No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now (Part Three)

One of the biggest failures of the United Nations (UN) since its founding was its inability to halt the nuclear arms race and take any significant step towards elimination of nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the UN – wittingly or unwittingly – became a victim of a series of con games played by the nuclear weapon powers. On the face of it, the latest attempt of the UN to adopt a so-called ‘Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ appears to be no different. This analysis is an attempt to suggest ways and means to prevent the proposed ‘Convention’ from becoming yet another con game.

Negative Security Assurance

In a detailed article titled “The Legal Status of U.S. Negative Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear Weapon States”[40], George Bunn, who had served as general counsel of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) from 1961 to 1969, and who was one of the negotiators of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, laid bare the U.S. position on the issue. Divulging the U.S. stand, he wrote:

(a) “…in 1966, the eight non-aligned countries [which included India] that were members of the Geneva disarmament  conference joined in a memorandum to the conference that recited their various individual NPT-related proposals including “the banning of the use of nuclear weapons and assurance of the security of non-nuclear-weapon States.” They suggested that these “could be embodied in a treaty as part of its provisions or as a declaration of intention.” [Fn. 35]

(b) “During the U.N. General Assembly debates on disarmament in the fall of 1966, 46 non-aligned countries introduced a draft resolution that invited the nuclear weapon states ‘to give an assurance that they will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States’.” [Fn. 36]

(c) “ACDA sought authority from President Johnson for the U.S. representative to the United Nations to vote for the resolution…. The Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed ACDA’s draft: According to a State Department cable sent to President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk, who were abroad when the issue arose, the Chiefs’ ‘opposition was based on the reason that such a nonuse assurance could provide an impetus toward total prohibition of nuclear weapons…’ ” [Fns. 37, 38] [Emphasis added]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had as early as 1966 had correctly identified the crux of the issue: “a nonuse assurance could provide an impetus toward total prohibition of nuclear weapons”! This is precisely the reason why a negative security assurance, i.e., a pledge by the nuclear weapon states not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states, has to be an integral part of any nuclear arms control or disarmament treaty. A negative security assurance is the very first step that would provide the necessary impetus for moving towards the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Expressing a similar opinion, Carlton Stoiber, an expert on international law based in Washington, DC, and who had served in the U.S. Department of State as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for nearly 30 years, commented on the developments in the NPT Review Conferences in this regard as follows:

“The issue of security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT has been a central issue at NPT RevCons since 1975. The issue was actively debated during negotiations of the treaty itself. In fact, without the adoption of Security Council Resolution 255 in 1968, extending so-called positive security assurances to the NNWSs it is unlikely that the treaty would have been approved.” [41]

While Security Council Resolution 255 of 1968 [see: fn.39] – the so-called “positive” security assurance – was one of the most abject resolutions ever to be passed by the UN Security Council, the point to be noted here is that the issue of security assurances to the NNWS has remained a perpetual source of controversy in the RevCons. To ostensibly rectify the shortcomings of the UNSC Resolution 255 of 1968, the UNSC passed yet another resolution on April 11, 1995 (Resolution 984 of 1995). However, on that very day, the G-21 nations, representing the non-aligned nations in the UN, wrote a protest letter addressed to the Deputy Secretary-General, UN Conference on Disarmament, against the said resolution. The letter stated that:

“this resolution does not take into account any of the formal objections made in the past by Non-nuclear Weapon States on the restrictive, restrained, uncertain, conditional and discriminatory character of the guarantees already provided.” Therefore, “it is for the Nuclear Weapon States to provide security assurances to Non-nuclear Weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in an internationally and legally-binding form.” [42]

The inherent flaws in the UNSC Resolution No.984 of 1995, thus, stood exposed. However, because of G-21’s strong protest, a separate decision was adopted at the 1995 NPT RevCon, which stated as follows:

“…further steps should be considered to assure non-nuclear-weapon States party to the Treaty against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. These steps could take the form of an internationally legally binding instrument.”[43]

Despite the decision to strengthen the negative security assurance to NNWS, till date the inherent flaws in Resolution No.984 of 1995 have not been rectified due to the continued obstinacy on the part of the U.S. (as well as Russia, U.K. and France that have identical positions), which is terrified at the prospect that “a nonuse assurance could provide an impetus toward total prohibition of nuclear weapons”![44]

“Greatest Con Game”

The intrigue behind the NPT was exposed through a chance discovery. While exploring aspects of non-compliance of the obligations under the existing arms control treaties, Zia Mian of Princeton University had uncovered as follows:

“Bill Epstein, a veteran United Nations official in the area of arms control and disarmament, records that “one of the American negotiators conceded privately that the NPT was ‘one of the greatest con games of modern times.’” [45] [Emphasis added]

Indeed, from the above analyses it is very evident that the NPT has been “one of the greatest con games of modern times”! Although William Epstein had recorded this fact in 1976, it was never given the prominence it truly deserved. The proponents of the NPT, who may have been aware of this fact for the last 40 years or more, nevertheless, have had no compunctions in continuing to eulogize the NPT! It may be relevant to mention here that William Epstein, who passed away in 2001, was – in the words of the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan – “indisputably one of the world’s leading advocates of global disarmament, having devoted his entire professional career and his long retirement to this noble cause.”[46] It was obviously a considered decision on the part of William Epstein, a leading advocate of global disarmament, to have recorded that the NPT was nothing but a con game. For a long time and among a sizable section of peace activists, an illusion was created that the NPT was addressing the issue of global disarmament and peace. How many of those peace activists are willing to reassess their position on the NPT in the light of this revelation by Bill Epstein? The fact is, forty-nine years after the signing of the NPT, the human security environment is far worse than what it was in 1968.

With the 1995 NPT Review Conference deciding to extend the NPT indefinitely, it became evident that this retrograde step would not only legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by the P-5 and their self-proclaimed right of use nuclear weapons against NNWS in perpetuity but also, by implication, postpone for ever even the possibility of beginning negotiations for cessation of the nuclear arms race and elimination of nuclear weapons. The issue of nuclear disarmament, thus, was sought to be reduced to a mere pipedream! It had become apparent that the U.S. and its allies have had no interest or intention of implementing Article – VI of the NPT at any stage.

After the U.S. and its allies came out in their true colours, the other supporters of the NPT consisting of the majority of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members, members of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), and various NGOs, who had repeatedly quoted Article – VI to propagate the virtues of the NPT, found themselves in a quandary. The only way members of NAM, etc., could redeem their credibility was by trying to infuse some life into the lifeless Article – VI. As a face-saving exercise at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, they managed to push through on May 12, 1995 a decision called “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament”,[47] which included a “Programme of Action”. Between the 1995 and the 2000 NPT Review Conferences, the world witnessed further horizontal nuclear proliferation with India and Pakistan becoming de facto members of the nuclear weapons club. Therefore, the 2000 NPT RevCon, agreed to adopt, what was reported as, “Practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement article VI of the NPT” [48] However, even by 2005, neither the “Principles and Objectives…” of 1995 nor the “Practical Steps…” of 2000 appears to have had any positive impact on changing the discriminatory character of the NPT. The refusal by USA, Russia, UK, and France to give unqualified Negative Security Assurance (NSA) to NNWS (like the one offered by China), has been the biggest problem plaguing the NPT.

North Korea Exits NPT

The repercussions of the lack of unqualified NSA to NNWS came to the forefront on January 10, 2003 when North Korea announced its decision to withdraw from the NPT. NPT member-states were quick to condemn the decision. However, little attention was paid to the circumstances that compelled North Korea to take that decision. It may be recalled that on March 12, 1993, North Korea had served notice that it would withdraw from the NPT in three months time because of the  hostile attitude of the U.S. and because North Korea was “constantly under the US nuclear threat.”[49] However, due to the signing of the U.S.–DPRK Joint Statement on June 11, 1993, North Korea decided to temporarily suspend the withdrawal. The Joint Statement was based on the principles of “assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons; peace and security in a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula…; [and] support for the peaceful reunification of Korea”[50]  However, even a decade later, there was no reduction in USA’s hostility towards North Korea and there was little progress in implementing the decisions made under the “US-DPRK Agreed Framework”, which was signed on October 21, 1994.[51]  In the statement issued at the time of withdrawal, North Korea had submitted as follows:

“In the event that the United States legally pledges non-aggression, including the non-use of nuclear [weapons] against us, through a non-aggression treaty…. we will be ready to prove…. that we will not make nuclear weapons.”[52]

Obviously, North Korea did not want to meet Iraq’s fate! The refusal of the U.S. to give a categorical undertaking not to target North Korea with nuclear weapons as well as its to disinclination to sign a non-aggression treaty, left North Korea no option but to take all steps necessary to protect its security, which included from its point of view, acquisition of nuclear weapons to deter the U.S from a preemptive nuclear attack. However, six days before North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 09, 2006, its Foreign Ministry issued a statement, which clarified that: “…DPRK will never use nuclear weapons first…”[53] Again on May 8, 2016, North Korea has reiterated as follows:

“As a responsible nuclear weapons state, the DPRK will not use a nuclear weapon first unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by hostile aggression forces with nukes, as it had already declared, and it will faithfully fulfill its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation it made to the international community, and strive for the denuclearization of the world.” [54]

No First Use Policy

It is the U.S. which forced North Korea to withdraw from the NPT by its refusal to give a categorical undertaking that it would not target NNWS with nuclear weapons. The U.S. can still give an unqualified negative security assurance to NNWS and a No-First-Use pledge to NWS, as a first step to resolve the prevailing crisis. That a No-First-Use pledge is a sound policy has been argued by several experts in the field. In an article titled “End the First Use Policy for Nuclear Weapons” published in The New York Times (August 14, 2016), James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer (both of whom are currently with Global Zero), have argued that:

“A no-first-use policy would also reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons…. Beyond those benefits, we believe a no-first-use policy could catalyze multilateral negotiations to reduce nuclear arms, discourage nonnuclear states from developing them and reinforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” [55]

Similarly, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution and a specialist in U.S. defense strategy, in an article titled “The nuclear no first use dilemma and North Korea” (August 24, 2016) expressed the view that:“…a nuclear no first use policy can cause net benefit in handling the nuclear problems of the [Korean] peninsula…”[56] Furthermore, Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the U.S. Arms Control Association, was of the opinion that:

“A no-first-use declaration would be highly credible in the current and foreseeable strategic environment, and over time, it could be made more credible by adjusting U.S. operational practices to clearly reflect the new nuclear declaratory policy, such as reducing the stringent readiness requirements of U.S. nuclear forces…. In today’s global security environment, the threat of nuclear first use is unwarranted and imprudent.”[57]

Therefore, it is high time that NWS give an unqualified undertaking never to use nuclear weapons against NNWS as well as never to use nuclear weapons first against other NWS.

Expression of Anguish

The failure of the 2005 NPT Conference evoked strong reactions from some of the ardent supporters of the NPT. In this context, it would be interesting to recall what Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Founding Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, U.K., was forced to comment. Dr. Johnson’s remarks, which are culled out from her long article titled “Politics and Protection: Why the 2005 NPT Review Conference Failed” (Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No.80, Autumn 2005), are as follows:

“The NPT’s historical discrimination between the rights and obligations of nuclear haves and have-nots, which was bolstered by cold war power relations, is proving to be unsustainable in the new security environment…. In the 21st century, nuclear deterrence has no convincing role and should be abandoned…. What prevents the nuclear genie from being put back into its bottle is not the technology or know-how, but the value still accorded to nuclear weapons, particularly by states that have them…. By its actions and policies, the United States has helped to create a context in which nuclear weapons become the ultimate necessity for, and symbol of, state prestige and security…. Western allies have to stop running away from the inescapable logic of what the NAM have argued for years: non-proliferation is unsustainable without real and significant progress in nuclear disarmament and the devaluation of nuclear weapons.” [58]

Dr. Johnson had aptly summed up the crisis facing the NPT regime.


Apart from the NPT, most of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) treaties, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), etc., have little to do with disarmament and all of them have been framed with plenty of loopholes to favour the interests of the advanced nuclear weapon states. (The only genuine and valuable NWFZ treaty is the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 since it prohibits any type of military activity by any outside agency on the continent.) Referring to the pitfalls in the NWFZs, Section 7 of the “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament”, which was adopted at the 1995 NPT RevCon, emphasized that: “The cooperation of all the nuclear-weapons States and their respect and support for the relevant protocols is necessary for the maximum effectiveness of such nuclear-weapon-free zones and the relevant protocols.” [59]  This was an admission that despite the existence of various NWFZs (by 1995 there were three: in Antarctica, Latin America and in the South Pacific), not all the P-5 members were respecting or observing all the relevant protocols necessary for making such NWFZs meaningful and effective.

It may be recalled that it was the apprehension regarding the deployment of foreign nuclear weapons on or near the territories of NNWS as well as to protect themselves against a nuclear attack that initially gave rise to the demand for creation of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs). However, in the absence of a competent monitoring mechanism, there was no way of detecting any violation of the sanctity of the six NWFZs that have been established so far if and when NWS choose to violate such sanctity. As of today, NWFZs essentially mean that the NNWS within such zones would provide a one-way guarantee to the NWS that the NNWS would not use nuclear weapons against NWS! However, the NWS (except for China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have so far refused to give a reciprocal guarantee to the NNWS that the NWS would not target NNWS with nuclear weapons.

In other words, the absence of a clear-cut commitment on the part of four of the P-5 members (i.e., those other than China) and Israel not to use nuclear weapons against the very signatories of such NWFZ treaties has meant that the member-states of NWFZs are not free from the threat of a nuclear attack by at least four of the P-5 members and Israel, which make the concept of NWFZs absolutely redundant. Also it is interesting to note that, while all nuclear activities of the member-states of the NWFZs are subjected to regular inspection by the IAEA – since the member-states of the NWFZs are all signatories to the NPT as well, the task of tracking any military-related nuclear activity of the NWS within such zones, including the existence of Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) infrastructure for guiding nuclear weapon delivery systems, which in letter and spirit violate various provisions of the NWFZ treaties, apparently does not fall within the purview of the IAEA!

[To be continued]


[40] The Nonproliferation Review/Spring–Summer 1997 at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10736709708436675?needAccess=true

[41] https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/npr/103stoi.pdf

[42] https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G95/611/67/PDF/G9561167.pdf?OpenElement

[43] https://fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/prin_obj.htm

[44] Op cit. (fn.40)

[45] Zia Mian, ‘Elementary Aspects of Noncompliance in the World of Arms Control and Nonproliferation’, Princeton University, January 2002, fn.98 (quote from William Epstein, The Last Chance: Nuclear Proliferation and Arms Control, The Free Press, New York, 1976, p.118) at: https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/articles/miancomp.pdf

[46] UN Press Release, 14 February 2001, SG/SM/7715 at:

[47] Op cit. (fn.43)

[48] http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/revcon2000/docs/2000FD.pdf

[49] Korean Central News Agency, ‘Detailed Report’ Explains NPT Withdrawal, January 22, 2003 at: https://fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/nuke/dprk012203.html

[50] http://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Negotiating_with_North_Korea_1992-2007.pdf

[51] https://2001-2009.state.gov/t/ac/rls/or/2004/31009.htm

[52] Op cit. (fn.49)

[53] file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/commentary-2006-11-north-korea_1496480607323.pdf

[54] http://www.ncnk.org/sites/default/files/content/resources/publications/KJU_Speeches_7th_Congress.pdf

[55] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/15/opinion/end-the-first-use-policy-for-nuclear-weapons.html?_r=2#story-continues-1

[56] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/08/24/the-nuclear-no-first-use-dilemma-and-north-korea/

[57] https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/op-ed/2016-10-05/the-case-for-no-first-use

[58] http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/archive/acro13.htm

[59] Op cit. (fn.43)



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N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).

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