The welcome news that US intelligence agencies have disavowed earlier reports that Iran was hell-bent on making nuclear weapons has given the world a breather. Rational people can now fortify the case against the Bush Administration’s plans to unilaterally and pre-emptively attack Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. It would be sheer folly to start yet another unauthorized war. Nevertheless, technology used to produce “peaceful” nuclear energy, an “inalienable right” guaranteed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty to its members, also gives countries the technology they need to manufacture nuclear bombs, as we’ve seen with North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel, as well as other nations who started down that path but gave it up like South Africa, Argentina, and Libya
During this blessed respite from war against a potential nuclear state, let’s not squander our opportunity for greater security. All nations should be brought to the table to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. Let us follow the lead of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry, former cold warriors, who called this year for such a commitment, understanding that the longer we delay, the more dangerous it will be as other countries emulate our nuclear prowess. The US must honor its own agreement under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), put a halt to the development of new nuclear weapons, and take up Putin’s offer of several years ago to cut our mutual nuclear arsenals of about 10,000 weapons to 1,000. Once the US and Russia get down to reasonable numbers approaching the arsenals of the other nuclear weapons states – China, UK, France and Israel, who have stockpiles in the hundreds, and India, Pakistan, and North Korea who have less than one hundred bombs in their arsenals – then we can take up China’s offer to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and call all the nuclear weapons states to the table.
Civil society has already produced a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention introduced into the UN General Assembly by Costa Rica as a discussion document. It lays out all the steps for dismantlement, verification, guarding, and monitoring the disassembled arsenals to insure that we will all be secure from break-out. We must also take up Russia and China’s proposal, offered every year for the past four years in the UN, to ban all weapons in space.
That is a pre-condition for Russia and China’s agreement to abolish nuclear weapons as they do not want to be dominated from space by the US. And we’ll also have to include a Missile Ban Treaty and forego provocative US actions of planting missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, rattling our sabers at Russia, or in the Asian-Pacific region, starting an arms race with China.
Finally, we must supersede the NPT’s guarantee to so-called “peaceful” nuclear technology, upon which Iran is now lawfully relying, by establishing an International Sustainable Energy Agency as we phase out nuclear power. To think we can control the nuclear fuel cycle, saying Brazil and Japan can enrich nuclear fuel, but not Iran, would create a new system of nuclear apartheid, doomed to fail. Ending the nuclear age would take off the table any plans to go to war against countries with nuclear facilities with which we disagree.
It’s totally naive to think that anything less than the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and their evil twins – nuclear reactors – would actually work. Let us not condemn our planet to a state of perpetual war – with unimaginable catastrophes.
Giving peace a chance by negotiating an end to the nuclear age is the only practical way out of our terrifying dilemma. Let us seize the opportunity of this brief pause on the path to war and move with hope into a nuclear-free 21st Century.
ALICE SLATER is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.