For diplomats and international disarmament campaigners: “framework” approaches to nuclear disarmament are pernicious

Yesterday I sent the following message to a large number of international disarmament campaigners and a few others. I am posting it here for the sake of wider accessibility and for the record. For background see also:

Subject: “Framework” approaches are pernicious

It was wonderful to see some of you in Geneva and to see the wonderful progress that was made at the May meeting of the 2016 Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). There is now considerable momentum among the world’s states toward a ban treaty.

Of course there are going to be efforts to diffuse and/or re-direct this momentum.

Some states and some NGOs want to harness the OEWG to provide support for disarmament “approaches” (using that word loosely) which require good faith involvement of the nuclear weapon states (NWSs).

Those approaches will not work because the NWSs do not want to disarm. They first have to be made to want to disarm, by a sufficient combination of forces they cannot control. Disarmament commitments of any kind whatsoever are not something NWSs can be persuaded to want, let alone to achieve, by any kind of multilateral negotiation or discussion. Powerful internal factions in these states prevent that. NWSs first must be presented with a fait accompli, with new fact, [namely] a ban treaty. Only then can “good faith” disarmament efforts begin to grow.

A ban treaty would be effective because it is coercive — not specifically coercive, but generally coercive. A ban treaty would strip some power — illegitimate power, but very real power — from NWSs. The “biggest loser” by far would be the U.S. One of the beautiful aspects of a ban treaty is that, being voluntary, it imposes nothing specific on non-signatory states, while it strips away, immediately, the claimed legitimacy of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.

In other words, a ban says the nuclear emperor has no clothes. An emperor with no clothes is not an emperor at all. That’s the end of him as an emperor. It’s the beginning of him as a mortal human being, the beginning of his humanity. The nuclear emperor will never negotiate anything — any “framework” for example — that includes the fact of his nakedness. That fact must first be established for all the world to see. It will be a process. The beginning of the process is a ban treaty in which each state party affirms that nuclear weapons are illegitimate — that the nuclear emperor has no clothes. Then the nuclear emperor will negotiate, sooner or later, and from a much weaker but more humane position. It is [a] fact-establishing process and a coercive process we are engaged in. There is not going to be any “convergence” with the NWSs in that process. They will howl.

All this seems too elementary to repeat, but again and again (and since getting home from Geneva) I see what look to me like desperate proposals from some NGOs for some kind of “framework agreement” that would “build engagement with nuclear-armed states” — as if that were even possible or a good idea, or for a “framework” which would provide only political rather than legal commitments.

Such “political commitments” are just fantasies and they don’t meet the central OEWG mandate for effective legal measures. They wouldn’t provide anything more than the “Thirteen Steps” of the 2000 NPT RevCon or the 2010 RevCon’s “Action Plan” did, both of which resulted in no action at all. They weren’t agreed to in good faith and they weren’t commitments. They were “promises” meant to be broken — lies. That is the best the NWSs can offer. It is pure folly to seek for more.

We also see proposals from NGOs for a series of “summits,” as if “summits” were effective legal measures. Anything but a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, apparently!

I could go on in greater detail and hope to do so in early June, after taking care of other work here. It seems incredibly important at this juncture to restrain the strange desire for “convergence” with NWSs and nuclear-dependent states, wherever and whenever possible.

If there is going to be any effective legal measure for nuclear disarmament, it is going to have to be negotiated — up to and including entry into force — by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWSs). The NWSs will do everything they can to prevent any disarmament treaty.

I don’t see how anyone with any experience at all could come to the conclusion that “bridges should be built” (or any other such language) with the NWSs. Yet this seems to be the sine qua non of the “framework” approach.

Pretending that all states want a “world without nuclear weapons,” which I heard repeated often in Geneva by diplomats as well as NGOs as a kind of mantra, was bizarre. None of the NWSs want a “nuclear weapons free world”, not in any meaningful way, and not yet. If they did, they’d act differently. Sure, politicians may say this or that, but why in the world should their claims be credenced, when the opposite is being done?

So I think the “framework” approach is very pernicious, because a “framework” implies something negotiated with NWSs (they have the weapons, after all). A “framework” without NWS participation boils down to a ban treaty. A “framework” approach that seeks NWSs concurrence would burn up years we do not have. You can see just how that would work by looking at the Conference on Disarmament.

The NNWS cannot achieve more than a ban treaty, since they do not have the weapons, and they cannot achieve less, if they would be effective.

The glory of the OEWG and of General Assembly procedures is that consensus cannot be used to suppress the aspirations of NNWSs for true collective security.

It seems almost too elementary to repeat, but we have to protect the power and agency of NNWSs as we go forward. If we can do that, and move with all due speed, a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is the natural outcome.

Comments are currently closed.