A 21st Century Freeze On Nuclear Weapons: Will It Be A Reality? – OpEd

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US Senator Edward Markey (Democrat from Massachusetts) announced plans on May 4 to re-introduce legislation that would establish a 21st century freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.

A former US army reservist and co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Markey will re-introduce into the US Senate the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act.

The HALT Act stipulates that the aims of U.S. policy should include:

  1. An agreement on a verifiable freeze on the testing, production, and further deployment of all nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for such weapons;
  2. A resumption of on-site inspections and verification measures per the New START Treaty;
  3. A bilateral U.S. agreement with the Russian Federation on a treaty or agreement that covers non-strategic nuclear weapons or strategic systems not covered by the New START Treaty;
  4. Negotiations of a verifiable Fissile Material Treaty or Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty in the United Nations (UN) Conference on Disarmament or another international forum;
  5. Series of U.S. disarmament summits to reduce stocks of weapons-usable nuclear material;
  6. U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and mobilization of all countries covered by Annex 2 of the CTBT to pursue similar action necessary for entry-into-force of the treaty;
  7. Other engagements with all other countries that possess nuclear weapons to negotiate and conclude future multilateral arms control, disarmament, and risk reduction agreements; and;
  8. Prohibition of funds to prepare for or to conduct U.S. explosive nuclear-weapon testing.

According to PNND, the HALT Act comes 41 years after one million people gathered in New York’s Central Park to promote a nuclear weapons freeze—the largest peace demonstration in U.S. history.

Markey (then a member of the House of Representatives) addressed the crowd on 12 June 1982, demanding an end to President Ronald Reagan’s unnecessary spending on new nuclear weapons systems and calling for the President to begin negotiations on nuclear arms reduction with the Soviet Union.

Experts credit the freeze movement with creating the political will necessary for the negotiation of bilateral arms control treaties between the United States and former Soviet Union, later Russia.

And on April 14, Senator Markey, also co-chair of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, along with Representative Ted Lieu, announced the reintroduction of the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act to prohibit any United States President from launching a nuclear strike without prior authorization from Congress.

The legislation would also institute safeguards to prevent the president from introducing nuclear weapons in a conflict and reaffirm Congress’ singular constitutional authority to declare war. The reintroduction of Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act comes after a year of reckless nuclear threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war of aggression against Ukraine

Jackie CabassoExecutive Director at the California-based Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), told IDN that 53 years after entry into force of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act of 2023, provides a menu of policy recommendations that seek to address growing nuclear dangers.

If enacted, HALT would also begin to implement the NPT’s disarmament obligations, enshrined in the Preamble and Article VI, which have been reiterated and reinforced by agreements made in connection with the 1995 Extension Decision, the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences, and the International Court of Justice’s 1996 Advisory Opinion, which provided the authoritative interpretation of Article VI.

The Court found unanimously, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiation leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

“Unfortunately, however, there seems to be no political constituency in Washington, DC or in the capitals of the other nuclear-armed states to prioritize nuclear arms control, much less disarmament,” Cabasso pointed out.

The hard truth is that neither legislation like the HALT Act nor the resolution introduced in the House by Representative Jim McGovern to Embrace the Goals and Provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (H. Res. 77), which has an energetic grassroots advocacy movement behind it, are likely to go anywhere for the foreseeable future.

It is clear that none of the nuclear-armed states are willing to reimagine a global system based on Common Security, rather than nuclear coercion – euphemistically called “deterrence,” said Cabasso whose Foundation (WSFL) is described as a non-profit, public interest organization which monitors and analyzes U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies.

Dr M.V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security Graduate Program Director, MPPGA at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, told IDN one has to be grateful to Senator Ed Markey for introducing acts like the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act.

There is a growing arms race among the leading nuclear-armed countries, and the US or Russia (or both) have walked out of the many arms control treaties that traditionally limited their nuclear arsenals, he pointed out.

“Added to these, we are now in a period of heightened military tension. It is precisely in such a milieu that efforts to introduce some degree of rationality to moderate the growing race become valuable.”

“That said, I wish Senator Markey and others like him also introduce some arms control steps that might not just reduce the magnitude of the destruction in the event of war, but also to reduce the risk of war in the first place,” Dr Ramana declared.

Meanwhile, the NPT, which entered into force in 1970, includes a binding commitment to the goal of disarmament by the five original nuclear-armed States—the U.S., UK, USSR/Russia, France, and China.

In Article VI, all States, including the nuclear-armed states, pledged “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

Yet today, all of the nuclear-armed states are doubling down on the centrality of nuclear weapons in their national security policies and modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

With Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine, its repeated overt threats to use nuclear weapons, and other potential nuclear flashpoints including Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, South Asia, and the Middle East, the specter of nuclear war has risen to its highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The scale and tempo of war games by nuclear-armed states and their allies, including nuclear drills, are increasing and ongoing missile tests, and frequent close encounters between military forces of nuclear-armed states are exacerbating the dangers of nuclear war.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an expert on nuclear disarmament said: “This is a very familiar virtue-signalling wish list that adds nothing, has no strategy and won’t be taken up by anyone serious. Pity, but that’s the reality”.

Dr Emma Belcher, President of Ploughshares Fund said: “With nuclear risks growing almost every day in Ukraine and a dangerous new arms race with Russia and China brewing, it is more important than ever that the United States works to reduce global nuclear arsenals rather than increase them.”

“Senator Markey reminds us that arms control diplomacy, such as the New START treaty, is the only proven to way address these dangers. The only way to win an arms race is not to run. We thank Senator Markey for his leadership at this crucial time,” she said.

John Hallam, member of the No First Use Global Steering Committee, said “The HALT Act is an important move to ensure that bilateral nuclear arms control does not disappear.

“By calling for a United States freeze on testing, production and further deployment of nuclear weapons, the Act leads by example and provides a possibility to engage with Russia. And the call for no-first-use helps to prevent nuclear war from occurring through crisis escalation, mis-calculation or accident.”

“If the intent of this legislation becomes a bilateral U.S.-Russian reality, then the cause of arms control will be coming back on track instead of, as it is now, being on the brink of disappearance,” said Hallam, who is also co-convenor of the Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group.

Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, said conflicts between USA and other nuclear-armed States—including Russia, China and North Korea—threaten to spill over into nuclear war unless leadership is taken to halt the nuclear arms race, end provocative policies such as the threat of first-use of nuclear weapons, and resume arms control and disarmament negotiations.

The HALT Act makes sound, feasible proposals which, if enacted, will enhance the security of all,” said Ware.

Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen, author of the book “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” is Editor-at-Large at the Berlin-based IDN, an ex-UN staffer and a former member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he shared the gold medal twice (2012-2013) for excellence in UN reporting awarded by the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).

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