For decades, the concept and reality of mutually assured destruction could be said to have contributed to a less warlike world. Since the end of the Second World War, we have not had any more direct wars between Great Powers – not to a small part because the destructive potential defined by the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction ensures that such conflicts only have losers, and that future generations born in the areas affected by mass destruction will still suffer from the destructive effects.Read more: On the Supranationalisation of Nuclear Weapons and the future of world peace
While we haven’t seen nuclear weapons being used in conflict since September 1945, there is little reason for complacency in this regard, especially as the number of nuclear powers have nearly doubled since the 1960’s, with the addition of India, Pakistan, Israel and just recently North Korea. This latest addition to the WMD club has proven to cause an on-going international drama with possibly abominable effects on the prospect of human life in North-East Asia. Another drama which unfolded during the preceding decade was the presumed Iranian Nuclear Weapons programme which has been temporarily solved by a treaty.
The Kingdom of Sweden has signed a petition for a nuclear-free world, which is understandable since the mathematics are simple. The more nation-states that are developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, the higher the risk will become for a nuclear conflagration occurring somewhere in the world. Moreover, nation-states can turn into failed states, increasing the risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of ruthless warlords, nihilistic terrorists or messianic fanatics.
And the more states that acquire the capacity of making nuclear weapons, it will increase the risk of regional arms races. If for example Iran would acquire nuclear weapons, it is a matter of time before Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and maybe even smaller states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar will acquire weapons of mass destruction too. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan allowed Russia to transport the nuclear weapons away from the facilities in these former Soviet republics, in return for border guarantees. Following the annexation of Crimea, regimes such as those in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Belarus could secretly begin the process of reacquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
There is also a more long-term risk that nationalistic states in eastern and central Europe could arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Ukraine come to mind. In Africa, emerging great powers such as Nigeria could well initiate the process of nuclearisation. Authoritarian states such as Uganda and Sudan could follow within a few decades. In Asia, there is an increasing risk that Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia can acquire these weapons following the North Korean nuclear armament. And even if a state has no overt designs on nuclear weapons for the moment, the presence of nuclear reactors could easily be used as a tool to produce these harbingers of death, and more and more countries are investing in the development of nuclear reactors.
In short, we should abolish these weapons completely, shouldn’t we?
There is another side of this coin, and that is how the existence of nuclear weapons serves to moderate the actions of great powers. Imagine for a moment if nuclear weapons had never been invented – do you believe the risk for a large conventional war between the Western Alliance and the Soviet Bloc would have been smaller or greater? Thus, the existence of nuclear weapons may actually until now have led to fewer wars and thus fewer violent deaths – but this equation will probably change when we have more than twenty powers armed with atomic weapons. The idealistic notion of complete nuclear disarmament could very well initiate a period when aggressive states are laying claim on weaker neighbours and forcefully expand their borders without the consent of occupied populations.
So, there is a dilemma – if we allow the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, the risk of their usage will grow, but if we strive towards complete disarmament the incentives to take risks regarding conventional warfare will most likely rise, to the detriment of millions. The current status quo evidently doesn’t work since the five NPT-exempted powers have been joined by four more nuclear-armed powers, and is de-facto the same as the first option.
This article will argue for a third solution, namely a supranationalisation of nuclear technology and existing nuclear weapons.
- As outlined in the introduction, the current structure with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the five “legitimate” nuclear-armed powers and the IAEA has failed to stop proliferation.
- Complete disarmament, apart from being completely idealistic and therefore unrealistic, risks destabilising countries and increases risks for armed confrontations in Eastern Europe and between the State of Israel and her neighbours.
- The solution proposed in this article aims to build on the current system and to strengthen international and institutional control of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
- The principle is inspired from the treaty birthed of the negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear programme.
- No new countries will be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
- Three international authorities subjected under the IAEA should be established – each having operational control and the complete ability to monitor 1) nuclear reactors, 2) nuclear weapons, 3) launch-pads and ballistic missiles.
- Nuclear-armed powers should also discard direct control over the launching systems to the IAEA.
- Nation-states which have nuclear weapons will not be forced to disarm, but should leave the operative control of the nuclear weapons and the facilities capable of producing such to IAEA, while still formally being the owners of said weapons, according to the terms presented in the two points immediately above this.
- The production, storage and management of radioactive material need to be put under either the control of a supranational organ or under strict monitoring, no matter where it is produced.
- If nation-states wish to use nuclear weapons, they would have to ask the Security Council of permission to retrieve control over their launching systems. This would be the matter no matter whether it is the United States, Russia, Pakistan or Israel.
- This solution should not be seen as a new permanent status quo but as a step towards a more peaceful, ordered and disarmed world.
The foundational principle
The 2015 framework to limit Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear armament is interesting from this perspective. It limits this specific nation-state’s ability to enrich uranium, the number of enrichment facilities and the production and storage of heavy water. It also establishes strict monitoring by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). These concessions were in turn reciprocated by lifted sanctions. It can actually be argued that the establishment of this harsh nuclear regime over Iran to a certain extent was discriminating – after all, had not Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Granted, there were valid reasons to suspect that the nation-state intended to develop the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the injustice lies not in the fact that Iran was subjected to this agreement – but in the fact that the rest of the world isn’t!
Imagine a world order where nuclear weapons and the technology necessary to produce such would be deemed too dangerous to leave under the control of one nation-state? Where the management and operational control of these technologies are in the distributed hands of collaborating international organs intent on securing the responsible usage of these technologies under the purpose of creating a more peaceful world order?
The principle is simple and self-evident – no nation-state should have the ability to kill millions during a matter of minutes. Therefore, the possession of nuclear technology should be deemed too dangerous to be in the hands of any nation-state, no matter if it is North Korea or Norway.
The first and most difficult step
The renouncement of the keys to nuclear technology is for understandable reasons the most difficult one, especially for great powers like the United States, Russia, China and India. These powers are, no matter whether they are authoritarian or democratic, disposed towards safe-guarding their own interests and control, and none of them has any reason to voluntarily absolve themselves of the operative control of their MAD insurances. After all, should the United States, France and the United Kingdom relinquish their power to immediately utilise their nuclear arms, the strategic power of the non-western nuclear states would increase correspondently if they would not at the same time relinquish their nuclear control.
Therefore, the most realistic step to go forth with this proposal would be if a majority of the world’s nuclear powers, and especially those five possessing the most nukes would agree for the IAEA to take control over both their weapons and their nuclear power plants. But why would they move towards this goal, when it would decrease their ability to effectively protect their national security?
Because it will in fact increase that national security.
The status quo established during the 1970’s stipulated that there were five legitimate nuclear-armed powers – the very same powers then possessing permanent seats at the Security Council. The Non-Proliferation Treaty established that countries would not try to acquire nuclear weapons. Evidently, this status quo has failed, since what by 1970 was five nation-states armed with nuclear weapons has today increased to nine, nearly a doubling. By 2067, would we then have around eighteen to twenty states armed with weapons of mass destruction? In a world which by all accounts would be more environmentally ravaged and thus unstable?
By creating a new order, based on relinquishing the control of nuclear weapons to international organs, the security for everyone will be increased, but only if everyone agrees to it.
Moreover, such an order will decrease the incentive for non-nuclear states to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. One of the many problems with the existence of nukes in the hands of states, is that this can underpin imperialistic or domineering behaviour over regions, and create a sense of victimhood for those not endowed with weapons of mass destruction. It can be added that any order built on precedent of status quo, that the United States and Russia have been privileged by having developed nuclear weapons before these weapons became subject to international agreements, is inherently unfair and hypocritical, given that it gives certain states superior rights contra others and therefore the incentives to rebel against this order multiplies.
The eight nuclear powers which have behaved mostly rationally in regards to usage of their arsenals have clear incentives to move along with an order which would decrease everyone’s ability to swiftly resort to destroying millions of human lives. Nevertheless, the transition must be based on trust – and this relinquishment of control will not mean a relinquishment of official ownership. Rather it will be the equivalent of having a semi-automatic assault rifle locked safely in a safe behind the desk of a shooting ground, and its ammunition stored in another part of that building.
Note that this proposal would not mean that the keys to nuclear warfare will be laid at the feet of the UN in a centralised, activated manner. Firstly, that could lead to increased tension between powers, and secondly it could lead to the UN – in the worst possible scenario – developing into a tyrannical one-world government hell-bent on subjecting humanity in all its wonderful diversity to uniform regimentation.
Here is a rough outline of the structure we are imagining:
The IAEA would under this order be granted operational control over all existing nuclear weapons, all existing or planned nuclear power plants and all ballistic missiles, their launching pads and the military installations in question. The direct control will however not be managed by the IAEA in a central manner, but instead be distributed to three sub-authorities which will be primarily focused on managing these facilities. Centrally, the IAEA would rather be tasked with monitoring the global flow of uranium, plutonium, other radioactive materials and waste, and be tasked with reporting any suspected illicit use of such substances.
The possession of the nuclear-launch briefcases will be relinquished by all nuclear powers to the Security Council, and stored on a neutral location under control by an authority oblivious to the launch codes and tasked with only seeing that these entities are not activated, misused, damaged or in any manner compromised (this would also make impossible situations where the president of the United States allows foreign guests to pay money to take photos with themselves holding the nuclear codes, or the president of Russia to forget his nuclear briefcase in a Stockholm hotel).
Under this order, only the Security Council can re-authorise a nation-state with the temporary right to launch a nuclear attack. Yes, this would mean that Russia and China would have the right to decide whether the United States should use nuclear weapons, but it also means that the United States would have the power to authorise or not authorise whether Russia or China should have the right to use nuclear weapons.
If someone tries to act illicitly
The risk for nuclear proliferation remains a serious threat to humanity, and any state which is proven to pursue the ownership and control over weapons of mass destruction must be subjected to the most severe sanctions, blockaded and isolated from the world community – banned from partaking in international events and have its votes relinquished from international organs. This should not even be subject to a vote in the Security Council or in the General Assembly, but a part of international law. Acquiring the power to murder millions of innocent human beings should be seen as conspiracy to democide and treated as a crime against the international community.
If the aggressor in question insists on pursuing such a nefarious goal, there should be a protocol for international intervention in order to neutralise such a government. A war should never be initiated lightly, especially since innocent human beings will undoubtedly die in the calamity. Our movement considers Life to be the highest value in the Universe – which is exactly why weapons intended to kill millions and destroy entire cities at a blink of an eye are the rotten seeds of Pandora’s Box.
The long-term goal – a sustainable world
We have not often written about issues such as these, and this article will guaranteed confront, provoke and enrage. It is a highly political and sensitive subject, and often those who write articles entailing these subjects can be suspected of having hidden agendas, either favouring the Western liberal alliance or the Eastern neo-authoritarian powers in some regard. Our agenda is however not focused on either helping or damaging any party, but on offering advice regarding the protection of Humanity.
In the long term, the mere existence of nuclear weapons is unacceptable for a sustainable future. But in a world of armed nation-states, we need a transitional period where the crucial matter is that institutions are strengthened and given greater power, while the unchecked power of states and other actors must better be regulated.
The simple fact of the matter is that most human societies have been built on the principle of constraining and limiting the execution of violence. Ploughing down resources and time and grey hairs into worrying for your neighbour, the village on the other side of the hill or the tribe inside the forest will take precedence over matters that can improve your life or which you need to attend to. States must simply sacrifice the destructive forms of autonomy which will bring suffering to everyone, in order to be able to enjoy greater safety and liberty.
This is especially urgent since we today are both cursed and privileged to live at the defining moment of Humanity’s historical period, when we globally must make the most difficult decisions in the history of our species. The issues of national prestige, economic competition and geopolitical rivalries pale in front of the approaching Sixth Mass Extinction, a monster which is of our own collective making – and our only real enemy.