Sitting down before the start of the afternoon workshop on Getting to Zero yesterday I have to admit to being a little intimidated. I was to open before Michael Krepon, someone highly involved in the issue for many years and whose work I had read a great deal of. To summarise, my message was that we had to flexible – we can have crucial short-term, achievable, immediate targets (the low-hanging fruit), focusing upon the clear anomalies that obviously create danger with no conceivable benefit (tactical nuclear weapons being for me the most obvious) – but to have a clear worked-out timetable could be unhelpful. The future is inherently unpredictable, and in working with others to establish a pathway requires us to be understanding, responsive, flexible, able to absorb shocks (they are inevitable). Instead, we need to focus upon establishing universal principles that will underlie the path to disarmament – multilateralism; universalism and involvement of all in creating solutions; interdependence; global leadership; and most important, common security. The process we establish is at least as important as the solutions we seek to evangelise. And it needs to tackle the national identities and domestic drivers underlying the political support for nuclear weapons. Enough of me…
Michael was looking to be particularly provocative. He felt that we were in danger of falling in the trap of over-using fear to motivate by over-stating the threat.
Are we really on the brink of an avalanche? He felt that nuclear weapons were increasingly losing their salience, there were fewer reasons for major powers to fight, the nuclear taboo is stronger, we have more disarmament instruments (many underutilised), we’re still only talking about two breakouts from NPT, and all have an interest in tackling proliferation. We have a lot to be hopeful about, particularly with an end to the Bush administration – so let’s focus on hope, not fear. Because this is a long game and we need a sustainable strategy. His complaint that fear was an inappropriate tool of motivation was widely welcomed within the group. He outlined a suggestion – that we convene (another) eminent persons group to endorse key principles: that all states need to do more; none have any excuse to wait for progress from others; that all must contribute to strengthening the fundamental bargains; that we focus on a 10-year plan – longer is just too unpredictable; that obligations are proportional to the size of arsenals and civil programmes; that we avoid timelines (they are hostages to fortune) and the we abandon treaties.
Ron Huisken agreed that we have a long and difficult process ahead requiring sustained commitment. He proposed that more than anything we need to establish a compelling norm for nuclear disarmament, widely endorsed, that establishes: the conviction that nuclear weapons are a net liability for nuclear weapon states; that selective possession is not consistent with non-proliferation as others will seek to challenge the monopoly; that the NWS need to regain and then retain their leadership credibility by moving towards serious disarmament; that there is established a universal consensus that new nuclear weapons states are unacceptable and decisive support for action to enforce the norm and measures to restrict access to sensitive technologies; and that global governance and leadership is needed. There is an urgent need to ensure that 2010 NPT RevCon is not a failure.
A series of questions arose in the discussion:
* How do we effectively create traction with the public and elites to motivate action? This will vary depending upon constituencies, and between cultures.
* If we reject fear as the primary motivating factor, what can we use in its place? Hope will surely not be sufficient, what about morality, culture, a focus on myths, the creation of norms or commitment to a cause that becomes the primary discourse and are sustainable?
* How do we overcome the fear of the unknown that holds people back? Clearly tackling nuclear weapons has to go hand in hand with building trust, inter-connection and a greater sense of security (hence, using fear can be counter-productive). In the 1980s the establishment of arms control went hand-in-hand with the dissolution of the Cold War.
Getting to Zero is like riding a bike. We have to be moving to stay on the bike – if we think we can retain the status quo we’ll fall off. But we have to be moving in a positive direction, towards security and safety, otherwise we’ll be knocked off in any case.
The discussion was wide-ranging. I felt that I was not the only one to appreciate the opportunity to take a step back and look at the problem from a strategic perspective, in a way that will assist me in planning future BASIC activities in promoting a zero message. Perhaps it was inevitable in a workshop focused on the longer term objective of zero, but we left without a clear plan of action. Indeed, I had started the workshop warning against such an ambition. Zero will be achieved only if we can be open to the fears and other drivers that lie behind the acquisition and retention of nuclear weapons. We have to instead build confidence and dialogue, establishing principles – the foundation stones for a consensual move towards a world free of nuclear danger.