The Need for General and Complete Disarmament

by Derek Paul, 12 May 2010

With the renewal of hope and efforts being made toward nuclear disarmament, it is wise to reread the text of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article VI is central to this Treaty and is generally the cause of disappointment and resentment at the fact that no agreement has yet been reached that would see the final end of nuclear arsenals. The article reads as follows:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Generally diplomats and nongovernmental organizations pressing for nuclear disarmament have been willing to take the first part of article VI, down to the comma, as completely separate from the rest of the article. I suggest that this is an inadequate approach, and could even be dangerous.

Nuclear arms are the ultimate tools of destructive military engagement, so that their acquisition and maintenance by military establishments follows a logical path in the provision of defence for their political masters — and I purposely omit any discussion here of what defence really means when the arsenals of several countries include nuclear weapons. It is thus unrealistic to expect to bring about and retain a non-nuclear regime when military forces the world over are bulging with armaments of many kinds and any power could strike devastating blows to another using such forces in a surprise attack.

The root cause is surely in the reliance on weapons and the failure to arrive at a politically stable, cooperative world regime in which all such major armaments are superfluous. Not very many years ago, the United Nations’ committee on general and complete disarmament, having failed to reach full agreement on a draft treaty text, ceased further work on it.

I believe that those who drafted the NPT understood what they were doing when they wrote article VI, and that its final clause should not at any time be dropped, as it is essential to world stability that it be fulfilled. The deteriorating condition of the ecosphere in our age makes this clause even more important, since the immense resources spent annually on maintaining “conventional forces” amount to a vast wastage of what is needed for fixing the many problems of our Earth. Furthermore, it is not difficult to envisage real dangers in a nuclear-disarmed world that need to be anticipated as nuclear disarmament is achieved. Two very different examples go as follows. In one, a World War breaks out, worse even than WWII, in which immense destruction and suffering are seen and nations rush to reinvent nuclear weapons, worsening the chaos. In another, one nation attempts to assume dominance, likely through space-based systems, to the very great disadvantage of the others.

To avoid any of the possible negative scenarios, and for the sake of the ecosphere, general and complete disarmament needs to be pursued in parallel with nuclear disarmament, and also conversion from military to civil industries and the retraining of military people, especially officers, and the redirecting of the engineers and scientists now engaged in military development work, to fulfil other urgent needs.

I further declare that all signatories of the NPT are in serious violation of article VI, in that none of them has been pursuing steps toward general and complete disarmament, as they are bound to do by the terms of article VI. I therefore call upon scholars, engineers, and scientists to resuscitate the cause of general and complete disarmament, and to form an international Working Group to study the draft UN treaty on that subject and move forward from there.

Derek Paul, Prof. (Emeritus), Physics, University of Toronto
Participant in Pugwash since 1976, past Board member, Canadian Pugwash
Co-founder Global Issues Project
Board member, Science for Peace
Fellow, World Innovation Foundation