Wildfire>_ News Archive - 2013

3 November 2013 - First Committee Follies

What are we to make of the First Committee? Certainly a yawn-inducing parade of speeches, masquerading as "debate". But it is nevertheless useful as a way to find out who is thinking what, and of gauging the general level of individual and collective delusion.

There were some encouraging signs. The 125-nation statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons was one. Then there was the spectacle of the nuclear weasel states expertly isolating and exposing themselves, before bathing in ridicule. Wildfire>_ couldn't have scripted that episode any better (although we would perhaps have had them retain the immortal "simply banning nuclear weapons" line of their original draft).

Then there was Incredible India, rejecting and embracing nuclear weapons in a single statement. Back in July we mocked the UK for its contradictory statements made a few weeks apart. India has gone a step better, perfecting a purer, more concentrated form of doublethink, with the contradictions brazenly sitting in adjacent paragraphs. Reading the Indian statement, you might think that India had somehow obtained nuclear weapons unwittingly, perhaps planted by Pakistani agents in the dead of night, or contracted like a case of measles.

But even India looked relatively sensible next to the efforts of the Russian delegate, Vladimir Yermakov. Believe it or not, this man is not a paid agent of Wildfire>_, although he should be. He probably did more than anyone else at the First Committee to advance the cause of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Single-handedly destroying the few remaining shreds of credibility held by the NPT nuclear-weapon states, Yermakov did his level best to drive states towards a ban treaty with such gems as "stop wasting time on humanitarian impact - get back to wasting time in the CD". The Wildfire>_ team only regret that we were not there in person to watch the rest of the P5 cringe whenever he opened his mouth.

We are grateful to the nuclear-weapon states and the weasel states for so clearly demonstrating why we need to change the game. It's a pity they had to do it at such tedious length. Next year, we recommend they save time and effort by using this handy short formulation, that still covers all the nuances of their positions:

"Nuclear weapons are goodbad. They bring stabilitydanger. We must eliminateretain them".

21 October 2013 - Axis of weasels!

Wildfire>_ doesn't usually pay a lot of attention to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. But recent developments there are too hilarious to ignore. New Zealand has been preparing a statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons - in a similar vein to the one made by 80 states at the NPT PrepCom in April - and has reportedly lined up over 100 states to join it. Always a little prickly and sensitive about international successes of its smaller neighbour, Australia has launched a rival "humanitarian" statement, and is busily signing up other weasel states. (Wildfire>_ saw an early draft of this statement, which was comedy gold, but perhaps it has been improved since then.)

So, which statement to join - Kiwi or Weasel? As a public service, we present this handy quiz to help the undecided delegate make up his or her mind. Just answer the questions, then check your score below:

1. Any use of nuclear weapons would be:

(a) a global catastrophe, affecting every man, woman and child on the planet, as well as future generations.

(b) of clear concern, but then annoying powerful nuclear-armed allies would be awkward too.

2. A non-nuclear-state party to the NPT:

(a) has foresworn nuclear weapons, and would never knowingly acquire or retain them.

(b) can legally keep a few nuclear weapons "for a friend", just in case.

3. Strontium-90 is:

(a) a cancer-causing radioactive isotope released by nuclear detonations, that accumulates in humans even thousands of miles away.

(b) a B-group vitamin, like thiamine or riboflavin, often added to breakfast cereals to strengthen bone development.

4. The total elimination of nuclear weapons is:

(a) the only way to ensure they are never used.

(b) a shared goal to which we urgently reiterate our resolute and unwavering commitment to achieving and maintaining, when global conditions allow.

5. The renewed focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons:

(a) will support progress on non-proliferation and disarmament, including through implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

(b) will distract from, er, and risk the, um, somehow, step-by-step... is this a trick question?

Your score: add up your total of (a) and (b) answers.

Mostly (a): You should join the New Zealand statement.

Mostly (b): You are a weasel. You should join the New Zealand statement anyway. Trust us, it's in your best interest.

16 October 2013 - A ban treaty and the NPT

Wildfire>_ has been bemused for some time by the apparent readiness of various naive and credulous non-nuclear-weapon states to believe that a treaty banning nuclear weapons would somehow damage or undermine the NPT. We had assumed that this notion was nothing more than a transparent piece of self-serving nonsense put about by the NPT nuclear-weapon states.

But it's been persistent enough that we tackled it directly in our news item for 4 September. And now the people at Reaching Critical Will, who have far more patience and diligence than we do, have put together this very thorough debunking. In simple terms that even diplomats can understand, the paper carefully and comprehensively demonstrates why a ban treaty would strengthen the NPT, not undermine it.

It pains Wildfire>_ that RCW has to go to this sort of length to prove what should be obvious to anyone who stops to think about it for more than 20 seconds. It reminds us of the painstaking but forlorn efforts of NASA to debunk the moon-landing hoax conspiracy theorists. But there you have it: we must work with what we are confronted with - however absurd - and Wildfire>_ salutes RCW for its noble effort.

So, for any of you lily-livered non-nuclear-weapon states who are wringing your hands about damaging the NPT, take your tin-foil hats off and read the RCW paper. Then get out there and start pursuing a ban treaty.

1 October 2013 - the High-Level Meeting

There has already been plenty of commentary on the HLM on nuclear disarmament held in New York on 26 September, and Wildfire>_ is not going to start picking through individual statements. Instead, we'll take a higher-level look at the high-level meeting.

Certainly, the event was helpful in showing once more the cold hard truth that the nuclear-weapon states will never move of their own volition. They cling anxiously to the existing ineffective and moribund approaches, which they know will never lead anywhere and will thus allow them to keep their weapons indefinitely.

There was no better illustration of this than the United States (in the joint US/UK/France statement), which among other cringe-inducing flights of self-delusion called for states to ratify the CTBT! That's right: the step-by-step approach advocated by a nuclear-weapon state that can't even get its shoes on.

So with the neon sign helpfully flashing "nuclear disarmament - this way", you might think that the non-nuclear-weapon states would take the opportunity of the HLM to announce their departure on the journey to a ban treaty. You would be wrong. Instead, in many fine words, they again proclaimed the need for this, their regret at that, their support for something else. Nobody actually undertook to do anything.

We understand the sentiment, we admire the rhetoric. Who could fault the well-worn reasoning of the Same Old Agenda Coalition (SOAC), or better sum up the current miserable situation than the succinct and elegant statement from Brazil? But we are reminded of a line from a story by Somerset Maugham: "It was of course a pointed and effective speech, but all who heard it knew that it left things exactly where they were".

It is not enough to "support commencement of negotiations". You actually have to commence them - with or without the nuclear-weapon states.

So, non-nuclear-weapon states, do you dare disturb the universe? Apparently not yet...

15 September 2013 - Samuel Beckett still running the CD

The Conference on Disarmament concluded its 2013 session last week, adopting a report that, if anyone can stay awake long enough to read it, records the sorry fact that the CD again achieved nothing. No surprises there.

But here at Wildfire>_ we really had to laugh when some earnest Dutch diplomat (let's call him Estragon) tweeted - apparently without irony - "there seems to be growing realisation that something needs to happen soon".

Ah, so Godot is not coming today - but surely tomorrow, eh? Every year we read these homilies: this is the last chance for the CD, we cannot afford another year of inaction, etc, etc. And every year it's the same: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful". Waiting for Godot is a play in two acts; the CD is a tragicomedy in seventeen.

And yet the cast keep showing up and faithfully reading their lines. Why? We know why the nuclear-armed states do: they're quite happy for the show to go on forever. But why do the non-nuclear-weapon states feel compelled to take the stage year after year in this interminable exercise in futility?

Rest assured, the CD will carry on in 2014 as it did in 2013. You can safely turn your attention elsewhere. Stop waiting for Godot, and start negotiations outside the CD on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

11 September 2013 - What happens after the ban?

Wildfire>_ has a new page, playing the new game, that sets out our vision for what will happen once a treaty banning nuclear weapons enters into force, without any of the nuclear-armed states on board. No miracles, no magic solutions: a treaty banning nuclear weapons will not remove a single warhead in itself. But it will hand responsibility, power and control to the non-nuclear-weapon states.

Not convinced? Why don't you change the game and see what happens? What have you got to lose? Do you really want to leave this to the CD?

6 September 2013 - "There will be no fire without a spark"

Wildfire>_ is frequently exasperated by the tendency of academics and NGOs to express their (occasionally valuable) ideas at vast, waffling length, obscuring important points in extraneous detail and ponderous circumlocution (see this effort from Article 36 for an example of excellent ideas buried deep in verbal sludge).

So we were surprised and encouraged to read this outstanding article by Gro Nystuen and Stein-Ivar Lothe Eide of the International Law and Policy Institute. Short, incisive and punchy, it calls on the non-nuclear-weapon states to show "resolute normative leadership" and seize the opportunity to move ahead on a ban treaty without the nuclear-weapon states. Some highlights:

Or as Wildfire>_ would put it, help is not coming. So, non-nuclear-weapon states: where are you? Still shuffling OEWG papers? It's time to stand up, speak out, and change the game - be the spark that lights the fire!

4 September 2013 - The Irish Questions

The Open-ended Working Group concluded last week, adopting a report in which there is nothing worth remarking upon - although it perhaps has some use as a handy catalogue of things that will not and cannot work. The idea of a simple ban treaty got little airplay in the OEWG, but on 20 August Ireland raised some relatively thoughtful questions. You can see (a paraphrase of) these, along with Article 36's meandering attempt to answer them, here.

The question about the relationship between a ban treaty and the NPT seems to come up often. We are not sure why: it's pretty simple. Countries such as Ireland which are parties to both the anti-personnel landmine ban treaty (Ottawa Treaty) and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) should get the idea straight away - it's a closely analogous relationship. As noted elsewhere on Wildfire>_, a well-designed ban treaty would be a better NPT than the NPT itself. It would not undermine or damage the NPT, any more than the Ottawa Treaty undermines or damages Amended Protocol II of the CCW. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Think of the NPT as a rickety old wooden bridge across the dangerous waters of global insecurity. Due to its flawed design and poor maintenance, the bridge is uncomfortable and perilous to cross. But it serves a useful purpose, so nearly everyone uses it - despite their misgivings. Now imagine a new, sturdy concrete bridge is built alongside it. The new bridge does not replace the old, or damage it in any way. Over time, more and more people are likely to use the new bridge, but the old bridge remains for whoever prefers it.

The questions concerning what happens after the ban treaty enters into force - without any nuclear-armed states on board - are more interesting. They deserve some detailed attention, so we will shortly be devoting a whole new Wildfire>_ page to this. But for now, take a moment to consider the effect that the Ottawa Treaty has had on the behaviour of the big landmine producers, exporters and users that have not joined it. Look at the way anti-personnel landmines are discussed in policy and military circles, and how this has evolved since 1997.

The changes are profound. Dare to disturb the universe, and we can make similar changes on nuclear weapons.

18 August 2013 - Wildfire>_ now available in Italian! Excellent work - diffondi la fiamma!

Would anyone like to tackle other languages? Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic? Help Wildfire>_ spread the flames, and change the game.

9 August 2013 - Today, 68 years after what Wildfire>_ is determined to ensure was the last ever use of a nuclear weapon, Wildfire>_ is sharing a photo, and issuing a challenge.

The photo was taken in Nagasaki by Yosuke Yamahata the day after the bombing. It shows a boy carrying his badly burned younger brother on his back. Wildfire>_ calls this photo "help is not coming". For us, it symbolises the need for non-nuclear-weapon states to stop waiting, and to shoulder the burden of nuclear disarmament themselves - unfair as that may seem. There is simply nothing else to do.

The challenge is this: Wildfire>_ challenges the non-nuclear-weapon states (and the less craven and hypocritical of the nuclear weasel states) to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons, to be signed in Nagasaki on 9 August 2015, the 70th anniversary of the bombing, two years from today.

Do we need to explain the effect this would have? It will change the game forever. Start now - yes, you. Help is not coming.

6 August 2013 - Wildfire>_ is marking the grim anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons by reviewing the ideas and proposals put forward so far in the snappily-named "Open-ended Working Group to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons".

In some ways, the title of the OEWG says it all. 68 years after Hiroshima, 45 years after the signature of the NPT, and 17 years after the Conference on Disarmament last did anything, we are reduced to a working group that will talk about proposals on negotiations. We leave it to this immortal Dilbert strip to comment on that.

As for the ideas and proposals, even after discounting the utterly moronic ones ("entry into force of the CTBT", "return to substantive work in the CD", etc), they are a pretty pedestrian and uninspiring collection. At least RCW set out the case for a ban treaty, if not with passion, at least with some insight into why this is really the only practical way forward. Most of the other proposals fell into the large and futile category of "things other people should do". Three ideas are worth specifc mention:

1. The "building blocks" approach, outlined by a boogle of nuclear weasel states. This is purportedly an improvement on the step-by-step approach, in that more than one building block could be pursued at a time - but won't be. Nice try, weasels.

2. The suggestions from Austria and Mexico on various questions that could be asked and examinations that could be made of assumptions, doctrines, regimes and requirements. These are interesting points, but Wildfire>_ suspects that any such discussion would essentially consist of non-nuclear-weapon states talking to themselves. We question whether yet more analysis and study can add anything.

3. Saddest of all, this contribution from members of the Abolition 2000 Task Force. Nine tedious pages of apologia for the interests of the nuclear-weapon states and unswerving devotion to the status quo. This is the civil society version of the Hoffmann Doctrine: keep trying the same thing for 30 years, maybe this time it'll work...

Wildfire>_ despairs.

5 August 2013 - Some examples of what Wildfire>_ is railing against:

Whining, wishing and waiting

Paper cranes, flailing

It really is time to change the game.

31 July 2013 - Some revealing quotes:

"We will take every opportunity to pursue our resolute commitment to a world without nuclear weapons." - UK CD statement 5 March 2013

"We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British Government embarked on it over six decades ago ... the nuclear threat has not gone away. In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased." - UK Prime Minister David Cameron, 3 April 2013

Doublethink: "The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed." - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Wait for action from the nuclear-weapon states, and you will wait forever. Leave them behind, and change the game - negotiate a ban treaty now.

29 July 2013 - Some thoughts on treaty design:

Diplomats and multilateral negotiators tend to be conservative, especially in disarmament. They prefer the security of precedent to the excitement of innovation. And this is fine, if the tried and trusted ways are working.

But sometimes, an imaginative approach to the design of a treaty may be crucial to solving a problem. If you have been reading Wildfire>_, you will know that we advocate a treaty banning nuclear weapons that is somewhat different from the usual pattern for a multilateral disarmament treaty (refresh your memory here). This is because if we are to get anywhere with nuclear disarmament, we need a way to do it that doesn't require the involvement, at the outset, of the nuclear-weapon states.

But we know that this is deeply counter-intuitive: an unfamiliar idea that runs against decades of multilateral theory and practice. So let's look at how the approach might have been used in an existing treaty: the CTBT. On the face of it, the idea behind the entry-into-force provisions of the CTBT was sensible enough: nuclear-armed states would only agree to give up testing if all the other nuclear-armed states and likely suspects did too. But with 20/20 hindsight, this was a terrible plan. Seventeen years after opening for signature, the CTBT has still not entered into force.

A better way would have been to separate the ban on testing from the entry-into-force of the treaty itself. The CTBT could have specified that it would enter into force after, say, 30 ratifications - but that the test ban would not apply (or that states parties could opt out of it) until all 44 Annex 2 states had joined. This would have allowed the full establishment of the CTBTO, provided a sound legal and financial basis for building the monitoring system, and generally strengthened the normative value of the treaty.

26 July 2013 - German CD Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann, who gave us the Hoffmann Doctrine (see news for 5 June 2013 below) has sadly left Geneva to take up a new posting. But evidently determined to leave his mark on disarmament, in his farewell address to the CD on 25 June he came up with another intellectual gem, which we have dubbed Hoffmann's Last Theorem. Referring to the conditions necessary to make progress on nuclear disarmament, Hoffmann said "the readiness to only even contemplate moving towards zero will itself drop instantly to zero, if there is only a remote possibility that a case of nuclear proliferation might be on the horizon".

In other words, the slightest chance that others might acquire nuclear weapons will stop the nuclear-weapon states from even pondering disarmament. That's not remarkable in itself; the genius of Hoffmann's discovery is that this effect works only in one direction. Apparently, the retention of nuclear weapons by some will not encourage others to acquire them, or to see them as legitimate solutions to a variety of security threats, conventional and otherwise.

This bizarre conjecture, which can be seen in various forms in any number of CD and NPT statements, is perhaps best answered by this article from US satirical newspaper The Onion. Wildfire>_ can only wonder why this kind of nonsense is so rarely challenged. Time for that to change! The next time someone trots out some version of Hoffmann's Last Theorem, speak up! Point out the absurdity of the notion, and play it for laughs. It really is ridiculous.

24 July 2013 - Wildfire>_ is back.

The Wildfire>_ team spent our summer holiday at a training camp in the desert of southern Libya, building our team spirit and honing our mockery skills. We also dismantled a couple of old warheads for fun. We return refreshed, recharged... and dismayed that, while we were away, negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons have - inexplicably - not begun.

Never mind. Our work will continue. Over the coming days and weeks we will be posting regular updates, including an item on Hoffmann's Last Theorem, a review of the sad collection of "ideas" and proposals submitted to the Open-ended Working Group, a look at creative treaty design and lessons from the CTBT, and a savage rant about the intellectual vacuity and absurd doublethink that pervades the nuclear weapons discourse. We'll also point out some specific examples of the sorts of things we deride on our home page, and kick off the Wildfire>_ Open Letters campaign - personal, tailored abuse and/or inspiration, depending on your point of view.

What you won't see here is analysis of the US President's speech in Berlin, or the Russian response. Why not? Read our page on nuclear addiction, codependence and learned helplessness to find out why we pay little attention to the words of nuclear-weapon states.

And then there's the Conference on Disarmament, about to start the third part of its 2013 session, where the intrepid members will attempt, at great length, to draft a report describing their lack of activity in the first two parts. Wild horses wouldn't drag us from that one. A question to CD diplomats from non-nuclear-weapon states: why do you continue with this charade? Really, why? Wildfire>_ dares you to block adoption of the CD report, unless it includes the sentence: "The Conference again failed utterly in its mission, and has betrayed the trust of the world's people". Go on - change the game, even in a litte way. Every bit helps.

13 June 2013 - The Wildfire>_ CD Challenge: we have a winner!

UK CD ambassador Jo Adamson, with subtlety and finesse, slipped a mention of Wildfire>_ and its aims (albeit in oblique and somewhat disparaging terms) into her farewell statement to the Conference on 11 June 2013.

Wildfire>_ is both amused and exasperated that the Wildfire>_ CD Challenge should be won by a P5 nuclear-weapon state. Congratulations, Ambassador Adamson, we salute your Wildfire>_ spirit (and we suspect you are, at heart, on our side). Your CHF 50.- prize will be delivered through appropriately devious channels.

As for the non-nuclear weapon states, we hope you are suitably ashamed. You are never going to rid the world of nuclear weapons with this sort of lily-livered, jelly-spined passivity. Stand up! Take charge! Change the game!

5 June 2013 - Wildfire>_ has a new page, confronting the sceptics - rousing the downtrodden, inspired by the typically dispiriting and witless exchanges at the recent Open-ended Working Group in Geneva. While there were moments of life and glimpses of spirit (thank you Malaysia and South Africa), the debate was mostly bound in the familiar shallows and miseries - and this despite the absence of the P5.

There was the usual discussion of the step-by-step vs. the comprehensive approach. This was reminiscent of the celebrated dispute in Gulliver's Travels between those Lilliputians who cracked their breakfast eggs open at the big end, and those who preferred the small end - raised to a new level of absurdity in the nuclear disarmament setting since nobody actually has an egg. There was some attempt to show that the Big-endian/Little-endian dichotomy is false, and to talk of "building blocks" instead of "steps", but still nobody has an egg, so we wonder what the point is.

Then there were the nuclear weasel states, championed by Germany and abetted in best wet-fish weasel style by Australia and Canada. German CD Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann memorably alluded to an "unfortunate tendency, especially among NGOs" to try new approaches when the old ones weren't working.

Hoffmann apparently supports the opposite strategy of doggedly continuing to pursue approaches that have not worked in the past, that are not working now, and that show no signs of ever working in future - and of avoiding at all costs any attempt to try something different. This ingenious piece of thinking shall henceforth be known as the Hoffmann Doctrine. Australia and Canada gibbered along in support, worrying about vague and unspecified Terrible Things that might happen if anything new were to be tried.

Wildfire>_ is baffled as to how non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society representatives can listen to this kind of bilge without shouting obscenities and smashing up the furniture. Where's the outrage? Read more on our sceptics page.

28 May 2013 - Curious about Wildfire>_? Check out the Wildfire>_ FAQ.

And we have a new page on nuclear addiction, codependence and learned helplessness. Coming soon: the Wildfire>_ review of the Open-ended Working Group. Join us as we lambast the Hoffmann Doctrine and flay the nuclear weasel states.

26 May 2013 - Non-nuclear-weapon states: take the Wildfire>_ CD challenge! Win actual money!

Wildfire>_ is offering a prize* of CHF 50.- to the first national delegation to mention Wildfire>_ and its aims in a plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Light the fire, spread the flames, and get very slightly richer. Who will be first?

(*will be donated to the charity of your choice if accepting money from shady underground movements raises ethical concerns for you)

25 May 2013 - So you like Wildfire>_?

What are you actually going to do about it? Wildfire>_ challenges civil society groups to each come up with three specific, well-defined actions they are going to take to promote the treaty. Publish them on your websites and blogs by 30 June. We will feature the best ones here. In the meantime, we want you to push the Wildfire>_ approach with selected non-nuclear-weapon states. Yes, now. Yes, in person - you can't do this from your keyboard. You will need:

Make them understand. Tweet or blog your results.

24 May 2013 - Now that we have your attention...

Wildfire>_ seems to have made some impression, at least in the civil society community. Our thanks to ICAN, RCW and others for spreading the flame, and especially to disarmament diaries for entering into the spirit of the thing.

But gawking at a website and passing links around is not going to make a treaty. You actually have to do something. And where are the non-nuclear-weapon states? Silent, woebegone and helpless as usual. Where is the outrage? Wildfire>_ will fan the flames a bit - check back here for updates.

19 May 2013 - website launched. Wildfire>_ is alight.

Spread the flames >_