Elimination of nuclear weapons: Global Zero campaign by world leaders
Last December, a group of international dignitaries have launched a new campaign in Paris to eliminate nuclear weapons. Global Zero aims to translate this stance to the international arena and into public debate.
Global Zero consists of 100 leading figures seeking practical steps towards abolition of nuclear weapons and to gain public support for that goal. Some of them are former US President Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, businessman Sir Richard Branson, Ehsan Ul-Haq, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Pakistan, and Brajesh Mishra, former Indian National Security Advisor.
The conference began on 8th December with a presentation on what would happen to humanity in the event of a nuclear detonation before moving towards a discussion of what "Getting to Zero" would mean in practical steps, for instance the need for an intrusive system of inspection to ensure no country was evading its obligations.
In the US, the debate was kick-started by a joint call for "Getting to zero" from a group of veterans of the Cold War, including Henry Kissinger and George Schultz.
South Asia, the place where many experts fear a nuclear exchange is most likely, was well represented at the conference with retired Foreign Secretary Shaharyar Khan from Pakistan pointing to President Zardari's recent offer of a no-first strike agreement to prevent their spread.
Shankar Bajpai, former Indian Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, remarked on India's statesmen arguing for nuclear abolition for many decades.
Why elimination of nuclear weapons?
Nuclear weapons pose an intolerable threat to all humanity and its habitat. The destructiveness of nuclear weapons is immense. Any use of such weapons would be catastrophic.
The only defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are held by a handful of countries which insist that these weapons provide unique security benefits and yet reserve the right to own these weapons exclusively to themselves. This situation is highly discriminatory and thus unstable; It cannot be sustained. The possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them.
The world faces threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism and these threats are growing.
The ground reality is that for these reasons nuclear weapons diminish the security of all states. Indeed, states which possess them become targets of nuclear weapons themselves.
In 2000, in his book "Engagement: Australia faces the Asia Pacific", Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia argues for scrapping nuclear weapons on the following reasons:
"Three possibilities exist with regard to nuclear weapons and three only. First, they will be used, either deliberately or accidentally. Second, that they will not be used but will be managed forever by wise, prudent and well-meaning governments and military forces and will never fall into the hands of terrorists and third, that we agree to get rid of them. The first possibility offers catastrophe to the human race. The second requires us to make assumptions about the future that run completely counter to logic and experience. The third is the only possibility that can secure our safety."
The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.
Global Zero says the risk of nuclear weapons spreading to a number of countries or getting into the hands of extremist groups is too great.
In the past, talk of nuclear disarmament was confined to the margins of political debate, but now a chorus of national security officials past and present have joined calls for multi-lateral disarmament.
US President Barack Obama, during his election campaign, expressed his support for the goal of disarmament. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed similar sentiments in a speech in September when he talked of how it would be better to "close this Pandora's box."
A key aim of the Global Zero is to build public support for the issue in the way that activists have helped put climate change on the agenda.
In a poll of twenty-one countries for Global Zero, it was found that an average of 76% of the population favoured eliminating nuclear weapons within a time-bound agreement.
But members of Global Zero emphasise the need for more public information, particularly to educate the post-Cold War generation for whom the dangers of nuclear weapons may be more remote.
The Global Zero group believes that reducing the large US and Russian stockpiles - which make up 96% of all the nuclear weapons in the world - should be amongst the first steps which in turn can then draw in third parties and other nuclear powers into a wider and deeper process.
The aim of Global Zero is to spend this year (2009) working on a plan that could lead to a phased nuclear weapons reduction which would eliminate all nuclear weapons in 20 to 25 years.
The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.