remarks are below.

Prepared remarks by Susi Snyder, PAX
Conference on Disarmament Civil Society Forum
19 March 2015
Geneva, Switzerland

I’d like to start by thanking the organisers for inviting me here to speak today. Specifically, I’d like to thank those in the Office of Disarmament Affairs who worked to make sure that there was some kind of eventual consultation with civil society in preparing the programme, and I’d like to thank the Geneva NGO Committee on Disarmament and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom who supported my invitation.
To be honest with you all, since the day I accepted the invitation to come here and speak I’ve been, frankly, appalled by the behaviour of some governments. Especially when it come to civil society. When a delegation said on 17 February that today’s event would “form no precedent and have no formal input on the work of the conference”. I considered pulling out, but, as you can see, I didn’t. Because when I commit to doing something, I do it.

Let’s talk about others who have committed to doing things, and how that’s going. As this is an NPT Review Conference year, I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about the great progress made in relation to when the NPT first entered into force. According to the Nuclear Notebook at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, back in 1970, there were about 37,863 nuclear weapons, the 2014 numbers said there are 16,300 still to be dismantled. So, it seems about 43% remain.

Those are the global numbers. And the NPT is all about multilateral action to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons free world, as is the CD, which is why we’re here today. Right?

I ask, because if you look at national figures on this, it’s a bit embarrassing for some countries. Thankfully, I’m not a diplomat, and have the luxury of speaking honestly. Let’s take a quick peek at what the actual results in the last 45 years have been.

In 1970 the Americans had ~26,008 nuclear weapons and now have about 7,300. This is about a 72% reduction. Well done. The Russians had about 11,736 now have about 8,000, that’s still 68% of the original arsenal. The UK has done the best of the club, from about 375 to the recent announcement of going down to 180. Congrats, that’s getting rid of 52%!

Now, the bad news, France had 36 in 1970 and now has about 300. That’s nearly an order of magnitude more, but they only signed up to the NPT in the 90s. China had 75 then and now has about 250, similar story to France on joining the NPT though, as everyone knows.

Of course there are those outside the treaty to consider as well. Israel had 8, now about 80 in their public secret arsenal, India and Pakistan were at zero in 1970, but now each are estimated to over a hundred.

What this shows is that the NPT has worked as an arms control measure, for the US and Russia and the UK. Especially if you conveniently forget that middle period in the 80s when the global numbers exceeded 70,000 (or not quite double the NPT starting point).

I don’t mention this to disparage the NPT, I love the NPT. I think the NPT has really helped to prevent other states from getting nuclear weapons. I think that the NPT should be strengthened. But I’m not here to talk about how to strengthen non-proliferation. I’m mentioning these things to talk about how we can smarten up disarmament.

What these numbers clearly show is that the NPT is not enough. It was never meant to be enough- from the very beginning there has been a need to also prepare for other negotiations to achieve the goals, universally shared, of a nuclear weapons free world.

In my world, I have to justify my actions and funding by filling in log frames and describing my SMART objectives. So, let me lay out some SMART objectives on nuclear disarmament.

Just to make sure though, does everyone here know that acronym?

I know a lot of people are going to the upcoming NPT Review Conference and going to try and roll over the 2010 Action Plan. I don’t think that’s SMART. It just doesn’t fit the criteria. That whole time-bound thing seems to be problematic for those with nuclear weapons. (Although for some reason it’s not problematic for those self-same states when it comes to chemical weapons. Go figure).

Anyway, what could fit the SMART criteria?

First, we need to be specific. I’d suggest picking which of the New Agenda Coalition’s ‘effective measures’ is best for you. What does the population you are paid to represent prefer? Luckily, by presenting WP 18, the NAC has really helped the international community along with this by giving us some great options to examine. In applying this criteria, and being as specific as possible, we’d probably rule out the framework and hybrid arrangements, because they just aren’t quite specific enough. While many States seem to really like having vague commitments, they don’t really seem to work, do they?

Next is Measurable. What is a Measurable thing we can hope for? Well, how about filling up the legal gap that was identified at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons? How about negotiations to fulfil the NPT obligations?
Why not negotiate and develop the body of international law so that making, having or using nuclear weapons is explicitly illegal. We can measure whether or not there is law on this.

Achievable is always tricky. What is achievable? Well, given some of the recent statements in the CD… we need to “refrain from impractical demands or political agendas that cannot command consensus.”[1] But, if consensus were our achievability marker, we’d be, well, we’d be stuck with possibly decades more of inaction. So, instead, let’s look at Achievable as what can happen now. Following on from the conference in Austria on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons there seem to be a lot of states now joining up and pledging to fill the legal gap on nuclear weapons. Joining up to that pledge is pretty achievable, I understand it’s just sending a Note Verbale to the Austrians… that’s not very hard. The pledge is even designed in such a way that it can accommodate some of the concerns expressed by a number of NATO members. It demonstrates an intent to move forward, without prejudging the forum or venue or mechanism at all. It is a commitment to act.

Of course, the negotiations of a treaty to outlaw the making, having and using of nuclear weapons is also achievable in the near term. It doesn’t need to include complex verification provisions, it doesn’t even need to include the participation of the nuclear armed states. It is a way to do something with the concerns of 80% of NPT members who have made it clear that nuclear weapons should never be used again, under any circumstances. It is achievable.

Realistic. Oh, realism.
I absolutely love it when I hear about needing to take realistic approaches to nuclear disarmament. I like to look at real numbers, like the ones I mentioned earlier. Its great to hear that we have to be realistic and take security considerations into account. Absolutely. Because if you think that nuclear weapons are adding to your security, then so do I. Why should your security be worth more than mine? And if they are necessary to maintain your security, then aren’t they also necessary to maintain mine? If they are necessary for security, why do we put so much effort into stopping countries from having them? Why do we spend so much time and energy on non-proliferation? Oh, right, because they are not legitimate weapons and no one should have them. That’s real. Even if its not considered “realistic” by some.

There are also some who say we need to find a realistic alternative to nuclear deterrence. If the re-focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has taught us anything, its that any use of nuclear weapons would kill a disproportionate number of civilians, both at the time of their use and many years after. So for a government to say that they want to find an alternative to the weapon before they replace it means that they are look for another way to kill a bunch of civilians. Makes no sense to me, but hey, I work for an organisation called ‘PAX” we really aren’t fans of indiscriminately killing civilians.

Realistically a ban on nuclear weapons will have a significant impact on the financing available for the companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons. Already the stigma of being associated with nuclear weapons prevents some financial institutions from investing. A ban, even if its not signed up to by everyone, will have a specific and direct impact on the money around nuclear weapons.

Time bound. Time bound agreements work. The global majority managed to meet the one time-bound agreement on nuclear weapons- negotiating a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in accordance with Article III of the NPT within 18 months of joining the treaty. When it comes to destruction of weapons, time bound agreements serve to assist in getting the resources together to do it safely and effectively. Having a deadline for arsenal destruction helps garner the national political attention to put together the money you need to, say, dismantle your chemical weapons factories. Deadlines aren’t always met. Depending on where you are, sometimes that’s even okay and people are forgiving (again, look at the failure to meet deadlines by the US and Russia on chemical weapons stockpile destruction- no one is calling for sanctions because they didn’t quite get there yet). I’ll tell you though, the Tooele chemical weapons depot near Salt Lake City Utah would not have been given the attention it was given, nor would it have been safely decommissioned and closed down, if there hadn’t been that time bound obligation to do so. Time bound decisions help. They don’t need to be spelled out explicitly at the outset, but just like in the NPT, a requirement to negotiate a time-bound destruction when joining, say a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty, will go a long way.

I’m going to end with a couple of thoughts:

1. Be SMART, negotiate a new legal instrument that explicitly prohibits the development, production, acquisition, possession, transfer, deployment, threat of use, or use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance, financing, encouragement, or inducement of those acts.

2. And Be BOLD, Bright Opinionated Leaders of Disarmament efforts.
We’d all be better off if there were more leaders in disarmament.

Thank you.