A world without nuclear weapons, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband article, 8 December 2008
A world without nuclear weapons, David Miliband, Comment is free, www.guardian.co.uk, 8 December 2008.
A world without nuclear weapons
The UK has cut its stockpile of atomic weapons, but we need a new multilateral drive to avoid the risk of nuclear proliferation
The huge and complex challenges posed by the global economic crisis are producing a concerted, international response. Yet, at the same time, we cannot afford to lose sight of other pressing strategic challenges facing the world, including the question of nuclear weapons.
Today, we face new risks within a new nuclear context. Nuclear power is one of the energy sources more countries are likely to turn to in order to reduce carbon emissions while meeting rising energy demand. As a result, the technologies and materials for making nuclear weapons may become more widely dispersed, potentially raising the dangers of them falling into the wrong hands.
During my visit to the United Arab Emirates a couple of weeks ago, I saw an excellent example of how a responsible government can set about drawing on the powerful potential benefits of nuclear energy for their people and their economy – we have signed an agreement with the UAE to support their development of this important resource.
But just across the Strait of Hormuz from the UAE lies a very different example – Iran, whose leaders are taking a starkly different approach, persisting with suspect nuclear activities in defiance of no less than five UN security council resolutions. I am convinced that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran poses the most immediate threat to the region's stability. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a massive blow to the prospects for comprehensive and just solutions to the problems of the Middle East as a whole.
Iran's leaders have a clear choice: dispel all doubts about their country's nuclear programme and work with the international community to develop the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy for their country, or face further isolation and sanctions if they continue to defy world opinion.
But for international action against proliferation to be fully effective, and to attract the commitment of the entire international community, it needs to include re-energised action on multilateral nuclear disarmament.
The UK is committed to working actively to create a world free from nuclear weapons. There has been significant progress. Since the end of the cold war, the explosive power of nuclear arsenals in the UK, US, Russia and France has been cut dramatically – by about 75%. As a nation, we have moved to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on one system and we have reduced our operationally available arsenal by a further 20% in the last 12 months. We now only possess around 1% of the global nuclear warhead stockpile.
But nuclear disarmament cannot take place in isolation from the international security situation, which is why we took the decision last year to maintain our deterrent. Creating the conditions that will enable further progress requires action by all states. We need to build a global coalition around not only a shared vision of a world free of nuclear weapons but also of how we are going to work together to make it happen. We must find common cause and move from a decade of deadlock to a decade of progress.
Just as the UK has set out its vision of a world without nuclear weapons, so has US president-elect Barack Obama. I believe the moment is now right to work with the new US administration and our partners for a renewed drive: to stop proliferation, to realise the benefits of nuclear energy and radically accelerate progress on six key steps necessary to move the world towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.
1) Bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force. Early US ratification would do much to encourage the few remaining states to follow suit, thereby finally enabling the treaty – concluded in 1996 – to take legal effect and ban all nuclear weapons test explosions.
2) US-Russia negotiations and agreement on substantial further reductions in their nuclear arsenals.
3) Stopping proliferation in Iran and North Korea and renewing agreement among all the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states that the way forward must include tougher measures to prevent proliferation.
4) Multilateral negotiations, without preconditions, on a treaty to cut off the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. This is vital to help make reductions in nuclear weapons irreversible and to establish many of the mechanisms that would constitute the core of an eventual regime to oversee a global ban.
5) Working for agreement on a new International Atomic Energy Agency-led system that would help states wishing to develop a civil nuclear energy industry to do so without increasing the risks of nuclear weapon proliferation. The UK has contributed serious thinking on the options for addressing this and will host a conference of experts early in 2009, which will focus on this challenge.
6) Exploration of the many complex political, military and technical issues that need to be resolved if the states that possess nuclear weapons are to reduce and ultimately eliminate their arsenals securely, and to prevent nuclear weapons from ever reemerging. The UK is already giving a lead: next year, we have proposed hosting a meeting on disarmament with policymakers and scientists from the five recognised nuclear weapon states. UK experts have developed a research collaboration with Norway and the non-governmental organisation Vertic into the technical issues associated with international verification of nuclear disarmament.
Fresh, demonstrable progress on the path towards a world without nuclear weapons has the potential to deliver a dual dividend: to crack down on proliferation and to promote international security. We do not underestimate the challenges ahead but I am determined to energise international diplomacy in order to make much-needed headway. The next review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will take place in May 2010. Its success is critical to the peace and stability we all strive for. Between now and then, we need to demonstrate not only our good intentions, but our readiness to act.
Source: Guardian website, www.guardian.co.uk.