Wildfire>_ News Archive - 2014
19 December 2014 - Closing remarks
This is our final item for 2014. It has been an interesting year: while negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons have not yet started, there have been some encouraging developments. The ban treaty concept has gained wider exposure and understanding. More states are talking about it as a serious option. The US now has started to explicitly oppose it (and amusingly doesn't yet seem to have come up with a decent explanation of why). The weasels have found themselves exposed to new levels of scrutiny and criticism. And the humanitarian consequences initiative has forever changed the terms of the nuclear disarmament discussion, giving a powerful voice to states without nuclear weapons.
But there is a long way to go. States without nuclear weapons may have a powerful new voice, but they aren't using it yet. In 2015, we have the NPT review conference - already sucking the life and brains out of many otherwise sensible people - and the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. What will we do with these opportunities? Wildfire>_ has some ideas, but we will need your help.
With this in mind, we would like to conclude by saluting Austria for hosting the Vienna Conference and in particular for making the Austrian Pledge. While we thought the pledge could have been a little more specific, we unreservedly admire the fact that Austria is pledging ITSELF to action, in marked contrast to nearly all other non-nuclear-weapon states, which continue in moralizing spectator mode by calling on other people to do things. In pledging action, Austria is showing true leadership - may many follow its example in 2015.
Thank you to all our readers, informants, helpers, co-conspirators, critics - and of course to our targets. We look forward to your company in 2015.
15 December 2014 - Pledging and hedging in Vienna
We hope you have all read the Chair's Summary and Austrian Pledge from the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Perhaps you have also read some analysis, like this predictably upbeat take from ICAN, or this thorough and balanced account from John Borrie. Although its title is misleading, we like this thoughtful piece from Łukasz Kulesa of the European Leadership Network, who we had mocked for an earlier effort back in September. We're glad Mr. Kulesa has since looked at things a bit more closely.
And you should certainly have a look at our special page devoted to Wildfire>_ activities in Vienna. There you can enjoy the Weasel Lounge, read or watch the infamous Wildfire>_ inflammatory plenary statement, and see our closing "blah blah" banner.
So, what to make of it all? Certainly, the conference was successful in underlining that all countries have a stake in nuclear disarmament, and in giving a powerful voice to the states without nuclear weapons. The effect of the widely-trumpeted participation of the US and UK was interesting: far from dominating or diverting the discussion, they appeared isolated, out of step, awkward and even slightly ridiculous. They didn't help themselves with their inept and tone-deaf statements, but even so their presence showed a fascinating and important aspect of the whole humanitarian consequences initiative: if the nuclear-armed states stay away, they look bad; if they come, they look bad. They look bad, because once the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have been comprehensively examined, the only possible conclusion is that retaining nuclear weapons IS bad. (Those who question the utility of pursuing a ban treaty without the nuclear-armed states should ponder this.)
The weasels also fared poorly. Either weasel delegations have been coordinating their statements, or the reservoir of weasel arguments is so shallow that the same flimsy bits of rubbish keep bobbing up. We almost had to admire the weasels for continuing to recycle, apparently without embarrassment, incoherent scraps of rhetoric that have been utterly discredited. We heard again that "simply banning" nuclear weapons will not "guarantee" disarmament, that such foolhardy talk risks "undermining" the NPT, and that the best approach is a "practical, sustainable" one using "building blocks" that "take account of the security aspects" of nuclear weapons. Do they really think they are persuading anyone but themselves? And do they even believe this nonsense? Wildfire>_ is starting to wonder. Perhaps there will be some clients for the Weasel Reform Program sooner rather than later.
And what of the others? Wildfire>_ would have liked to report a groundswell of support for pressing ahead with a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Alas, there wasn't one. Certainly, there were an encouraging number of specific calls for such a treaty. But most exhortations were still of the "something must be done" variety, or referred in vague terms to a legally-binding instrument. Even the Austrian Pledge, undoubtedly a significant and courageous step, is rather vaguely framed. And everything is depressingly oriented towards the NPT review conference in 2015.
This urge to link everything to the NPT, although an understandable response to those who caution against "undermining" or "distracting from" it, is exasperating. The NPT is there, it plays an important role, it's not going away. The point about a ban treaty - or filling the legal gap, as the Austrians would say - is that it needs to be done regardless of the NPT. A ban stands alone, on its own merit, as a moral and legal imperative. It is neither a remedy for the "failure" of the NPT review conference, nor something to be abandoned if the conference is a "success".
Enough hedging, enough pledging. If you want to change the game, then change it. The door was open before Vienna; perhaps it's open a little wider now. But if you want to get somewhere, you're going to have to walk through it. Nobody can do it for you.
10 December 2014 - Wildfire>_ in Vienna
We will have a full report on the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons shortly. In the meantime, you might like to read the Wildfire>_ statement delivered in the general debate on 9 December. It certainly seemed to have an impact.
UPDATE: Watch the video of the statement, courtesy of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And take a look at our special page devoted to Wildfire>_ activities in Vienna.
5 December 2014 - Doing it wrong: a textbook example
A while ago we published a short paper called "Nuclear Disarmament: You're Doing it Wrong", which outlines six ways that those supposedly in favour of nuclear disarmament are actually undermining or obstructing it. Now we are pleased to discover that Naomi Egel at the Council on Foreign Relations has, presumably as a joke, followed the instructions almost to the letter to produce this gem of a blog post.
As a preparatory exercise for the discussions in Vienna, we recommend our readers work through Egel's article and tick off the items from the "doing it wrong" list. How many can you find? We found five of the six. Some are obvious, but others are presented in a novel and imaginative way. Chief among these is the interesting twist that Egel puts on item no. 2 ("justifying nuclear disarmament") by saying that non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society "need to ditch the quixotic assumption that a world without nuclear weapons will necessarily be more peaceful - and offer alternatives for maintaining international security".
Now, we've criticized civil society before for being too "happy-clappy". But even ICAN in its happiest-clappiest moments has never suggested that a world without nuclear weapons will be more peaceful. Nobody has. Indeed, as Ward Wilson wrote persuasively, a world without nuclear weapons will likely be just as peaceful as a world with them - i.e. riven by constant war, regular atrocities, failing states, humanitarian emergencies and occasional genocide. But more than this, Egel's argument invites the obvious question: if nuclear weapons do maintain international security, why do the US and its P5 partners want to get rid of them? Why don't they (and their weasel allies) scrap the NPT and all breathe easier in a new era of nuclear-guaranteed security?
And in the fixating-on-the-nuclear-armed-states department, Egel (like many others) talks about the need to "understand and appreciate that not only NWS but also many NNWS ... regard nuclear weapons as a valuable deterrent". The humanitarian disarmament initiative "can only make progress if its members, both states and civil society groups, engage with the security concerns raised by those who rely on nuclear deterrence, rather than dismiss their arguments out of hand".
Notice the total blindness about the other side of the equation: non-proliferation. Why is it important to "understand and appreciate" that, say, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands need to rely on nuclear deterrence, but not to "understand and appreciate" that, say, Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil or South Africa might make similar decisions about their security? And just how do more than 150 countries - many in rough neighbourhoods - manage to provide for their security without nuclear weapons anyway? What terrible threat does Belgium face that Kenya doesn't?
Egel no doubt has the best of intentions, is genuinely in favour of nuclear disarmament, and even has some useful suggestions for the P5. But, Naomi, you're doing it wrong.
27 November 2014 - to Vienna and beyond
This Wildfire>_ news entry is addressed to governments of genuine (i.e. non-weasel) non-nuclear-weapon states. The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons will be held from 8-9 December. We understand that upwards of 150 governments have registered, so we presume you are going.
What do you hope to achieve?
This will be the third such conference, following Oslo in 2013 and Nayarit last February. The initiative to (re)examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has been a highly promising development in a hitherto moribund and desolate field. By showing that nuclear weapons affect all states, and are therefore the responsibility of all states, and by highlighting how the inescapable risks mean that action cannot be postponed any longer, the initiative has empowered non-nuclear-weapon states to seize control and reanimate nuclear disarmament.
Well, not quite. That's what should have happened, but you have been curiously reticent about developing this new opportunity. And now you will head to Vienna to participate in a full, thorough and respectably facts-based discussion of humanitarian risks and consequences, which, while containing some new elements, is starting to look a little repetitive. What are you going to do with it? Having finally opened up such a promising new avenue, do you really want to see it fade into yet another annual talking shop, with set-piece speeches and cut-and-paste "debate"? Is that all that nuclear disarmament is worth to you? As we pointed out in our open letter to the members of the Non-aligned Movement, surely it is your interest to seize this opportunity with both hands, to assert your interest and your collective power, and to push forward with a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
There has been a bit of fanfare about the decision of the United States to participate in the Vienna conference, after boycotting the first two meetings along with the other P5 nuclear-weapon states (as we write, the UK is about to announce its own "independent" decision on whether to attend). Some of you have asked Wildfire>_ whether we think the US decision is a good thing. It's neither good nor bad: beyond the amusement value of watching the P5 squirm (itself a demonstration of the power of the humanitarian approach), the presence or otherwise of P5 members is simply irrelevant. This is not about them. It's about you - and whether you are ready to play your own part in pushing disarmament forward. Until you are ready to be more than just moralizing spectators, nothing will change. Have another look at our cold hard truths page. Help is not coming.
So what will it be in Vienna? Will you just keep talking about the unacceptable humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and waiting for someone else to do something about it? Or will you stand up and declare your intention to act?
It's up to you.
12 November 2014 - Open letter to the ICRC
Regular readers will perhaps be surprised to see Wildfire>_ taking issue with the ICRC, given that the ICRC has long advocated nuclear disarmament and has been a key player in driving the recent initiative to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.
But behind the fine words and worthy exhortations, the grubby reality is that the stance of the ICRC on nuclear weapons is deeply compromised. Compared to its clear, forthright stands on the need for treaties banning antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, the ICRC's failure to endorse a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and its "neutral" stance of leaving it to governments to decide how best to proceed with nuclear disarmament, suggest that it has bowed to pressure from the nuclear-armed states. In doing so, the ICRC would seem to have betrayed both its humanitarian principles, and the vast majority of states - the ones which have forsaken nuclear weapons, but which remain exposed and vulnerable to all the appalling humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons that the ICRC has so dutifully catalogued.
If you work for the ICRC, or with the wider International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we wonder what you think of this abdication of leadership on such an important humanitarian issue.
It should make your blood boil.
Do something about it - preferably before Peter Maurer speaks at the opening ceremony of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on 8 December.
Compromise is for governments, not for the Red Cross.
6 November 2014 - Treaties as tools
We hope you have all read our article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explaining how a treaty banning nuclear weapons would work, not in the naive sense of nuclear-armed states signing and ratifying it, but as a practical tool for influencing their behaviour over time. Continuing with this theme, let's look at an existing treaty which has demonstrated this concept in practice: the Anti-personnel Landmine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty).
Once famously dismissed by Australia's then-foreign minister (and Wildfire>_ anti-patron), Gareth Evans, as "hopelessly utopic"*, the Ottawa Treaty has been indisputably successful in vastly reducing the production and use of AP landmines worldwide, saving thousands from being killed or maimed. More interesting for our purposes, however, has been its effect on the countries that have never joined: the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, among others. Production and use of AP landmines in these countries has also reduced; international trade in the weapon has practically ceased. The Ottawa Treaty has succeeded in establishing a global norm and stigmatizing a weapon that was widely used without hesitation, reflection or apology only two decades ago.
And now the United States has announced that it will essentially abide by the terms of the Ottawa Treaty everywhere except the Korean peninsula. Even though the US did not - and perhaps will never - join the treaty, in less than 20 years the AP landmine has been transformed from an essential part of armoury of the world's foremost military power, into something undesirable that has been almost eliminated from its arsenal. It's also interesting that the US never saw the Ottawa Treaty as confrontational: the US always supported the humanitarian objectives of the treaty, and cooperated with treaty members in implementation activities.
At this point, the usual suspects will chime in with their moronic refrain of "Landmines are fundamentally different from nuclear weapons! States do not depend on landmines for their strategic security!". (Sadly, even supporters of nuclear disarmament come out with this.) Yes, landmines are different from nuclear weapons - in one important respect: everyone has already agreed that nuclear weapons should be eliminated. Think about that: if you really depended on nuclear weapons for your security, why would you undertake to give them up? And let's not forget that the vast majority of the world's countries somehow manage to provide for their security without nuclear weapons. The UK and France don't really "depend" on nuclear weapons any more than Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa or Kazakhstan do.
The Ottawa Treaty experience shows the potential of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, not as some magical idealistic solution, but as a practical, gradual means of norm-building, stigmatization, reshaping perceptions, and influencing behaviour. Embrace it.
*UPDATE: ICAN Australia exhumed this (now deeply embarrassing) 1995 letter to the editor from Gareth Evans. The parallels with the arguments against a treaty banning nuclear weapons are fascinating.
4 November 2014 - Wildfire>_ in the Bulletin
Regular readers may recall that earlier this year we took issue with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists over its coverage of the idea of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. We are pleased to announce that the Bulletin, admirably responsive to feedback from its readers, has now published an article on the ban treaty by Wildfire>_'s Richard Lennane. (A subscription is needed to access the full text; your library may be able to help if you don't have one. But it's well worth subscribing.)
The short article lays to rest some common misconceptions - and deliberate misinformation - about the ban treaty concept, in particular the notion that the treaty will somehow magically lead to nuclear-armed states signing up and disarming. The article outlines the ban treaty as the hard-headed, pragmatic political tool that it is, and examines the intriguing effect that the mere idea of it is already having on the nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies. If you are a busy diplomat or official and have time to read only one article about the ban treaty, read this one.
31 October 2014 - Comfort is the enemy
With the colossal waste of time and energy that is the First Committee finally winding down, it's time to return to reality and the task of starting negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
One of the more persistent criticisms of the idea of pursuing a ban treaty without the nuclear-armed states is that doing so would "let the nuclear-armed states off the hook". Many people evidently find it hard to imagine how a treaty that doesn't include the nuclear-armed states could hope to influence them. They can't see how a ban treaty would apply any pressure.
But pressure is the wrong concept here. It is difficult to really apply pressure to big, powerful states like the US, Russia, China and India - unless you happen to be a bigger, more powerful state. Rather, the aim of the ban treaty - and the aim of Wildfire>_'s sometimes childish jabs and japes - is to reduce the level of comfort that the nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies enjoy.
The most striking feature of current nuclear disarmament "efforts" such as the Conference on Disarmament and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is that they are such comfortable places for nuclear-armed states. In the CD, the nuclear-armed states can earnestly claim to be pursuing disarmament, while safe in the knowledge that nothing will actually happen. The NPT legitimises its nuclear-armed members, as long as they notionally play along with their Article VI disarmament obligations - which is easy to do, since Article VI is hopelessly vague and imposes no time constraints. The nuclear-armed states can cruise along comfortably, knowing that - for all the griping - nobody can really tell the difference between "disarming at an arbitrarily slow pace" and "not disarming".
And if you are comfortable, why move? Why change anything? Life is good! Better to carry on as you are, for as long as you can. Just make your regular call for entry into force of the CTBT, the start of negotiations on a fissile material treaty, and a dash of de-alerting, and recline back into your armchair. It is only when you start to get uncomfortable, when things start to prickle and itch, when the light is glaring in your eyes, when people are staring at you and whispering, that you start to think seriously of moving.
This is where a ban treaty can make a difference. The very idea of it makes the nuclear-armed states and the weasels uncomfortable. It itches in a place they can't scratch. And if the treaty were to be negotiated and adopted by a large number of non-nuclear-weapon states, it would greatly increase the discomfort. It would make it much more difficult for the nuclear-armed states and the weasels to pretend they are doing the right thing. That may not shift them, of course, but it will make it harder for them to keep still.
So what will you choose? Carry on as usual and leave the nuclear-armed states to their comfortable existence? Or pursue a ban treaty and make them itch?
6 October 2014 - First Committee Fun!
With the general debate of the 2014 session of the First Committee kicking off tomorrow at the United Nations in New York, Wildfire>_ and anonymous accomplices are pleased to launch our new First Committee Fun! website
Join us over the next four weeks as we do our best to keep delegates awake with an entertaining series of quizzes, games, polls, videos, cartoons and commentary. There are contests to enter and prizes to be won! First Committee has never been so enjoyable!
Contributions are welcome: send your ideas, suggestions and material to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you soon at First Committee Fun!
29 September 2014 - The delusion of "realism"
We have written before about the dismal quality of arguments against a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and also about the Hoffmann Doctrine - the curious idea that if a strategy has demonstrably failed over a long period, it's best to keep at it and avoid trying anything new. Now Łukasz Kulesa of the European Leadership Network has written a marvellous article that deftly combines both these features.
Although his own outfit has recently published some insightful articles on the ban treaty idea (here and here), Kulesa either affects ignorance or wilfully misrepresents the aim of such a treaty. Bizarrely, he describes it as a "nuclear weapon convention draft", and repeats the usual non sequitur about a treaty that doesn't include the nuclear-armed states not being able to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons (for the 1000th time: nobody has ever claimed it would). In classic Hoffmann style, he characterises those who stick to stale and manifestly unsuccessful approaches as "nuclear realists" and those in favour of perhaps exploring different approaches as "idealistic disarmers".
But best of all is Kulesa's Groundhog Day-style prescription for action: "Instead of building the sand castle of a nuclear weapon convention draft, we need ideas that do not accept the division of the world among idealist disarmers and nuclear realists but rather fashion an agenda that realist disarmers can get behind". An agenda that realists can support? What an innovative notion! How about something like a "nuclear non-proliferation treaty" with vague and unenforceable disarmament commitments, a "conference on disarmament" with comfortable chairs for all the nuclear-armed states, and an agreed series of steps such as a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and a fissile material treaty?
We leave it to others to pull apart Kulesa's contention that the attractiveness of nuclear weapons "can be significantly decreased only if the stability of the international system as such is re-established" (Hint: when was this mythical golden age when the international system was stable? And were nuclear weapons unattractive then?)
One thing Kulesa does get right is that there is a "notable lack of international leadership" on nuclear disarmament. But is it any wonder when this kind of vacuous analysis is published as a purportedly serious contribution to the debate?
26 September 2014 - So what are you doing today?
Today is the UN International Day for the Indefinite Retention of Nuclear Weapons. So what are you doing to help make sure that nuclear disarmament is talked about by earnest, serious people in suits - but doesn't actually get anywhere? Here are some ideas:
- Reiterate the need for the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention.
- Talk about a high-level meeting you are going to have in 2018 to review "progress" with nuclear disarmament (yes, 2018 - there's no time to lose!)
- Tell everyone to wait and see what happens at the 2015 NPT review conference.
- Launch a cringeworthy and misconceived Twitter hashtag campaign.
- Call for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the universalization of the NPT, and the start of negotiations on a fissile material treaty.
- Talk about the need for de-alerting, negative security assurances andzzzzzzzzz
Sorry, we drifted off there at the end. But we're sure you get the idea, and we're sure you'll do a fine job. You always do.
On the other hand, if you are not participating in the day's festivities because you actually want to make progress on nuclear disarmament, you might want to do something different - something a little more effective. We suggest you tackle those insidious hypocrites standing in the path of progress: the nuclear weasel states.
To get yourself in the mood, watch this amusing music video from ICAN. Then you should read this short article in the Japanese media by Wildfire>_'s Richard Lennane. And then you can arm yourself with the Wildfire>_ Weasel Recovery Program, and go out and tackle a weasel.
Let us know how you get on.
12 September 2014 - Hope for weasels!
Today we are proud to launch our long-awaited Weasel Recovery Program. This marks a new departure for Wildfire>_, as previously we have contented ourselves with mocking and ridiculing weasel antics. But some of our more soft-hearted and far-sighted friends have pointed out that this is not only cruel, but is unlikely to help. Like other addicts, weasels are unable to control their behaviour. They need help, guidance and support - not mockery and abuse. So we have spent the last few weeks here at Wildfire>_ Labs with some of the world's foremost experts on addiction and recovery, developing this groundbreaking four-step self-help program.
By following these four steps, weasel governments will be able to break the embarrassing pattern of hypocrisy and doublethink that has steadily eroded their credibility and influence in nuclear disarmament diplomacy. While protecting their interests and their alliance relationships, the program will empower them to engage honestly and constructively with the humanitarian consequences initiative and the movement towards a ban treaty. It will help them rebuild their reputations as effective multilateral consensus-builders, and give them a clear role to play in the wider effort to move nuclear disarmament forward.
We have great hopes for this program. But it is not enough just to lead weasels to water - we need to get them to drink. So we need help from our civil society partners and from the governments of genuine non-nuclear-weapon states. Please bring the Weasel Recovery Program to the attention of your contacts in weasel governments. Gently encourage them to try it. Listen to their doubts and concerns, and offer support without judging. If they do decide to try the program, follow their progress closely and be sure to congratulate them on every step completed.
We cannot afford to discard these once proud and productive members of the international disarmament community. A weasel need not be forever.
26 August 2014 - United Nations gets real
We are delighted to report that after decades of waffling and prevarication, the United Nations has at last decided to tell it as it is. The UN has designated 26 September as the International Day for the Indefinite Retention of Nuclear Weapons. We hope that this long-overdue move to face uncomfortable facts marks the start of a new era in realistic, clear-sighted support from the UN for nuclear disarmament - and a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
21 August 2014 - Obstacles to nuclear disarmament #5
This is the fifth and final entry in our obstacles series - and the most heartbreaking. Never in the history of NGO campaigning have so much dedication and so many good intentions been applied to so little effect. After decades of effort, not only has civil society failed to achieve significant results on nuclear disarmament, large portions of it have been absorbed into the calcified structures that preserve the status quo and protect the interests of the nuclear-armed states.
NGO dinosaurs still roam the Earth, stubbornly pursuing the same strategies that have failed for over 40 years. We admire their dedication, but they are headed for the tar pits of history. Like the real dinosaurs, they are unable to adapt to a suddenly changed environment. The biggest opportunity in the history of the nuclear age has opened up right before them, and they have ignored it - or worse, wilfully spurned it.
Last year the humanitarian consequences initiative revealed a surprising vulnerability in the nuclear-weapon states and their weasel allies. After decades facing a stone wall, you would think that civil society would have seized upon this hungrily, and thrown everything possible into prising the crack open. You would be wrong. Wildfire>_ just cannot understand why so many civil society actors have declined to support a ban treaty and have clung exclusively to the old approaches - even though a ban treaty is compatible with these.
But a significant portion of civil society did see the opportunity, and does support a ban. Which brings us to the second part of this tragedy: ICAN.
ICAN is fully behind the humanitarian initiative and supports a ban treaty. Indeed, it is possible to discover by digging into its website that ICAN is "a global campaign coalition working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons".
That's clear, if a little indirect ("working to mobilize to inspire to initiate"?). But it's far from clear how this is supposed to work. In fact, the closer you look, the vaguer everything becomes. What does ICAN mean by "banning nuclear weapons"? A full-blown Nuclear Weapons Convention? A simple legal prohibition, without the nuclear-armed states? Something in between? Or all of the above, to keep everyone happy and claim the maximum support? ICAN material is haphazardly targeted: is it aimed at government policymakers, or the general public? The requirements for each are very different, but at ICAN it's all mixed together. Perhaps as a result, ICAN has a low profile in the international affairs blogosphere (where even the dinosaurs do better), and is totally invisible in the mainstream media.
ICAN is modelled on the highly successful International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). ICBL struck fear into the hearts of government officials everywhere with its laser focus, its systematic and ruthless use of data and analysis, and its unflinching resolve in putting governments on the spot. But nobody is scared of ICAN, because ICAN efforts are scattered all over the place, with little sense of priority or strategy. In the happy-clappy ICAN world, everything is awesome. The ICAN tools that could be used to do some serious damage - like the excellent Don't Bank on the Bomb - are not wielded in any organized way.
At the root of the problem is the lack of a coherent plan. ICAN would say its plan is "get countries to launch negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons". But this is a plan the same way that "score more goals than the other team" is a plan. How are you going to do it? With the approach of the third humanitarian impact conference in Vienna in December, the question is becoming urgent: the window of opportunity opened by the humanitarian initiative will soon start to close. Yet ICAN's gala civil society forum to be held just before the conference seems to have no purpose beyond getting the faithful together for some singing and clapping.
ICAN, we're all on the same side here. But it's time to get serious. To change the game, you need to change your game.
18 August 2014 - Obstacles to nuclear disarmament #4
Regular readers will have known we were coming to this, and will already be aware of the pernicious and underhanded role that the nuclear weasel states play in obstructing disarmament. But for those new to Wildfire>_, and for the sake of completeness, let's review the charge sheet.
The weasels are, officially, all non-nuclear-weapon states, for whom nuclear weapons are prohibited by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). They all claim to be in favour of nuclear disarmament. The more sensible and self-aware ones keep a low profile, but others such as Australia, the Netherlands and Germany are often to be found speaking prominently and piously on the subject. They like to style themselves as moderate, realistic and capable mediators, working tirelessly to "build bridges" and "engage" the nuclear-armed states.
At the same time, the weasels depend on US nuclear weapons for their security, and some - incredibly - even keep US nuclear weapons on their territory. Undeterred by this blatant conflict of interest, they continue to blather away in the Conference on Disarmament, NPT and elsewhere, talking about "sustained, practical steps" for "effective disarmament". While nauseating, this would be harmless enough in itself. The problem is that when faced with anything that might actually move disarmament forwards, or put pressure on the nuclear-armed states, or otherwise disturb the comfortable status quo, the weasels resist - in a disingenuous and underhanded way, since they have to pretend to support disarmament.
And so we see the sorry string of flimsy pretexts trotted out by the weasels to oppose what they call a "near-term" ban treaty. Such a treaty, they fatuously argue, will undermine the NPT (how?), will not "guarantee" disarmament (what?), and will "enrage" rather than "engage" the nuclear-armed states (why?). The real reason the weasels oppose a ban treaty, of course, is that it presents awkward choices for them given their nuclear alliance commitments, and shines an unwelcome light on their hypocritical policies (here's an illustrative interpretation of some recent Australian statements).
It would be tempting to dismiss these weasel antics as so much comedy. The trouble is that many weasels enjoy an (occasionally justified) reputation as reliable, influential and effective multilateral operators. Many of the more lily-livered non-nuclear-weapon states are reluctant to pursue a ban treaty without the involvement of at least a few weasels.
And there's the rub: a ban treaty would be a very effective way of forcing the weasels out of their comfortably ambiguous armchairs. But if everyone else waits for the weasels to come on board, it will never happen. To try to break out of this impasse, Wildfire>_ will shortly launch its Weasel Reform Program - details coming soon.
14 August 2014 - Obstacles to nuclear disarmament #3
The group system, or "divide and fool"
In disarmament as in other areas of multilateral endeavour, the participating states are divided into groups - often called "regional", although "geopolitical" might be a better term. In the various disarmament settings the groups have different names and slightly varying membership, but there are generally three: a group of developed Western countries (Western Group, WEOG), a group of developing countries (NAM, G21), and a group of former Soviet-bloc countries (Eastern European Group). In settings such as the Conference on Disarmament, the NPT and the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, these groups typically negotiate and settle their positions and strategies internally, before sallying forth to do multilateral battle with the other groups.
Crucially, each of these groups includes nuclear-armed members (and WEOG also includes a significant number of weasels). Each group must therefore come to a position that accommodates the interests of these members, before engaging in the wider forum. This means that group positions on nuclear disarmament are, in effect, "pre-compromised" and that the collective influence of non-nuclear-weapon states is greatly diminished. It is perhaps easier to see in this diagram: the nuclear-armed states form a self-interested core, while the group system keeps the non-nuclear-weapon states separate, preventing them from uniting to advance their common interest.
One consequence of this is that the nuclear disarmament debate among states is conducted mostly in private, within each group. The public debate consists only of a ritualistic exchange of pre-compromised positions that are necessarily both vague and cumbersome. Is it any wonder that progress seems impossible?
Wildfire>_ is of course not the first to notice the obstacle posed by the group system, and there have been efforts to overcome it. The most notable is the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), which has had some modest success as a cross-group voice for disarmament. But the NAC has not been able to move beyond its own membership and break down the group barriers more generally. (The NPDI is often proclaimed as a cross-group "bridge-building" effort, but as a glance at the diagram will show, it is actually a disingenuous attempt to expand the influence of the weasels by developing a weasel-like constituency in the NAM/G21 to put the brake on any serious disarmament moves.)
The great achievement of the initiative to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has been to circumvent the group system, bringing together all states which are concerned about the impact of nuclear weapons. A ban treaty would have an even more potent effect, rearranging the system like this, allowing the non-nuclear-weapon states to wield their full influence, splitting the weasels, and isolating the nuclear-armed states.
This is what we mean by "changing the game".
12 August 2014 - Obstacles to nuclear disarmament #2
The Conference on Disarmament and the NPT
We have of course mocked the CD and NPT before - they are easy targets. But let's look now not just at their ineffectiveness in advancing nuclear disarmament, but at their role in actively obstructing progress.
The CD is supposedly the "single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community" - as its members never tire of moronically repeating. It is hopelessly unrepresentative, but does include all nine nuclear-armed states. This is often cited as an important factor in its favour, since whatever the CD does do on nuclear disarmament will involve all those countries with nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, whatever it doesn't do on nuclear disarmament will also involve them all. And as we know, it hasn't done anything for over 17 years.
The CD works by consensus, which means each member has a veto. This is convenient for the nuclear-armed states (they even say this publicly), as they can block anything they don't like. This leaves each nuclear-armed state free to earnestly advocate the approaches to disarmament it does like, demonstrating its pious commitment and good faith, while being confident that others will reciprocate by blocking its proposals and advocating their own preferred approaches - which it can block in turn. Wildfire>_ suspects that this is more an emergent behaviour than a coordinated strategy, but either way it works very well. The result is like an insect trap: energy and good intentions are lured into the CD by its nuclear-armed membership credentials and "single forum" status, and then quietly suffocated.
The NPT works somewhat differently, but is no less a tool of the nuclear-armed states. It provides legal cover for its five nuclear-armed members, but its principal obstructive effect is to conflate their interests with those of the non-nuclear-weapon states. The objective becomes "the treaty" or "the regime", which members are expected to unite to promote and protect, eschewing "divisive" measures such as harping on the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to fulfil their Article VI disarmament obligations. And however much they may gripe about it, the non-nuclear-weapon states have little option but to cooperate, since losing the non-proliferation benefits of the treaty would not be in their interests. They have no leverage, and the inherent asymmetry of the NPT traps them by their good intentions.
A ban treaty would overcome these obstacles simply by providing a path around them. It would provide a forum for disarmament negotiations that is not under the control of the nuclear-armed states. And it would provide an unambiguous legal channel that is not fatally compromised by having to accommodate the interests of those disinclined to disarm, freeing the non-nuclear-weapon states from having to pursue disarmament through an instrument that legitimises nuclear weapons.
There is another factor that amplifies the effectiveness of the CD and NPT as obstacles to nuclear disarmament, but that also forms an obstacle in its own right: group politics. We will cover this in our next instalment.
8 August 2014 - Obstacles to nuclear disarmament #1
Ambiguity and ambivalence
Welcome to the first item in Wildfire>_'s series examining obstacles to nuclear disarmament. We start with the largest and most difficult: the curious ambiguity over the goal of nuclear disarmament itself, and the remarkable ambivalence of many supposed proponents of disarmament.
We are not just talking about the nuclear-armed states here: we have of course previously covered their "unequivocal" (i.e. equivocal) commitment to disarmament, and made fun of their blatant doublethink and lack of self-awareness. Nor are we dealing only with the weasels - although they constitute a significant obstacle in themselves, which we will examine in a later instalment. Rather, we are talking about the strange tendency of genuine non-nuclear-weapon states and civil society to support nuclear disarmament in lukewarm and half-hearted ways, to undermine their own rhetoric, and generally to shy away from definitive statements and bold action.
The ambiguity pops up everywhere. If you follow almost any discussion on how to advance nuclear disarmament - from high-level diplomatic conferences, to web commentary flame wars, and everything in between - you will notice that it quickly evolves from a debate on how best to advance disarmament into a debate on whether disarmament is actually a good idea. People start arguing in earnest about strategic stability and the value of deterrence, and once that has started it goes on forever (or until the adjournment for lunch).
Yet for all members of the NPT, and for most if not all the others, the argument was settled long ago: they are committed to disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons. Why, then, do non-nuclear-weapon states and disarmament NGOs keep engaging in the argument? It gives the impression that they are still trying to persuade themselves. Worse, it takes time and energy away from the real question of how to actually make progress with disarmament.
Then there is the ambivalence and hedging. The classical example here is the infamous ICJ opinion of 1996, which stated that use of nuclear weapons would be "generally" illegal. Couple this with the fact that the legal instrument through which the non-nuclear-weapon states forsake nuclear weapons - the NPT - permits (to some degree) their possession by others, and you have essentially a collective declaration that "nuclear weapons are kind of illegal - mostly". Even the Red Cross, which you would expect to take a clear line on this, says things like "we find it difficult to envisage how any use of these weapons could be consistent" with international humanitarian law. Difficult to envisage? So maybe if you shut your eyes and tried really hard, you could do it? Is there really any doubt here?
This shilly-shallying and lack of clarity, resolve and commitment makes movement impossible. A key benefit of a ban treaty is to make a clear and unambiguous declaration that nuclear weapons are illegal, immoral and unacceptable. From that base, all else can follow.
6 August 2014 - 69 years and stuck fast
Well, here we are again: Hiroshima Day. Sixty-nine years since the first use of a nuclear weapon, and still no real progress on disarmament - despite the fact that all countries claim to be committed to a world free of nuclear weapons. Why does nothing move?
There are a number of obstacles, and probably not the ones you are thinking of (unless you've read our "doing it wrong" paper, in which case you'll probably have an inkling). Over the next two weeks, Wildfire>_ will be examining these obstacles in some detail, and explaining how a ban treaty can help to overcome them. Join us for some uncomfortable reading - nobody will be spared.
For today, we'd like to remind non-nuclear-weapon states that help is not coming. If you want a world free of nuclear weapons, you will have act on your own. So stop whining and do something!
4 August 2014 - The Conference on Avoiding Disarmament
Wildfire>_ is back after a brief summer break - and so is the Conference on Disarmament. Fittingly, the CD resumed its "activities" with a bewildering statement from the Group of 21 that helpfully illustrates everything that is wrong with the CD itself, and with current "efforts" to advance nuclear disarmament.
The statement was delivered by North Korea: a country whose principal contribution to nuclear disarmament has been to withdraw from the NPT and test its own nuclear weapons. The G21 includes other nuclear-armed states too - India and Pakistan - but it sends a curious message to choose the country that has most recently acquired nuclear weapons to read your disarmament statement. Nonetheless, those with the weapons are the one who must disarm - so let's assume this is all in good faith...
But then we come to this revealing gem: "We must underscore the need to redouble our efforts in order to reinforce and revitalize the CD and preserve its credibility through the resumption of substantive work including, inter alia, the negotiations on nuclear disarmament."
Wildfire>_ can only marvel at how far the G21 manages to put itself from nuclear disarmament in the space of a single sentence. Let's try it in English: "We must talk about the need to talk more in order to revitalize a talking shop through resuming talks, including on nuclear disarmament." And notice how the aim of the exercise is to protect the CD, rather than actual disarmament. That's right: the Conference on Disarmament has become an end in itself, to be preserved and reinforced, despite - or because of - its demonstrated uselessness.
The statement goes on to re-hash the usual G21/NAM shopping list, and is largely indistinguishable from previous statements. It's the Hoffmann Doctrine once more: keep saying the same thing, and maybe on the 1000th reiteration your wishes will magically come true.
It does not surprise us in the least that India, Pakistan and North Korea would support such an approach. Like the other nuclear-armed states, they benefit from the continuing existence and paralysis of the CD, which makes it possible for them to voice their strong support for disarmament while remaining secure in the knowledge that nothing will happen. What does surprise us is that G21 members that are genuinely committed to nuclear disarmament - Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa - play along with this scheme. They are shielding the nuclear-armed states, and not just the ones in their own group. Why is Egypt helping Israel retain its nuclear arsenal? Why are Brazil and Mexico protecting the USA?
The Conference on Disarmament is a tool of the nuclear-armed states. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you will be able to change the game.
14 July 2014 - The Bulletin tackles the ban, backwards
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has just published a series of three articles on the prospect of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Wildfire>_ congratulates the Bulletin for (finally) taking this on, as the ban treaty idea has been woefully neglected by the arms control and disarmament intelligentsia (are you listening, Arms Control Association?).
Alas, the articles themselves reveal just how poorly the ban treaty concept is understood, by proponents and opponents alike. Bharat Karnad's "Banning nuclear weapons: A hollow exercise" forthrightly opposes the ban, but unintentionally makes the strongest arguments in favour of it. In contrast, Héctor Guerra's "Enforcing a ban, preventing treaty capture" and Rodrigo Álvarez Valdés' "Power for non-nuclear nations?", both notionally in favour of a ban, are so lukewarm, insipid and pessimistic in their analyses that they succeeded in planting doubts even among the ban fanatics here at Wildfire>_.
We are too depressed by Guerra's and Álvarez Valdés' sodden, apologetic waffling to offer a detailed critique here. Gentlemen, if you don't believe in it, just forget it. If you do believe in it, then you have to do better than this. You can't champion a ban by adopting the rhetoric, frame of reference and irrational obsessions of the existing barren discourse. The point of a ban is that it changes the whole equation. Guerra at least gives a partial account of the rationale for a ban, talking about cutting through "the clutter that surrounds nuclear disarmament" and mentioning the successful examples of the treaties banning anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. But then he retreats into the hopeless swamps of traditional arms control, arguing that before a ban process can even begin, "enforcement mechanisms must be analyzed and debated". Álvarez Valdés, for his part, seems to have given up before he even starts.
Happily, Bharat Karnad rides to the rescue with an incisive, if amusingly unintentional, defence of the ban treaty. Karnad begins by quoting from one of Wildfire>_'s standard reference works, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, comparing a ban treaty to an attempt to build a house "beginning at the roof, and working downward to the foundation". Most people, of course, would view law as a foundation rather than a roof: Karnad's comparison is actually much better suited to the traditional "step-by-step" approach to nuclear disarmament, where the weapons are reduced and eventually eliminated before finally being outlawed. Better to lay a firm and unambiguous legal foundation - a ban treaty - before moving on to reductions, elimination and verification.
Karnad goes on to ask if "the world's six most muscular states ... would be troubled if countries without much global clout entered into a treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal?" This is the fundamental question to ask about a ban treaty, and Karnad gives a hard-headed realist's account of why he thinks the answer is "no" - without pausing to reflect that these "muscular" states are ALREADY troubled by the humanitarian consequences initiative and the mere prospect of a ban. If a ban doesn't matter, why are they troubled? And why, for that matter, is Karnad writing an article about it?
Karnad's third point in favour of a ban treaty is his observation that "many nations that might favor a treaty banning nuclear weapons ... rely for their overarching security on the very US nuclear deterrent that a treaty would seek to eliminate. These nations therefore enjoy little credibility when it comes to establishing a treaty". This of course is one of the great benefits of pursuing a ban treaty: it puts these nuclear weasel states in an impossible position. Faced with having to either support or oppose a ban, they will be forced to abandon their comfortably ambiguous strategic armchairs. Those that end up supporting the ban will have to reassess their alliance relationships, which in turn will have effects on the nuclear-armed states. Those that oppose the ban will risk disruption and damage to the NPT, as their compliance as NPT non-nuclear-weapon states will be called into question.
Finally, Karnad highlights another important advantage of the ban treaty by presenting what he calls a "better idea" of a treaty outlawing the first use of nuclear weapons. The beauty of a ban treaty is that it can co-exist with and support any other disarmament measure you care to mention. A no-first-use treaty? Sure, go ahead. A fissile material treaty? Yes, carry on and call us when you're finished. Although a ban treaty is often presented as an alternative to, or a remedy for, the "step-by-step" approach, it is really only a step in itself. But it is a step that supports all others - and a step that can actually be taken.
2 July 2014 - Squaring the circle: a BASIC delusion
Having recently explained how you're doing nuclear disarmament wrong, we are grimly satisfied to be able to show you an excruciating example of someone doing it even wronger.
Yesterday in the UK, the Trident Commission, "an independent, cross-party inquiry to examine UK nuclear weapons policy" set up by BASIC, released its concluding report. Three years in the making, this 30,000 word screed of non sequiturs and special pleading was perfectly summed up by the Director of BASIC, Paul Ingram, with the immortal line* "We believe Britain is well placed to lead global nuclear disarmament by renewing Trident".
The report concludes (surprise!) that the UK should retain its nuclear weapons. It is nevertheless worth ploughing through for two reasons. First, it provides insight into the remarkable way that possession of nuclear weapons corrodes reason, logic and self-awareness, showing why we cannot rely on nuclear-weapon states to move on disarmament on their own. Second, it exposes the insidious role that institutions like BASIC play in insulating nuclear-armed governments from pressure and abetting the indefinite retention of their arsenals.
The report is fascinating in the way it implicitly assumes that the UK is somehow unique in the security challenges it faces. Its core conclusion, that "if there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the United Kingdom and its allies, in preventing nuclear blackmail, or in affecting the wider security context within which the UK sits, then they should be retained", reads plausibly enough - but reads just as plausibly if you substitute "Iran" or "North Korea" for UK. Not once does the report consider how, say, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa or Kazakhstan deal with the threat of nuclear blackmail, or how Germany, Australia or Japan deal with the prospect of the US possibly one day folding up the nuclear umbrella.
Arguments are picked up when useful, and put down again when they become inconvenient: the report rejects some rationales for keeping nuclear weapons (such as national status), arguing that these may encourage other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. But it never examines the possibility that the national security rationales it does accept would also encourage proliferation. Then there is the mystery of how the Commissioners could get through the whole chapter on whether the UK should continue to rely on nuclear weapons for national security, without once mentioning the humanitarian impact of the use of the weapons, or the risks of accident or misuse.
The third chapter, which is supposed to answer how the UK can best "square the circle" of promoting a nuclear weapon-free world while renewing its own nuclear weapon systems, singularly fails to do that - because it can't be done. Rather than acknowledge this, the Commissioners duly mention the various problems, objections and contradictions - and then simply ignore them. (Fortunately, the reader's attention is diverted by a marvellous mixed metaphor: a "glide-path" towards disarmament that involves "concrete and transparent steps" down a "nuclear ladder". Somebody's going to get hurt...)
This is only a brief sample of the flaws of the Commission, but they show the depth of the problem. This is why Wildfire>_ maintains that such exercises are pointless, and that attempts - however well-intentioned - to engage nuclear-armed governments from within, and on their terms, are counterproductive. BASIC claims that the Commission was intended to stimulate debate, and that BASIC "stands resolutely" behind the publication of the report. BASIC and its funders (including the Ploughshares Fund and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust - which also funds Wildfire>_) would do better to face the fact that they have invested considerable time and money to produce something that will undoubtedly be used by the the UK government (and possibly other nuclear-armed states) to defend the indefinite retention of their nuclear weapons.
BASIC: it's time to change your approach. You are part of the problem.
*UPDATE: Paul Ingram was misquoted in the Guardian: the correct quote is "We believe Britain is well placed to lead global nuclear disarmament by +not+ renewing Trident". But the original (mis)quote is such a beautiful encapsulation of the contents of the report that we are keeping it in the text above.
16 June 2014 - Nuclear disarmament: you're doing it wrong
Today SIPRI has published its carefully-researched annual nuclear forces data, showing that nuclear disarmament, as practised by the nuclear-armed states, is not going very well. This seems like a good occasion to release our own short paper, "Nuclear disarmament - you're doing it wrong", which contains no research (careful or otherwise) but plenty that you need to know if you're actually in favour of disarmament.
We identify and briefly explain six ways that proponents of nuclear disarmament are unwittingly working against their own objectives and helping the nuclear-armed states keep their weapons by:
- Focusing on the nuclear-armed states
- Justifying nuclear disarmament
- Fixating on the forum
- Seeking unity and common ground
- Being too nice
- Waiting for something to happen
We also suggest remedies for each. If you want to change the game and actually make a difference on nuclear disarmament, you need to read this. Otherwise, SIPRI will be publishing very similar data in years to come.
13 June 2014 - website update
The Wildfire>_ website is growing quite large - to the extent that even we have trouble finding things sometimes. So we've added a site map to our "about" page, with links to all your Wildfire>_ favourites.
10 June 2014 - Japan vies for weasel crown
Wildfire>_ has been hesitant to apply the weasel label too prominently to Japan. Although certainly under the US nuclear umbrella, Japan's unique history as the only victim of actual nuclear warfare, and its willingness to go further than other weasels in questioning the legitimacy of nuclear weapons, have prompted us to give Japan the benefit of the doubt while we focused on mocking the other weasels.
But no longer. From today until 12 June the Japanese government will participate in a "bilateral Extended Deterrence Dialogue" with the United States in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to Japan's foreign ministry, this event "provides an opportunity for the two governments to frankly exchange views on how to secure alliance deterrence as part of their security and defense cooperation". And it's not just a discussion - the programme also includes visits to nuclear sites "to deepen understanding of the nuclear weapons systems that support U.S. extended deterrence guarantees".
Now, how are we to reconcile this with the other of Japan's two faces? At the UN General Assembly in October 2013, Japan joined 124 other nations in a statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, affirming that "It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances". How is "deepening understanding" of nuclear weapons that support your security guarantees compatible with that?
At the NPDI meeting in Hiroshima in April 2014, Japan joined the final statement which called on states "who have not done so to start reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies and military doctrines". How is discussing "how to secure alliance deterrence as part of their security and defense cooperation" compatible with that?
And Action 1 of the 2010 NPT Action Plan, to which Japan is supposedly committed, requires states "to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons". How is holding discussions that appear to be specifically aimed at maintaining long-term dependence on nuclear weapons, directly contrary to the objectives of the NPT, compatible with that?
It is hard to imagine hypocrisy more blatant than this. Does Japan's government not realize how duplicitous and insincere this makes it look? Or is it merely incompetence and poor coordination? Either way, how can any statement from Japan on nuclear disarmament have any credibility now? And what do the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki think of their nuclear weasel nation?
5 June 2014 - Schrödinger's weapon
Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger's famous thought experiment, where the principle of quantum superposition implies that a cat sealed in a box is simultaneously both alive and dead, has some interesting parallels with nuclear disarmament. Schrödinger's cat exists simultaneously in two states until someone opens the box to look, when the superposed states will collapse into either living or dead.
As we have written before, the nuclear-armed states (and their weasel friends) simultaneously value and despise their weapons. They want to get rid of them, and to keep them too. We summed up their many convoluted statements as "Nuclear weapons are goodbad. They bring stabilitydanger. We must eliminateretain them".
This was a parody, but recent statements from the NPT nuclear-weapon states have been almost as stark. At the 2014 NPT PrepCom, the United Kingdom said "We consider that nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee our security, and that of our allies, for decades. We want a world without them, but we need to proceed to it carefully". In the strange, quantum-mechanical world of UK foreign policy ("not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine"), nuclear weapons are simultaneously a valuable security guarantee and something they want to get rid of. This paradoxical state will continue indefinitely - until someone opens the box.
The interesting part is that pursuing a treaty banning nuclear weapons has the effect of opening the box. Once you are faced with the choice of either supporting or opposing a process to outlaw nuclear weapons, you can no longer have it both ways. The cat is either alive or dead; you either want to keep the weapon or you are genuinely ready to give it up.
The effect is particularly telling on the weasel states, which are vulnerable because as NPT non-nuclear-weapon states they have already outlawed nuclear weapons for themselves. If they oppose a ban, it calls their sincerity and NPT compliance into question. Hence the comical rhetoric we have heard from the weasels as they desperately try to put the lid back on the box and make the ban treaty idea go away.
It won't go away. The responses of the nuclear-armed states and the weasels only confirm the effectiveness of a ban treaty. We are going to open the box, and deal with that cat.
23 May 2014 - Open letter to the NAM
Today we are pleased to publish our open letter to the members of the Non-aligned Movement (also available in Spanish and French).
As regular readers of Wildfire>_ will be aware, we are puzzled and exasperated by the NAM's failure to seize what is an historic opportunity to take control of nuclear disarmament. The NAM has long - and rightly - complained that international security deliberations are dominated by a handful of wealthy states, and that the voices and interests of developing counties have been systematically marginalized. Now the initiative to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has starkly demonstrated that nuclear weapons are the responsibility of all countries, and has called the bluff of the nuclear-armed states, panicking them into foolish and revealing reactions. You would expect the NAM to have jumped on this opportunity to re-shape the disarmament landscape according to its long-held goals, but instead the movement has stuck to the same old routine of invoking ancient texts (SSOD I, the holy screed!) and pursuing limp and lame resolutions (a high-level meeting in 2018? That's a joke, right?).
Wildfire>_ agrees with much of the NAM's assessment of the inequities of the current situation. But it's not enough to be right - you can go on being right forever, and nothing will change. You need to act. We hope our letter will stimulate some thinking among our NAM friends on how they might change the game, and take control.
Many thanks to Alexandra Arce von Herold and Jean-Marie Collin for their kind assistance with translation.
22 May 2014 - Waiting for the nuclear-armed states
We have written before that the nuclear-armed states will never move on their own towards disarmament. Wait for them, and you will wait forever. We have also explained how their behaviour is typical of that of addicts. Yes, of course they will give up their nuclear weapons! They are "unequivocally committed". Just not quite yet. When the time is right ... after Christmas/the next review conference ... when their friends give up. They're already cutting down! Why doesn't anyone appreciate their efforts?
This is more than a metaphor.
And now John Loretz of IPPNW has written this insightful and very funny article, using the P5's own words - taken from their "reports" to the recent NPT PrepCom - to show just how hopeless they are. John lets the P5 describe how in their strange, surreal world, modernization of nuclear arsenals is an element of "step-by-step" disarmament, deterrence is wonderful and something we should all be grateful for, thousands of nuclear weapons is a pretty good number for now (and the next few decades), and a glossary is the next big step forward on disarmament.
What does this mean for everyone else? It means you have to take matters into your own hands. Help is not coming. Like the family of an alcoholic, you cannot enforce a cure. But you can stop waiting helplessly for the addicts to change. You can stop enabling their behaviour. You can take your own steps to reclaim your dignity, safety and independence. Start now - negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
19 May 2014 - Wildfire>_ is one year old!
On 19 May 2013, the Wildfire>_ site was launched upon an unsuspecting public. Uproar, of a subdued and modest kind, ensued. One year later, where have we got to?
Negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons have still not commenced. Business, if that term can be used, continues as usual in the NPT and Conference on Disarmament. The nuclear weasel states still shill their weaselly wares, and are rarely challenged by their genuinely non-nuclear peers. Analysts churn out more analysis, concluding that more analysis is needed. The NAM slumbers on.
Wildfire>_ has failed. The game has not yet changed: it remains a hollow, dull affair, rigged in favour of the nuclear-armed states and played by a soulless host of myopic defeatists.
No matter. We will press on. We've had a good laugh, and landed a few blows. We're proud to have so clearly identified and labelled the weasels, and shown their agenda for what it is. We're happy to have highlighted some of the absurdities of the NPT and the Conference on Disarmament. And although we cannot know what if any part we have played in this, we are pleased that the idea of a treaty banning nuclear weapons is steadily gaining currency among civil society, and slowly seeping into the consciousness of government officials.
So stay with us. The mockery and agitation will continue. We are plotting new schemes and hatching dark plans. Thank you to all who have supported, aided, abetted and debated us. This is just the beginning.
12 May 2014 - NPT PrepCom ends in pitiful disgrace
Don't say we didn't warn you - on the eve of the event we described it as a "forlorn and futile" meeting. Having sat through much of it, and read a good deal more, we can - even in hindsight and with due reflection - think of no better description. It was a forlorn and futile meeting.
For most of the two weeks of the meeting, delegations literally read statements at each other. There was no interaction, no actual debate, no engagement with the issues, no real meeting. At the end, the Chairman produced a hopelessly compromised text that was in any case rejected. If the meeting had not been held at all, would the world be any different? (Maybe a little less money would have been squandered.)
There is perhaps no better reflection of the inherent futility of the NPT as a means of pursuing nuclear disarmament than the NPDI - the Nuclear Procrastination and Delay Initiative. A miniature NPT within the NPT, this inexplicable grouping of disparate interests manages to produce the same kind of compromised-beyond-all-meaning documents as the NPT as a whole. It then submits them to the NPT, for further dilution to homeopathic concentrations of substance. NPDI papers WP.6 and WP.9, which essentially recommend that states do things they have already undertaken to do, must rank as two of the most pointless documents ever written in the field of multilateral disarmament (and there is certainly some pretty stiff competition).
But we digress. Who to blame for this sorry pantomime of a PrepCom? The nuclear-weapon states? The weasels? These will all be pretty well satisfied with the outcome, and can hardly be faulted for pursuing their interests. No, the blame must fall squarely on the non-nuclear-weapon states. Through an exasperating combination of spinelessness, cluelessness, disorganisation, inertia and sloth, the non-nuclear-weapon states have once again failed to engage in any significant way, to exert any pressure, or to take any initiative (much less to take control). Is this all nuclear disarmament is worth? How long will you play this game? Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without people, and the land be utterly desolate?
Yet there were glimmers of hope. The Same Old Agenda Coalition, which we hereby rename the New New Agenda Coalition (NNAC), produced an innovative (if lengthy) paper that sets out four specific options for implementing Article VI of the NPT, one of which is a ban treaty. This is a genuinely helpful contribution, and we encourage the NNAC to find or create opportunities for discussion and comparison of the four options.
But in general, the PrepCom was yet another demonstration that the NPT cannot deliver on nuclear disarmament. Leave it in peace, and build a better path.
27 April 2014 - NPT PrepCom starts tomorrow
Wildfire>_ agents are attending the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee in New York. Over the next two weeks, visit our special section at www.wildfire-v.org/NPT2014 for news, updates, commentary and invective. We look forward to your company as we attempt to disturb the dismal equilibrium of this forlorn and futile meeting. Time to change the game!
23 April 2014 - The tragedy of the NAM
One of the benefits of thinking about pursuing a ban treaty without the nuclear-armed states is the light it sheds on other, less visible obstacles to nuclear disarmament. We have already looked at the weasels and the disingenuous role they play in maintaining the status quo. But the weasels are not alone. The Non-aligned Movement likes to portray itself as a champion of nuclear disarmament. Many of its 120 members undoubtedly genuinely believe in it - and think they are working towards it.
- Endless reiterations and reaffirmations of, or other references to, previous NAM statements and/or international agreements.
- Repetition of stock phrases - in case the references are not enough.
- Calls for other people to do things.
We're pretty certain that no NAM statement has ever announced actual measures to be taken - by the NAM. Even when some specific "action" is proposed it is either window-dressing ("International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons") or waiting thinly disguised as action (a high level meeting to review "progress" after five years).
Why is this? Why does the NAM support the Conference on Disarmament, a body that is (a) unrepresentative and (b) totally useless? Why does the NAM persist in ceding all power and responsibility to the NPT nuclear-weapon states (and Israel)? Why is it so passive? Why does it do nothing but whine and wait?
Could it be because certain large and influential NAM members have nuclear weapons themselves? Or is it merely a pattern of learned helplessness and a lack of imagination, vision and resolve? Or something else? Wildfire>_ can only speculate.
But one thing is certain: the NAM could turn nuclear disarmament around literally overnight. If the NAM were to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons (that is, actually start, rather than "call for" or "support"), the game would be changed forever. If the NAM were really interested in pursuing nuclear disarmament on the basis of justice, dignity, fairness, and equality of nations, they could take the reins right now.
Will it happen? Or will the usual speeches continue? We'd like to hear the views of NAM members (other than the usual loudmouths) on that...
16 April 2014 - Great moments in nuclear disarmament
If you'd like to contribute your own Great Moment, please send it to email@example.com.
14 April 2014 - Warming up for the NPT PrepCom: Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of our guide for non-nuclear-weapon states on preparing for the PrepCom. Today our topic is "savage the weasel".
It is natural that many of you will be preparing statements that bemoan the lack of progress made by the P5 on disarmament and call for renewed efforts. Natural, but futile. The P5 are addicted to their weapons, and use the NPT to protect and feed their addiction. You can gripe about them in the NPT until the end of time, and nothing will change.
The weasel states, in contrast, are acutely vulnerable. Go for their throats. How can you allow these states - NPT non-nuclear-weapon states! - to declare publicly their reliance on nuclear weapons for security, to retain (in some cases) nuclear weapons on their territory, and to have no plans, or even vague intentions, to change any of that? In addition, several of these states actively undermine the humanitarian consequences initiative and resist moves towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons - in effect, obstructing legitimate efforts to implement Article VI.
It's an outrage. Don't let them continue to get away with it. The NPT is not helped by pretending that the weasels are in compliance, or that they share a common cause with the genuine non-nuclear-weapon states. The weasels are protecting and enabling the nuclear-weapon states and thus damaging the treaty. Call them on it! Their behaviour is incompatible with the object and purpose of the NPT.
In practical terms, you can:
- Ask weasel states to report on their implementation of Action 1 of the 2010 Action Plan (which requires them "to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons").
- Ask weasel members of the NPDI to outline their plans and timetable for implementing paragraph 11 of the recent NPDI statement ("start reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies and military doctrines").
- Challenge weasel states to explain the real reasons for their opposition to a treaty banning nuclear weapons (noting that the standard pretext that a ban treaty wouldn't be universal or "guarantee" disarmament applies equally well to the step-by-step approach they advocate).
For decades the weasels have hidden among you, pretending to support disarmament while protecting the status quo. No more! Flush them out, hunt them down, hold them to account! Time to change the game.
13 April 2014 - Hypocrisy in Hiroshima
Nearly 70 years after their city was destroyed by a nuclear weapon, the people of Hiroshima have now had to endure the nauseating experience of listening to the pious hypocrisy of the weasels of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a truly bizarre group of 12 countries led by Australia and Japan. The NPDI is not all weasels - it is a "cross-regional" group of Western countries and some others who apparently wandered into the wrong room - but the weasels are definitely running the show.
The weasel message came through strongly in Hiroshima: work towards a world free of nuclear weapons - but keep the weapons. Australia, the de facto Weasel-in-Chief, was as usual foolishly prominent in its advocacy of this irretrievably absurd notion. Wildfire>_ thought it was time to tackle this nonsense head on in Australia, and so our Chief Inflammatory Officer, Richard Lennane, has published this opinion piece in Australia's Fairfax media (our thanks to our friends at ICAN Australia for their advice and assistance).
With the growing scrutiny of their duplicitous policies, Australia and its weasel friends are heading for some stormy weather at the NPT PrepCom later this month. Do they realize?
9 April 2014 - Misunderstanding and misinformation
While Wildfire>_ is pleased to see the idea of a ban treaty being discussed more widely, we are vexed that so much of this discussion misses the point. It is not always clear whether this is due to disingenuous misrepresentation intended to discredit the idea, or to simple cluelessness. As a case in point, have a look at this recent lecture by UN disarmament supremo Angela Kane (the relevant passage starts at the end of page 4).
While Kane clearly understands the frustrations that have driven calls for a ban treaty, she has (or is pretending to have) no idea of how such a treaty would work or what it is intended to achieve.
Let's try and dispel the confusion. A treaty banning nuclear weapons will not magically lead to disarmament, much less to "security nirvana". The nuclear-armed states will not participate. The weasel states might not participate (but will face tough questions in the NPT if they don't). A ban treaty is not a substitute for de-alerting, negative security assurances, a fissile material treaty, or legally-binding disarmament and verification measures. All those can and should still be pursued, aided by the solid foundation of a legal ban.
Engaging the nuclear-armed states has been tried for decades. It is a perfectly reasonable strategy. It has only one flaw:
It doesn't work.
We can keep trying it, as Kane and many others advocate, but there is no reason to believe that it will magically start working. Kane's concerns about a ban are just as applicable to the current situation: on what basis can anyone conclude that the NPT and CTBT will eventually achieve universal membership? On what basis can anyone conclude that the CD will eventually achieve anything?
Nobody can force the nuclear-armed states to give up their weapons. But if you don't believe that a ban treaty would have any practical effect, look at the reactions of the weapon states, and the frantic scurrying of the weasels. If a ban treaty would have no effect, why would they care? It is ironic that it is the weapon states and the weasels who see most clearly the potential of a ban. They fear the implications, they fear losing control of the narrative and the process - and they are right.
If only we could get the non-nuclear-weapon states - and the UN - to see it too.
7 April 2014 - Warming up for the NPT PrepCom
Drafting your statements? Wondering what to say? ICAN has some excellent general advice. But if you want some more specific hints, here is Part 1 of our handy guide for non-nuclear-weapon states.
Let's start with what not to say. Remember this is the NPT. So:
- Don't argue about the security value of nuclear weapons
- Don't dispute the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence
- Don't try to justify nuclear disarmament
For NPT states parties the discussion on the utility of nuclear weapons ended with the entry into force of the treaty. The matter is settled. All members of the NPT have legally and morally committed themselves to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Any state that believes that nuclear weapons offer a net security benefit has no business being in the NPT. If, as a non-nuclear-weapon state, you enter into discussion on the utility of nuclear weapons, you are facilitating backsliding by the nuclear-weapon states and the weasels. You are legitimizing their illegitimate position in the NPT. Don't do it.
Since all NPT members, by definition, support nuclear disarmament, the only remaining questions are when and how to proceed. Here, examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has led to two fundamental conclusions:
1. Nuclear weapons affect all states. All states therefore have a direct stake in ensuring their elimination, all states have a legitimate role to play, and all states have a responsibility to act.
2. We cannot wait. The risks are too great, the stakes are too high. Sooner or later there will be a nuclear detonation and we will all suffer the consequences. So we must act now, not at some indeterminate point in the future.
Talk about these conclusions, and what they mean for your state and for the NPT. You can say, for example, that the non-nuclear-weapon states, instead of just whining and waiting, must take matters into their own hands and press ahead with implementing their obligations under Article VI – regardless of obstacles. They must act now, within or outside the NPT review process, to realize the declared intention of all NPT parties to “undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament”.
Does this mean pursuing a ban treaty? Not necessarily: perhaps someone has a better idea to get started. (But Wildfire>_ has yet to see any other proposal that amounts to more than the kind of talking, study and analysis that has continued for decades.) What is important is the notion that you are going to move ahead and implement your Article VI obligations by any and all means possible. You are changing the game!
Check back soon for Part 2 of our guide.
4 April 2014 - Naming contest extended
Our competition to find a name for the non-nuclear-weapon states who are not weasels ended on 31 March. We had some interesting entries: "the silent majority", "the hornswoggled", "lions", "dragon slayers", "buzzards", "honey badgers" (these last two apparently eat weasels). But nothing that we felt really captured the spirit of the long-suffering non-nuclear-weapon state, deeply wronged yet nobly persisting, and tragically unaware of its own power. So we are extending the competition indefinitely. Perhaps the forthcoming NPT PrepCom will inspire some ideas.
Send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @Wildfire_v.
30 March 2014 - The Nuclear Security Summit
We were going to have an item on the Nuclear Security Summit held earlier this week in The Hague, but Tariq Rauf really says it all here. Nothing wrong with the NSS as far as it goes - but it doesn't go far enough.
27 March 2014 - CD black comedy continues
The Conference on Disarmament finished its first session of 2014 yesterday, and now enters a six-week period of recess. In the face of such urgent and pressing challenges as global nuclear disarmament, some might be tempted to criticize such a long break. But this concern is misplaced: happily, the output of the CD is exactly the same both in and out of session.
Before the exhausted members retired for their well-earned break, they took the opportunity to illustrate once more (in case anyone still needs persuading) that the traditional approaches to nuclear disarmament cannot possibly work.
First, there was this skein of pious duplicity delivered by the foreign minister of Australia, Julie Bishop. The statement defies serious analysis, but we can summarize it thus:
- Bring the CTBT into force - security nirvana!
- Negotiate an FMCT - security nirvana!
- Acknowledge the security dimensions of nuclear weapons - security nirvana!
- Engage the nuclear-weapon states - security nirvana!
- Work methodically, step-, er, building block by building block - security nirvana!
Not to be outdone in the self-delusion stakes, the imaginatively-named Group of 21 then made a joint statement which contained this gem:
"It is the firm belief of the Group that the time has come to put words into action. Accordingly, the Group of 21 takes this opportunity to call for the implementation of UNGA resolution 68/32. In this connection, the Group of 21 calls for the urgent commencement of negotiations on nuclear disarmament in the CD"
We can translate this into English as follows:
"The time has come to put words into action. We therefore say some more words."
Wildfire>_ has one question for the G21: are you serious about nuclear disarmament?
It's time to change the game.
24 March 2014 - New Wildfire>_ competition! Win money!
There are still some 17,000 nuclear weapons around, and negotiations on a ban treaty are (inexplicably) not yet underway, so Wildfire>_ has not made a great deal of progress. But one achievement we are pleased with is our introduction of the term "nuclear weasel state" ("weasel" for short) to refer to those non-nuclear-weapon states which are members of nuclear alliances (e.g. NATO) or otherwise under a nuclear umbrella. The weasel label has spread, well, like wildfire, and is now in general use - even among the weasels themselves. Pejorative associations aside, the weasel label clearly served a need of identifying a particular group of non-nuclear-weapon states, and separating them from the rest.
But we have been wrestling for a while now with the question of what to call the rest of the non-nuclear-weapon states. They need their own term. We could call them the "real" or "genuine" non-nuclear-weapon states, but that's long-winded and not very catchy. What else? "True believers"? "Lions"? "Mugs"? "Sleepers"? "Dupes"?
We haven't been able to come up with anything very satisfactory, so we are opening up this question to the public. Send your suggestions for a name for the non-weasel non-nuclear-weapon states to email@example.com, or tweet to @Wildfire_v. Entries close on 31 March. The winner will receive the magnificent prize of CHF 50.
19 March 2014 - Opposing a ban treaty? Be careful
Wildfire>_ is all in favour of free, open and vigorous debate that draws on a wide range of opinion. We have no problem with those who raise questions or doubts over a ban treaty or the broader humanitarian approach, or who keep a sceptical distance.
But posing questions and discussing the pros and cons of different approaches to nuclear disarmament is one thing. It is quite another to actively oppose, obstruct, undermine, delay or disparage efforts that NPT States Parties are undertaking in good faith to implement their obligations under that treaty.
NPT non-nuclear-weapon states have made a formal legal declaration of their intention "to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament". Under Article VI, they are legally bound "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ... nuclear disarmament". Examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and pursuing a ban treaty are both means of discharging these obligations. Not the only means, and perhaps not the ideal or most effective means, but entirely legitimate means undertaken in good faith and based squarely on the principles of international humanitarian law.
So let us be clear: opposing such efforts is incompatible with the object and purpose of the NPT. Obstructing or undermining such efforts could be construed as interference with the implementation of the treaty.
And for a weasel - an NPT non-nuclear-weapon state! - to invoke its reliance on nuclear deterrence as a justification for failing to join humanitarian statements and for resisting moves towards banning nuclear weapons is not only a farcical perversion of the ideals of the NPT and a clear breach of the spirit of the treaty, but also diametrically opposed to Action 1 of the 2010 NPT Action Plan ("All States parties commit to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons").
Nuclear-weapon states and weasel states: watch your step. Wildfire>_ and our friends will call you to account on this at the NPT PrepCom.
If you can't support a ban, stay out of the way.
17 March 2014 - The plight of the weasel
Our friends at ICAN Australia have been doing some splendid work revealing the febrile policy gymnastics of a weasel government under pressure. As with sausages and laws, it is perhaps best not to look too closely at the process of manufacture, but if you have a strong stomach and fancy a belly laugh or two, have a look at ICAN's briefing paper or the original declassified foreign ministry documents.
Comedy aside, the most striking aspect of the material is the sheer quantity of it: running an inherently muddled and contradictory policy is evidently a lot of work. But through all the circumlocution, rationalization and careful avoidance (or barefaced denial) of reality, the awkward fact keeps protruding: Australia wants nuclear disarmament - and wants to keep the benefits of nuclear weapons too.
These two aims are obviously irreconcilable (even a 12-year-old could see that, as Wildfire>_'s man in Moscow, Vladimir Yermakov, might say). For decades, Australia and the other weasels were able to maintain this piece of doublethink because as long as "nuclear disarmament" meant waiting around for the nuclear-armed states to do something, the weasels could safely advocate it.
But the emergence of the humanitarian approach and - worse - the prospect of a ban treaty being pursued without the involvement of the nuclear-armed states, has put the weasels in a difficult spot. As NPT non-nuclear-weapon states, having forsworn nuclear weapons anyway, there is no prima facie reason they could not join humanitarian impact statements or an outright ban.
So to justify their reluctance they have been forced to bring the skeleton out of the cupboard and refer publicly to their reliance on nuclear weapons for national security. But in doing so, they naturally expose themselves to charges of hypocrisy and insincerity, isolate themselves from the protective cover of the rest of the non-nuclear-weapon states, and - most seriously - invite awkward questions about their compliance with the NPT.
This is the plight of the weasel. And this is the beauty of a ban treaty. As we say on our "turning the tables" page, a ban treaty "flushes the nuclear weasel states out of their comfortably ambiguous armchairs, and forces them to choose". And if, as Australia seems to have done, they choose to speak of the benefits of nuclear weapons, while actively working to undermine efforts to stigmatize and outlaw them, then they are in for a turbulent ride at the NPT PrepCom in April (more on this soon).
It's not easy being a weasel - and it's about to get a whole lot harder.
13 March 2014 - Logo contest winner
Wildfire>_ is pleased to announce the winner of our logo contest: Rafael Costa Machado from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rafael is a graduate of international relations and works in that field, but is also a freelance designer. Have a look at Rafael's winning entry - we love the clean lines and stark contrasts. Congratulations Rafael, and thank you for your contribution to our effort to change the game on nuclear disarmament. We have already started using the logo on our Twitter account, and will be integrating it into our other materials shortly.
Thank you to all who entered the contest - we appreciate your interest and support. Please stay in touch: there will be other opportunities to work with Wildfire>_.
12 March 2014 - Some thoughts on rage
Over the past months, assorted weasels and a few of the more invertebrate non-nuclear-weapon states have been speaking of the need to avoid "antagonizing" or "enraging" the nuclear-weapon states by pursuing a ban treaty. Indeed, the weasels have made something of catchphrase with "engage not enrage". We've already dealt with the "engage" nonsense - more than 30 years of fruitless engagement is probably enough to say we gave it a good go. But let's take a closer look at the "enrage" part.
Why, exactly, would the nuclear-weapon states be enraged by non-nuclear-weapon states pursuing a treaty banning nuclear weapons? The NPT nuclear-weapon states are all "unequivocally committed" to disarming anyway, so a ban is fully consistent with their stated aims. A ban is also fully consistent with the objectives of the NPT, a treaty to which the nuclear-weapon states are touchingly devoted, and with the 2010 NPT "action" plan they invoke at every opportunity.
Pursuing a ban treaty would not interfere with any "sustained, practical steps" they might feel like taking - although since they are yet to take any, this is a purely theoretical conclusion. A ban treaty might even help the nuclear-weapon states build the domestic political constituency they need to move forward on disarmament. And at worst, a ban treaty would just be irrelevant and ignored. Why would any of this enrage anyone?
The only reason that the nuclear-weapon states might be enraged by a ban treaty would be if they intended to keep their nuclear weapons indefinitely, and saw a ban treaty as posing an awkward obstacle to this.
Surely this is not the case!
But if it is the case, it is the non-nuclear-weapon states who should be enraged. Actually, they should be enraged anyway - given the decades of foot-dragging, obstruction, arrogance, equivocation, condescension and intelligence-insulting excuses they have endured. Why are they not? Partly through learned helplessness, and partly because there has until now been nowhere useful to channel their rage.
But now there is. Non-nuclear-weapon states: time to get in touch with your inner fury. Be engaged and enraged, and direct your energy where it can and will make a difference: negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
6 March 2014 - Forces of Darkness stop Wildfire>_ launch!
Wildfire>_ is apparently too hot for the United Nations. Our room booking was cancelled, security guards blocked the entrances, and the Wildfire>_ representative was summarily escorted from the premises. Undeterred, and after some quick phone calls, he was able to return in time to address the waiting crowd outside the room, and explain that the Forces of Darkness had conspired to stop the Phase 2 launch, suppress debate, and obstruct the free flow of ideas on disarmament, peace and security. Is this the role the UN should be playing? You be the judge.
We are disappointed, but neither surprised nor dismayed. This is what we are up against, and is a stark illustration of the challenges ahead. We are ready.
We certainly succeeded in disturbing the UN universe. And we were at least able to introduce the public face of Wildfire>_ in person. We are pleased to introduce him here online: as of 1 March, Richard Lennane is the Chief Inflammatory Officer of Wildfire>_. A former Australian diplomat, Richard has long experience in disarmament and until recently was head of the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva. As our sinister Phase 2 unfolds, Richard will be approaching a wide range of governments and NGOs to introduce himself and outline Wildfire>_'s plans. If you'd like to meet him, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to all who came to the abortive launch (especially the brave weasels who showed up - we salute your good sportsmanship). We had a great show planned for you all, and we hope to be able to put on at least part of it another time. Stay with us - this is only the beginning.
6 March 2014 - Wildfire>_ Phase 2 launches today!
13:15, Room VII, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Be there as the mask comes off! Today, the game is changing once and for all - don't miss it.
We repeat our warning: this event will be quite unlike anything you have attended at the UN previously. People with heart conditions, and those with thin skins or otherwise sensitive or timid dispositions, should probably not attend.
We will start promptly at 13:15, and space is limited, so please be on time.
4 March 2014 - A recap before we move on
With two days to go until the much-anticipated launch of Wildfire>_'s sinister Phase 2, we thought it would be helpful to draw together a few threads, especially for those who are too lazy to read our whole site. So, to summarize:
1. The nuclear-armed states will never move of their own volition. Their weapons control them. Wait for the nuclear-armed states to take serious steps on nuclear disarmament, and you will wait forever.
3. If non-nuclear-weapon states want to make any progress on nuclear disarmament, they will have to do it on their own. Help is not coming.
4. The renewed focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has revealed three important facts:
- Nuclear weapons directly concern, and are the responsibility of, all states.
- The threat cannot be ignored any longer.
- The nuclear-weapon states are scared witless by this new approach.
5. We therefore face a truly historic opportunity. Non-nuclear-weapon states, do you dare to seize it? Negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and you will fundamentally change the game. The nuclear-armed states know it. The weasels know it. So they resist, but they have nothing remotely credible to say against the idea. They know this too.
So nothing stands in the way but timidity, habit, sloth and spinelessness. And Wildfire>_ is not going to let you get away with that. Our sinister Phase 2 may not change the world, but it will certainly make your life less comfortable. Get ready.
2 March 2014 - Wildfire>_ Phase 2 is coming
Wildfire>_'s sinister Phase 2 will be launched at 13:15 on Thursday 6 March at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. All are welcome - nuclear-weapon states, weasel states, non-nuclear-weapon states, civil society - we'll have something for everyone! Come and find out what Wildfire>_ will be doing next, and how it will affect YOU. Disarmament in Geneva will never be the same.
Please spread the word - and check back here for notification of the precise venue of the launch.
27 February 2014 - Last chance to enter the logo contest
Entries close tomorrow, 28 February. Instructions on how to enter are here. The winner will be announced in early March.
26 February 2014 - Scraping the barrel
One of the most striking aspects of the discussion on a ban treaty is the curious paucity of the arguments made against such an endeavour. It reminds Wildfire>_ of the sort of discourse we used to see, in decades past, on masturbation: people didn't approve, the idea made them uncomfortable, they knew it must be bad, but they found it difficult to articulate exactly why. So there were the theories that it makes you blind, stunts your growth, or makes hair grow on the palm of your hand. Not only was there not the slightest evidence for any of this, there was not even any coherent reason put forward as to why it might be so.
Similarly, last year we heard accusations that pursuing a ban treaty would "damage" the NPT, with no attempt to explain how or why. That one was thoroughly debunked, but then up popped the notion that a ban treaty would "divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament", again with no explanation of how or why this would happen. Why would you stop your "sustained, practical steps" just because you joined negotiations on a ban treaty? (How would we know if you did stop, anyway?)
And now, really scraping the barrel, we have this piece by Rebecca Cousins, disparaging a ban treaty because what we need to do is engage the nuclear-armed states, not drive them away. Of course! Engage them! Why didn't we think of that before? If only we'd had a "nuclear non-proliferation treaty" or a "conference on disarmament", where we could have spent 30 years patiently engaging the nuclear-armed states, perhaps we would have got somewhere by now.
We could go on, but you get the picture. Wildfire>_ is determined to put a stop to this kind of unsubstantiated, intellectually vacuous drivel. We don't mind facing a decent argument - in fact, we would welcome it - but we will ruthlessly mock and expose those who trot out the fatuous "it'll make you go blind" type of objections to a ban treaty.
And if you would like to see Wildfire>_'s ruthless mockery in action, and maybe find out who is behind this whole operation, come to the launch of our sinister Phase 2, to be held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, at 13:15 on Thursday 6 March. The precise location will be revealed soon.
23 February 2014 - Nayarit and beyond
Undoubtedly it is an important and necessary step, and the discussions of the humanitarian impact of the mere possession of nuclear weapons, as well as the longer-term consequences of use, were a useful complement to the Oslo catalogue. Wildfire>_ was also encouraged by the more explicit support by some governments for a ban treaty, by the continuing comedy of the nuclear weasel states, and by the general sense of rapidly gathering momentum.
And yet... momentum heading where exactly? We are not sure we share RCW's optimism. Clearly many governments accept that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons mean that nuclear disarmament is an inescapable necessity. These governments are also deeply frustrated with the dismal lack of progess in the existing "mechanisms". There is a sense that something must change, that something is going to happen, that someone is about to do something.
Or to put it another way: most non-nuclear-weapon states are still waiting for someone else to solve the problem.
For Wildfire>_, the Mexico conference brought to mind a train sitting at a station, the carriages full of passengers - all excited about setting out on a journey togther, but all with somewhat different ideas of the route - with no locomotive attached. There is little, if anything, blocking the way. But the train just sits there, next stop Vienna, final destination unclear.
(Having said all that, Wildfire>_ must acknowledge that the Mexican Government showed some vision, and plenty of guts, in following through with this conference and coming out with such a summary. We know it wasn't easy. We hereby confer our highest honour, Wildfire>_ Arsonist First Class, to Tonie Jaquez of the Mexican foreign ministry.)
Non-nuclear-weapon states: it's time you applied some serious horsepower - and getting you to move out of the station will be a major focus of Wildfire>_'s sinister Phase 2 of operation. Wondering how? Come to the launch on 6 March in Geneva - details soon.
20 February 2014 - Wildfire>_ sinister Phase 2 to launch on 6 March
We are pleased to announce that Wildfire>_'s sinister Phase 2 of operation will be launched in Geneva on Thursday 6 March. The exact time and place will be revealed shortly, once the necessary security arrangements have been made, bribes paid, and witnesses disposed of.
Do you dare confront Wildfire>_ in person? Curious about how the disarmament scene in Geneva is about to be changed forever? Mark your calendars, and check back here in the next few days for further details.
17 February 2014 - The Weasel Manifesto
Wildfire>_ was planning to bring you a report on the Mexico conference, but our eye was diverted by yet another own-goal by the nuclear weasel states. Wildfire>_ and other campaigners for a ban treaty have a big task ahead of us, so it's a nice surprise when someone else does the hard work. Twice now, while the Wildfire>_ planners have been busy devising a strategy to deal with the weasel states, the weasels have obliged by solving the problem on their own. Back in October, we were pondering how to flush the weasels out of their comfortable hiding places among the genuine non-nuclear-weapon states, when the weasels not only conceived a plan of isolating and exposing themselves with a separate "humanitarian" statement at the First Committee, but did so in an excruciatingly inept fashion. Job done - thanks weasels!
And now, a prominent weasel state - Australia - has used the occasion of the Mexico conference to solve a second problem. We had been concerned that much of the muddled nonsense spouted by the weasels goes unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged, in such backwater forums as the CD. We wondered how we could get senior weasel figures to make their arguments more prominent, and therefore more vulnerable to the cold winds of public scrutiny and reasoned analysis. We had barely started to work on this when Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, kindly solved our problem by publishing this priceless op-ed on the closing day of the Mexico conference.
It's not a long piece, but to save you the buttock-clenching experience of reading it, here is a summary of the main points:
1. Nuclear weapons are bad, and should be eliminated.
2. As long as they are not eliminated, nuclear weapons are good, and we rely on them.
3. Pushing for a ban treaty will somehow mess things up, but we're a bit vague on what and how exactly.
4. Actually, things are not that great anyway so we need to keep up the "pressure".
Pretty convincing, no? Here's a free tip for Ms. Bishop: if you get people to write an op-ed for you, get them to write something that has some semblance of internal coherence and logic (a good rule of thumb is to avoid contradicting yourself in the first 150 words). But thank you for exposing so starkly the Weasel Manifesto - we're going to have a lot of fun with it in the coming weeks.
We'll have more on the Mexico conference shortly.
14 February 2014 - Open letter now available in Portuguese
13 February 2014 - Eyes on Nuevo Vallarta
The Mexico conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons opens today, following two days of civil society campaign meetings. Wildfire>_ is pleased to see the idea of a ban treaty - dealing with prohibition, not disarmament - widely discussed by civil society representatives as the only practicable way forward. But there is still little traction with governments. Many non-nuclear-weapon states are happy to join statements and come to conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons - but are unwilling so far to show resolute normative leadership, to stop being "moralizing spectators", and to change the game by openly advocating the negotiation of a ban treaty, without the involvement of some or all of the nuclear-armed states.
We hope that the Mexico conference prompts some thinking among participant governments on the need to actually do something. To help get them started, Wildfire>_ offers this timeless observation from Machiavelli:
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."
11 February 2014 - An open letter to the Ambassador of Brazil
Wildfire>_ is finally kicking off its much-delayed open letter campaign. We start with a letter to Brazil's new ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Mr. Pedro Motta Pinto Coelho, who made his initial address to the CD on 28 January. We're not sure why he bothered - but the gap between what Brazil says it wants (nuclear disarmament) and what it does (defend the status quo) is something we would like to see explained. We hope that Ambassador Coelho will enlighten us: if he is kind enough to reply, we will publish his letter here.
In the meantime, we invite our friends to circulate our letter widely, especially to Brazilian contacts. And if anyone can translate the letter into Portuguese, feel free to do so and circulate the translation too. UPDATE: letter now available in Portuguese.
4 February 2014 - Enter the Wildfire>_ logo competition: win real money!
As part of our preparations for Wildfire>_'s forthcoming emergence into the real world, we are running a competition to design the Wildfire>_ logo. Entries are invited from professional and amateur designers; the winner will receive the princely sum of CHF 200, and will naturally be immortalized as the designer behind the unforgettable symbol of an historic movement. Think you can represent the spirit of Wildfire>_ in graphic form, and help us change the game? Have at it. Instructions, rules and the usual legal blah-blah are here. Entries close 28 February 2014, and the winner will be announced in early March.
(And by the way - remember what happened the last time we ran a competition? Please don't let a nuclear-weapon state win it this time.)
29 January 2014 - Who better to solve the world's problems?
While there is no shortage of debate and writing on nuclear disarmament, sometimes it's worth looking a little further afield for ideas and perspective.
Wildfire>_ was struck by this recent article by Matthew Yglesias in Slate. It has nothing whatever to do with security or nuclear weapons: Yglesias is commenting on some foolish and widely-mocked remarks made by a US billionaire investor, and wondering whether it is wise that policymakers and the media give such attention and credence to the views of the very wealthy on issues of economic and social reform. Yglesias asks sarcastically, "who better to solve the world’s problems than the people who benefit from the status quo?"
Indeed. And yet this is what we see in the CD, NPT and the entire nuclear disarmament landscape: everyone whining, wishing and waiting for the nuclear-armed states to do something.
Expecting the nuclear-armed states to move on disarmament is like expecting billionaires to move on progressive tax reform. It just isn't going to happen, whatever earnest platitudes might come out of their mouths.
And have you noticed the parallels in rhetoric between the respective defenders of the status quo in the nuclear and economic fields? They both urge unity and a focus on "common ground", while rejecting as "divisive" any serious attempt to focus on and thereby actually reduce differences - whether the differences are measured in dollars or in number of nuclear weapons. (Have a look at paragraph 21 of the report of the Open-ended Working Group for a particularly emetic example of this.)
As we've said before, wait for the nuclear-armed states and you will wait forever. Non-nuclear-weapon states: you are going to have to start this on your own. You need to show resolute normative leadership. You need to dare to disturb the universe. Otherwise, nothing will happen.
24 January 2014 - the treacherous lure of the NPT
Having dealt harshly with the CD, Wildfire>_ now turns in more nuanced terms to the NPT. Much has been written about this treaty, given its undoubted importance and its success (so far) in keeping the number of nuclear-armed states very low. Its problems are supposedly well known - this recent article by Alexander Kmentt, a senior Austrian disarmament official, is a concise and eloquent account of how the NPT is currently viewed by your typical disgruntled non-nuclear-weapon state.
Wildfire>_ would endorse much of Kmentt's analysis, in particular his arguments that "both the possession of nuclear weapons and reliance on nuclear deterrence are drivers for proliferation" and that "the only long-term approach is to build credible political and legal barriers against nuclear weapons".
But there is a nagging problem. Like many others, Kmentt implicitly sees the NPT as a bargain: non-nuclear-weapon states agree not to acquire nuclear weapons, in return for the nuclear-weapon states (vaguely) promising to disarm (one day). The increasingly evident failure of the nuclear-weapon states to live up to their part of the bargain therefore threatens the "integrity" (whatever that means) of the treaty.
But this view is false: the NPT is not a bargain - or at least, not only a bargain. The non-proliferation part of the treaty is just as valuable to the non-nuclear-weapon states as it is to the weapon holders. Nobody wants to see nuclear proliferation, regardless of whether or not the nuclear-weapon states make any serious attempt to fulfill their disarmament obligations. The non-nuclear-weapon states therefore have no leverage - and the weapon states know it. This is why we say on our cold hard truths page that the NPT "holds the non-nuclear-weapon states in thrall, powerless and paralyzed by their good intentions".
This was starkly illustrated by Egypt's walkout from the 2013 NPT PrepCom. While Wildfire>_ admired the gumption of the gesture, it was a sadly futile action. So you walk out - what next? There's nowhere to go. As Kmentt observes, the NPT is "the only multilateral nuclear disarmament framework".
And what does that tell you?
Yes - we need another multilateral nuclear disarmament framework: a ban treaty. The NPT cannot deliver on its own. If the non-nuclear-weapon states continue to base their disarmament efforts solely around the NPT, they will continue to be betrayed and disappointed. Kmentt says that "this NPT review cycle is crucially important"; it is not! As far as nuclear disarmament is concerned, it is barely relevant.
Time to get off the NPT treadmill! Change the game! Support the NPT for what it offers - but pursue nuclear disarmament independently.
22 January 2014 - CD recedes further into delusion
European Union opening statements in the CD:
21 January 2014: "We cannot afford another fruitless year"
22 January 2013: "We cannot afford another year of fruitless consultations"
24 January 2012: "We cannot afford another year of fruitless consultations"
27 January 2011: "We cannot afford another year of endless and ultimately fruitless consultations"
The EU - affording the unaffordable since 2011.
The CD - wasting time since 1997.
How apt that the UN Secretary-General should invoke a "blue horse ... an animal of imagination". We are truly in fairyland here. Wildfire>_ can only endorse the Secretary-General's exhortation: "Arm yourself with the spirit of blue horse and run. Run fast and run far" - away from the Conference on Disarmament.
20 January 2014 - Back to the CD
Tomorrow the Conference on Disarmament will hold its first meeting of 2014. For some unfathomable reason, the UN Secretary-General will be there. What will he say? We know what he should say: "This conference has utterly failed. It has betrayed the trust of the international community, serves no further purpose, and should be shut down immediately".
But instead he will probably deliver the usual combination of encouraging homilies and hand-wringing concern. No doubt some variation of "the conference cannot afford another year of inaction" will appear. Everyone will nod sagely.
So let's take this opportunity to take a closer look at just what a disgraceful record the CD has. Since the CTBT was concluded in 1996, 17 years have passed. 17 years! In that time, the CD has held 550 plenary meetings. 550 meetings! Think about that: the untold person-hours, reams of paper, millions of dollars, oceans of tedium. And the result:
Absolutely nothing. Not even some half-hearted, fatally compromised pseudo-commitment like those we see coming out of the NPT. In comparison, even climate change diplomacy looks like a runaway success. If the CD was a company, it would be bankrupt and its directors in jail. It it was a ship, it would be on the ocean floor. If it was a horse, it would have been shot years ago.
And yet the CD is not only tolerated, but even enjoys attention and respect. Non-nuclear-weapon states of various political persuasions inexplicably reiterate their commitment to it. The Secretary-General of the United Nations visits, not to urinate on the podium and hurl obscenities at the delegates, but to speak of the importance of the forum. NGOs try to get in - to speak, not to pelt the delegates with eggs.
Wildfire>_ has to ask: is this all nuclear disarmament is worth? Is nuclear disarmament of so little importance that you would, by conscious choice, continue to pursue it through such demonstrably, abjectly ineffective means? 17 years! 550 meetings! Nothing!
Time to wake up, and change the game. The CD serves only the interests of those who want to keep their nuclear weapons indefinitely. Stop helping them!
18 January 2014 - Happy New Year from Wildfire>_
Wildfire>_ is back, and we have big news. While disarmament diplomats have been enjoying a well-earned break from failing to make any progress at all on nuclear disarmament, here at Wildfire>_ we have been busy plotting and scheming in our remote mountain lair. And now we are ready to announce that Wildfire>_ will soon begin the sinister Phase 2 of its operation. No longer to be just a virtual presence, Wildfire>_ will manifest itself in the real world.
You have been warned.
We would also like to start the year with a big thank you to all those who shared the Wildfire>_ spirit since our launch last May, who tweeted or otherwise disseminated our messages, who tipped us off to interesting developments, and - most of all - who developed and promoted the idea of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
We look forward to your company again - and trust us, 2014 will be no ordinary year. Spread the flames!
Please click here to read the Wildfire>_ news archive from 2013.
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