Nuclear Threats and Security

This article presents highlights and insights from the International Conference on “Nuclear Threats and Security” organized by the World Academy of Art and Science in association with the European Leadership Network and the Dag Hammarskjöld University College of International Relations and Diplomacy and sponsored by NATO at the Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik on September 14-16, 2012. The conference examined important issues related to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the legality of nuclear weapons and their use, illicit trade in nuclear materials, the dangers of nuclear terrorism, nuclear- and cyber-security. Papers and video recordings of the major presentations and session summaries can be found at .

The opening presentations by representatives of WAAS, ELN, Pugwash, NATO and other participants sounded a common theme that reverberated throughout the conference — a shared conviction that urgent measures are needed to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. The complex international situation with respect to nuclear weapons is destabilizing and counter-productive. While nuclear weapons have virtually no conceivable military value, the status and prestige associated with their possession provide incentives for nuclear proliferation, especially by states concerned about the possibility of external intervention to bring about regime change. The prevailing nuclear paradigm subsists on the basis of deeply-seated, unsupportable misconceptions regarding the utility of nuclear weapons, their essential role in national security, their contribution to peace during the Cold War and the impossibility of eradicating them from existence. The conference strongly endorsed measures to promote objective examination and public education to remove numerous myths that undermine essential steps toward complete nuclear disarmament.

1. Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East
In recent months the drums of war have once again been beating in the Middle East. The build-up of political pressure, social unrest and open civil war in the Middle East combine to make the issue of Iran’s nuclear program a dangerous knot in international relations today. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran would be a major setback to peace in the Middle East and is likely to unleash further proliferation by other states. Iran has categorically denounced nuclear weapons and rejects accusations that it is trying to acquire them. However, recent disclosures by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggest that the country is keeping its options open, although major intelligence agencies agree that Iran has made no decision to make a nuclear warhead.

Iran is a proud nation with an ancient history. Neither sanctions nor threats of physical intervention are likely to dissuade the country from exercising its legal right to develop nuclear energy under the NPT for peaceful purposes. Actual physical attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would undermine the legitimacy of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is likely to unleash catastrophic war in the Middle East. Positive efforts that provide a means for Iran to preserve or enhance its credibility rather than merely succumb to international pressure are far more likely to bear fruit. There is no viable alternative but to intensify efforts for mediation to enhance a peaceful resolution of this crisis.

The creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) represents an integral element in a comprehensive multi-lateral strategy for a nuclear-weapons-free world. The extension of nuclear-free zones to encompass 114 nations is a significant achievement, which can be enhanced by concerted efforts to create NWFZs in the Middle East, in the territory neighboring on the Arctic region, and elsewhere. Efforts to make the Middle East a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone are stymied by the high level of rhetoric and exchange of threats between Israel and Iran combined with Israel’s insistence on its own right to possess a significant arsenal of nuclear weapons. This situation is too serious to be left to the foreign policy inclinations of neighboring states. The whole world has a critical stake in a peaceful resolution of tensions in the Middle East, including a complete removal of weapons of mass destruction from the region.

The Iranian problem focuses attention away from the more fundamental issue — the complete abolition of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. NATO and all nuclear weapon states must be urged to accept full responsibility for elimination of these weapons as soon as possible by adopting proactive policies and actions rather than imposing preconditions on other parties for progress on this issue so critical to the welfare of all humanity.

2. Legality of Nuclear Weapons
At the heart of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program are the inherent inequity and hypocrisy on which the prevailing regime of non-proliferation is based. The 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice categorically affirmed the legal obligation of the nuclear weapon states to initiate and bring to a successful conclusion good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. This has not happened in spite of the conducive atmosphere that existed following the end of the Cold War. Indeed, 47 years after the signing of the NPT and 16 years since the ICJ’s advisory opinion, none of the nuclear weapons states have abandoned reliance on this class of weapons. On the contrary, some signatories to the treaty have raised the salience of nuclear weapons in their defense strategies. Nuclear missiles remain on high alert in Russia and USA. China is still expanding its nuclear arsenal. In addition, at least three new nuclear weapon states have come into existence and there are immanent threats of further proliferation. Countries such as Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea continue to strengthen their nuclear weapons capability outside any framework of arms control. Although the practical value of missile defense systems is highly questionable, continued efforts to deploy them add unnecessary obstacles to the reduction of the nuclear threat. Concerted efforts are needed to establish the legal framework and practical basis for an arms control regime that covers all nuclear weapon states.

Circumstances are radically altered since the time of the ICJ’s advisory opinion, as detailed in Winston Nagan’s “Simulated ICJ Judgment”.1 The continued insistence on and proliferation of nuclear weapon states is the most compelling argument for fresh action by the World Court. In addition, since 1996 many other countries of the world have weighed in to clearly state their abhorrence for these weapons. The number of countries covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones has multiplied more than five-fold and now covers 115 nations, a clear indication of the will of the international community affirming the illegality of nuclear weapons. Moreover, new insights have come to light regarding the horrendous consequences of nuclear radiation on human health and the potentially catastrophic impact on the earth’s climate. In the absence of immediate initiation of good faith negotiations by all the existing nuclear weapon states, steps should be taken to refer the matter back to the ICJ for further instructions leading to complete nuclear disarmament. These negotiations must necessarily identify essential conditions for achieving that goal without setting obstructive preconditions for the start of real negotiations.

Nation-states are a central player in the formulation of international law, but they are not its sole arbiters. Organized public opinion is effective public conscience. Law is a codification of the public conscience. The universal principles of justice and the will of humanity as a whole are not fully and adequately represented by national governments. International law cannot be defined or based on what any individual country may or may not accept. The concept of sovereignty needs to evolve along with the evolution of the global community toward a greater inclusive notion of authority rooted in all peoples’ expectations about peace, security and dignity. International law, in short, must be predicated on the rights of not only nation-states but also the rights of individual citizens within nations and the rights of humanity as a whole.2

Garry Jacobs: Chairman, Board of Trustees, World Academy of Art and Science; Vice-President, The Mother’s Service Society
Winston P. Nagan: Member, Board of Trustees, World Academy of Art and Science; Director, Institute for Human Rights, Peace and Development, University of Florida

1. Winston Nagan, “Simulated ICJ Judgment: Revisiting the Lawfulness of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Cadmus 1, no. 4 (2012): 93-115.
2. Winston Nagan and Garry Jacobs, “New Paradigm for Global Rule of Law,” Cadmus 1, no. 4(2012):130-146.

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