"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Global Panel Calls for Steep Nuclear Cuts

Tom Z. Collina

Providing a boost to President Barack Obama’s nuclear weapons agenda, an international panel of experts sponsored by Australia and Japan released a report Dec. 15 finding that global stockpiles of nuclear weapons should be reduced 90 percent by 2025 and ultimately eliminated.

“[T]he key recommendation is to get serious about a world without nuclear weapons because there are far more risks associated with the continuation of nuclear weapons than there are these days any benefits,” commission co-chair and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans told Australia’s ABC News Dec. 15. “We’re realistic about how long that will take. We’re setting a target date, 2025, to achieve a dramatic 90 percent reduction in the world’s nuclear weapons. We think that’s realistically achievable.”

In releasing the report, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called it “an important framework for discussions and debate on nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament.” Rudd initially proposed the creation of the panel, known as the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). In September 2008, he and Yasuo Fukuda, then Japan’s prime minister, launched the ICNND as a joint initiative of their governments. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is a co-chair. The report was formally released in Tokyo by Evans, Kawaguchi, Rudd, and Fukuda’s successor, Yukio Hatoyama.

The report, entitled “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers,” drew criticism from opposite flanks. “Capping U.S. and Russian arsenals at 500 warheads is unrealistic given today’s world,” wrote Franklin Miller, a Pentagon and National Security Council official from 1979 to 2005, and Andrew Shearer of Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, in The Wall Street Journal Dec. 16. They were referring to the number of weapons that would remain in U.S. and Russian arsenals after 90 percent reductions.

Meanwhile, 17 leaders of the international nuclear abolition movement, including the mayor of Hiroshima, signed a joint letter saying, “The pace of the action plan for nuclear disarmament laid out in the report is far too slow. Rather than adding to the global momentum for nuclear abolition, there is a danger that it could in fact act as a brake.”

Among its many findings, the 230-page report noted that nuclear weapons are “the only weapons ever invented that have the capacity to wholly destroy life on this planet, and the arsenals we now possess are able to do so many times over. The problem of nuclear weapons is at least equal to that of climate change in terms of gravity—and much more immediate in its potential impact.”

Directly challenging traditional approaches to nonproliferation, the commission, which included former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Russian Duma member Alexei Arbatov, found that “[s]o long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design.”

The commission laid out a phased action agenda, similar in many ways to that of the Obama administration. In the short term (by 2012), the panel called for U.S.-Russian agreement on the START follow-on, a strengthening of the nonproliferation system at the May 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty. The commission also called for progress on nuclear security and multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle.

“Sole Purpose” Policy

In a policy recommendation that reportedly prompted considerable debate within the commission, the panel called for a declaration by all nuclear-armed states that the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others. In the ABC News interview, Evans said the “immediate priority” for U.S. action is to include that point in the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), now scheduled to be issued in March.

In his Sept. 23 UN Security Council speech, Obama said, “We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that…reduces the role of nuclear weapons.” Experts have interpreted this as meaning that Obama would push the NPR process to conclude that U.S. nuclear weapons could be used to deter nuclear attacks, but not attacks with chemical, biological, or conventional weapons.

Japan’s new foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, has been a strong proponent of no-first-use policies and has said he expected the Evans-Kawaguchi report to make a recommendation “along those lines.” The policy of no-first-use goes somewhat beyond the sole-purpose policy; under the latter, a nation could agree to use nuclear weapons only for deterrence, but theoretically reserve the right to use them first to “pre-empt” an imminent nuclear strike. The issue is controversial in Japan, which values its place under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, is within range of North Korean missiles, and is the only nation to have suffered nuclear attacks. Inside the ICNND, Kawaguchi reportedly was opposed to sole purpose, even as Okada was calling on the United States to declare a no-first-use policy.

In their Wall Street Journal article, Miller and Shearer said an “unequivocal ‘no first use’ declaration would weaken American deterrence.” The commission’s report said that “‘[e]xtended deterrence’ does not have to mean extended nuclear deterrence.”

The apparent compromise is that the panel called for an early sole-purpose declaration, delaying a no-first-use policy until the medium term, or 2025.

The commission’s other goals for 2025 include “a world with no more than 2,000 nuclear warheads (less than 10 percent of today’s arsenals),” with 500 each for Russia and the United States and 1,000 divided among the other nuclear states, and development of a nuclear weapons convention to “legally underpin the ultimate transition to a nuclear weapon free world.”

For the period beyond 2025, the commission calls for creating “political conditions, regionally and globally, sufficiently cooperative and stable for the prospect of major war or aggression to be so remote that nuclear weapons are seen as having no remaining deterrent utility.”

Wading into the controversial waters of how to treat India, Israel, and Pakistan, nuclear-armed states that have not signed the NPT, the commission said, “Provided they satisfy strong objective criteria demonstrating commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation, and sign up to specific future commitments in this respect, these states should have access to nuclear materials and technology for civilian purposes on the same basis as an NPT member.”

With regard to the separation of plutonium for nuclear energy programs, the commission said, “The increasing use of plutonium recycle, and the prospective introduction of fast neutron reactors, must be pursued in ways which enhance non-proliferation objectives and avoid adding to proliferation and terrorism risks.” Although some countries are pursuing programs to separate plutonium from spent fuel and then use it to fabricate new fuel, other countries have turned away from such programs, citing proliferation risks as one of the key reasons. The abolition movement’s joint letter says that “the specific measures proposed [by the commission] for controlling materials and technology that can be diverted to weapons, including uranium and plutonium, are inadequate.”

In addition to Arbatov, Evans, Kawaguchi, and Perry, the commission’s members are Turki Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway), Frene Noshir Ginwala (South Africa), François Heisbourg (France), Jehangir Karamat (Pakistan), Brajesh Mishra (India), Klaus Naumann (Germany), Wang Yingfan (China), Shirley Williams (United Kingdom), Wiryono Sastrohandoyo (Indonesia), and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico).