Multilateralizing Nuclear Arms Control: an agenda for the P5 meeting in Paris

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As the world’s established nuclear weapon states, the only nuclear weapon state signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the United States, Russia, China, France and the UK (the P5) are central to global nuclear politics and have a particular responsibility for advancing nuclear arms control and disarmament.

In this context, the London September 2009 and Paris June 2011 meetings of P5 representatives to discuss nuclear arms control and disarmament represent the emergence of a potentially important process.

From a medium-term perspective – the next one to two decades – the P5 should pursue a shift towards a world of much smaller nuclear arsenals, numbering in the hundreds of nuclear warheads each for the five established nuclear weapon states. This might involve the United States and Russia reducing their nuclear forces to 500 warheads (or less) each, with comparable capping of or reductions in the Chinese, French and British nuclear forces. Such a shift would stabilise existing major power deterrent relationships, prevent possible new nuclear arms races, help to prevent nuclear proliferation and reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.

As the countries with still by far the largest nuclear arsenals, the United States and Russia have the largest responsibility for advancing this agenda and should pursue further bilateral reductions. A next round of US-Russian reductions might involve reducing overall warhead levels to somewhere in the range of 1500-3000 each, with a lower sub-limit for deployed strategic warheads.

China, France and the UK, and the P5 collectively, however, also have a responsibility to advance the global nuclear arms control and disarmament agenda. The United States and Russia are likely to require assurance that China, France and Britain will act with similar restraint before they will agree to further reductions in their own nuclear forces.

In order to advance the global nuclear arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation agenda and facilitate further US-Russia nuclear force reductions, the P5 should:

·    establish a permanent, on-going ‘P5 Dialogue on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation’, involving an annual meeting of top-level officials responsible for nuclear policy and more frequent meetings and/or information exchange between lower level officials and scientists;

·    adopt a P5 ‘Statement of Principles on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation’ to guide discussion and action;

·    establish a parallel ‘track two’ P5 nuclear dialogue process involving think tanks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to facilitate forward-looking discussion;

·    agree warhead definitions and counting rules;

·    develop a more general, but flexible, P5 transparency and verification regime;

·    follow the model of ‘unilateral steps in a multilateral context’ (based on the principle of informal reciprocity), with individual P5 states encouraged to take national steps to increase transparency, or cap or reduce their nuclear arsenals, in the context of the overall P5 process;

·    engage in detailed discussion on what makes up a world of low numbers, how to bring about the transition and how the obstacles (such as disagreements over missile defence) may be overcome;

·    operate with the long-term aim of concluding a multilateral P5 agreement verifiably limiting the five states’ nuclear arsenals, which could involve limiting US and Russian arsenals to 500 warheads each and China, Britain and France to 200 or fewer warheads each.

In the short-term, expanding the P5 dialogue to include the other states deploying nuclear weapons – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – would overburden and unnecessarily complicate process. However, as matter of principle, it is important that all states with nuclear weapons should be brought into transparency/verification/constraint arrangements and that no state deploying nuclear weapons indefinitely remain outside such arrangements.

·    Given the regional contexts in which these states have developed nuclear weapons, key aspects of this will be regional and/or bilateral.

·    The other states deploying nuclear weapons should be encouraged to follow the P5 model of ‘unilateral steps in a multilateral context’.

·    Either at the point where the P5 were close to concluding a formal nuclear arms limitation agreement, or relatively shortly after it entered into force, the other states deploying nuclear weapons could be incorporated into that agreement.

·    It may not be necessary to include North Korea or Iran, but, in political terms, concerns about their nuclear arsenals or programmes will need to be addressed if the P5 are to move towards a world of low numbers of nuclear weapons.

While the long-term aim of a P5 process should be to produce a formal multilateral agreement limiting the nuclear forces of the P5, the initial aims should be more modest:

·    The short-term goal should be to encourage P5 dialogue on issues of nuclear policy, arms control and proliferation and to increase transparency regarding their nuclear arsenals. The medium-term goal should be to facilitate a process of reciprocal unilateralism – unilateral measures in a multilateral context – that allows states to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, reduce reliance on these weapons in their national security policies and reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed in their arsenals.

·    The medium-term goal should be to facilitate a process of reciprocal unilateralism – unilateral measures in a multilateral context – that allows states to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, reduce reliance on these weapons in their national security policies and reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed in their arsenals.

 

To read the full report click here:

http://www.basicint.org/sites/default/files/agenda-p5.pdf

To read the communique from the P5 meeting issued 1 July 2011 click here:

http://www.franceonu.org/spip.php?article5660

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