A guide to the issues
This study surveys various views on how to promote and achieve nuclear disarmament in the current security environment. It draws on our institutes’ previous work on nuclear weapons-related issues, for instance, as part of analysing the so-called ‘humanitarian impacts initiative’, the work of the Conference on Disarmament, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
A range of initiatives is required to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world
By John Borrie, Tim Caughley, and Nick Ritchie
- Underlying the challenges for the next five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in April and May 2015, which include lack of progress both on nuclear disarmament and the convening of a Middle East regional conference on a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone, NPT members have quite diverse priorities.
- The NPT needs to be preserved and strengthened, and the Review Conference provides an important opportunity to discuss effective measures, especially on nuclear disarmament.
- Regardless of what occurs during the review or on the (stalled) step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, other initiatives are necessary to achieve the nuclear-weapon-free world called for in the NPT’s Article VI.
- A recent international initiative to focus attention on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons complements the NPT’s aims, although one of its prime strengths is that it is not contingent upon the consensus outcomes of NPT review cycles for permission or legitimacy.
States have different roles to play to complete the nuclear disarmament puzzle
- A focus on ‘building blocks’ invites an analysis of roles and responsibilities for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons—all states need not be involved in all discussions on all aspects of nuclear disarmament.
- Each building block should be carved out by a critical mass of interested ‘implementers’, in a format that does not allow ‘blockers’ to prevent progress
- If states can recognize that they must play different roles to complete different parts of the puzzle, they may see progress sooner on building progress towards the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Options for multilateral nuclear disarmament and implementation of NPT article VI
By Tim Caughley
- Recent public concern about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has helped to sharpen the focus on measures by which the international community could progressively achieve the eventual elimination of these arms.
- Although many such measures have been identified over the years at meetings of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), a possible new approach for galvanizing nuclear disarmament has emerged.
- Support for negotiating a ban on the possession and use of nuclear weapons has been growing steadily on the back of new evidence accumulated at three conferences on their humanitarian impacts.
- Engaging with the concerns the humanitarian initiative has raised about nuclear weapons in a manner that builds new momentum for nuclear disarmament will be a key challenge for the upcoming NPT Review Conference.
Framing a political consensus on the unacceptability of nuclear weapons
- The absence of a specific ban on nuclear weapons under today’s international law mirrors our moral ambivalence about them.
- Consequentialist arguments for or against nuclear weapons cannot refute each other, since they both rely on alternative histories and rival futures that are ultimately unverifiable.
- As is the case with torture, certain acts can be considered intrinsically wrongful, no matter how likely they may be to achieve their goals or however worthy such goals may be.
- The challenge now is to cultivate a political consensus that, nuclear weapons are so singularly inhumane we ought categorically to reject their use, whatever purposes they may be said to serve.
Expectations are building for the need for nuclear disarmament progress
By Nick Ritchie
- Decisive multilateral progress toward a nuclear-weapon-free world led by the nuclear-armed states has not been forthcoming since the end of the Cold War, as many once expected.
- Some non-nuclear-armed states have responded by reframing nuclear disarmament debate in terms of the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, and this perspective has gathered broad political support.
- The third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons held in Vienna in December 2014 added momentum to the need for diplomatic responses to the indiscriminate and catastrophic effects of nuclear violence.
- The 2015 NPT Review Conference provides an opportunity to examine potential diplomatic responses and assess whether any qualitative and quantitative changes in the nuclear weapon policies of the NPT nuclear-weapon states demonstrate concrete progress toward their disarmament obligations.
A ‘bird’s-eye view’ of international law and nuclear weapons
This paper takes a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of international law and nuclear weapons, exploring relevant rules protecting individuals, the environment, as well as disarmament-related law such as nuclear-weapon-free zones and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The paper concludes that the humanitarian consequences approach to nuclear weapons may be conducive to finding ways of fulfilling commitments—express or implied—to protect people and the environment under relevant international legal instruments. At present there is no explicit rule or law banning nuclear weapons, unlike biological and chemical weapons.