Wildfire>_ News Archive - 2015
9 December 2015 - Still whining, wishing and waiting
One year ago today, Wildfire>_ made a statement to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Addressing the non-nuclear-weapon states, we asked how long they were going to continue to sit and wait impotently while the nuclear-armed states endlessly procrastinated and avoided progress on disarmament.
How long? Already a year. Twelve wasted months of talking and dithering, whining and waiting. We have had the NPT review conference, where all the usual gripes and excuses were brought out for a ritual airing. We have had the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which adopted some resolutions re-hashing the conclusions of the Vienna, Nayarit and Oslo humanitarian impact conferences. We have had 121 states joining the Humanitarian Pledge launched by Austria at the Vienna conference.
But we have not had any of these 121 states - or any others - actually living up to their rhetoric and responsibilities, taking control of the situation, and starting to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Everything is there: the evidence could not be clearer, the risks of inaction could not be greater, the hilariously flimsy objections and self-contradictory resistance from the nuclear-armed states and weasels could not be a better indication of the way forward. The number of states supporting the humanitarian initiative is more than sufficient. But still - nothing.
It's easy to criticise the nuclear-armed states for their lack of action. It's easy to mock the weasels for their hypocrisy, insincerity and clumsy duplicity. It's comfortable to sit on the moral high ground and complain about the failings of others. But it won't change anything. If non-nuclear-weapon states want nuclear disarmament, they will have to take matters into their own hands and act.
And timidly taking a series of ever-smaller steps in the general direction of the goal, but not really getting any closer to it, does not count as action. Establishing a new UN Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament is not, in itself, action. It will be all too easy for the OEWG to become yet another dead-end forum for states to whine about what other states should do.
Don't let this happen. Use the OEWG to talk about what YOU are going to do; use it to discuss and plan the means by which YOU will negotiate, adopt and bring into force a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
"How long, O Lord?" Forever, unless you act. Nobody will do it for you.
30 November 2015 - Norway sells out
Norway, which really started the whole humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament (and inspired the creation of Wildfire>_) by hosting the first international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Oslo in March 2013, has for some time been backing away from the idea. As we reported at the time, during the NPT review conference in May 2015, foreign minister Børge Brende made some odd comments that suggested he did not like the direction in which the conclusions of the humanitarian process were pointing. And as noted below, Norway either abstained or voted against the UN First Committee resolutions on humanitarian aspects of nuclear disarmament.
Now the Norwegian government's cowardly creep away from its own principles has been compounded by its abrupt withdrawal of funding from a range of NGOs working on nuclear disarmament, including ICAN, Norwegian People's Aid, IPPNW, Article 36 and PAX.
We thought this disgraceful display of naked, unprincipled expediency deserved some closer attention. So we are pleased to publish this Wildfire>_ Special Feature examining Norway's sad reversal and decline.
You may find this article confronting and disturbing. If so, be sure to let the nearest Norwegian government representative know about it. And if you are in Norway, contact your member of parliament to register your protest.
17 November 2015 - The Disarmament Guru returns
We were so appalled at the proliferation of absurdities and witlessness at the recent EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, particularly the session on "The NPT Review Conference and the Future of Nuclear Disarmament", that we begged the Disarmament Guru - last seen at the NPT review conference in May - to come to our aid once more. He has graciously assented to share his wisdom: you can read it here.
If you would like to ask the Disarmament Guru a question, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 November 2015 - Nuclear weapons: yes or no?
Everyone wants nuclear disarmament, right? All countries support the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons - at least, that's what they keep telling us at the First Committee and elsewhere. But, as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Let's have a look at the voting on L.40, the South Africa-sponsored resolution on "ethical imperatives for a nuclear-weapon-free world". This resolution neither requires anyone to do anything, nor says how things should be done: it is purely declaratory. Among other things, it declares that "given their indiscriminate nature and potential to annihilate humanity, nuclear weapons are inherently immoral", and that "all States share an ethical responsibility to act with urgency and determination ... to take the effective measures, including legally binding measures, necessary to eliminate and prohibit all nuclear weapons".
It is difficult to see why any state that is "committed" to nuclear disarmament (i.e. all of them) would vote against this, but an astonishing 35 did, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands and Norway (yes, Norway!). A further 15 states - including Japan, Sweden and Switzerland ("sweasels") - abstained, apparently confused by being asked to endorse the ethical basis for a goal they support.
Perhaps these states were put off by the parts of the resolution that said things like "nuclear weapons serve to undermine collective security, heighten the risk of nuclear catastrophe, aggravate international tension and make conflict more dangerous". Both nuclear-armed states and weasels have been known to imply, or even baldly assert, that nuclear weapons have security benefits. But even if security concerns and humanitarian principles "co-exist", as the weasels have taken to saying, nuclear weapons can't simultaneously be worth keeping and worth eliminating. Once you have made your security, humanitarian and moral reckoning, either nuclear weapons are worth keeping, or they are not.
If you have concluded they are worth keeping, why do you say you are committed to eliminating them? Why did you join the NPT? Why?
Conversely, if you have concluded that they should be eliminated, you might debate how best to go about it, but why do you object in principle to delegitimising, stigmatising and prohibiting them?
Weasels often talk about "building bridges" between the nuclear-armed states and the states without nuclear weapons. But you can't build a bridge between true and false, between yes and no, between retain and eliminate. There is no middle ground here: it's one or the other. In a refreshing moment of candour, Japan has just admitted this.
It seems self-evident, but apparently we need to say it again: you can't eliminate nuclear weapons by keeping them. While we are disappointed that South Africa is not leading the way towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons, we are grateful for this resolution which has so clearly revealed the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the global failure on nuclear disarmament.
3 November 2015 - Day of the weasel
Wildfire>_ has been rather sceptical of the value of General Assembly resolutions, but they can be useful in highlighting problems and illuminating awkward realities. Voting started in the First Committee yesterday, including on three resolutions dealing with the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons:
- Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons (L.37)
- Humanitarian pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons (L.38)
- Ethical imperatives for a nuclear-weapon-free world (L.40)
All three were adopted with substantial majorities. But the interesting part is looking at who voted against, and at what this implies. The weasels largely voted "no", and Australia made a pre-vote statement on behalf of 27 weasels, explaining why they would not be supporting the humanitarian resolutions. The statement is a true weasel masterpiece: a feckless concatenation of mealy-mouthed prevarication. There is the "unshakeable commitment to the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons", followed by various weaselly hints that their commitment is neither unshakeable, nor even really a commitment. They say "security and humanitarian principles co-exist" - presumably meaning they intend to ignore the contradictions. They regret the humanitarian effort to "de-legitimise certain policy perspectives and positions" - presumably those that involve relying on nuclear weapons indefinitely while pretending to support disarmament. They object to "dividing" the international community - when they constitute a small minority that has chosen to split from the mainstream that is genuinely committed to nuclear disarmament on humanitarian grounds.
When cornered, some weasels used to at least admit frankly that they rely on nuclear weapons for security, and will continue to do so "for as long as nuclear weapons exist". But perhaps due to a creeping realization that this stance cannot be reconciled with genuine support for nuclear disarmament, they have resorted to the billowing smokescreen of "security and humanitarian principles" and "certain policy positions". Fortunately, they can't weasel out of a straight yes/no vote.
In voting against L.37, the weasels are saying that it perhaps could be in the interest of the very survival of humanity if nuclear weapons are used again, under some circumstances. In voting against L.38, they are saying that we should not cooperate to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks. And in voting against L.40, they are saying that nuclear weapons are inherently moral.
We should thank these states for making it so clear: they are in favour of retaining nuclear weapons, and opposed to nuclear disarmament. They are obstructing the implementation of Article VI of the NPT, and calling into question their compliance with the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states. The weasels are an obstacle to nuclear disarmament, and should be exposed and treated as such.
And for Norway, which started the whole humanitarian impact initiative with the Oslo conference in March 2013, but which abstained on L.37 and L.38 yesterday and actually voted against L.40, we have these three words:
Shame, shame, shame.
19 October 2015 - Full spectrum lunacy
As the interminable debate at the First Committee rolls on, some intriguing new arguments are being put forward by nuclear-armed states and weasels. The United States made the arresting assertion that a treaty banning nuclear weapons would "risk creating a very unstable security environment, where misperceptions or miscalculations could escalate crises with unintended and unforeseen consequences, not excluding the possible use of a nuclear weapon". Goodness! Who knew we were dealing with such a powerful instrument here?
In the grand tradition of fomenting moral panics, the US left unspecified the precise mechanism by which these dire consequences would arise. But we are duly warned. The US contrasted the dangerous and destabilising ban treaty idea with its own "full spectrum approach" to disarmament, apparently in an effort to re-brand the now irretrievably discredited "step-by-step" approach.
Unwilling to cede its traditional crown for incoherent rhetoric, France then came up with this: "Chemical and biological weapons cannot constitute a basis for a policy of deterrence. Consequently, a purely legal approach would offer no realistic prospects to move ahead with nuclear disarmament." It's difficult to argue with that - just as it's difficult to argue with "Red and green are flavours of the electron quanta. Consequently a purely chemical integration will offer no realistic prospects to move ahead with an international cuisine".
On the weasel front, Australia stated bluntly that "a treaty banning nuclear weapons will not lead to nuclear-armed states giving up their arsenals". This may turn out to be true, of course, but it could equally be said of all the measures Australia does support (FMCT, CTBT, etc, etc) - and with a lot more evidence, since many of these have been pursued for decades without leading to nuclear-armed states giving up their arsenals.
It would be nice if this panicky delirium were matched by some sign of determination and movement from the 119 supporters of the Humanitarian Pledge. But alas, no. While there were references to the pledge, and vague mentions of "filling the legal gap", nobody seems ready to actually do anything beyond sponsor worthy but purely declaratory resolutions. South Africa, which had raised many hopes with its big talk at the NPT review conference, announced that it would not be convening a conference "in the very near future", before limping ignominiously from the field with this line that might have been lifted straight from Yes Minister: "options for taking forward the humanitarian initiative remain under consideration".
Once again, we see that the problem with a ban treaty is not so much the opposition from the opponents (laughable) but the support from the supporters (half-hearted, nebulous and cowardly). And it is the opponents who are making - unwittingly - the most powerful arguments in favour of the ban. The "full spectrum" notion is in fact an excellent way of describing the role and purpose of a ban treaty, demonstrating that it is not necessary to choose between a ban and the "practical, realistic" measures typically advocated by the nuclear-armed states and weasels. On the contrary, a ban treaty would complement and support these other steps, as illustrated here:
We suspect that the US really supports only a "partial spectrum approach", but that doesn't have such a compelling ring to it.
It's a pity the Humanitarian Pledge states don't seem to be taking any notice of just how deeply the nuclear-armed states and weasels are rattled by the prospect of a legal prohibition. Wake up! A powerful tool is at your fingertips!
12 October 2015 - First Committee follies
We never expect much from First Committee debate, but it's always interesting to check in and see the various delusions on unselfconscious display. During the first two days of the general debate, we had a Russian delegation visit from a parallel universe to announce that "the process of nuclear disarmament is moving forward rapidly". There was this completely content-free statement from the pointless NPDI (at least it was short), and the helpful suggestion from the Nordic countries that "an Open-ended working group should be inclusive, open to the participation of all countries" (isn't that what "open-ended" means?). And then there was this gem from the EU: "It is important to universalize the NPT: the EU calls upon States that have not yet done so to join the Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states" (well, that ought to do the trick!).
But the most striking feature recurring in many statements was an assertion that the current approach to nuclear disarmament was not satisfactory, coupled with an exhortation to continue doing the same things. Thus we had the NAM:
Assertion: "It has become obvious that the existing approach adopted by nuclear weapon States, the so-called step-by step approach, has failed ... It is time to take a new and comprehensive approach on nuclear disarmament."
Exhortation: "To instill a fresh impetus to global nuclear disarmament efforts, NAM calls for the urgent commencement of negotiations, in the CD, for the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons..."
Assertion: "Germany shares the assessment that more should and could be done. Given that there are still more than 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, we need to push harder for progress."
Exhortation: "Therefore, Germany supports efforts to launch negotiations on an FMCT..."
Assertion: "It is evident that the current approach has not been able to sufficiently deliver tangible outcomes that would ensure the realization of the overall goal and objectives of nuclear disarmament."
Exhortation: "The group calls on the CD to commence the nuclear disarmament negotiations without further delay."
Assertion: "Work carried out [on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons] has underlined the absolute necessity of taking immediate and specific action aimed at mitigating the risk of a nuclear detonation and moving as quickly as possible towards a world free of nuclear weapons."
Exhortation: "In our opinion, the establishment of an open-ended working group under the auspices of the General Assembly seems to be a worthwhile means of addressing this challenge, insofar as it allows for inclusive dialogue on forward-looking concrete measures."
There are plenty more examples, but you get the idea.
8 October 2015 - Netherlands campaign heats up in New York
Wildfire>_ agents are in New York, busily working the corridors of the First Committee to persuade delegations of Humanitarian Pledge states to vote against the Netherlands in the 2016 Security Council election, unless the Dutch take certain de-weaseling steps. And things are starting to get interesting...
Meanwhile, support for the Humanitarian Pledge has grown to 119 states, while in the background the tedious business of the First Committee general debate gets underway. We'll have some coverage of that nonsense too, so check back here regularly. Or better still, follow Wildfire>_ on Twitter: @Wildfire_v.
2 October 2015 - Putting the Pledge to work
Today we launch an exciting new campaign aimed at harnessing the power of the 117 states that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge, to make real changes in the status quo and to start to remove obstacles to prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons.
The Netherlands - a prominent nuclear weasel state which has criticized efforts to stigmatize and prohibit nuclear weapons and which opposes a treaty banning nuclear weapons - is running for election to the Security Council in late 2016 (for the 2017-2018 term). Wildfire>_ is encouraging all the states that have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge to vote against the Netherlands in this election, unless the Netherlands:
- Joins the Humanitarian Pledge;
- Announces specific, concrete steps to begin reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy and defence doctrine;
- Undertakes to provide to the 2017 NPT preparatory committee (or earlier) a comprehensive transparency report on any nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands cannot win a seat on the Security Council without the support of the 117 Humanitarian Pledge states. These states therefore have an historic opportunity to use their collective influence to help realize the goals of the Pledge.
For more information, and to follow all the action of this unprecedented "guerilla diplomacy" campaign, please visit our dedicated website: www.nlinunsc.org. On Twitter, follow the hashtag #NLinUNSC. We have lots of entertainment planned as the First Committee gets under way at the United Nations in New York next week!
22 September 2015 - The strange power of the ban
One of the most curious aspects of opposition to a treaty banning nuclear weapons is the mutual contradiction of the two main arguments raised against it. We are told that a ban treaty would be ineffective (it will not lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons), and also that it would be dangerous (it will somehow damage the NPT and disrupt strategic stability). Note that these arguments are generally wielded by the same party, and sometimes in the same sentence. You might say it's a classic case of doublethink. But it's not: there is something much more interesting going on.
Nowhere is this phenomenon better illustrated than in the latest tranche of documents obtained from the Australian foreign ministry by our friends at ICAN Australia. You can read an ICAN summary of them, or this excellent article by Ben Doherty in the Guardian, but for maximum entertainment value it's worth looking at the original documents (24 MB file). Here you will find the familiar refrain that a ban treaty would be ineffective and unrealistic, because it does not address the "security aspects" of nuclear weapons (what does that mean, exactly?) and does not engage the nuclear-armed states. At the same time, the text exudes a persistent, nagging fear that the ban treaty would do something terrible.
Yet it is never quite made explicit what these terrible consequences would be. Perhaps they are examined in the many redacted sections, but the visible parts of the text only hint vaguely at damage to the NPT, and incompatibility with Australia's security interests. No explicit links are made or examined. How would a ban treaty damage the NPT exactly? Why would it distract from, rather than support and encourage, implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plan? Why would it stop or interfere with the "practical, realistic" steps and building blocks that Australia favours (especially since these are all blocked or bogged down anyway)?
Reading between the lines, it is evident that Australian officials think that a ban treaty, far from being ineffective, would actually be a potent force for change - and would thus pose an awkward policy dilemma for Australia and other weasel states. Remarkably, this belief in the power of ban is shared by the most hard-headed of realists in nuclear-weapon states. Look at this report of remarks by US hawk Franklin Miller at a recent event on "The Enduring Value of Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century". Miller sees a ban treaty as leading to elimination of nuclear weapons, something he considers disastrous. You might find his views on the desirability of nuclear weapons repugnant, but the fascinating part is that someone who is convinced of the power and legitimacy of a vast nuclear arsenal is also convinced of the power of an "ineffective" legal ban pursued by states other than those with nuclear weapons.
As we have said before, opposition to a ban only proves a ban is necessary. And let's be clear: those who oppose it do so because they know it will work.
9 September 2015 - A ban treaty and NATO
Earlier this year, we reported on a study published by the Clingendael Institute on the implications for the Netherlands of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This study has now been joined by a similar study on Germany, published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
Both these papers consider the implications for the respective countries in terms of national policy and as members of NATO, and look at the possible courses of action if negotiations on a ban treaty commence, and if such a treaty were to be concluded and enter into force. With the earlier study published by the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) on a ban treaty and NATO, there is now a growing body of serious analysis showing that there is no legal impediment to NATO members supporting and joining a treaty banning nuclear weapons. A decision to join or stay out would be a purely political calculation, based largely on the anticipated reactions of other NATO members.
This is significant, as it illustrates that a major obstacle to moving forward with a ban comes down to little more than "peer pressure". Generalizing from the Dutch and German studies, and recalling that nuclear disarmament is (believe it or not) a NATO goal, it seems reasonable to conclude that each (non-nuclear-weapon) NATO state is reluctant to join the ban movement (for example, by endorsing the Humanitarian Pledge) mainly for fear of annoying all the other NATO members.
It will only take one NATO country to break this circular illusion. The first NATO member that confidently and unapologetically joins the Humanitarian Pledge, declaring it to be fully compatible with NATO obligations and objectives (which it is, by the way), will immediately invalidate the excuses of the other members.
So, who will go first? The Netherlands? Germany? Norway? Somebody else? Here's your chance to make history...
20 August 2015 - Here we go again
We have been writing this blog for a while now; some things we've got right, some things wrong. But one thing we picked out early has proved true over and again: the Hoffmann Doctrine. We are constantly amazed at the inexhaustible devotion among governments to doing the same things, again and again, despite repeated failure, while going to considerable lengths to avoid trying anything new. But perhaps we should not be surprised: such behaviour is one of the classic symptoms of addiction, a means of appearing to seek change while avoiding or sabotaging it.
The latest iteration of the Hoffmann Doctrine is a weasel-led effort to set up an "open-ended working group" (OEWG) of the UN General Assembly, as was recommended in the aborted draft outcome of the 2015 NPT review conference, to discuss "effective measures for the full implementation of article VI" of the NPT, including "legal provisions or other arrangements that contribute to and are required for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons". On the face of it, this looks quite reasonable...
...if you have just arrived from Mars. For those of us who have lived on this planet a little longer, it is beyond futile. How will this open-ended talking shop (OETS) be different from anything that has gone before? For decades we have had discussions in the Conference on Disarmament, in the NPT review process, in the Disarmament Commission, and even in the original open-ended working group. All these have "engaged" the nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies, and have incorporated the "important security dimensions" of nuclear weapons. All started as worthy initiatives driven by good intentions and high hopes. All have led nowhere. So what to do? Why, more of the same, of course!
Meanwhile, the one thing that has made a difference - the humanitarian impact initiative - is being left to quietly fade into the background, even by some of its hitherto leading proponents. South Africa, having inspired and excited many with its plain speaking at the NPT review conference, seems to have wandered off into the wilderness. Switzerland has failed to join the Humanitarian Pledge, and now appears to be making a bid for weasel status by getting involved in the OETS effort. New Zealand has embarrassed and discredited the New Agenda Coalition by failing to join the Humanitarian Pledge, and by reportedly backing away from the notion of stigmatizing nuclear weapons.
What is going on? Martin Luther King's "white moderates" seem to be prevailing at every turn. It is depressing, but we are undismayed. As of today, 114 states have pledged to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. This is a force that can and will change the game. And we will not be diverted by open-ended talking shops purveyed by addicts, flakes and deadbeats.
10 August 2015 - Hiroshima and Nagasaki: weasel survey
Now the 70th anniversary has passed, with the expected deluge of pious sentiment and empty gestures, we thought it might be interesting to review what weasel governments had to say about it all. Remember that the weasels are all "committed" to nuclear disarmament, and as non-nuclear-weapon states parties to the NPT are both prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons, and obliged to pursue "effective measures" for nuclear disarmament.
Let's start with those prominent weasels who publicly demonstrated their "commitment" to nuclear disarmament by saying nothing at all: Australia, Canada, Norway and South Korea. Australia gets a special mention here for commemorating a minor First World War battle while completely ignoring the Hiroshima anniversary. But as we will see, when you're a weasel, silence may be the best plan.
The Netherlands foreign ministry apparently thought the anniversary wasn't worth a formal statement, but did at least tweet: "70 years since the bomb on #Hiroshima. NL remains committed to non-proliferation and a world without nuclear weapons". Note that disarmament isn't mentioned here. And neither is the fact that the Netherlands depends on nuclear weapons for its security, keeps US nuclear weapons on its territory, and has no plans to change any of that. Perversely, the Netherlands regularly calls on others to start reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies, and to provide transparency on their nuclear arsenals - but does neither of these itself.
Then there's Germany, whose foreign minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier said, "The immeasurable suffering that the deployment of these terrible weapons of mass destruction caused is and remains a warning to us all and imposes on us a responsibility to continue doing everything we can to work for a world free from nuclear weapons". Steinmeier didn't mention Germany's dependence on "these terrible weapons of mass destruction", or explain how "doing everything we can" doesn't include taking steps to reduce this dependence, providing any transparency on the nuclear weapons held in Germany, joining the Humanitarian Pledge, or supporting a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
But best of all is Japan, the uber-weasel: victim of nuclear weapons, eager to show the world the terrible consequences, yet steadfastly and unapologetically clinging to nuclear weapons for its defence - and somehow managing to ignore the blatant contradiction. Foreign minister Fumio Kishida, writing for CNN, said "if we want to eliminate nuclear weapons, an urgent priority must be to prevent greater reliance on them. This means that cuts in the number of weapons should be accompanied by steps towards reducing their role and significance in security strategies and military doctrine". Once again, the weasel approach of "do as I say, not as I do" is shamelessly (or cluelessly?) pursued. Not only is Japan doing nothing at all to reduce the role and significance of nuclear weapons in its security strategy, it continues to work with the US to "secure alliance deterrence".
Weasels are an obstacle to nuclear disarmament. Other states need to do much more to call out weasel hypocrisy and expose their true motives.
6 August 2015 - Back in black
Wildfire>_ returns on this sorry anniversary. What is there to say? Let's just look at the blackness for a while:
Seventy years after the first use of a nuclear weapon, and despite decades of earnest "commitments" and "undertakings", we are no closer to nuclear disarmament. Worse, far from being driven to try new measures and explore innovative approaches (like a ban treaty), non-nuclear-weapon states and a good portion of academia and civil society seem content to carry on with the same old routine, which has been exhaustively demonstrated to be totally ineffective. People talk about preparing for the 2020 NPT review conference; urging the Conference on Disarmament to begin substantive work; re-running pointless UN General Assembly resolutions; establishing a "new" open-ended talking shop; making some paper cranes (please, please, please - just stop that). We've said this before, and really can't think of any other way to put it, so we're just going to say it again in a bigger font:
Nothing will change unless you change it.
If you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results. Do you really want to be in the same position at the 100th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing? Reading academic commentaries on the disappointing-but-not-disastrous outcome of the 15th NPT review conference? Lamenting 50 years of paralysis in the CD? Listening to nuclear-armed states and weasels advocate the "proven, effective" step-by-step approach? Reviewing proposals discussed at the 23rd Session of the Open-ended Talking Shop? Making yet more paper cranes?
Non-nuclear-weapon states can change this dismal pattern, but you will have to start on your own. You need to embrace the fierce urgency of now, and get on with negotiating a ban treaty. Help is not coming.
25 June 2015 - The special pleading endures
The amiable but curiously gaffe-prone US Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation (but Not Disarmament), Adam Scheinman, recently penned this revealing op-ed: The NPT endures. The article helpfully illustrates exactly why a ban treaty is needed, and can be briefly summarised thus:
- We are unequivocally committed to eliminating our nuclear weapons
- Conditions for eliminating nuclear weapons do not exist in today’s world
- Therefore, we are unequivocally committed to doing what we claim can't be done
- Something about Russia
More specifically, the article reveals the inconsistency with which the US (and the rest of the P5) treat the different "pillars" of the NPT. Scheinman says "nuclear weapons are not ordinary munitions and the conditions for eliminating them do not exist in today’s world ... Nuclear zero is a sensible goal — one President Obama embraced in Prague in 2009 — but states will only move as fast as their security allows. No responsible leader would trade more disarmament for less security. Disarmament and security must advance hand-in-hand."
Scheinman of course doesn't mention that the NPT says nothing about any such conditions on nuclear disarmament. We have previously made fun of this P5 tendency to tamper with the disarmament obligations of the NPT. But to really show how absurd it is, let's try applying Scheinman's arguments to the non-proliferation pillar of the NPT:
"Nuclear weapons are not ordinary munitions and the conditions for preventing their proliferation do not exist in today’s world ... Stopping states from acquiring nuclear weapons is a sensible goal, but states will only give up their nuclear ambitions as fast as their security allows. No responsible leader would accept stronger non-proliferation barriers in return for less security. Non-proliferation and security must advance hand-in-hand."
Imagine if, say, Iran were to announce that it would only comply with the non-proliferation obligations of the NPT once certain (vague and unspecified) security "conditions" existed. It would be scorned, mocked and punished - and rightly so. So where is the scorn for the US, for the other nuclear-armed NPT members, and for their weasel allies?
A treaty banning nuclear weapons would reveal the P5 approach to the NPT for the self-serving special pleading that it is. That's why the P5 are desperately resisting the idea. The transparency of their motives should strengthen the resolve of the Group of Timid and Conciliatory States (GOTACS - aka the states without nuclear weapons) to go ahead with filling the legal gap and negotiating a ban treaty.
Remember: why would any state that was genuinely "unequivocally committed" to eliminating nuclear weapons object to a legal prohibition? Objections to a ban treaty only prove that a ban is needed.
22 June 2015 - The fierce urgency of now: update
Our news item for 16 June (below) seems to have struck a chord with many readers; our thanks to all those who contacted us. The item has been re-published by Pressenza in English, Spanish and Italian, and by ICAN France in French.
16 June 2015 - The fierce urgency of now
At the closing session of the NPT review conference on 22 May, South Africa described the NPT regime as a form of "nuclear apartheid". This certainly captures the idea of a privileged minority unjustly imposing its will on a disenfranchised majority. But in many ways, a better analogy is that of the struggle for civil rights in the United States in the 1950s and 60s.
As Martin Luther King eloquently described in his celebrated "I have a dream" speech in 1963, the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence were a "promissory note" on which the US had defaulted in respect of black Americans. The rights and freedoms supposedly guaranteed to all were, through Jim Crow laws and myriad informal means, routinely denied to black citizens. For the US Government at the time, and for many Americans, this was a situation that needed to be remedied - eventually, at some undetermined point in the future, when conditions were "right", through a gradual, step-by-step process, being careful to maintain "order". Of course, this never happened. Only when the civil rights movement started to take direct action (the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, and many other non-violent, imaginative and extraordinarily courageous protests) did things start to change.
Similarly, the NPT is a "promissory note", an unequivocal commitment by the nuclear-armed states to disarm, on which they have defaulted. And similarly, non-nuclear-weapon states are enjoined to be patient; the situation will be remedied, at some undetermined point in the future, when conditions are "right", through a gradual, step-by-step process, being careful to maintain "strategic stability". Of course, this will never happen.
And now that the humanitarian consequences initiative has raised the prospect of non-nuclear-weapon states taking matters into their own hands, we hear from weasel states a stream of admonitions and entreaties startlingly similar to those that King heard from those he called "white moderates". In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King wrote, "the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action' ... who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season'." From the weasels we hear calls to "engage, not enrage" the nuclear-armed states, that a ban treaty would be "confrontational", a "provocation" or "disruption" that would jeopardise further steps towards disarmament, that there is no substitute for gradual, incremental progress - even as none is happening.
King was not swayed by such arguments; as he wrote: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." Non-nuclear-weapon states - and especially those that have joined the Humanitarian Pledge - should heed his words. They should recognize "the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism".
If you have a dream that one day nuclear weapons will be prohibited and eliminated, then you need to rise up and act. Somebody has to take the first step, to refuse to give up their seat on the bus. So which country will be the Rosa Parks of nuclear disarmament?
8 June 2015 - Time to move
Wildfire>_ has been scanning the airwaves, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the start of negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Surely, we thought, after the NPT debacle, the insulted, abused and exploited governments of non-nuclear-weapon states would not be content just to go back to endless thumb-twiddling in the Conference on Disarmament?
Alas, that's exactly what they appear to have done. It really defies belief. Non-nuclear-weapon states have the numbers: 108 have joined the Humanitarian Pledge. They have the moral, political and legal high ground: they have made every effort at successive NPT review conferences, only to have been repeatedly betrayed. They have the unimpeachable and overwhelming evidence revealed by the three humanitarian impact conferences: the threat of nuclear weapons affects all states, dealing with this threat is the responsibility of all states, and action cannot be postponed. They face no credible opposition: arguments against a ban treaty have repeatedly been shown to be flimsy, self-serving nonsense, or vague and unsubstantiated hand-waving. The weasels and their hypocritical arguments, never very plausible, have been utterly discredited by the NPT outcome.
Moreover, even sceptics and opponents of the ban treaty now appear to be convinced it will happen. We reported in February on Australia's views on this. Here is a recent example of an academic sceptic, still unpersuaded of the merits of a ban, but apparently certain it will be in place by the next NPT review conference in 2020. Perhaps even more remarkably, the P5 also seem resigned to the ban going ahead: Wildfire>_ is reliably informed that UK, US and French officials at the NPT conference were privately speaking of the ban as a fait accompli. The nuclear-armed states know there is no answer to a legal prohibition; they realised this right from the beginning of the humanitarian impact initiative.
So why hasn't it started? After decades of inaction, here at last is an opportunity: specific, feasible and safe. Non-nuclear-weapon states could literally start work on a ban treaty tomorrow. What's the alternative? More of the same: sitting for another 18 years in the Conference on Disarmament, trudging the NPT treadmill, putting up pointless General Assembly resolutions, commissioning commissions, studying studies, convening expert groups, calling for this, that or the other. Nothing is going to change, unless non-nuclear-weapon states act decisively to change it.
Some time ago we held a competition to find a suitable name for the genuine (i.e. non-weasel) non-nuclear-weapon states. There were several amusing entries, but none that quite captured the essence, so we didn't award the prize. But given the continuing lamentable failure of these states to stand up and do something, we have decided to award the prize to this quite recent entry: "The Group of Timid and Conciliatory States" (GOTACS). The originator of this entry has also kindly provided this video clip of the GOTACS in action with some P5 "hunters".
So, GOTACS: are you going to stay worthy of this label? Or are you finally ready to change the game?
26 May 2015 - NPT 2015: the silence of the weasels
The long-awaited 2015 NPT review conference is finally over (you can read our full coverage here). It would be hard to imagine a clearer, more comprehensive demonstration of why the NPT - and the current multilateral disarmament "machinery" in general - can never deliver on nuclear disarmament. A feeble draft outcome document, with the disarmament provisions diluted far beyond any trace of credibility, was in the end blocked by three of the states largely responsible for its dilution. The disdain and contempt of the P5 for the interests of the non-nuclear-weapon states, and for the object and purpose of the NPT itself, could not have been more starkly displayed. There have been various post-mortems published; we like this one from Reaching Critical Will. Our own Closing Remarks were written a week before the conference opened, and published in our guide; we didn't have to change a single word to fit the actual result.
Yet perhaps the most telling reaction to the outcome of the conference is that from the weasels. Have a look at this press release from the Australian foreign minister - no, don't, because there isn't one. Other typically outspoken weasels like the Netherlands and Germany are also curiously silent. They had plenty to say before the conference, about how they would be "building bridges" to help achieve "sustained, practical measures" for "realistic, step-by-step progress" on nuclear disarmament. What really happened, of course, is that the weasels "built bridges" by working assiduously with the nuclear-weapon states to dilute the disarmament provisions of the draft, only to have the bridges swept from under their feet by the US and UK. So the weasels took a bath, and are now a little wet, bedraggled and woebegone - not to mention utterly discredited.
Except Canada, which is a special class of weasel. Canada actually joined the US and UK in blocking consensus on the outcome. The US and UK would naturally have been eager to have a non-nuclear-weapon state alongside them, but where to find a delegation dumb or desperate enough to play along? The conversation in the US delegation probably went something like this:
Scheinman: We need a non-nuclear-weapon state to join us in blocking consensus, give us some cover. Get me a weasel.
Flunkey 1: But sir, we'd need a completely feckless and unprincipled one for this, totally shameless yet gullible and easily manipulated.
Flunkey 2: Canada?
The silence of the weasels is important, because it shows the path is clear to a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Having just shown that they will cynically ditch a consensus NPT outcome over some regional sideshow, willingly sending their revered "cornerstone" regime into five years of limbo, the P5 and weasels now have zero credibility to claim that pursuing a ban treaty (or anything else) would "undermine" the NPT.
Non-nuclear-weapon states were apparently ready to join consensus even on the deeply flawed draft outcome text, in the interests of protecting the NPT and its ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. They are the true custodians of the treaty. And 107 of them have now joined the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. The next step is obvious - and the door is wide open.
So who will lead the way through?
19 May 2015 - Wildfire>_ is two years old!
Wildfire>_ was launched on 19 May 2013. It has been an interesting, entertaining and often frustrating journey, but never has our goal seemed as close as it does now. As we follow the closing days of the 2015 NPT review conference, there is a tantalizing sense of inevitability in the air. With the NPT's nuclear-armed members as recalcitrant and stubborn as ever, helpless and trapped in the face of the challenge of the humanitarian consequences initiative, their nuclear addiction on clear display, it seems impossible that the non-nuclear-weapon states will not finally cast off the shackles of this patronising injustice and take control of nuclear disarmament by announcing the start of negotiations on a ban treaty.
Well, maybe not impossible. We should never underestimate the multilateral capacity for missing opportunities, especially where the Non-aligned Movement is involved (Egypt's bizarre suggestion at the NPT that a ban treaty be negotiated in the Conference on Disarmaments is a disconcerting example of how easily things could run off the rails). But still, we are celebrating our birthday in a decidedly un-Wildfire-like mood of optimism and excitement.
Just don't spoil it for us, non-nuclear-weapon states.
13 May 2015 - Weasels and a ban treaty
If a significant number of countries were actually to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, what would the consequences be for weasel states? What would the implications be for weasel states of such a treaty entering into force? These are interesting questions, especially for those of us who suspect that a reluctance to answer them is driving a lot of weasel opposition to a ban treaty.
So we are intrigued and delighted that Clingendael, a prominent foreign policy institute in the Netherlands, has published a comprehensive policy brief that examines these questions in detail. The brief outlines what a ban treaty would be likely to involve, and then examines the legal and political implications of two scenarios: one in which the Netherlands joins such a treaty, and one in which it stays outside. It makes for fascinating reading, and raises a number of issues that all weasels will need to consider. The study is also intriguing for what it reveals of the Dutch government's perception of its role and reputation in multilateral arms control and disarmament diplomacy.
And the conclusion? There are likely both positive and negative consequences for the Netherlands in either joining or staying out of a ban treaty. But there are no legal obstacles, and joining a ban would not in itself violate any Dutch commitments to NATO. In the end, it will be a purely political choice.
We hope the publication of this Clingendael brief will encourage think-tanks and foreign policy institutes in other weasel states to do their own studies of the implications of a ban treaty. It is a rich and revealing field of enquiry.
Don't forget to keep up with our continuing coverage of the NPT review conference!
4 May 2015 - Follow our NPT coverage
Just a reminder that from 27 April to 22 May, we will be covering the 2015 NPT review conference in our special section, updated daily. Please join us there.
23 April 2015 - Off to the NPT (yawn...)
The ninth five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) starts on 27 April at the United Nations in New York, and will stretch over four excruciating weeks until 22 May.
According to diplomats and officials, it is a big deal; the headline event of the 2015 disarmament calendar. But after several decades, eight review conferences and innumerable unmet commitments, the NPT is no closer to achieving its objective of nuclear disarmament. We find it extraordinary that so many governments in favour of nuclear disarmament continue to put such faith in this instrument. As we have written before, while the NPT has largely succeeded in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons, it has got nowhere on nuclear disarmament because it is used (very effectively) by its nuclear-armed members and their weasel allies as a tool to maintain the status quo.
So from our point of view, whether the 2015 review conference "succeeds" or "fails" is irrelevant. Neither outcome will make any difference to nuclear disarmament. If you want nuclear disarmament, you will have to take other steps. For Wildfire>_, the conference has only two purposes: to demonstrate (once again) that nuclear disarmament will not be achieved through the NPT, and to prepare the ground for more effective measures, i.e. negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Anyway, we have various things planned. For the next four weeks, please visit our our special section on the review conference to keep up with all the action.
13 April 2015 - Support for a ban treaty in Arms Control Today
Sometimes encouragement comes from unexpected quarters. In his feature article "Finding a Way Out of the NPT Disarmament Stalemate" in the April edition of Arms Control Today, former US ambassador Lewis A. Dunn unwittingly provides one of the clearest demonstrations yet of why a treaty banning nuclear weapons is needed.
Rich with unintentional humour, Dunn's piece takes as its premise the notion that the NPT is in stalemate on disarmament because of the differing perspectives of nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, as if this were some recently-discovered phenomenon. Pausing to dismiss the ban treaty idea with a series of bald, unexplained and unsubstantiated assertions of the "it will make hair grow on the palms of your hands" variety, he goes on to prescribe in some detail four measures for breaking the stalemate:
"Commitment by all NPT parties to rebuilding cooperation in pursuit of nuclear disarmament; creation of new processes of cooperative engagement between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states—that is, sustained dialogue and collaboration ... ; agreement by all NPT parties on some priority nuclear disarmament building blocks ... that they would seek to put in place between the 2015 and 2020 review conferences; and intensified action by the nuclear-weapon states in the P5 process to reduce to an absolute minimum any risk of nuclear weapons use ..."
Now, does any of that sound familiar? Have we maybe tried those ideas already, pretty much from the moment the NPT entered into force? "Cooperative engagement" - why didn't we think of that before?
Regular Wildfire>_ readers will of course recognise this as the Hoffmann Doctrine: faced with extended failure, keep trying the same things that have not worked, and dismiss without serious consideration any alternative proposal. Dunn has refined the doctrine by judiciously paring back the level of ambition when trying the same thing again, so that repeated failure is less obvious, and may even be presented as "progress". So we have Dunn suggesting various activities that "would use today’s nuclear disarmament lull [sic] to lay the groundwork for progress later" or "to pave the way for later action".
It is hard to see how anyone with any knowledge of the NPT could read this Groundhog Day article and not conclude that a radical change in approach is necessary. And the suspiciously vacuous and hand-waving nature of Dunn's rejection of a ban treaty suggests that the path to a ban might well be worth exploring - even if only for the fun of provoking ever more ridiculous rhetorical contortions from those who think that outlawing nuclear weapons is somehow incompatible with the NPT and hostile to states which have made an "unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
The "nuclear disarmament lull" has lasted nearly 70 years. It will continue indefinitely unless states without nuclear weapons are prepared to take control. Dunn's article shows why.
26 March 2015 - Happy Birthday BWC
Forty years ago today, on 26 March 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force. This short, simple treaty - it is only four pages long - completely prohibits the development, acquisition, possession and transfer of biological weapons. Before the BWC, in the 1950s and 60s, biological weapons were held by a number of states without reflection or apology, as just another part of their strategic arsenals.
The BWC has many flaws. It does not enjoy universal membership. It lacks any kind of verification system. It has no international organization to oversee its implementation. There was serious cheating during the 1970s and 80s, and doubts about compliance persist. Yet, in only four decades of operation, this modest regime has rendered biological weapons totally and utterly illegitimate. They are beyond the pale. Nobody claims a role for biological weapons in national defence. Here are some things that you never hear:
- "We consider that biological weapons have helped to ensure our security, and that of our allies, for decades"
- "We will continue to rely on biological weapons, for as long as biological weapons exist"
- "The horrendous humanitarian consequences of biological weapons are precisely why deterrence has worked"
- "Our biological weapons allow us to preserve our freedom of action and decision in all circumstances, ruling out any threat of blackmail"
- "We cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on biological weapons"
- "In the current security situation, banning biological weapons would be gambling with our future"
If you doubt the utility of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, you should think about this. Norms are effective and powerful, and even "toothless" regimes like the BWC can build them. So there is no need to wait for further cuts in stockpiles from the US and Russia, or for the "right" conditions to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention with all the disarmament and verification paraphernalia, or for "guarantees" of this, that or whatever. Most importantly, there is no need to wait for all states to be on board before you begin.
So Happy Birthday BWC: thank you for showing us what can be done. Now it is time to start building an equally powerful norm against nuclear weapons.
13 March 2015 - US obstructs NPT implementation
Recent media reports suggest that the United States has been pressuring its allies not to join the Austrian Pledge. US officials are yet to comment publicly on the allegations, perhaps because they are trying to come up with some remotely plausible way of reconciling such an action with their NPT obligations and their own stated objective of a world free of nuclear weapons.
The Austrian Pledge, you will recall, "calls on all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons". By urging its allies not to join the pledge, the US is in effect asking them not to commit to implementing their Article VI obligations.
Now we have no objection if the US itself chooses not to join the pledge (although it would of course be better if it did). All NPT members are free to choose the means by which they discharge their treaty obligations. And as we have said before, there is nothing wrong with debating different approaches to nuclear disarmament, or preferring one path over another.
But actively discouraging, obstructing or otherwise interfering with good faith efforts by one or more NPT members to pursue their Article VI obligations is quite a different matter. Apart from clearly being at odds with the object and purpose of the NPT, such actions directly contradict Action 1 of the 2010 NPT Action Plan, which commits all NPT members "to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons".
So why is the US doing this? Why would it care if its allies pledged "to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons"? As we wondered only last month, since it has already promised to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, why would the US object if other countries take their own steps to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons?
The truth is that resistance to the idea of a legal ban shows exactly why a legal ban is needed. At the NPT review conference, non-nuclear-weapon states should call the US to account for its actions in undermining the implementation of treaty, and adopt language committing all states to refrain from interfering with any initiative to advance the implementation of Article VI.
If you can't support a ban, stay out of the way.
5 March 2015 - The Netherlands rides the woodpecker
Anyone who has been anywhere near the internet in the last few days will have seen this wonderful photograph by Martin Le-May of a weasel riding a flying woodpecker. The image seems too fantastic to be true, but it evidently is real.
We were struck by the parallel with this statement made by the foreign minister of the Netherlands, Bert Koenders, on 2 March. It too portrays a weasel in a fantastic pose, too ridiculous to credit, but apparently in earnest. Let's have a closer look at this remarkable flight of fantasy.
Koenders signals early that he intends to depart from reality, describing the 2010 NPT review conference as "an unqualified success". Soon he is talking about the Conference on Disarmament being "an essential part" of a "well-functioning disarmament mechanism", before describing the stalemate in the Conference as "unacceptable" (the Netherlands, like other CD members, has been accepting it for 18 years, and apparently plans to go right on accepting it).
But then he climbs onto his woodpecker and really takes flight. "All states, inside and outside the NPT, can take steps", he says, such as "reducing the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines" and "increasing transparency of ... nuclear forces". These steps would be "concrete, practical and feasible measures that would build the trust needed to eliminate these weapons completely".
Koenders doesn't go on to mention the steps that the Netherlands has taken to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its own security doctrine, or to increase the transparency of the nuclear forces based in the Netherlands. This is because the Netherlands hasn't taken any. Neither does it seem to have any plans to take any. Why not? Koenders says "more can and should be done" on nuclear disarmament, that "complications cannot justify inaction or giving up", and that "security and stability considerations ... must not become an excuse for inaction". Except for his own country, apparently.
We're pretty cynical and hard-bitten here at Wildfire>_, and certainly no strangers to abject hypocrisy, but we confess to being astounded by the utter lack of insight and self-awareness displayed here. Did Koenders - or anyone in the Dutch foreign ministry - actually read and think about the statement? Or was it just pasted together on autopilot, from a selection of the usual cliches?
To add insult to injury, Koenders concludes by mentioning that the Netherlands is standing for election to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Why would any country vote for a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrite state oblivious to its own role in perpetuating the problems it claims to be working to solve? That's what we have the permanent members for.
Anyway, we will be henceforth using the phrase "riding the woodpecker" to refer to the practice of weasel states of resolutely but implausibly ignoring their own contributions to preserving the status quo and avoiding progress on nuclear disarmament.
24 February 2015 - Special feature on Norway
Today we are proud to publish our first Wildfire>_ Special Feature article. Norway's foreign minister, Børge Brende, has announced that Norway will not join the Austrian Pledge. This is ironic, given that Norway hosted the first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in March 2013. But Brende's stance reveals a deep and abiding confusion in Norway about nuclear weapons, that betrays the humanitarian principles underpinning Norwegian foreign policy. Read more...
23 February 2015 - P5 step up incitement of proliferation
Well, last week was a real feast of non-stop, full-blooded, nukes-are-great, grab-them-while-you-can incitement to acquire nuclear weapons. We thought that perhaps with the NPT review conference looming, the P5 nuclear-weapon states might be attempting some kind of charm offensive. But no, they have just gone for the offensive part.
First up was the annual "Nuclear Deterrence Summit" in Washington DC, where among other gems, Major-General Michael Fortney, Director of the US Air Force Global Strike Command, was quoted as saying "The role of our nuclear arsenal is at least as important today as it was in decades past" and "US nuclear weapons have an important role for our country, our allies, and ... a role for the world". This is of course an interesting contrast to other US government statements.
Then in the UK, we had Lord Robertson - a former UK defence minister and Secretary-General of NATO - penning this opinion piece on just how important and indispensable nuclear weapons are for the UK's security. Lord Robertson is a member of the "Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation", but we're not sure why, because he clearly thinks nuclear weapons are great. To show just how blatant a case of inciting proliferation it is, we've repackaged his article as a message to Iran. It is difficult to imagine a more direct attack on the non-proliferation aims of the NPT.
Difficult, but not impossible - as was demonstrated by the President of France, François Hollande, who delivered this truly extraordinary speech in favour of nuclear weapons on 19 February. Achieving the remarkable feat of making the rest of the P5 look responsible and trustworthy in comparison, Hollande unashamedly affirmed the enduring value of nuclear weapons to France - for security, freedom and economic development(!) - and talked of plans to modernize and renew the arsenal. At the same time, without a trace of irony, he spoke of combating proliferation - a highlight being the line: "Yes to nuclear energy; No to nuclear weapons" (for Iran that is, not for France). (UPDATE: Contrary to our expectations, the speech is now available in English.)
What are we to make of all this? Are these people really so clueless? It's almost as if they are trying to drive the non-nuclear-weapon states towards a ban treaty. Mr Hollande in particular has probably done more to promote a ban with that one speech than we NGOs have managed in the past year. ICAN should appoint him as a Goodwill Ambassador.
18 February 2015 - Australia optimistic on ban treaty
As we're sure our fellow civil society campaigners will confirm, it's generally a grim and thankless task pushing for progress on nuclear disarmament. But now and then something comes along that throws a little sunshine and brings a smile to our weary faces.
Our friends at ICAN Australia have once again done some excellent work using Australia's freedom of information law to obtain these interesting documents dealing with Australian policy on the humanitarian consequences initiative and the prospect of a ban treaty. The submissions from foreign ministry officials to Australian foreign minister Julie "Security Nirvana" Bishop are, as usual, good comedy material. We particularly enjoyed the description of the NPDI as "an influential advocacy group in the NPT" (this will be news to the P5, or indeed to anyone other than the members of the NPDI - and we suspect that even some of them do not share this cherishably deluded assessment of the group's worth). We also found it interesting that one submission mentions the argument that "deterrence encourages nuclear proliferation" - and doesn't dispute it.
But the most arresting - and cheering - aspect of the material is its forthrightly upbeat assessment of the chances of a ban treaty actually going ahead. Although the arguments in favour of a ban are dismissed (without being listed or considered) as "deceptively simple but ultimately misleading", Australian officials seem resigned to the ban nevertheless becoming reality. They assess that "it is clear that momentum is gathering behind the ban treaty idea", which is "gaining the support of an increasing number of states". There is a "likelihood that ban treaty advocates will soon push for a start to negotiations" and it is "probable that proponents of a ban treaty could table a draft treaty text at UNGA in 2015, seeking to start negotiations".
This is excellent news! Are you listening, non-nuclear-weapon states? Even the weasels are now just waiting for you to get started - and it would be a pity to disappoint them. So why don't you start? Nothing terrible will happen. As we said in Vienna, you just have to do it. Nothing will change unless you take control and act.
16 February 2015 - QED: the CD is dead, move on
We haven't had much to say on the Conference on Disarmament this year, mainly because we were curious to see what Mexico - a leading proponent of the humanitarian consequences initiative and supporter of a legal ban on nuclear weapons - would make of its CD presidency.
It's turned out to be a revealing experiment. In an energetic four weeks, Mexican ambassador Jorge Lomonaco tried just about everything: a new program of work, reform of civil society participation, review of working (sic) methods, and expansion of membership. The Conference failed to agree on anything. Anything. Even the most modest suggestions failed to gain consensus. It was fascinating to watch the hedging, stalling, pleas for "more time to consider", and general obstruction. And can you guess which delegations kept finding problems? Why - surprise! - it was mostly the nuclear-armed states and their weasel friends (#notallweasels, it must be said).
We would like to thank Ambassador Lomonaco and the CD membership for this conclusive and compelling demonstration that the Conference is utterly useless as a means of pursuing nuclear disarmament - or indeed anything at all. Just imagine for a moment that the CD had been abolished in 1997: what would be different now? Apart from a considerable saving of time, money, paper and integrity, nothing.
So if you are genuinely in favour of nuclear disarmament, it's time to move on - preferably to negotiating a ban treaty. Wildfire>_ will not be writing about the Conference on Disarmament again, and we would encourage other civil society organizations (in particular the excellent Reaching Critical Will) to cease their coverage.
12 February 2015 - Opposing a legal ban
After many months of vaguely admonishing against "short cuts" that are "unrealistic" and "distract" from the "proven, effective" step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, both the United States and United Kingdom have recently made explicit their opposition to a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
The US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Robert Wood, said on 17 December that the US "cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on nuclear weapons".
The immediate question is, why? Why would the US oppose a legal ban on a weapon which, like its fellow NPT nuclear-weapon states, it has given an "unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate, and which it is determined to ensure does not proliferate? How could the US object to states without nuclear weapons negotiating a treaty among themselves that would strengthen the legal and moral norm against such weapons, and further raise barriers against proliferation? Nobody would expect the US or the other nuclear-armed states to join a ban treaty in the short term; the treaty would not damage their security interests - provided they are pursuing their disarmament commitments in good faith. So what's the problem?
In a revealing Twitter exchange following his 17 December remarks, Wood said that there was "no viable alternative to verifiable step-by-step disarmament". But the ban treaty is not an alternative. It is something to help verifiable step-by-step disarmament get started and make steady progress. In short, it is something that should be welcomed by the nuclear-armed states and weasels - provided they are pursuing their disarmament commitments in good faith. So what's the problem?
The UK seems to think the problem is that moving to ban nuclear weapons "fails to take account of, and therefore jeopardises, the stability and security which nuclear weapons can help to ensure". Putting aside the troubling question of why the UK wants to eliminate a weapon that "helps to ensure stability and security", this is a fascinating conjecture. It implies that imposing a legal prohibition - something many critics dismiss as an empty symbolic gesture - would actually diminish the practical effect and utility of the weapon. This seems to us like a powerful argument in favour of a ban - if it's true, but the UK has not given any plausible explanation - much less actual evidence - to support its claim.
Beyond the lack of coherent reasoning behind the US and UK opposition to a ban, there is a more serious problem. In opposing a ban, they seem anxious to preserve the legitimacy of their nuclear weapons. This incites proliferation, and undermines the NPT. It is difficult to reconcile opposition to a ban treaty with sincere commitment to nuclear disarmament and good-faith compliance with NPT obligations. Why would any country genuinely committed to eliminating its nuclear weapons object to efforts to delegitimize them?
Put another way, if a ban treaty would have no effect, why would the nuclear-armed states oppose it? If it would have an effect, how could they oppose it?
8 February 2015 - More on inciting proliferation
If you're not following Wildfire>_ on Twitter (why not?), you won't have seen our amusing "Who said it?" series of graphical illustrations of efforts of the nuclear-armed states to incite proliferation. So here they are:
- Our strictly defensive deterrent
- Nuclear weapons help guarantee our security
- We oppose any move to make nuclear weapons illegal
5 February 2015 - Inciting proliferation
Nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies are fond of emphasizing the importance of non-proliferation. The NPT nuclear-weapon states in particular never tire of lecturing the non-nuclear-weapon members of the treaty and exhorting them to make greater efforts on non-proliferation. Then there is the favourite refrain, trotted out by the P5 and weasels alike, that the threat of proliferation makes progress on nuclear disarmament more difficult.
As we have observed previously, it is remarkable how everyone who mentions this last effect apparently believes that it only works in one direction. The threat of others acquiring nuclear weapons drives the existing nuclear-armed states to keep theirs, but somehow the fact that they themselves retain and rely on nuclear weapons does not encourage others to acquire them.
And not only do the nuclear-armed states retain their weapons, they talk unashamedly of their importance and legitimacy. The UK says that it does not share the view that "nuclear weapons per se are inherently unacceptable", and considers that "nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee our security, and that of our allies, for decades". France talks about its "strictly defensive" nuclear deterrent which "does not violate international law in any way". Australia, Japan, Germany and other weasels unapologetically cite the security and stability benefits of extended deterrence.
Similarly, all these countries resist any attempt to delegitimize nuclear weapons. The US says it "cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on nuclear weapons". The UK says that the proposal to ban nuclear weapons "fails to take account of, and therefore jeopardises, the stability and security which nuclear weapons can help to ensure".
It is well past time to call this out for the dangerous nonsense that it is. Every time a nuclear-armed state or weasel talks about the security benefits of nuclear weapons, or claims the weapons have a legitimate role in national defence and regional stability, or argues against a legal ban, it is inciting proliferation. It is working directly against the patient efforts of the non-nuclear-weapon members of the NPT to strengthen barriers against proliferation. It is undermining the NPT, and treating the non-nuclear-weapon states with utter contempt.
Which leads us to the question: why do the non-nuclear-weapon states put up with this? Well, why do you? The NPT belongs to you as much as it does to the nuclear-weapon states. Stop letting them damage it. Take control, reclaim the NPT, and stop the nuclear-armed states inciting proliferation. At the NPT review conference, protest immediately against any statement that suggests nuclear weapons are valuable or legitimate. Make clear that opposing a legal prohibition is incompatible with the objectives of the NPT, and encourages proliferation. Join the Austrian Pledge, and challenge the nuclear-armed states and weasels to join it too.
The nuclear-armed states are playing you for chumps. You have swallowed their condescending, pernicious crap for far too long. Stop.
3 February 2015 - Fun with terminology
We have written before about doublethink, and the curious way in which the nuclear-armed states and their weasel allies simultaneously want to get rid of nuclear weapons and to keep them too. We summed up their approach thus: "Nuclear weapons are goodbad. They bring stabilitydanger. We must eliminateretain them".
One interesting way this conflicted belief manifests itself is in the varying terminology that nuclear-armed states and weasels use to refer to nuclear weapons, depending on who the weapons belong to. It's a kind of irregular conjugation: I maintain a strategic deterrent; you possess nuclear weapons; he is a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
It's both amusing and illuminating to swap the terms around in official statements from nuclear-armed states and weasels, like this:
"We need our weapons of mass destruction as much today as we did when [we first acquired them] ... the WMD threat has not gone away. In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased." - UK Prime Minister David Cameron
"French weapons of mass destruction are strictly defensive. Since they may only be used in extreme circumstances of self-defence, French weapons of mass destruction do not violate international law in any way." - French NPT statement
"We do not share the view that weapons of mass destruction are inherently unacceptable. We consider that weapons of mass destruction have helped to guarantee our security, and that of our allies, for decades" - UK NPT statement
"Weapons of mass destruction still have a role to play in security doctrines" - German CD statement
"We cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on weapons of mass destruction." - public speech by US CD ambassador
Try this game yourself - it is a quick and entertaining way to identify hypocrisy and double standards, and helps pass the time in useless meetings like the Conference on Disarmament.
14 January 2015 - Magical realism
Wildfire>_ is back for another year, and there's lots to do as we head towards the start of negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. We look forward to your company.
We begin 2015 with a look at a current criticism of the ban treaty idea. Several nuclear-armed states and weasels have taken to characterising the ban treaty as a "magic wand" that proponents naively believe will conjure nuclear disarmament into reality. These critics go on to say that the ban treaty is unrealistic and impractical, and that there is no alternative to verifiable, step-by-step disarmament.
Let's put aside for the moment the fact that, as far as Wildfire>_ is aware, no proponent of the ban treaty has ever claimed that it will magically lead to disarmament. And let's ignore for now the consideration that the ban treaty is not an alternative to "verifiable, step-by-step disarmament" but rather a means of helping it get started. Let's focus instead on the notion that pursuit of a ban treaty is unrealistic fantasy, while the approach preferred by the nuclear-armed states and the weasels is hard-headed, pragmatic realism.
Under this "realistic" approach, which has been pursued unsuccessfully for over 40 years now, a situation in which several countries claim to depend on nuclear weapons for their security will be transformed into a situation in which these same countries benefit from the "peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons", through a series of steps which sound plausible but which are never taken. The steps can't be taken, because under the "realist" approach, the conditions that would allow them to be taken can only exist after they have been completed ("as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will keep ours / continue to depend on extended deterrence"). The "realistic" step-by-step approach as advocated by the nuclear-armed states and weasels therefore reminds us of this old cartoon. Somewhere in the sequence of "realistic" steps, a miracle is needed, by which nuclear weapons are magically transformed from "things we need for our security" into "things we are more secure without".
Magical realism is a literary genre where magical elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment. It has been described as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe". What could be a better description of the current approach to nuclear disarmament? Look at some of the things that the "realists" of the current approach believe in:
- The Conference on Disarmament as an effective means of pursuing nuclear disarmament.
- Achieving universal membership of the NPT.
- Entry into force of the CTBT.
- Step-by-step disarmament, when they can't or won't take any of the steps.
- Eliminating nuclear weapons while still depending on them.
OK, we made up that last one. But it's just as credible as the others on the list.
So which is the truly realistic option for making progress on disarmament? Continue with the magical realism approach of hoping vaguely for a miracle at some unspecified point in the future? Or get to work now on a practical instrument that will stigmatize nuclear weapons and establish an unambiguous norm against them as a means of providing security?
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