The story of nuclear disarmament remains to be the story whether the glass is half empty or half full. After years of total emptiness, the glass of hope for nuclear disarmament seemed lately half full again.
In April 2009 US-President Obama gave his famous speech about a nuclear weapons free world and elderly statesmen dared to speak about global zero again. One year later Obama and President Medvedev of Russia signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) just after the release of the US Nuclear Posture Review and before the Nuclear Summit. This gave hope for the current NPT Review Conference.
And quite surprisingly in the middle of the Review Conference the Committee dealing with the first pillar of the treaty came out with a ambitious 26-point action plan on nuclear disarmament. Among others the draft called for consultations of the nuclear weapon states in 2011 on the question of nuclear-sharing in Europe and a conference in 2014 for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons including by means of a universal legal framework.
However these 26 quite concrete actions lasted only for a couple of days. After the consultations not only two actions disappeared but also all concrete dates and measures, as the ones mentioned above, have been either removed or watered down. Some of the revised language even moves backward from the 2000 wording. These changes to the draft reveal quite clearly that while the New START is an important first step and despite all the rhetoric, neither nuclear weapon states nor those under the nuclear umbrella are currently willing to actually set themselves on the track to nuclear abolition.
Given that, one can’t help but wonder if the glass of hope has in the last month ever been half full. Cause if one has a closer look at START and the Nuclear Posture Review one finds next to reduction numbers and the negative assurances an 80 billion Dollar package to be invested in the next decade to sustain and modernize the US nuclear weapons complex. And one finds a proposal for a new strategic NATO concept, which continues to rely on nuclear weapons all over Europe.
Given that and if the Review Conference really ends with disarmament actions that are weaker and that can be ignored more easily than the 13 steps we endanger that the operationalisation of the global zero rhetoric fails before it even has started.
To avoid that we have to act now! We need a stronger voice in civil society for nuclear disarmament. We need governments all over the world to protest publicly, as the Japanese did on the Nuclear Posture Review, if the NPT 2010 Review Conference really ends with a disarmament text full of considerations instead of concrete actions.
We need European politicians who wake up from their years of disarmament sleep and spell out their own and most importantly fresh mile posts on the track to global zero. Europe does not have to wait for the US or Russia to move forward with its own nuclear weapons free zone. If France and the UK are not on board, let’s start with those who are.
The setting up of a universal legal instrument for the elimination of nuclear weapons does not rely on the coming into force of the CTBT. And the withdrawal of nukes from Germany does not depend on a consensus within NATO (as we know from Greece). If we keep on waiting for the US, Russia and China or Britain and France to move, the water in the glass of hope will be volatilized.
Annalena Baerbock, Board member of the European Green Party