Nuclear Weapons

WMD Commission Seeks to Revive Disarmament

06.01.06 | 4 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen

In a whopper 231-page report published today, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission presented 60 specific recommendations for how to move the nonproliferation and disarmament agenda forward.

The recommendations are familiar to anyone involved in these matters over the past 50 years: reduce the danger of nuclear arsenals; prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; outlaw weapons of mass destruction; etc.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC) was established in 2003 by the Swedish Government acting on a proposal by then United Nations Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala to present realistic proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. The Commission is chaired by Hans Blix, the former Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and includes among others William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jayantha Dhanapala, the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, and Alexei G. Arbatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Commission’s report uses the World Nuclear Forces overview co-produced by Federation of American Scientists for the SIPRI Yearbook to describe the status of existing nuclear arsenals, but the report does not dwell on past nuclear arms reductions which are often used by the nuclear weapon states to say they have done enough. Instead, the Commission calls for new and additional actions to curb existing weapons of mass destruction arsenals and prevent new ones from emerging. Commission chairman Hans Blix writes in the foreword that “the climate for agreements on arms control and disarmament has actually deteriorated” in recent years and “nuclear-weapon states no longer seem to take their commitment to nuclear disarmament seriously.”

That is certainly true. Nuclear disarmament has all but disappeared from the arms control agenda, and the nuclear weapons states instead use proliferation to justify their own nuclear weapons which they are busy modernizing and tailoring against the new enemies. Proliferators, in turn, use the offensive military postures of the nuclear weapon states as an excuse to develop their own nuclear weapons.

The Commission’s recommendations are a wide-ranging list of constraints that, if implemented, will constrain all actors, existing nuclear weapon states as well as proliferators. But from the outset, the report is strongly at odds with the policies of several of the major nuclear weapon states, particularly the United States. The Commission is unlikely to have many friends in the current White House, which will almost certainly reject its call for a revitalization of the “thirteen practical steps” to disarmament adopted at the 2000 nuclear nonproliferation treaty review conference, steps that have specifically been rejected by the Bush administration.

Other recommendations include a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons, an idea the U.S. will almost certainly reject, as will many of the other nuclear powers. A no-first-use policy has been explicitly rejected by the United States and NATO, and Russia has abandoned its no-first-use policy. The report also calls for nuclear weapon states to abandon the practice of deploying nuclear forces in a triad of sea-, land- and air-based delivery platforms, something most of the nuclear powers insist is necessary. The Commission also wants nuclear weapon states to end deployment of nuclear weapons outside their own territories, an indirect call for a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear bombs from Europe.

With an eye to the new roles that existing nuclear weapon states are creating for their nuclear arsenals against proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, the Commission recommends that nuclear weapons states “refrain from developing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities or for new missions,” and they “must not adopt systems or doctrines that blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons or lower the nuclear threshold.”

Some of the Commission’s recommendations extend to indirect measures, such as a freeze on ballistic missile defense systems, a key priority for the United States and increasingly also other countries. The Commission also wants assurances that Iran will not be attacked or forced to change government in the conflict over the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Surprisingly, the report does not recommend that India and Pakistan join the non-proliferation treaty, although their absence is said to hurt the regime. Instead, both countries are urged to join a number of other initiatives such as the Comprehensive test Ban Treaty.

The report’s greatest weakness may be that it doesn’t sufficiently incorporate “the other side” of the debate and therefore runs the risk of being seen as a manifesto of arms control proposals from the past that “preach to the choir” rather than presenting new ideas on how to move the agenda forward.

On the other hand, the fact that the Bush administration’s policies – and those of several other nuclear powers i.e. Russia – are so at odds with a revitalized disarmament and nonproliferation agenda suggests how necessary the Commission’s recommendations are. The United States has considerable leverage on these issues, the report acknowledges, but all countries – not only the proliferators – must accept constraints on their own operations if the disarmament and nonproliferation agenda is to move forward. The alternative is indefinite insecurity for all.

Full WMD Commission report