According to Judge Christopher Weeramantry, launching a new “International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons”:
The main reason we are held hostage by the most destructive technology on earth is simple: the complete lack of international resolve to ban nuclear weapons and banish them from the arsenals of the world.
Malcom Fraser also likes the idea.
While I’m sure the good judge, and the medical professionals behind MAPW are sincere, I’m really perplexed as to how they think this can actually be achieved any time soon. There are plenty of other reasons, other than laziness, why nuclear weapons cannot be abolished by the stroke of an expensive fountain pen on a treaty document:
For one thing, the basic technology of nuclear weapons – uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and the two basic fission bomb designs – is now 60 years old, and the fundamentals are well-understood around the world. Manufacturing facilities and stockpiles can be destroyed, but the knowledge in people’s minds can’t be wiped. In any case, the basic precursor technologies – precision machining, high-quality chemical engineering, and nuclear physics – are essential parts of any advanced economy and aren’t going away. Banning civilian nuclear power won’t help a great deal either; you don’t even need a nuclear reactor at all to make a nuclear weapon.
Furthermore, let’s assume that the existing nuclear powers did agree to abolish their nuclear weapons. If one country secretly retained some weapons, or manufactured a few new ones on the quiet, what would, well, deter them from all manner of bullying? The one thing scarier than multiple countries possessing nuclear weapons, is one country possessing nuclear weapons – not to mention alternatives like deliverable mass-casualty chemical or biological weapons.
Maybe, in the distant future, a world where a limited stockpile of weapons remain under international control, as a reserve against such cheating, is possible. More realistically, a world where each of the nuclear powers limits themselves to a stockpile of one or two hundred weapons, and had gotten rid of their surplus supplies of weapons material, would be a considerable improvement over the current situation. But I simply can’t see how complete abolition is possible, even ignoring the specifics of particular countries – can anybody seriously imagine Israel giving up its nukes any time soon?
I did look on MAPW Australia’s website, and that of the IPPNW, for their own analysis of how their goal of abolition could actually be achieved in the light of the above, and there doesn’t seem to be anything on point.
If you want a more cogently argued case for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, there is the decade-old Canberra Commission report (you know, from back in the days when Australia tried to be a moral exemplar), which examines the cheating issue in some detail. The report argues that cheating will be detectable in plenty of time. However, I would suggest that the subsequent decade has shown the key assumption of the report – that it would be possible to tell one way or the other whether a nation was cheating – has been shown to be wrong by recent history. Furthermore, the idea of launching military action against nations suspected of covertly acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons has been thoroughly discredited – not to mention the utility of having nuclear weapons has been demonstrated by the fact that the USA talked to North Korea, and invaded Iraq.
What do commenters think? Is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons feasible? If so, how? And, if not, what’s a more realistic goal?