While it’s unlikely the UN Security Council will take up the threat to global peace and security recently on display by Donald Trump’s suggestions to nuke hurricanes, on 22 August the Council did hold a 90 minute discussion about new missile developments and the collapse of the INF Treaty.
Called by one Security Council member the ‘cornerstone’ of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the UN Security council heard a briefing from High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and then also discussed the end of the INF and new arms racing.
The discussion was fairly broad ranging and resulted in zero agreement. There was a fair bit of mud slinging between the US and Russia (to be expected) with some splatter effect on China (also expected). Nothing new emerged from these comments, with the possible exception of the interest expressed by the US representative to engage in talks that go “beyond treaties focused on limited types of nuclear weapons or missile ranges. We think this would be a more effective approach to addressing threats to international peace and security.”
Break the cycle
A number of states suggested that there is a way to break the cycle of arms racing and arguing – namely to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Joining the treaty offers a way to clearly and quickly illustrate the utter rejection of the arms race and the weapons they represent.
The lack of movement on missile issues, and the growing proliferation of missile technology (Nakamitsu noted that there are at least 40 countries with missile technology that could become nuclear capable) was lamented by some, but not enough to suggest other mechanism to encourage restraint than the current Hague Code of Conduct or Missile Technology Control Regimes. There was also apparently little talk about reducing risk through early notification of testing, transparency in deployments or other tools in the risk reduction toolbox.
Speak with, not at
There was clear lack of willingness to hear the significant national security concerns raised by the threat perceptions recent activities have generated. The lack of understanding about the threat perceived by Russia from US missile deployments in Eastern Europe, combined with a lack of empathy for the concerns raised by new hypersonic capabilities (and the messages intended by the recent Russian nuclear powered missile testing) show that parties are speaking across one another, and just not listening.
The lack of a shared language around nuanced threat escalations is one element behind the new arms racing. As Equatorial Guinea notes, the defence industry is another.
Let’s not forget the former US ambassador to the UN, is now sitting on the board of directors of Boeing. Nikki Haley, along with others in the arms industry will personally benefit from a new arms race, some companies already are.
Can the UNSC go nuclear?
There was a clear call by the Ambassador of Cote D’Ivoire to recall the previous agreements made in the council to reduce nuclear tensions, not least UNSCR 984 (1995). What is rarely discussed about 984, and good to recall, is the way in which it also encourages any state without nuclear weapons to call on the council for support in restoring peace and security both in situations wherein they are the subject of use of nuclear weapons, but also when they perceive being threatened by nuclear weapons. 984 is a harbinger against coercion by nuclear weapons. When some officials are currently thinking of nuking hurricanes, without considering the resulting impact on states in the vicinity, perhaps it’s in the interest of CARICOM states to bring this threat to the attention of the security council. And should the council fail to act, to demand accountability through more democratic UN bodies, like the General Assembly.
Moving beyond the rhetoric, states must act for increased security. The best option forward is clearly through the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Though it doesn’t address the missile proliferation questions, it does effectively reduce the ability for states to move towards nuclear capabilities, and decreases tensions and reduces risk by finally taking that option off the table.