By Aurora Weiss
VIENNA. 11 August 2023 (IDN) — At the two-week-long Preparatory Committee meeting here for the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International (SGI)—in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)—and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation organized a side event.
Experts explored on 3 August how such policies may foster nuclear risk reduction while also advancing nuclear disarmament within the Treaty on the NPT framework. Doyens were Ms. Ivana Nikolić Hughes, President of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; Ms Christine Muttonen, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND); and Mr. Nikolai Sokov, Senior Fellow from Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP). Ms. Chie Sunada, SGI’s Director of Peace and Human Rights, moderated the event.
SGI launched in 2007, the fiftieth anniversary of Josei Toda’s Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, the People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition and, while collaborating with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was initiated around the same time, has worked for the realization of a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The desire and determination of civil society, represented by the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (The “hibakusha”), that the tragedy of nuclear weapons use never be experienced by the people of any country was crystallized in 2017, when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted, entering into force in 2021. The TPNW comprehensively bans all aspects of nuclear weapons, not limited to their use or threat of use but including their development and possession.
SGI President’s statement
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda in his Statement on the Ukraine Crisis and No-First Use of Nuclear Weapons on 11 January 2023, said: “Along with reducing tensions with the goal of resolving the Ukraine crisis, I feel it is of paramount importance that the nuclear-weapon states initiate action to reduce nuclear risks as a means of ensuring that situations do not arise—either now or in the future—in which the possibility of nuclear weapons use looms. It was with this in mind that in July last year, I issued a statement to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in which I urged the five nuclear-weapon states to make prompt and unambiguous pledges that they would never be the first to launch a nuclear strike—the principle of No-First Use”.
Risk reduction is not a new topic in the NPT review process. Action 5(d) of the Action Plan of the 2010 NPT Review Conference called on the nuclear powers to “discuss policies that could prevent the use of nuclear weapons and eventually lead to their elimination, lessen the danger of nuclear war and contribute to the non-proliferation and disarmament of nuclear weapons”.
The principle of NFU was, for the first time, included in drafts of the final statement for last year’s NPT Review Conference. In the end, the final statement was not agreed upon, although reference to NFU was removed. The nuclear powers being willing to discuss the adoption of NFU is a rare glimmer of hope.
Progress made within the NPT on furthering a commitment to the principle of NFU could de-escalate current tensions, not only providing direct risk reduction effects by increased strategic response time but conceivably also opening new pathways to disarmament.
China declared No-First Use in 1964
It was first publicly made by China in 1964 referring to any authoritative statement by a nuclear weapon state, never to be the first to use these weapons under any circumstances, whether as a pre-emptive attack, first strike, or in response to a non-nuclear attack.
China is the only nuclear-armed country to have an unconditional NFU policy. India maintains a policy of NFU with exceptions for a response to chemical or biological attacks. France, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States maintain policies that permit the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict. Israel does not acknowledge the existence of its nuclear arsenal, so it has no publicly known position.
“We all know about these threats, and many attempts exist to reduce, ban, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons or even ban their testing. But at the same time, we experience an ongoing nuclear arms race,” said PNND Co-President Muttonen.
She added: “Countries are modernizing their arsenals, boosting the construction of these lethal weapons. Though there is a lot of research on the dreadful humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations and the risks of human and technical errors or accidents. The experts even come to the conclusion that the consequences of a nuclear conflict are much graver than estimated”.
90 seconds left to midnight: the Doomsday Clock
The Atomic scientists call it “a time of unprecedented danger: there are only 90 seconds left to midnight”. They moved the hands of the ‘Doomsday Clock’ forward because of increased nuclear danger, which at the same time undermines the global efforts to combat climate change, the second big threat.
Co-President of PNND, a global network of over 700 parliamentarians from more than 75 countries working to prevent nuclear proliferation, explained that in this time of mistrust and aggression, it is difficult to find ways of nuclear disarmament. What could be done easily, unilaterally, or collectively, without further institution or another mechanism, is to guarantee a No-First Use policy. A guarantee is urgently needed, especially as many treaties, mutual assurances, and technical mechanisms for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament have eroded or not progressed in the last years.
“Nuclear-armed states have to agree on policies never to use nuclear weapons first,” said Muttonen stressing that No-First Use policies are also important steps toward nuclear disarmament. It is no surprise, therefore, that nuclear-armed states like China and India, which have No-First Use policies, support the proposal to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Group of 20 and G7
When the Group of 20 leaders met in Bali in November 2022, they proclaimed in their statement, which was included in the Bali declaration, “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” However, this strong statement was not reaffirmed, and no new measures or steps to reduce nuclear threats were announced at the G7 meeting in Hiroshima on 19-23 May 2023.
As Ms. Muttonen warns, the G7 statement walks back significantly. You can see a disconnect between the policy of nuclear deterrence and what the majority of non-nuclear states want: categorically condemn nuclear weapons, she said. “But there is still the chance and hope that the Bali statement is reaffirmed in the NPT process, at the UN General Assembly, and at the G20 summit in India.”
“To make progress possible, we have to engage with nuclear powers. We have to talk. We have to have diplomacy being back again. The most important issue now is to reduce the chance of nuclear weapons being used. For our common, collective safety. Therefore: No-First Use policies should be implemented by all nuclear-armed and allied states,” added Muttonen.
Parliamentarians’ crucial role
Parliamentarians make laws, and therein lies the role of PNND. Parliamentarians play an important role, for example, when it comes to the budget. They decide on foreign policy, diplomacy, non-proliferation, and disarmament or even on more money for weapons of mass destruction. They decide on national policy development and are the direct link to civil society. Civil society and parliamentarians are interlinked like communicating vessels. They both influence each other.
Parliamentarians can pressure governments, and civil society can support them; they can inform their constituencies and the media. Thus, again influencing public perception and political priorities. Parliamentarians are very active in advancing No-First Use policies in national legislatures and inter-parliamentary bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly or the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) through the leadership of PNND members. They have to get the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to adopt paragraphs on nuclear risk reduction, No-First-Use and comprehensive nuclear disarmament in the final declarations of the OSCE PA annual meetings.
“A world in which nuclear weapons are abolished; a world where all may flourish” is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) objective. Its mission is to “educate, advocate, and inspire action for a just and peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons.” Founded in 1982, NAPF is composed of individuals and organizations from all over the world, keeping the consultative status to the United Nations ECOSOC and is recognized by the UN as a Peace Messenger Organization.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
In 2014, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation consulted with the Marshall Islands when it filed cases against the nine nuclear-armed countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) in the International Court of Justice and U.S. Federal District Court. The lawsuits make the central claim that these nations have failed to comply with their obligations under international law to pursue negotiations to eliminate their nuclear weapons completely.
“Soviets did it in the steppes of Kazakhstan; to this day, children are born with defects caused by exposure to radiation; the British did it on Christmas Island, which is now part of the Republic of Kiribati, and in Australia among the indigenous population. The French did this in the Algerian desert, where they buried radioactive equipment in the sand, and in French Polynesia, where recent research has shown that the radiation is much higher than the French government claimed,” stressed Ivana Nikolić Hughes, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
Ms. Hughes referred to Daniel Ellsberg and his book “The Doomsday Machine”. The legendary whistle-blower who revealed the first insider exposé of the dangers of America’s hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy. When Ellsberg, a former presidential advisor, took the Pentagon Papers, he also took a cache of top-secret documents related to the United States’ nuclear program in the 1960s. The Doomsday Machine is Ellsberg’s account of the most dangerous arms build-up in the history of civilization, the legacy of which threatens the very survival of humanity.
In the words of Daniel Ellsberg, who passed away in June 2023: “What is missing—what is foregone—in the typical discussion and analysis of historical or current nuclear policies is the recognition that what is being discussed is dizzyingly insane and immoral: in its almost-incalculable and inconceivable destructiveness and deliberate murderousness, its disproportionality of risked and planned destructiveness to either declared or unacknowledged objectives, the infeasibility of its secretly pursued aims (damage limitation to the United States and allies, ‘victory’ in two-sided nuclear war), its criminality (to the degree that explodes ordinary visions of law, justice, crime), its lack of wisdom or compassion, its sinfulness, and evil.”
“US nuclear policies are sheer madness and must be completely reconsidered!” stressed Ms Hughes. She recalled how all the government’s secret papers revealed something in common: the desire to activate nuclear weapons. Drunken Richard Nixon wanted to do the same, but they stopped him. The question is how many presidents who came after him can be considered accountable?” asked Hughes.
Atomic bombs on standby, Nixon and Bush
According to newly revealed government documents, Nixon is even believed to have ordered nuclear bombers to be put on standby for an atomic strike against North Korea in 1969 following the shooting down of a US spy plane. The president contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ordered plans for a tactical nuclear strike and target recommendations. Henry Kissinger, national security adviser for Nixon at the time, also got on the phone with the Joint Chiefs and got them to agree to stand down on that order until Nixon woke up sober the next morning.
It’s worth speculating that Nixon wanted the Communists to believe he considered a nuclear strike. In the coming years, the president would even send nuclear-armed bombers toward the Soviet Union while spreading the rumour that he was so insane he might really trigger World War III. Of course, he wasn’t insane. And thanks to a 2000 book by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, we know he was just drunk. Not with power, but with booze, noted the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation president.
Current U.S. policy does not restrict the president’s ability to order a nuclear strike for any reason. The military may reject an order that is perceived to violate laws of war, and there are legal concerns about the role of Congress authorizing the use of force. Still, as a matter of broad understanding, the president can launch nuclear weapons when and if he chooses.
Adopting an NFU policy would reaffirm Congress’s constitutional authority to declare war. The Constitution makes clear that no president can start a war by his/herself, so it makes sense that a president should not be able to start a nuclear war alone.
The nuclear risk persists—whether by accident or intent
Nikolai Sokov, Senior Fellow at Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, offered a view of the history of Soviet and Russian policy on nuclear weapons modernization. He charted the future evolution of the Russian strategic arsenal—now they are moving it to Belarus. In this climate, any provocation has the potential to trigger direct military action between Russian and NATO forces.
Mr. Sokov also pointed out that Russia’s references to nuclear weapons early in the war seemed irrational. Threatening nuclear escalation was not a credible measure to stop the West from assisting Ukraine. Instead, this threat likely reflected the insecurity felt by Russian leadership about invading Ukraine.
Experts agreed that using nuclear weapons—whether by accident or intent—would cause unacceptable consequences. Adopting No-First Use policies, and ending the current threats for such use, would lower the risks of a nuclear catastrophe. Another arguably more ambitious approach is the total abolition and elimination of nuclear weapons through the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed: “Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo from L to R: Ivana Nikolic Hughes (NAPF), Nikolai Sokov (VCDNP) , Christine Muttonen (PNND), Chie Sunada (SGI). Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri, Multimedia Director of IDN-INPS.
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 11 August 2023.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate