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Actions to Enhance Global Security*: Focus on WMD and Terrorism

ARTICLE | | BY Desmond Browne, Garry Jacobs, Ivo Šlaus


Desmond Browne
Garry Jacobs
Ivo Šlaus
“We need a new paradigm for the 21st century which is not dependent on what worked in the 20th century.”

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Politicians are distracted with the on-going economic crisis and instability. While understandable this is far from the only challenge facing the world. If we are to seize the opportunities of the future then we have to address the legacy of the past and nowhere is this more evident than on defense and security issues. The blunt truth is that security policies in the Euro-Atlantic region, in NATO’s back yard, remain on Cold War autopilot, strategic nuclear forces remain to be launched in minutes, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons remain in Europe, a missile defense debate remains stuck in neutral, while new security challenges such as cyber, conventional, prompt strike force and space remain contentious and inadequately addressed. The truth is this legacy contributes to tensions and mistrust across the Euro-Atlantic region and needlessly drives up risks and most importantly at a time when unprecedented austerity drives up the cost of defense. But this is about more than guns and butter. The likelihood of a major war in Europe may have practically disappeared since the end of the Cold War but this legacy with its attendant mistrust undermines any effort to build a true partnership in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The status quo, the legacy, divides our continent and sets both Europe and Russia up for a future of failure but worse, a future of irrelevance in the 21st century.

The overwhelming conclusion of our experts' deliberations is that we need a new ap­­proach, a new paradigm for the 21st century which is not dependent on what worked in the 20th century. Among other things, we considered the recommendations of Building Mutual Security, the report of deliberations by a group of experts and political leaders brought together by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the European Leadership Network, the Munich Security Conference and the Russian International Affairs Council which was published on 4 April. The report’s analysis, its key findings and matrix of steps for a new cooperative global security discussion commended itself to our participants and we recommend that it be given serious consideration by our political leaders.

The world faces unprecedented challenges to global and human security. The threats facing the world are interconnected and interdependent. Current crises destroy human capital and harm and humiliate human dignity. The frustration resulting from unfulfilled expectations provides fertile grounds for terrorism. Mistrust and tensions reinforce each other. War and violence make all problems and threats worse. Under these circumstances it is easy to lose sight of the existential threat posed by the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

We must recognize the progress that has been made in reducing the number of nuclear warheads by about 75% since the end of the Cold War. And that number is decreasing still. But at the same time, we must acknowledge our collective failures. The number of nuclear armed states has increased, and this proliferation has taken place in the most unstable regions and in some of the unstable regimes of the world. The CTBT is still not ratified and stalemate prevents progress on the FMCT. We know terrorists are striving to obtain access to nuclear weapons and materials. Although the world has succeeded in avoiding use of these weapons for the past 68 years, there is no assurance that this record of no-use will be maintained in future as the present very dangerous confrontation with North Korea should make evident.

We are far from being able to guarantee the security of existing nuclear weapons and materials. Recent experience in both North Korea and Syria demonstrates that a deterrence strategy based on the threat of use of WMD has failed to deter both threats of use and actual use of WMD. Inconclusive evidence has emerged suggesting that chemical weapons have been used. If it is true, it would be a very serious precedent and maybe also the breach of a red line followed by impunity. New thinking is called for and NATO has a special obligation to take the lead in that thinking.

Before coming to specific proposals, we would do well to ponder some fundamental questions related to nuclear weapons. Answers to these questions will reflect our willingness to take the courageous actions necessary to address the threats that they pose.

  • Is there presently a problem that nuclear weapons solve that is a greater danger than the weapons themselves?
  • Can a non-proliferation regime based on the premise of do as we say and not as we do be sustained?
  • When the world’s most powerful military alliance in human history claims a need for these deployments for security, what message does a weak state in a dangerous region hear?
  • Do the weapons provide prestige or military value?
  • Can the resources of NATO not come up with a better way of enhancing security and thus set an example that can truly be emulated by all nations?

Our specific proposals are by necessity limited to a small number of priori­ties, but are part of a longer list of necessary steps.

  1. Reduce the role of NW in NATO Strategic Concept and national security doctrines of NWS members of the Alliance.
    • Elimination of US non-strategic NW from Europe
    • b. Build up the non-nuclear aspects of NATO security concept and explore ways to provide US assurances of commitments without stationing of NW in Europe
    • c. Commit not to use NW against a non-nuclear-weapon state under any circumstances
  2. Make NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation more productive and report on results in spring 2014; US and Russia to engage in negotiations on further reductions in nuclear arsenals, including all types of nuclear weapons.
  3. Demonstrate good faith commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons and, in this regard, engage seriously and constructively in the deliberations of the Open-Ended Working Group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, which commenced its substantive work in Geneva on May 14, 2013.
  4. Call on NPT depositaries and co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction to exert all efforts to convene the Conference on the zone, as mandated by the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference as soon as possible. Call also on states in the region to engage constructively with the Facilitator (Ambassador Jaakko Laajava) and with each other to agree on modalities and agenda of the Conference at an earlier date.
  5. Reaffirm that any use of chemical and biological weapons is unacceptable.

NATO is in many ways a unique structure. One of the three pillars of NATO is Science for Peace and Security. Scientific research is among the most important generators of our global fast changing world. The world is no longer a bipolar confrontation, but our common global home. NATO should and can fulfill a role of a significant actor guaranteeing global and human security.

“Non-proliferation in the absence of complete nuclear disarmament is wishful thinking and unachievable.”


Additional Remarks

The current policy of the P5 nuclear powers has been to separate the issues of non-prolif­eration and disarmament as far as possible, implying that non-proliferation is the responsibility of all signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty whereas disarmament is an issue solely under the purview of the nuclear powers themselves. As a senior UN official pointed out, the failure to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons proves that this approach is inherently flawed. The issues of non-proliferation and disarmament are inseparable. Non-proliferation in the absence of complete nuclear disarmament is wishful thinking and unachievable. Lack of progress on disarmament is itself a stimulus to proliferation. The pressure and incentives for proliferation are growing, as these weapons have come to be perceived as a means of acquiring political power and prestige.

It was encouraging to hear a representative of the P5 acknowledge that any use of nuclear weapons would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. Even in the event that North Korea should choose to use a nuclear weapon, it would not justify retaliation against that country by nuclear weapons, in which case huge numbers of innocent civilians would perish. Conventional weapons would be more than sufficient to totally destroy North Korea’s military capabilities without resorting to nuclear weapons. The sole circumstances under which the International Court of Justice conceded that the use of these weapons might not be illegal is in the event of imminent threats to a nation’s very survival, not as a means of retaliation against aggressors, even nuclear aggressors.

Harlan Cleveland, Former NATO Ambassador and WAAS President, has stated that NATO officials knew even in the late 1960s that nuclear weapons were unusable, an idea repeated by several NATO representatives during the conference. Retention of these weapons during the Cold War may have been understandable, but the continued inclusion of nuclear weapons in NATO and national military strategies more than two decades after the end of the Cold War is indefensible.

The emphasis placed by some participants on building trust between NATO and Russia cannot be sufficiently emphasized. Recent events in Syria demonstrate that it is difficult for the UN Security Council to address any international issue without the active cooperation of Russia. Indeed, the constitution of NATO as a cooperative security system makes it essential. The logic of cooperative security compels it. The larger the number of countries incorporated within a cooperative security system, the greater its strength and the less the potential threat from countries outside the alliance. Those omitted from its ranks necessarily regard it as a competitive threat and feel compelled to enhance their own military capabilities in response. Incorporation of Russia within NATO would represent a natural step in the evolution of the alliance from a regional to a global cooperative security system. Therefore it is reasonable to inquire of NATO what plans it has conceived and measures it is taking to bring about this most desirable outcome.

Today the world is subject to innumerable threats to its security, among which the proliferation or use of weapons of mass destruction is an important element, but certainly not the one that poses the most immediate threat to the security of the greatest number of human beings. Rising levels of unemployment, persistent poverty, financial instability, climate change, terrorism in all forms are ever-present threats impacting on the lives of hundreds of millions of people daily. Therefore it is essential to keep in mind that a military alliance by itself can never assure security to its members or the world. Human security must be conceived and approached comprehensively. Efforts to contain terrorism are essential, but by themselves they will never eliminate the threat of terrorism unless the underlying causes are removed. This is the rationale for the work of the World Academy on a comprehensive approach to addressing global challenges in the 21st century, which was the theme of the conference co-organized by the Academy and the United Nations in Geneva on June 3rd, 2013. 

* Paper presented under the auspices of the European Leadership Network, the World Academy of Art & Science and the Dag Hammarskjold University College of International Relations and Diplomacy at the “IX Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation” at Split, Croatia, May 6-7, 2013, where a group of experts presented a set of recommendations.


About the Author(s)

Desmond Browne

Fellow, WAAS; Convener of the Top Level Group of Parliamentarians for Multi-Lateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Convener of the European Leadership Network (ELN)

Garry Jacobs

President & Chief Executive Officer, World Academy of Art & Science; CEO & Chairman of Board of Directors, World University Consortium; International Fellow, Club of Rome; President, The Mother’s Service Society, Pondicherry, India.

Ivo Šlaus

Honorary President, World Academy of Art & Science; Member, Club of Rome, European Leadership Network and Pugwash Council; Dean, Dag Hammarskjold University College for International Relations & Diplomacy, Zagreb.