Nuclear arms control —Haider Nizamani

Courtesy: Daily Times

So subtle and imperceptible has been the process of justifying the presence of ready-to-launch nuclear weapons as a normal phenomenon that today ordinary citizens in the Western world appear more worried about the possibility of a weapon or two falling into the hands of Iran

Barack Obama will be back in Prague on April 8 where his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev will join him to sign the treaty to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals by almost one-third over the next few years. This comes a year after Obama’s historic speech in the Czech capital in March 2009 where he pledged to work towards a nuclear weapons-free world.

Currently, Russia and the US together have more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, ready for launch at short notice. Both countries have more than 2,200 nuclear warheads each in a state of high alert. As a result of the just agreed upon treaty between Russia and the US, the number of deployed warheads will come down to about 1,550 for each country. Along with nuclear warheads, the treaty will reduce the number of delivery systems from 1,600 each to about 800. These delivery systems include missiles on land, bombers in the air, submarines in the oceans — all carrying loads of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world many times over.

Before the treaty can take effect, it requires ratification by the US Senate and the Russian Duma. One does not foresee any hitch in the Russian ratification process. Probably it will have smooth sailing in the US senate too, where it requires the support of 67 Senators, a two-thirds majority, instead of a simple majority. The Senate has ratified nuclear arms reduction treaties concluded with Russia in the past without much problem. But at the same time it refused to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by Bill Clinton.

What does it mean for international security? Massive nuclear arsenals amassed by the Russians and Americans in the Cold War context are hardly justifiable in the 21st century. Any meaningful attempt to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is worthy of endorsement and applause. However, such an endorsement needs to be put into some context. Russia and the US maintain that nuclear weapons are integral to their national security and neither of them is inching closer to rendering nuclear weapons obsolete. Along with catering for its own national security, the US provides a nuclear umbrella to another two dozen countries. These include Germany, Canada, and Japan. None of the countries enjoying the nuclear umbrella is pushing towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

Washington accounts for half of the global spending on defence, which reached an astronomical figure of about $ 1,400 billion last year. Let us not lure ourselves into believing that Washington and Moscow are going to become champions of disarmament in the near future. The subtitle of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960s classic movie ‘Dr Strangelove: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’ aptly describes the mainstream approach towards nuclear weapons in the Western world. So subtle and imperceptible has been the process of justifying the presence of ready-to-launch nuclear weapons as a normal phenomenon that today ordinary citizens in the Western world appear more worried about the possibility of a weapon or two falling into the hands of Iran while considering the presence of thousands of American and Russian nuclear warheads as a natural occurrence.

Many Pakistanis have truly stopped worrying and even love the bomb, thanks to the political discourse invested in the Pakistani bomb. But even the public in a country like Canada, which tends to be at the forefront of the non-proliferation movement, is indifferent to or content with living under the American nuclear umbrella. After a recent lecture to university students about the state of nuclear weapons in the world, when I asked them if and how they would like to work towards a nuclear weapons-free world, a vast majority of students were of the view that since nuclear weapons are here to stay, there is not much point in raising a voice against them.

Outside the nuclear orbit of Russia and the US are most of the countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT binds them not to seek nuclear weapons, provided that these countries have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and the five declared nuclear weapons states would work in good faith to make the world free of nuclear weapons. The just concluded treaty is hardly a leap towards achieving the goals set out in the NPT. The number of warheads that Russia and the US have decided to dismantle is far less than their actual or imagined security requirements.

From the vantage point of non-nuclear weapon states, the arms control treaty agreed upon between Russia and America is an important but not a major step towards a world free of nukes and it does not address their security needs, which in some cases are closely tied with the holdout nuclear postures of states like Israel, India and Pakistan. These three countries have not signed the NPT. Countries like Egypt insist that Israel should sign the NPT. Israel refuses to do so, with the full blessings of Washington. On the other hand, India is viewed as a vital market for nuclear reactors and materials.

In short, when thousands of nuclear warheads remain on high alert, when major nuclear powers continue to hold these weapons as vital means to ensure security, and with public opinion content in living under the shadow of nuclear weapons, the just concluded arms control treaty offers little solace to the vision of a nuclear weapons free world.

The writer can be reached at

Source –\story_6-4-2010_pg3_4

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