A Modest Proposal: Is It Time for the Community of Non-Nuclear States to Revolt?

7 Oct

             There are 189 countries that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that entered into force in 1970. Only India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have remained outside the treaty regime so as to be free to acquire the weapons. The nuclear weapons states have done an incredibly successful job, especially the United States, in getting a free ride, continuously modernizing their arsenals while keeping the weapons out of most unwanted hands.


            But the NPT was negotiated as a world order bargain. The non-nuclear countries would forego their weapons option in exchange for receiving the full benefits of nuclear energy and a pledge by the nuclear weapons states to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith. After 40 years it seems time to question both the benefits of nuclear energy (especially so after Fukushima) and even more the good faith of the members of the nuclear weapons club. Back in 1996 the World Court unanimously concluded that the nuclear weapons states needed to fulfill their treaty obligation to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of urgency, and yet nothing resembling disarmament negotiations has taken place. It seems time to declare that the good faith obligation of Article VI of the treaty has been violated, and that this is a material breach that allows all states to disavow any obligation.


            Two mind games have kept the non-nuclear majority of states in line so far: first, convincing the public that the greatest danger to the world comes from the countries that do not have the weapons rather than from those that do; secondly, confusing the public into believing that arms control measures are steps toward nuclear disarmament rather than being managerial steps periodically taken by the nuclear weapons states to cut the costs and risks associated with their weapons arsenals and programs and to fool the world into thinking they are living up to their obligation to phase out these infernal weapons of mass destruction.


            There are other problems too. Israel has been allowed to acquire nuclear weapons by stealth without suffering any adverse consequences, while Iraq was invaded and occupied supposedly to dismantle their nuclear weapons program that turned out to be non-existent and Iran is under threat of military attack because its nuclear energy program has a built in weapons potential. Such double standards and geopolitical discrimination severely erode the legitimacy of the NPT approach.


            Barack Obama earned much favorable publicity, and probably was given the Nobel Peace Prize, because in 2009 he made an inspirational speech in Prague announcing his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Although the speech was hedged with qualifications, including the mind-numbing reassurance to nuclearists not to worry, nothing would happen in Obama’s lifetime, it still gave rise to hopes that finally there would be a genuine attempt to rid the world of this nuclear curse. But it was not to be.

As with so many issues during the Obama presidency, the early gestures of promise were quietly abandoned in arenas of performance.


            Has not the time come for the too patient 184+ non-nuclear weapons states to stand together with the peoples of the world to challenge the world nuclear weapons oligopoly? One way would be to declare the treaty null and void due to non-compliance by the nuclear weapons states. Such a move would be fully in accord with international treaty law.


            Another way, perhaps more brash, but also maybe more likely to have a political impact, would be for as many non-nuclear states as possible to take a collective stand by way of an ultamatum: if the nuclear weapons states do not engage in credible nuclear disarmament negotiations designed to eliminate the weapons within two years, the treaty will be denounced.  



11 Responses to “A Modest Proposal: Is It Time for the Community of Non-Nuclear States to Revolt?”

  1. Albert Guillaume October 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Noble as this suggestion is,nothing will become of it,because the nuclear powers love the edge these weapons give them over the rest of the world and look,how they abuse this.
    As with all other noble endeavors,this will be nullified by hook or crook and probably the latter.
    They can`t even control themselves with their conventional weapons as is clearly proven by the NATO violations of UN mandates,as we see again in Libya.
    The US and cohorts can do anything they want,because they (still) have the collective power,to do as they please.
    They have ‘Big Brother’ on their side.

    • Richard Falk October 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Totally agreed! I meant my little piece as nothing more than a provocation. I realize that as a proposal it inhabits ‘neverland.’!!

  2. monalisa October 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Dear Richard,
    yes your thoughts are very noble …
    and reality is much different.
    The greed for more and more power, more and more control over populations and whole countries as for more and more wealth, money and influence has become the strange coin of capitalism, or better to say revealing its true face. (Reminds me of the Middle Ages in Europe!)

    But I see too that times are changing quickly.
    This leads to the point that there could be a light in the tunnel ..

    However, before this will happen, the greed will still have to play its part, I think.
    As soon as the US as well as the Israeli Secret Services will have found out for certain – as it was with Irak – that Iran has no nuclear bombs directed to USA or Israel and therefore is of no threat to both countries they will start the next warfare theatre.
    Whichever “label” will be used then.

    At the present I see no real hope that this can be avoided as USA together with Israel are planning such an attack for years.
    Except: maybe Turkey could play a part but I am not certain – and a non politican to see into its cards – if its position will be strong enough of which I have some doubts.

    Powers in history have always shifted – countries come together and after a while drifting apart.

    We are living in a very interesting time of history: I think we will witnessing big power changes in the near future.

    It isn’t far away that BRIC states raise their voices – and because of this they have been declared by the US politicans as a threat.

    We shall see but abandoning nuclear weapons by their holding states is a nice wish only. And it is just something they say each time when a new president steps into the White House and exchanging diplomacy words with Russia.

    Hopefully we will not see other dangers too – mainly from the sky, I think they are working on it – the present powers, foremost USA.

    Our globe could be a wonderful place for all people on this earth ..
    but greed doesn’t allow it ..

    PS: Germany has started to reduce nuclear poer stations. Austria doesn’t have any. France will have difficulty to close any, they have far too many and didn’t explore other possibilities enough.

    With all that money for warfare we have seen the last ten years the development of other fuels for electricity and power could have been found ….


    • Richard Falk October 8, 2011 at 4:41 am #

      Dear Monalisa:

      As usual I agree with your reasoning, and learn from it.

      Perhaps, Plato was right. Politics to remain humane needs to be confined to
      small communities. Gandhi, a crusading figure who embraced the politically impossible, also desired an India of self-sufficient villages. In the end, this outlook has been associated in modern times most systematically with philosophic anarchists.

      Where do you reside? In a politically moderate atmosphere?



      • monalisa October 8, 2011 at 10:38 am #

        Dear Richard,
        thank you for your kind words.

        Yes I live in an at present moderate country: in Austria, in Graz, an old Mittle Age town.
        But Austrians aren’t like Germans: Austrians don’t easily go onto streets as mass protesters.
        The only time when peope made a mass protest in Austria was I think it was 1978 or 1979 when a nuclear power plant should have been opened. People protested and brought a people voice and signature note in to the government that they don’t want that this power plant will open.
        They succeeded – it didn’t open and is still silent up till today.

        Otherwise we have the same political theatre as elswhere on this globe, even Austria is a small country. People got very tired of politicans and political speeches before they are elected.

        I should add that to me it is very dubous if a politican is too eloquent in his/her speech and promising too much, or even not so much – like the Pied Piper of Hameln who played his flute so wonderful that all rats walked behind him until he walked them into the river Weser ….. where all rats died ….

        and to answer your question of your essay:
        yes the time is ripe but all other countries who don’t have any nuclear weapons would risk to be beaten by those who have …
        and what they see nowadays is not very encouraging !

        NATO has become a warmachine and disrespects any humanity and – what is very important – human rights, gentium rights.

        with my best regards


  3. Björn Lindgren October 8, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    Dear Richard,

    I´ve just read you “Modest Proposal”. It warms and my heart.

    Here are some of my thoughts on nuclear disarmament:

    The time has, indeed, come for a total abolishment of nuclear weapons.

    During the 80s, when U.S. and NATO wanted to station middle-range nuclear missiles in West Germany, some German militaries openly confessed that nuclear wepons are military unusable.

    Michail Sergejevitj Gorbatjov was correct in proposing a uni-lateral disarmament of nuclear weapons, and in this way showing faith in the other. The uni-lateral disarmament of nuclear weapons introduced a new approach and dynamics, compared with the endless negiotiations in Geneva. But this initiative wasn´t carried through, and the hopes of 1989 has been thwarted.

    We must have in mind that nuclear war could start even without intention, all by itself, by mistake. Totally without purpose, without meaning. Like nuclear weapons themselves.

    Joanna Macy, peace activist and Buddhist scholar, discovered that people were well informed about the threat of nuclear war, but didn´t find a way to express their needs, and fears.

    By asking, “How does it feel to live under this dark threat that looms over you, your children, and grandchildren?,” she found a key to unlock what people felt, making next step – activism and protest – possible. And meaningful.

    Now, when Industrial civilization, empires, societies, lifestyles, norms and values are falling apart, inspired and learing from the popular risings in the Middle East, we could add nuclear disarmament to our protests.

    May we make a world without nuclear weapons possible!

    Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk October 8, 2011 at 8:11 am #

      Thanks, Bjorn, for this moving comment that embodies fully my hopes, dreams, and prayers!

      My little essay is meant as a provocation. There is no prospect of it becoming a political project.



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