Dismantling deterrence instead of dismantling disarmament

By Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

This is an edited extract from an Editorial: In the Interest of Life and Law, First Committee Monitor, Vol. 21, No. 4, 21 October 2023, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

On 18 October, the Russian parliament completed its process to revoke Russia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which Russian President Putin requested in order to “mirror the manner of the United States,” which has signed but not ratified the Treaty. The Russian government remains a signatory to the CTBT and says it has no intention of carrying out a test, unless the United States does so first, but its de-ratification makes the resumption of full-scale nuclear tests more likely. This is especially the case given the evidence that China, Russia, and the United States have all been upgrading their nuclear weapon test sites.

Russia’s action undermines the global norm against nuclear testing, which all states except for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have upheld for a quarter of a century. The attempt to dismantle the norm against nuclear testing is in no state’s interests, let alone the interest of people or the planet. As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has said, “Russia weakening its commitment to the CTBT is senseless and irresponsible behaviour, and is part of a pattern of Russia using nuclear weapons to intimidate opponents of its invasion of Ukraine.” International treaties, including the CTBT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, “are critical to making sure nuclear testing that has harmed people’s health and spread lasting radioactive contamination is not resumed.”

Once again, international law is being flouted in the pursuit of a perceived “security interest” by a heavily militarised, nuclear-armed, imperialist state. The Russian government believes that nuclear weapons bring it security and enable to exact its desires upon the world without repercussion. Israel, another nuclear-armed state, clearly believes this, too. Both governments violate international law and expect impunity for it. The member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) likewise believe that nuclear violence is the best way to get their way in the world. In a series of social media posts this past week, NATO asked the question, “Why are nuclear weapons key to our security?” It answered, “To deter aggression: keeping NATO’s nuclear forces credible is central to preventing attacks from hostile actors;” “To prevent coercion: they are the supreme guarantee of our security,” and “To preserve peace: NATO’s goal is to create a safer world for all.”

NATO literally created posters advertising the virtues of weapons of mass destruction. Weapons that most of its own member states have acknowledged have catastrophic and environmental consequences. Weapons that its own members have spent billions of dollars trying to prevent the proliferation of. Weapons that its own members have condemned Russia for threatening to use in relation to its war against Ukraine. Just this past week during the First Committee, NATO members (among others) condemned the Russian government’s decision to de-ratify the CTBT. What all these governments have in common, other than a history of colonial extraction and economic exploitation, is their dogmatic faith in the power of the bomb to maintain their supremacy in an unequal world order. But just as the situation in Israel and Palestine shows that violence does not deter violence, nuclear weapons do not deter war. The mythology of nuclear deterrence has not prevented acts of war and aggression by nuclear-armed states, nor has it made the world a safer place as NATO alleges. Palestinians, Ukrainians, Iraqis, Afghanis, and millions of others globally would likely dispute the idea that NATO’s atomic bombs, or anyone else’s, have brought them peace and prosperity.

As Austria said in its nuclear weapon thematic debate statement, “the precarious logic of wanting to achieve security by the permanent threat of mass destruction” is based on the capacity and willingness to actually use nuclear weapons, which is a violation of international law and has the potential to result in catastrophic global consequences”.

States parties to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) must condemn Russia’s de-ratification of the CTBT and call on all states that have not done so to ratify both treaties. They should also demand that all nuclear armed states maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing and dismantle their nuclear test sites. Beyond testing, of course, all nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supportive allies must end nuclear sharing arrangements, renounce their deterrence doctrines, and dismantle their nuclear weapon programmes. They also need to provide reparations, assistance, and remediation to those impacted by nuclear weapon activities in the past. In the First Committee, they should support the resolution tabled by Kazakhstan and Kiribati on Addressing the Nuclear Weapons: Providing Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation to States Affected by the Use or Testing of Nuclear Weapons, as well as the resolutions on the TPNW, the CTBT, the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, ethical imperatives for a nuclear-weapon-free world, and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments, among others.