By Rodney Reynolds
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been unwavering in his longstanding campaign to usher in “a world without nuclear weapons”, has expressed strong disappointment over “a deep division” among the UN’s 193 member states over the future of multilateral disarmament.
On the one hand, nuclear-weapon States, along with many of their allies, argue that they have taken steps to reduce their arsenals, he said.
On the other hand, non-nuclear-weapon States point to the lack of disarmament negotiations; the persistence of thousands of nuclear weapons; and plans for modernizing existing nuclear arsenals decades into the future with costs that run well over $1 trillion, said Ban in a November 22 keynote address before the New York University’s School of Professional Studies.
In a farewell address, mostly to a gathering of academics, peace activists and anti-nuclear groups, Ban was critical of the Geneva-based UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), which has been grounded to a standstill for nearly 20 years, including during his 10-year tenure as Secretary-General, even as he steps down on December 31.
Since he took over as Secretary-General back in January 2007, Ban said he has been going to Geneva many times and addressing the Conference on Disarmament. (On United Nations Day Oct 24, 2009 he released a Five-Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament.)
The UN disarmament machinery is “locked in chronic stalemate”, he lamented.
“You would be surprised – [for] over two decades, they have not been able to adopt the programme of work. Can you believe it? Not to mention, let alone the lack of progress in the work.”
He decried the CD has not been able to adopt even an agenda.
“Twenty year, this has existed, and I have been warning them: If you behave this way, we will have to bring the discussions in the Conference on Disarmament, we will have to bring them to some other venue, but they don’t listen… Because of the consensus system, just one country can block the whole 193 Member States. This is a totally unacceptable situation,” he warned.
The costs of allowing this kind of a status quo, non-action – they are still persistent. This is very frustrating, Ban complained.
Although he warned, “disarmament is facing a crisis”, he diplomatically avoided responding directly to the harsh pro-nuclear rhetoric from the incoming U.S. President Donald Trump who hinted that countries such as South Korea and Japan should go nuclear to protect themselves rather than rely on the United States.
Asked for his observations on the current state of disarmament, Dr M. V. Ramana, who is with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told IDN: “This is a strange time to be talking about disarmament, given the many developments that make it unlikely that there will be progress on that front anytime soon.”
The United States, he pointed out, has just elected Donald Trump who has even indicated that he would consider using nuclear weapons. He said relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated and the future of bilateral arms control between them is bleak.
Most of the countries with nuclear weapons, in particular the United States, are in the process of modernizing or expanding their nuclear arsenals.
“With Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stepping down, the role of the United Nations is also uncertain. One of the few avenues for optimism that I see comes from the recent vote by a majority of the countries at the United Nations to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana.
“Reading runes or chicken entrails would be as reliable predictors of what a President Trump might do on disarmament as sifting through his utterances,” noted Dr Rebecca Johnson, of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.
“He’s a maverick businessman, not a diplomat. His belief system, which now appears to have been reinforced by this election, is that success is what matters, whatever works to win the short term deal, no matter what else is sacrificed or what the longer term consequences might be.”
Dr Johnson said Trump embodies narcissistic exceptionalism.
As a businessman he clearly hated being required to obey environmental, tax or other regulations and legislation, so it should come as no surprise that he rejects collective security arrangements such as the UN and disarmament treaties whose primary purpose has been to constrain military freedom of action in order to protect vulnerable people from abusive violence and prevent mass destruction and humanitarian catastrophes.
Trump is a kind of “ends justify the means” pragmatist, but not necessarily a nuclear true-believer. Projecting positively, he might be willing to do further nuclear arms reduction deals with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.
The objective wouldn’t be disarmament, but to cut the costs of stockpiling excess and redundant nuclear weapons, and free up resources for 21st century weaponry.
Projecting negatively, she noted: “Trump seems to think nuclear weapons are usable, and not only in traditional deterrent terms of reinforcing the nuclear taboo, and if he decides that the U.S. arsenal should pay its way, he could make terrible mistakes and unleash dangers he can’t control.“
“In any case, Trump demonstrates what the non-nuclear nations have long argued – that there are no safe hands for nuclear weapons.”
She said Trump is a talking walking justification of the need to change the nuclear regime and prohibit the use, deployment, production, transporting, proliferation and financing of nuclear weapons.
Yet it was not the prospect of a President Trump that caused over 120 governments to vote for UN negotiations.
(On October 27, the Disarmament and International Security Committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a ground-breaking resolution Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. The resolution establishes a UN conference in 2017 ‘to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.’)
Dr Johnson argued that Trump reinforces the humanitarian imperative for nuclear abolition, but over two-thirds of the world voted to negotiate a nuclear ban treaty in October because of Putin, Kim Jong Un, (Narendra) Modi, (Theresa) May and the rest, and in recognition of the vested interests in the nuclear club and the U.S. establishment that meant that even President Obama couldn’t make headway on disarmament after his high-sounding Prague speech of 2009.
“So Trump or no Trump, disarmament will happen when the majority of world peoples take responsibility, and when that happens he will no doubt claim credit!,” declared Dr Johnson