Getting to Zero: Working Towards a Nuclear Weapon-Free World

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Launch of BASIC's new Getting to Zero program on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC.

Steven Monblatt, Co-Executive Director for BASIC's Washington office, welcomed the audience to a discussion on the prospects for nuclear disarmament eleven months after the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by US statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn. The article, which called for complete nuclear disarmament, has led to ice-breaking discussions about non-proliferation.

Mr. Monblatt noted that this is BASIC's 20th Anniversary year and introduced the new Chair of BASIC, Dr. Trevor McCrisken. He thanked BASIC's funders and introduced the panelists: Malcolm Savidge, Ambassador James Leonard, Ambassador Robert Barry, and Paul Ingram.

Please see below for the brief biographies of the participants.

Malcolm Savidge

Mr. Savidge started by flagging the United Kingdom's decision to push ahead with plans for the Trident (Britain's nuclear weapon system) replacement program, which he thought should have been deferred. He explained that the decision was influenced by narrow parliamentary considerations, including the Left's fear of being perceived as weak on defense and the apparent influence of arms companies on the Blair Administration.

He observed that when UK politicians say British nuclear weapons have helped to keep the peace, they are exaggerating the significance of the United Kingdom's role in the world. Referring to the United Kingdom's history of empire, Mr. Savidge said that there has been an obsession with Britain "punching above its weight." And this in part led the United Kingdom to follow President George Bush and the United States into Iraq.

He said that there is a better way for the United Kingdom to work with the United States - by following the lead of the Reykjavik group (now called the Hoover group), whose members were behind the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The movement surrounding the op-ed has become a bi-partisan endeavor, as US Secretaries of State James Baker and Colin Powell have endorsed the letter. The speech that UK Secretary of State Margaret Beckett delivered earlier this year at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace echoed the letter and there are indications that some members of the new Gordon Brown Administration also share these views.

Mr. Savidge hopes that the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (P5) will take forward Chapter 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because of the promises that they made for realizing nuclear disarmament and also for the unity of the international community. He concluded by quoting an excerpt from the "Russell-Einstein Manifesto," which called on world leaders to avoid war because of the dangers of nuclear weapons: "There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."

Ambassador James Leonard

Ambassador Leonard recalled the two previous efforts to realize nuclear disarmament: the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which was rejected by Stalin, and the call for General and Complete Disarmament in the Kennedy era. BASIC will join with the "Hoover Group" and others to support a third try with the project on "Getting to Zero." He said that it was important to underscore the difficulties, or people will think that BASIC is naïve and not really serious. Clearly it will take decades to effectively eliminate nuclear weapons.

There are two important developments that must come about before elimination becomes a real possibility. First, a major political evolution is necessary among the great powers and even among middle powers. Ambassador Leonard argued that only a democracy will be credible when a state asserts that it has eliminated all its nuclear weapons. To be believed, it must have not only an independent legislature and judiciary but a free, lively, whistle-blowing press.

The second major change, Ambassador Leonard said, is the settlement of major conflicts, especially India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine. Even democracies like India and Israel will not be able to credibly assert that they have eliminated their nuclear weapons as long as they are engaged in bitter disputes with their neighbors. Like the democratization of Russia and China, it seems reasonable to hope for the stable, permanent settlement of these two regional conflicts by the middle of this century.

The elimination of the last few weapons held by any government is known as the "bomb-in-the-basement" problem. It is often said to be insoluble, but it is not, Leonard asserted. It was solved in the case of South Africa and it will be solved over the next few years in the case of North Korea. The IAEA will lead in this effort as it does in the less difficult task of ensuring that non-nuclear weapon states do not go nuclear. National intelligence services will, of course, back up and verify the work of the IAEA.

Ambassador Leonard concluded with the hope that the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council might find their security environments sufficiently benign enough to give up their nuclear weapons even before India and Israel do so. Eventually the leaders of all the nuclear weapon states will come to see that the costs and dangers of maintaining even one or two nuclear bombs are simply not worth it.

Ambassador Robert Barry

Ambassador Barry began by stressing the urgency of the situation. He said that the non-proliferation regime is frayed. He recalled the statement of the IAEA's Director, Mohammad El Baradei, that someday the world may have up to 30 countries with nuclear weapons and added that the possible use of nuclear weapons is a far more existential threat than terrorism will ever be. Given those considerations, he reviewed some of the steps that should be taken to reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

The first priority is the progressive reduction of operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons. The US government has said that the weapons are not on hair-trigger alert, but this is a matter of semantics. Ambassador Barry called for the gradual de-alerting of stockpiles. He noted that verification also becomes very important, referring to the motto "trust, but verify" and the Stockholm Conference of the 1980s (Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe).

If US leaders want to say that they are interested in having a world without nuclear weapons, then they should avoid rebuilding the US nuclear weapons complex and creating a "Reliable Replacement Warhead." Such efforts would spur cynicism among other countries toward US calls for non-proliferation.

Another step should include the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Although virtually all Democratic candidates have declared their support for the CTBT, US Senator Jon Kyl (Republican-Arizona) managed to persuade 40 other Republicans to sign a document that says the CTBT surrenders US sovereignty. Ambassador Barry said that he hopes to encourage former officials to say that giving up some sovereignty in exchange for arms control progress is good when that sovereignty is no longer needed.

Some of the other steps that need to be taken include the safe removal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, agreeing on how to approach ballistic missile defense, and pushing forward a fissile materials cut-off treaty. He noted that the Kissinger-Primakov Commission will meet one more time and he hopes that useful statements will come out of the meeting and will lead to political breakthroughs.

Paul Ingram

Paul Ingram outlined the work that BASIC will be doing in the coming months and referred to BASIC's sponsorship of a visit by Ambassador Max Kampelman to London earlier this year. Mr. Ingram pointed out that there was a positive reception for these efforts in London and that there is some potential for BASIC to work with the UK government. While the British government decided to move forward with Trident, it made commitments to multilateral non-proliferation efforts and BASIC can play a positive role in this regard.

BASIC recently launched a report about the costs of Trident. In the future, he expects to work collaboratively with groups such as the Verification Research Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and European governments. He also discussed BASIC's work on Iran and how multilateral engagement could alleviate the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

A vision of a nuclear-free world has been held by BASIC for two decades and pursuing this goal will now take up a majority of the organization's resources. He concluded by saying that BASIC and other proponents of nuclear disarmament need to speak clearly and use their resources to the best of their abilities; focusing on nuclear weapons but also seeing the problem within the larger political context, which includes the "war on terror" and UK and US positions in the world.

[The session then opened up for questions from the audience.]

 


BIOGRAPHIES OF PARTICIPANTS

Ambassador Robert L. Barry
BASIC Board Member

Ambassador Barry is currently a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and has had a long career with the US government on European affairs and arms control. Ambassador Barry headed the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina from January 1998 to June 2001. He also served as ambassador to Bulgaria and Indonesia. Ambassador Barry helped establish and coordinate US assistance programs for Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union promoting market economies and democracy. He also served as Deputy Director of the Voice of America and ambassador to the Stockholm Conference on Disarmament in Europe.

Paul Ingram
Co-Executive Director, BASIC, London

Paul Ingram was previously a Senior Analyst at BASIC. His subject areas include nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament (with a focus on Iran and the United Kingdom); the UK debate over Trident replacement; defense economics, particularly subsidies of exports in the United Kingdom; and transatlantic security. His work has directly led to policy changes over UK export credits and defense export support. He hosts a weekly peak-time talk show on IRINN (Iranian domestic TV News in Farsi) focusing on global security issues. He is author of a number of BASIC notes and papers, and a documentary series for Press TV on nuclear issues. He also co-teaches systems thinking and practice on the Top Management Program at the National School of Government alongside Prof. Jake Chapman.

Ambassador James Leonard
BASIC Board Member

James Leonard is a member of the Scientists Working Group on CBW of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. In his Foreign Service career, he was US Representative to the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, and Deputy Special Representative for Middle East peace negotiations. In private life, he has been president of the United Nations Association of the USA and adviser to the Palme Commission, the Canberra Commission, and other groups in the field of arms control.

Steven Monblatt
Co-Executive Director, BASIC, Washington

Steven Monblatt, was previously Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism at the Organization of American States (OAS) and before that, Deputy Coordinator of Counter-Terrorism at the US Department of State and Professor of Strategic Studies at the National War College. He is a counter-terrorism professional with a broad geographic and substantive security background. He is an innovative communicator with over 30 years of experience in the US Information Agency in the United States and abroad, and a political analyst with a strong record of problem solving. While at the OAS, he built from scratch a Secretariat whose organization and programs have been recognized by the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee as a model for other regional organizations.

Malcolm Savidge
BASIC Board Member

As MP for Aberdeen North (1997-2005), Malcolm Savidge was active in Parliament and beyond, particularly on international relations, strategic issues and conflict resolution. He was Convener (2000-2005) of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation; Vice-Chair (2000-2005), All-Party Parliamentary Group on World Government; Member (1997-2005), Select Committee on Environmental Audit; Member (1997-2005), Parliamentary Labour Party Back-Bench Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and International Development. He has published articles in a number of journals; featured in national and international media; and delivered papers/spoken at a range of international conferences - interparliamentary, university and UN organized. He is Parliamentary Consultant (2005- ), Oxford Research Group [ORG] and Vice-President of the United Nations Association (UK) [2003-] and the One World Trust [2005- ]. Malcolm was made an Honorary Fellow of The Robert Gordon University in 1997 and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Royal Institute for International Affairs and Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).