A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (NWFW): Desirable? Feasible?

This review is written on the basis of a 16-page condensation of the book. I consider its contents so important that I don’t want to wait until I have read the whole book.

The editors give a brief history of previous efforts at total nuclear disarmament, which essentially petered out after the McCloy-Zorin Agreement (really only a statement of intention) of 1962, to be replaced by a series of specific but less ambitious “arms control” treaties in the three succeeding decades. The idea of total nuclear disarmament was affirmed in the Final Document of the First UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, but that was still only words. The idea resurfaced in the Gorbachev proposals in the late 1980s, and it now seems feasible, with the disintegration the Soviet Union, and with its successor states no longer being considered enemies of the West. So are their nuclear weapons still relevant, even those remaining after the START treaty reductions are completed by 2000 or 2010?

Nuclear weapons are not relevant, either, to deterring nuclear proliferation or conventional wars. North Korea and North Vietnam were not deterred by US nuclear weapons, or Afghanistan by Soviet ones, or Argentina by British ones; and Iraq tried to engage in proliferation under the present nuclear regime, as did others. How exactly do proponents of retaining nuclear weapons visualize their use in “low intensity conflicts”?

The main rival idea to a NWFW is minimum deterrence, in which the main nuclear powers retain only a few hundred to 1000 weapons each. This would be way below present levels, but still way above Hiroshima levels if used. The argument for a minimum deterrence world is that it is more stable with respect to “cheating”, i.e. one or more states hiding a few weapons and then blackmailing others. The counter-arguments are: (1) proliferation would probably ensue, (2) political changes in a NWFW would greatly increase mutual confidence and trust, so that cheating would not be considered productive in the new political culture, and (3) verification could be made stringent enough in a NWFW. This verification could be made stringent enough in a NWFW. This last point is the main argument developed in the book.

Verification would include 3 aspects: (1) Make sure that there is no diversion, either from the nuclear weapons stockpiles or from the fissile materials stored at both military and civilian reactor sites and production or separation plants. This would be done by procedures similar to the present IAEA safeguards conducted under the Non-proliferation Treaty, but improved to close loopholes which became apparent in the Iraq case. It should be preceded by making an inventory of fissile materials so far produced (a giant task) – although there would be a considerable allowed margin of error here.

(2) Make sure that existing production facilities are dismantled and no new ones are built. This would require comprehensive (“anytime, anywhere”) and intrusive (on-site) inspection. Also, existing stocks of fissile materials would have to be disposed of under international supervision, either by using then as feedstock in civilian power reactors (if these are wanted) or “denaturing” the U-235 with U-238 and “transmuting” the plutonium in particle accelerators, or permanent storage in rocks or salt mines, or shooting them by rockets into the sun.

(3) Make sure that no state has concealed any nuclear weapons or fissile materials. Here, on-site inspection and technological means of verification would be supplemented by “societal verification” (citizen reporting), the main innovation advocated in this book.

Under societal verification, the NWFW treaty would declare that it is the RIGHT AND THE DUTY of every citizen to report any suspected violation to the inspectors; and each state would enact NATIONAL LEGISLATION to put this into effect. The recent spread of democracy in the world makes this more feasible; but even in totalitarian Iraq there has been information from defectors. Physical scientists would play a major role here, because of their greater knowledge in nuclear matters. If necessary, there would be provisions of asylum for any whistleblowers threatened with retaliation.

The NWFW treaty, after receiving sufficient ratifications, would be binding on all states, even non-signers. There would be no provision for withdrawal from the treaty. The U.N. Security Council could order sanctions against violators who refuse to comply after receiving several levels of warning. The sanctions could be economic or military, but of course by conventional means only.

Further study and discussion is invited, but the book is quite comprehensive as it is. It should be carefully studied by all who consider a nuclearweapon-free world not only desirable, but also feasible. Even if you don’t consider it feasible before reading this book, the book, with its rich details, will convince you.

Whole issue on one page | as PDF

ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)