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For decades, nuclear weapons have been portrayed as essential to the security of the few states that possess them, and as a very ‘normal’ part of national and international security. These states have engaged in enormous programmes of acquisition and development, have disregarded the humanitarian implications of these weapons, and sought to persuade their publics that national security was dependent on the promise of killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilians. The term ‘nuclearism’ has been used to describe this era, and several elements of nuclearism are explored here to identify how these states have been able to sustain their possession of nuclear arsenals. By perpetuating a discourse of ‘security’ which avoided international humanitarian law, by limiting decisions on nuclear policy to small groups of elites, by investing vast amounts of resources in their nuclear programs, and by using the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to perpetuate their privileged status as nuclear states, despite their promises to disarm, the great powers have been able to sustain a highly unequal – and dangerous – global nuclear order. This order is now under challenge, as the Humanitarian Initiative explored the implications of nuclear weapons’ use. Its sobering findings led non-nuclear states, supported by civil society actors, to create the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, making these weapons illegal, for all states. The Humanitarian Initiative has posed a challenge to all the elements of nuclearism, and has resulted in a significant rejection of the existing nuclear order. The treaty will not result in quick disarmament, and it faces several hurdles. It is, however, a notable achievement, delegitimizing nuclear weapons, and contributing to the goal of a nuclear-free world.
The Introduction introduces the reader to the key issues addressed in this book. It notes the difficult and paradoxical nature of nuclear weapons and how this has complicated attempts to delegitimize and eliminate them in the past. The Introduction briefly examines the concepts of humanitarianism and humanitarian arms control, and provides a brief outline of the rest of the book.
This chapter explores the elements which have enabled and supported nuclearism over the past seventy-five years. The building of nuclearism can be seen as intertwined with the creation of a nuclear hegemony, one that has allowed for the imposition of a particular global nuclear order. These elements of nuclearism are as follows: the language used to describe the role of nuclear weapons and the overall discourse that this has created; the suppression of humanitarian concerns about nuclear weapons, and the deliberate avoidance of acknowledging the implications of nuclear weapons’ use; the decision-making processes and the ‘exclusivity’ which has enabled national security elites to plan for nuclear war largely free from public oversight, in essence denying any real democratic deliberation on the topic and insulating decision-makers from external questioning; the material costs devoted to nuclear weapons programmes, which has served to elevate the status of these weapons; and the subversion of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its associated regime by the P5 states, in their attempt to ensure that the global nuclear order remains essentially static, always favouring themselves, the ‘recognized’ nuclear states, as the hegemons of this order.
This chapter canvasses briefly the continuation of nuclearism today, primarily by looking at the current actions of the nuclear weapon states. This chapter explores the continuation of nuclearism today by looking at the current actions of the nuclear weapon states. Despite hopes that the ending of the Cold War had brought an end to the heavy reliance on nuclear weapons, the current policies of the nuclear weapon states, the modernization of their nuclear forces, their continuing faith in nuclear deterrence, and their persistence in maintaining large arsenals (especially the United States and Russia), with many weapons on high-alert status, all serve to demonstrate the entrenched nature of nuclearism. The picture today shows no sign that the elements which built and sustained the faith in, and reverence for, nuclear weapons have weakened. There has been no fundamental shift in thinking, despite the changed circumstances brought about by the end of the Cold War, despite the persistence of nuclear dangers and ‘near-misses’, and despite the emergence of new national and global threats against which such weapons will be unsuitable and irrelevant.
This chapter examines the attempts made since the end of the Cold War to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, to counter the sense of normality that nuclearism had created, by appealing to the nuclear weapon states to fulfil their disarmament obligations. It notes the Stimson Center reports, the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), and several other initiatives aimed at persuading the nuclear states to disarm. Also noted are the small steps that have been urged upon the nuclear states as a way of risk reduction and of preventing accidental nuclear use. The chapter concludes that all these efforts have had a very meagre impact on the nuclear weapon states, who, despite their promises to disarm, are intent on keeping their arsenals.
This chapter introduces the practice of ‘humanitarian arms control’, and shows how this was applied to the cases of landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008. It argues that even as the nuclear states continued to hold fast to nuclearism, a process of ‘humanitarian disarmament’ was evolving. There were some notable aspects of these disarmament processes which would, in time, come to have an important bearing on the way in which non-nuclear states sought to achieve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The experience of the landmines ban especially, together with fifteen years of reflection on the success of that process and its role in re-affirming the place of international humanitarian law in weapons control, provided states and civil society actors with useful experience and an important background against which the matter of nuclear weapons would henceforth be framed. The chapter argues that the utilization of humanitarian arguments and novel processes of diplomacy used to prohibit landmines (and later, cluster munitions) showed that there would be some value in applying similar arguments to nuclear weapons also, as a way of pushing for disarmament. These novel processes included the presence of new initiators, and new participants, especially non-state actors drawn from the humanitarian field, the creation of new diplomatic venues, the bypassing of the great powers, the choice to work on a single, clear goal of complete prohibition, staying with a solely humanitarian framework, and employing new methods for reaching agreement.
This chapter explores the formation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and addresses some of its key provisions. It outlines how the 2010 NPT Review Conference made mention of international humanitarian law, how this in turn generated the ‘Humanitarian Initiative’ conferences, how these conferences were able to address the likely consequences of nuclear weapons’ use, calling on research from scientists, climate modellers, medical practitioners, lawyers, and those specializing in food and water security. The chapter shows how these deliberations led to the creation of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It notes that many of the processes identified in the previous chapter were applied in negotiations leading to the TPNW. Specifically, these negotiations reflected new processes of arms control and disarmament, by rejecting the more traditional (but unproductive) arms control venues and traditional diplomatic processes, by proceeding without the great powers’ consent or involvement, by utilizing civil society actors and small and middle-sized states in the international system, by placing a sole focus on humanitarianism, and by striving for a straightforward ban on nuclear weapons.
Chapter 6 explores how the first four elements of nuclearism identified in Chapter 1 have come to be challenged and reshaped by the Humanitarian Initiative and the resultant treaty banning nuclear weapons. It considers how the dominant discourse of security and the lack of a humanitarian view have been challenged and rejected by the creation of the new treaty. The chapter examines the way in which new agents and new processes allowed a wide range of voices into the nuclear debate, voices which were fundamentally different to those drawn from the traditional realms of the national security elite, and which are challenging government decisions and spending on nuclear weapons. The deliberate changing of the discourse on nuclear weapons, the insertion of humanitarianism into the negotiations, the exploration of the likely effects on humans and the environment, showed the potential for genocide, ecocide, and omnicide, and that the rights of future generations will all be affected by nuclear weapons. The chapter also explores how the ramifications of divestment strategies, and the closer scrutiny of budgetary allocations to nuclear weapons all challenge the traditional practices of nuclearism highlighted in Chapter 1. It argues that these new voices and new processes have invalidated the traditional focuses within nuclearism, which typically have denied any discussion of humanitarianism, have restricted decision-making to an elite few security specialists and policy-makers, and which have allowed spending on nuclear weapons to reach extremely high levels, without any serious challenge.
Chapter 7 focuses on the fifth element of nuclearism identified in Chapter 1, namely the way in which the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been used to uphold an unequal nuclear order. It identifies the pressures currently facing the NPT, including the refusal of nuclear states to disarm or move towards small steps or risk-reduction measures, the anger felt by many non-nuclear states as a result, and the potential danger of these latter states discarding the NPT because of these broken promises. It suggests that the NPT has been stretched to its limits, largely as a result of the P5 states’ appropriation of its structures and processes to privilege their own position in the global nuclear order. The chapter looks at how the TPNW achieves the following: the clear proscription of nuclear weapons for all states, the treaty’s implications for both disarmament and non-proliferation, a legal status which puts pressure on the nuclear states to justify their military choices, and how it reinforces the norms of international law. The TPNW thus poses a challenge for states committed to a rules-based international order and human rights. Nuclear weapon states, as well as their allies, will face a choice of adhering to the latter or continuing to support weapons of mass destruction which have now been discredited under international law. In sum, the creation of the TPNW represents a fundamental challenge to the primacy of the NPT and the established nuclear order.
Chapter 8 notes that there are several obstacles facing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The first of these is the refusal of the nuclear states to sign the TPNW, and the point that international law can only be enforced against states which have agreed to sign up to that particular law. It is also unlikely that the TPNW can come to constitute customary international law, at least in the near future. Additional challenges include the fact that nuclear weapons are deeply embedded in the security doctrines of the nuclear weapon states (much more than landmines and cluster munitions were), that to date, no major allies of the United States have signed the treaty, and that considerable pressure will be brought to bear upon them not to sign, and that there is little visibility about the dangers of nuclear weapons today, making a widespread public outcry more difficult. The chapter concludes that while these are very real challenges, the TPNW nevertheless suggests a significant long-term impact. It notes the shifting dynamics in the relationship between the United States and its major allies (some smaller allies have already signed the treaty) and points to several studies which conclude that US allies, in NATO and elsewhere, can sign the TPNW and remain within their alliances, as long as these states reject any association with nuclear weapons, and allow themselves to be in a non-nuclear alliance with the United States.