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Calling For a Nuclear Weapons Convention

By Frederick N. Mattis | IDN-InDepth NewsEssay

ANNAPOLIS, USA (IDN) – Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda’s Peace Proposal for 2013 notes that worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons will require the legal framework of a treaty banning the weapons (variously called a nuclear abolition treaty, nuclear ban treaty, or Nuclear Weapons Convention – NWC). The SGI president proposes the goal of substantial completion in 2015 of the NWC text. Upon its finalization, then, of course, time will be needed for states to evaluate, sign, ratify, and formally accede to the NWC.

As Tim Wright of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has pointed out (op-ed, March 27,, mere introduction of the Nuclear Weapons Convention for states’ signature will be a boost for the nuclear abolition movement. Suddenly, abolition will be a reachable prospect, and thus states that maintain nuclear weapons will find themselves more subject to scrutiny and skepticism about their arsenals. Also, if nuclear states point to geopolitical insecurities as the basis for their arsenals, the existence of the [prospective] nuclear ban will bring added internal and external support for such states to undertake more consistent, and higher-level, negotiations on the matters in question.

Can the drafting period, probably by an ad hoc group of states, be relatively short for the NWC, even though its subject – worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons – is so portentous? Most likely, yes, in part because of labors of diplomats and others on prior treaties such as the current (1967) nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, START agreements, and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The latter is particularly instructive for the Nuclear Weapons Convention, with the CWC’s verification provisions (including “challenge inspections”), administrative bodies, and detailed lists of prohibited and restricted chemicals.

In addition, existence of the “Model Nuclear Weapons Convention” (1997, rev. 2007) is felicitous for the cause of nuclear abolition. The Model Convention (MNWC) was drafted by 50 volunteers: lawyers, engineers, scientist, physicians, and consultants. Its structure is similar, wisely, to the groundbreaking Chemical Weapons Convention, but with various adaptations and additional provisions pertinent to nuclear weapons. The MNWC will likely reduce (by my estimate) up to 80 percent the amount of time that would otherwise be required to complete the NWC text, once states sit down to negotiate an actual ban. (See link to MNWC at

SGI President Ikeda notes in his 2013 Peace Proposal that “The SGI’s efforts to grapple with the nuclear weapons issue are based on the recognition that the very existence of these weapons represents the ultimate negation of the dignity of life.” States such as the USA and Britain, for their part, often say that they will maintain nuclear weapons as long as they exist anywhere else on earth; but the fully enacted NWC will eliminate all nuclear weapons. Until abolition is achieved, states (and especially today’s nuclear powers) will continue to face the following dangers: nuclear war or nuclear attack, “false-alarm” nuclear missile launch, terrorist acquisition of a weapon from a state’s nuclear arsenal, and regional conflagration (nuclear or otherwise) if a fear-driven, “pre-emptive” attack on nuclear facilities is carried out.

Recommended provisions for the NWC

Keeping in view that enabling the nuclear weapon states to join the ban is the biggest challenge to nuclear abolition, following are some recommended provisions for the NWC, and their rationale.

1. Unanimity of accession by states to the NWC must be achieved before its entry into force, and the NWC declares that it applies “everywhere” (to cover non-state and any “ambiguous” areas)… Unless unanimity is required for entry into force, some at least of today’s nuclear weapon states probably will not join the nuclear ban; and if unanimity is required, the enacted ban will have unprecedented geopolitical force.

2. States must join today’s bans on chemical and biological weapons (1993 CWC and 1972 BWC) before signing the NWC… In a world where all states are poised to ban nuclear weapons, there is no reason to tolerate chem-bio weapons (which most states, including the USA and Russia, have already officially renounced by joining the CWC and BWC). Also: unless CWC/BWC accession by all states is indeed required before signing the nuclear ban (and for its entry into force, after all states join), some states—as one example, Israel—likely would not sign the nuclear ban.

3. Under the worldwide NWC, the actual weapons (warhead) elimination period does not begin until after states mutually approve of all states’ nuclear ban domestic (national) implementing legislation (to ensure that such legislation does not undermine the ban), plus mutually approve of fellow states’ level of cooperation in providing treaty-required declarations of nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials, with this including cooperation in baseline, achievable verification of the declarations by international nuclear ban inspectors… This provision is likely necessary for today’s nuclear weapon states because they may be somewhat “wary” about abolition even as the ban’s initial major steps unfold (i.e., states’ enactment of suitable implementing legislation, and then states’ nuclear declarations and their baseline verification). If it should happen that some state flouted its treaty obligations (on one of these crucial, initial treaty “roll-out” aspects), the treaty’s progress could be halted by a state and would not proceed to its essence (nuclear warhead elimination) until the situation is rectified.

4. Warhead elimination [over posited 3.5 years] commences with Russia or the USA, whichever has more warheads, eliminating enough of them over six months to reach the other’s initial (lower) level – after which point both continue reducing, following the treaty’s timetable for warhead elimination. Also, and starting from that point when Russia and the USA are first “equal” (six months into elimination period): all other nuclear possessors eliminate 25 percent of their arsenals within 90 days; but thereafter they can “wait” until Russia and the USA in tandem reach the other states’ varying, much lower [and 25-percent reduced] levels, at which times they join the USA and Russia in further reductions leading to all states simultaneously reaching zero. This provision is intended to be a workable compromise for, on the one hand, Russia and the USA with their multi-thousand warhead arsenals, and also for the other nuclear possessors with their many fewer.

*Frederick N. Mattis is author of Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction, pub. ABC-Clio/Praeger Security International. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 6, 2013]

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2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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