Recently, many approaches have been purported envisioning a world free of nuclear weapons. The 2006 Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (Blix Commission), Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (2008, George Perkovich and James Acton) and the Global Zero (2008) are some examples. In the series of such attempts, ‘Eliminating Nuclear Weapons’, popularly known as the Evans-Kawaguchi report, is the latest entrant. The report is a result of diligent efforts undertaken by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, launched in September 2008, under a joint initiative of the Japanese and the Australian Governments. The report was finally released in December 2009.
The report is a comprehensive assortment of three basic dimensions of the nuclear disarmament. These three dimensions deal with the why, how and when questions underlying the global efforts towards elimination of nuclear weapons. First, the report addresses the need for nuclear disarmament. It seeks to answer the necessity question by focusing on four fundamental aspects plaguing the current non-proliferation regime. These concern the destructive potential of existing nuclear weapons possessed primarily by the USA and Russia, the growing risk associated with the emergence of new nuclear weapon states such as Iran and North Korea and the concomitant possibility of the unraveling of the NPT, the ever-present threats of nuclear terrorism especially in the post 9-11 world and lastly, the prospects of a nuclear energy renaissance and associated dangers of proliferation.
Coming to the how question, the report delves into a number of policy relevant issues. Employing an intuitive methodology of counter-argumentation, the report debunks many justifications employed by the votaries of nuclear weapons for their continued existence and deployment (59-71). By doing so, the report tries to erode the psychological barriers which hinder any conceptualization of a world free of nuclear weapons and provides tools to rethink the world we inhabit. One important suggestion of the commission is to look at the demand side of nuclear proliferation. By understanding the normative, political and practical reasons behind the motivations of the non-nuclear member states of the NPT, the non-proliferation regime can better accommodate itself to possible contingencies. It also underlines the fact that mere constraints on the supply of nuclear technology will lead non-proliferation efforts to a dead end, since in the age of rapid globalization, and as has been evident in the nuclear programs of the break-out states, such efforts are inherently futile. A more robust non-proliferation system would require both the emboldening of the treaty apparatus as well as strengthening of the other mechanisms leading to non-proliferation.
The report underlines the need for the coming into force of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and earmarks the US ratification as pivotal in this regard. It proposes a phased approach in eliminating the pre-existing stocks of the fissile material, since the issue has been the main source of contention in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) over the FMCT. However the report also calls for irreversibility and verification in fissile material reduction. On the technological side of the how debate, the commission shares its enthusiasm for development of proliferation-resistant technologies such as pursued by the Generation IV International Forum. Proliferation risk-free reprocessing technologies such as DUPIC, developed by South Korea, US and Canada also get a mention. A major section of the report deals with the multilateralization efforts in the case of nuclear fuel cycles. Delineating on the specifics of various proposals for multilateralization, the report confirms that “such proposals will play in building global confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and foundations for a nuclear weapons free world.”
On the when question, the report appears to be in agreement with most of the conceptual work previously done in exploring paths to disarmament (the base-camp approach, abolishing nuclear weapons, global zero etc.) and takes a more cautionary and step-by-step approach in tackling the issue. It underlines the need for a three phase approach. The first phase called Achieving Initial Benchmark focuses on a short term action agenda till the year 2012. This involves the START agreement, changes in nuclear doctrines, negative security assurances, reenergizing the CD and developing plans for multilateralization of NFC. The second phase which extends till 2025, termed as Getting to the Minimization Point. This phase will be characterized by drastic cuts in arsenals with no more than a total of 2000 warheads, universalization of No First Use and development and building of support for Nuclear Weapons Convention. Also, by this time, the CTBT and FMCT would come into force. The last or the third phase- Getting to Zero – invokes a long term agenda, for which the commission has not set any time limit. In this phase the development of appropriate political and military conditions for effective nuclear disarmament is the fundamental goal. Such an environment will be built on institutionalized measures for collective security, strong verification mechanism, full proof fuel cycle management systems and insurance against any misuse of residual technical knowledge of nuclear weapon design and manufacture.
From an Indian standpoint, two observations of the commission are crucial. First is regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal. It unequivocally calls the Indo-US agreement a “very unfortunate precedent” with respect to the set guidelines shaping the international regime on trade in nuclear material and technology (99).Moreover, the commission thinks that the deal has salutary implications for the non-proliferation regime as a whole. Second is the issue of outlier states. The non-NPT states have received a special mention in the report. The report has called the non-signature of the NPT by India, Pakistan and Israel as one of the “greatest challenge to creating a world free of nuclear weapons” (98). Though the report explores a couple of ways in which the ‘three elephants’ can be brought to the non-proliferation table, it prefers the one, emphasizing incorporation into the larger non-proliferation regime with the help of instruments and arrangements other than the NPT.
Moreover, the report also reflects the imagination of the Rajiv Gandhi action plan, which for the first time promulgated the need for a time-bound nuclear disarmament. Though the report is a little vague on the last leg of the disarmament journey and refrains from projecting any stipulated time for complete disarmament, the intent of the report seems to be in the same direction. The reason cited for such indeterminacy has been the formidable challenge a quest for global nuclear zero symbolizes. This came out pretty clearly in the words of Gareth Evans, when interviewed by Arms Control Today (Vol. 39, number 3, April 2009), where he said “let’s identify the first few foothills as we work our way up the mountain but we will not be too ambitious about giant strides because it is a complex universe out there”.
Overall, the report is a great factual and analytical work, which delves into various aspects of nuclear arms control and disarmament. The report is a timely contribution in the renewed debate over the issue of nuclear disarmament and reinvigorates the quest for a world free of nuclear weapons.