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Peace Proposal

Toward a New Era of Peace and Disarmament: A People-Centered Approach

A fourth special session of the General Assembly

My second proposal pertains to measures to advance nuclear disarmament.

The year 2020 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT, which preceded the TPNW in enunciating the goal of total nuclear disarmament and establishing obligations to negotiate toward that end. Today, the NPT is considered to be the most universal instrument of international law pertaining to disarmament, with a membership of 191 states. In the initial stages of the negotiations, however, there were concerns that there would be only minimal adherence by non-nuclear-weapon states.

Made keenly aware of the horrific potential of nuclear war by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and the USSR proposed a draft text of a treaty to prevent proliferation beyond the five states possessing nuclear weapons at that time. But it did not include provisions for disarmament. In the ensuing negotiation process, Article VI—a commitment by the nuclear-weapon states to pursue negotiations in good faith toward the goal of complete nuclear disarmament—was included to reflect the positions of non-nuclear-weapon states. In other words, it was because of the strong sense of urgency on the part of the nuclear-weapon states to halt proliferation and the willingness of non-nuclear-weapon states to accommodate them, trusting in their good-faith commitment to nuclear disarmament, that it was possible to initiate the NPT regime.

Half a century later, even after a decrease from the peak levels seen during the Cold War, there are still an estimated 14,465 nuclear weapons in the world today. To date, all reductions in nuclear weapons have been effected through bilateral disarmament agreements between the US and Russia: not a single nuclear warhead has been eliminated as a result of a multilateral agreement. And when viewed in terms of capability rather than numbers, the ongoing modernization of weapon systems actually indicates a trend toward escalation.

Here, I am reminded of the concern expressed by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker in a lecture delivered in July 1967, shortly before negotiations on the NPT began in earnest. He noted that for all their inadequacies, nuclear disarmament agreements could, when effective, prevent new sources of danger from developing and help states learn to work together. However, “they do not abolish existing arsenals and, taken in isolation, cement the status quo with all its inherent unresolved problems.”

It is true that the NPT prevented the worst-case scenario envisaged by US President John F. Kennedy (1917–63) in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis of a world with as many as twenty-five nuclear-armed states. From the perspective of nuclear disarmament, however, the NPT certainly has tended to cement the status quo and with it all the unresolved issues, just as Weizsäcker had cautioned.

We must keep in mind the fact that it was the reaffirmation of Article VI disarmament commitments that made possible the Treaty’s indefinite extension in 1995, following the end of the Cold War. The final document of the conference where this was decided states, “The undertakings with regard to nuclear disarmament as set out in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons should thus be fulfilled with determination,” clearly indicating that the extension was not unconditional. And indeed, the four Review Conferences that took place between 2000 and 2015 were marked by repeated calls for the fulfillment of these Article VI obligations.

At the 2020 NPT Review Conference, which will mark the fiftieth anniversary of its entry into force, states parties should keep in view the circumstances and motivations that brought the Treaty into being and focus their deliberations on the Article VI commitments as they seek to break the longstanding stalemate.

Here, I would like to highlight the statement made by the Nordic countries at the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, held in April 2018. Noting the ongoing US-Russia confrontation over the INF Treaty, it states: “We have to join forces to maintain and strengthen the relevance of the [NPT] and refrain from any action which may undermine it.” The statement also urges countries to focus on what unites them and encourages them to direct their attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons, the shared concern that was affirmed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It is significant that, in addition to Finland and Sweden, the signatories include Denmark, Norway and Iceland, nuclear-dependent members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

At the annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation held last October, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu proposed that a ministerial meeting be held at the beginning of the 2020 NPT Review Conference where a political declaration could be adopted. I fully support this proposal as such a declaration would reaffirm that which unites us through the NPT.

The preamble of the NPT stresses the need to make every effort to avert the danger of a nuclear war and the importance of strengthening trust between states in order to “facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.” This ministerial meeting should affirm the spirit of the NPT preamble and express deep concern regarding the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use. It should further declare a firm pledge, on the fiftieth anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force, to take real steps to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

I would also like to suggest that the final document of the 2020 NPT Review Conference include a recommendation to establish a UN open working group to discuss concrete steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, marking a clear directional shift toward nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the nuclear-weapon states, NATO member states and others have begun to recognize their declining military utility. Even during the Cold War, it was clear that there could be no winner in a nuclear war. Given this growing awareness of their lack of military utility, what reason can remain to justify nuclear-dependent security doctrines?

Weizsäcker warned that possessing atomic bombs for the purpose of intimidation, even while hoping they would never be used, was akin to dancing on the edge of the abyss. And yet we continue to do this to this day. Keeping nuclear warheads on high-alert status, ready to be launched at any moment, even in the absence of intense hostility, means that we will never be free from the fear of their accidental detonation. The essential fragility and peril of nuclear deterrence forces us to live with this unremitting vulnerability. It is time to make the collective decision to extinguish the flames that engulf “the burning house,” to use the imagery of the Lotus Sutra parable I referred to earlier. This means eliminating the essential fragility and peril of nuclear deterrence, and to that end, I urge all nuclear-weapon states to prioritize steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.

Removal of nuclear warheads from high-alert status is both extremely urgent and could be implemented with relatively little preparation. Nor is it without precedent: it was done in 1991 by US President George H. W. Bush (1924–2018) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as they worked together to bring the Cold War to a conclusion. President Bush ordered all strategic bombers, 450 Minuteman II ICBMs and ten nuclear submarines carrying SLBMs taken off alert. In response, President Gorbachev ordered around 500 ground-launched missiles and six nuclear submarines removed from operational forces. The entire process was effected in a matter of days.

As this precedent makes clear, taking nuclear weapons off high-alert status can be done immediately through a political decision on the part of nuclear-weapon states. Discussions on a phased removal process could take place in a UN open working group on reducing the role of nuclear weapons with the participation of nuclear-dependent and non-nuclear-weapon states.

Today there is less real risk of being subjected to a nuclear attack from another country compared to the Cold War era. The most widespread concern is the threat of nuclear detonation by accident or as a result of human error. A resolution adopted last month by the General Assembly on decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems received support from 175 countries. It would be most significant for the nuclear-weapon states to build on this broad international support by taking the bold measure of removing their nuclear arsenals from high-alert status. Such nuclear risk reduction, or “horizontal disarmament,” combined with efforts to reduce the number of weapons in nuclear arsenals, or “vertical disarmament,” is a vital element in fulfilling Article VI commitments.

Here, I would like to propose that a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament (SSOD-IV) be held in 2021 as a follow-up to the 2020 NPT Review Conference. It should reconfirm the obligation for multilateral disarmament negotiations and set the basic goals of major reductions in nuclear arsenals and a freeze on their modernization. It should also initiate multilateral disarmament negotiations toward the 2025 NPT Review Conference.

Achieving consensus on disarmament has never been easy. In fact, when the first special session (SSOD-I) was held in 1978, negotiations proved difficult despite the demands of many states. States expressed their various opinions about the draft agreement, using brackets to indicate language that remained in dispute. Consensus could not be reached, nor a resolution adopted, until these were resolved. It then fell upon former Mexican foreign minister Alfonso García Robles (1911–91) to coordinate the various views and break through the impasse. He addressed the conference as follows:

I would suggest to all representatives that we enter into a kind of gentlemen’s agreement here to the effect that paragraphs which, after lengthy and arduous negotiation, are now free from brackets should not be subjected to the introduction of any further brackets unless there are circumstances of exceptional significance which make that absolutely necessary; otherwise, I very much fear that we shall find ourselves in a situation rather like that of the faithful wife of Ulysses, in Greek mythology, who spent the days weaving and the nights unravelling what she had woven.

Due to the efforts of García Robles, who would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize, all disputed text was resolved and brackets removed, and a final document was unanimously adopted. This document is still considered foundational for disarmament deliberations. I hope that, at this fourth special session, all states will follow his example with both earnest commitment and a readiness to compromise to achieve a consensus on disarmament of nuclear and other weapons.

I further hope that sufficient opportunities will be afforded to representatives of civil society to speak at this session. At the first special session, representatives of twenty-five NGOs and six research institutes addressed the General Assembly, the first time that civil society made its voice heard in this way.

For my part, I wrote disarmament proposals on the occasion of the first (1978), second (1982) and third (1988) special sessions. During the second special session, the SGI organized the “Nuclear Arms: Threat to Our World” exhibition at UN Headquarters in New York. This exhibition, with its portrayal of the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, played a part in the adoption of the World Disarmament Campaign by the SSOD-II. Since then, the SGI has consistently worked to promote disarmament education. Through activities such as holding symposiums related to a fourth special session, we will continue to amplify the voices of civil society calling for a world free from nuclear weapons.

Part 7: A ban on autonomous weapons

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