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Nuclear control needs more than statement

By Jan Oberg | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-14 07:09
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One description of the contemporary world is more accurate and ominous than any other: that we live in the nuclear age or the age of "nuclearism", that is, the weapons plus the thinking and power structures that surround these doomsday weapons.

In 1946, Albert Einstein said:"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."

Even limited use of nuclear weapons will lead to a global human and environmental catastrophe. It is enigmatic that everybody talks about the much slower climate change, while the numerous destructive links between militarism and environmental destruction are hardly ever made even by leading experts, politicians or civil society leaders.

Therefore, it must be welcomed that the five nuclear weapons states, which are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have issued a joint statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding an arms race. They know there is a vast elephant in the middle of the global room. And they want the rest of the world to see that they care.

The five nuclear powers have said that they will not use nuclear weapons, will not start a nuclear arms race against each other, and want to intensify negotiations in good faith to free the world of nuclear weapons. They know that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. They want nuclear weapons to be only for deterrence. And they will seek to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Given the history of nuclear weapons and the intended road to their abolition since 1945, these assertions, however, are not substantial to prevent a nuclear war for several reasons.

First, nuclear deterrence: No weapon in this world will serve as deterrence if each party knows that all the others will never use their nuclear weapons. If A knows that B will under no circumstance use its nuclear weapons, it is risk-free for A to use its nuclear weapons because A knows that it will not be hit by B's retaliatory second strike. All deterrence rests on the idea that they shall be used if a particular situation occurs. So, to put it crudely, all nuclear weapons are there to be used, if....

That's why abolition is the only effective way to live in security and peace.

Second, nuclear defensiveness: To use a weapon only defensively must, by definition, mean that it will be used on one's immediate land and sea territory, and will thus have short range and limited destruction capacity. None of it applies to nuclear weapons. No country or people would accept the use of nuclear weapons on their own territory against an attacker. In short, nuclear weapons are, by definition, offensive.

Third, disarmament negotiations: With a few exceptions such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, arms control and disarmament negotiations have not led to reductions in arsenals considered essential by the parties. Nor has a lid been put on them-increasing sophistication of these weapons and their carriers-missiles, planes and submarines. If negotiations led to disarmament, there would be no nuclear weapons left today.

What's more, nuclear weapons are incompatible with human rights and democracy. Humanity has a right to peace, to live without the sword of Damocles hanging over its head or the risk of human and technical error. Many studies show that leaders such as former US president Richard Nixon made decisions while drinking alcohol. Some other studies show that officers at nuclear command centers are prone to drinking, taking drugs or falling asleep on duty. Nuclear accidents have occurred, weapons have been lost and never found, and nuclear submarines of NATO member states have collided.

Also, nuclear weapons have caused conventional conflicts such as the decades-long harassment of Iran, even though it doesn't have them, while no one is talking about Israel-or the US occupation of Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was developing nuclear weapons.

The joint statement seems to prove Einstein right. We have still not understood the need for new thinking necessitated by these weapons. In particular, the US signature on that document is suspect because the United States' official nuclear doctrine is the only one that reserves the right to be the first to use nuclear weapons, to use them against a conventional attack, including a significant cyberattack and, additionally, has deliberately lowered the so-called nuclear threshold.

What would, perhaps, work instead?

One, respect for international law and the spirit and letter of the UN Charter. Two, people's pressure from below worldwide. Three, an alternative, innovative, defense strategy will make nuclear weapons superfluous. Four,"Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction", a brilliant idea suggested by US commentator and writer Charles Osgood in 1962: Take the first small step unilaterally and thereby invite/put moral pressure on others to take the next, leading to a downward spiral.

It's time human beings, especially leaders, did what humanity has done earlier to develop civilizations-namely, abolishing/condemning slavery, cannibalism, absolute monarchy, genocide, child labor, rape, killings and violence. We should do the same on nuclear arms control. And it is possible to do so.

The author is director of Sweden-based Transnational Foundation for Peace &Future Research.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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