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Security Beyond Detterence

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

A number of the presentations you have heard in this session have focused on specific issues relating to nuclear weapons and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This presentation considers the question of nuclear deterrence and of how we can move towards Global Security in the future without reliance on such a dangerous and unprovable construct. The time available necessarily means that it will be an overview but it is hoped that it will stimulate action towards the essential creation and implementation of new security concepts which have no need of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear deterrence theory has dominated discussion about nuclear weapons for decades. It was

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1998 NPT Index

at the core of nuclear thinking during the Cold War but even after the end of that historical era it has continued to underpin nuclear decision making.  It is time to let it go. In the words of General Lee Butler USAF (Ret), Commander in Chief Strategic Command 1992-94 in charge of all US strategic nuclear forces: "Sad to say, the Cold War lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go the fears, beliefs and the enmities born of the nuclear age. What better illustration of misplaced faith in nuclear deterrence than the persistent belief that retaliation with nuclear weapons is a legitimate and appropriate response to post Cold War threats posed by biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction as well as by conventional weapons, and not just nuclear weapons. What could possibly justify our resort to the very means we properly abhor and condemn? Who can imagine our joining in shattering the precedent of non-use that has held for over 50 years? Would we hold an entire society accountable for the decision of a single demented leader? How would the physical effects of the nuclear explosion be contained, not to mention the political and moral consequences?...It is wrong in every aspect. It is wrong politically. It makes no sense militarily. And morally, in my view, it is indefensible."

Even those who support nuclear weapons have doubts about the utility of nuclear deterrence against a "rogue" regime or terrorist group armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.  In a speech on 16 November 1993 entitled "UK Defence Strategy: A Continuing Role for Nuclear Weapons?", the then British Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, said:"...(I)t is difficult to see deterrence operating securely against proliferators." One has only to think of a scenario where the 1991 IRA mortar bomb attack from a van in London against the British Gulf War Cabinet had involved instead a threat to use even a crude nuclear device, to realise that a threat of nuclear retaliation is utterly incredible.  Yet a greater threat to the government of a nuclear weapon state could barely be imagined.

There is a fundamental logical and moral objection to relying on nuclear deterrence.  If conventional deterrence failed, the damage would be confined to the belligerent states - and the environmental damage would usually be reparable.  What is at stake from deterrence failing between nuclear weapon states is the devastation and poisoning of not just the belligerent powers, but potentially of all forms of life on the planet.  President Bill Clinton speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 27, 1993 said that the use of nuclear weapons "could turn a local conflict into a global and environmental catastrophe."

Letting go Cold War-style deterrence doctrine would enable essential steps such as de-alerting to take place.  De-alerting would effectively replace it with the concept of "existential" deterrence. However, to obtain real security, the security of people, reliance on nuclear weapons must be replaced by a new approach. Nuclear weapons undermine security - both of those who possess them and those they are meant to deter.  Indeed, they are a security problem, not a solution.  The Theory of Deterrence must be replaced by the Theory of Reassurance which recognises the reality of global interdependence and addresses security from a new perspective.

The security challenges we face now arise from threats to the earth's life-support systems, extreme economic disparities, the proliferation of small arms as well as weapons of mass destruction, conflict over scarce resources, and the terrorising of civilian populations by domestic factions. Political commitments have been made to address these enormous threats; what is needed is appreciation of the security dimensions of cooperatively working together to solve our collective global crisis and the political will to carry through on commitments by those in power.

The 'security' system which obtains at the end of the 20th century, whereby 180 separate countries have armed forces with offensive capabilities,(a tiny minority of which are nuclear) has to change. The following are some of the reasons why change will take place:

Changes in power relationships:
Power shifts are altering the nature of international relations.   UN membership has grown from 44 to 185 in just over 50 years, and some observers predict 1000 member states by 2050.  The financial turnover of multinational companies such as General Motors, Shell or Matsushita exceed the GNP of medium-sized economies such as Pakistan, Nigeria or Egypt.  2

Economic disparity:
The poorest fifth of the world earn less than one twentieth of what the richest fifth earn. 400 multimillionaires have more wealth than half the world's population.  78% of people in the world live in poor countries.   3

Energy consumption:
Per capita consumption of non-renewable energy sources is still 9 times as high in industrial countries as in developing countries.

Global communications:
The development of electronic communications means that all information is instantly accessible anywhere on the planet, leading to rising expectations.

Scarcity of resources:
Shortages of non-renewable resources are becoming more acute  For example, 80 countries, with 40% of the world's population, already suffer severe shortage of fresh water. The World Bank predicts water to be the main cause of conflict in the 21st century.

Forced migration and refugees:
One definition of security currently offered is the number of people who feel safe and happy to stay at home, because their needs and aspirations can be met there. Many regions of the world do not fulfill those criteria; a European Union study group has described the demographic and ecological situation emerging in North Africa as 'catastrophic' and 'a major threat to EU security'. The number of refugees in transit increases yearly.

Transboundary pollution:
What happens for example in the event of a nuclear reactor accident combined with unwillingness of a neighbouring country to allow refugees to cross the border?  What could happen to the 80 hulks of the Russian submarine fleet which are still afloat with nuclear fuel cores inside?

Environmental degradation:
20 million people die each year because their locality no longer provides a life-supporting environment.4

Climate change:
55% of the world's population live in coastal or estuary zones that will be most affected by rising sea levels.

Population growth:
More people have been added to the world's population in the past 50 years than in all the previous millennia of human existence.

Change in the nature of conflict:
Conflict is increasingly within states rather than between states, "Wars within states vastly outnumber wars between states."5

Risk of nuclear accident or terrorism  84 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs are missing from Russian military inventories.  4% of high-grade fissile material is unaccounted for world-wide.6

These challenges are not news; forward thinkers and some enlightened leaders have been aware of them for some time.  In the context of discussion of nuclear weapons the obvious question is: how can a nuclear weapon deal with any of these problems? Do we want to live, in the words of Edward Brookes 25 years ago, on " a crowded glowering planet of massive inequalities of wealth, buttressed by stark force, yet endlessly threatened by desperate people"?  The option of trying to keep the lid on with the threat of force is a recipe for disaster...

Effective solutions will require cooperation, imagination and vision, not nuclear threats and coercion. The 'hardware' approach of the Cold War must change to a  'software' solution which replaces present military-based notions of security with cooperation, confidence-building, transparency, disarmament, conversion, demobilisation and demilitarisation. The meeting rooms of the UN are familiar with these concepts. Implicit in the agenda of all the UN World Conferences in the 1990's beginning with the Children's Summit in New York and including the Earth Summit in Rio, the Beijing Women's Conference  and Habitat II, is a refocussing on how human security can be achieved.7

These conferences generated thorough agendas, embodied in very specific programmes and political commitments reached by consensus with the intense engagement of civil society. These workable programmes will remain unfulfilled and the crises of human suffering increase unless the monetary commitments required are not forthcoming. The tragedy is that these very serious problems increase in magnitude each day whilst military coffers remain bloated.

Military spending in all developing countries exceeds $125 billion per year. The Human Development Report suggests that 12% of that amount would provide primary health care and safe drinking water for all; 4% would provide universal primary education and educate women to the same level as men.8   The United Kingdom is spending over ú1 billion per year on the maintenance of the Trident nuclear weapon system whilst its people fear for the future of their health and education services.

One hundred and fifty states adopted, by consensus, the following accurate description of security in the Final Document of the International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development, Paragraph 14 (UN, A/Conf. September 11, 1987.) "Security is an overriding priority of all nations. It is also fundamental for both disarmament and development. Security consists of not only military, but also political, economic, social, humanitarian and political aspects. Enhanced security can, on the one hand, create conditions conducive to disarmament and, on the other provide the environment and confidence for the successful pursuit of development." Your discussions over the next two weeks should take place in the context of that understanding of security and not be limited by narrow definitions.

It is clear that issues of non-military security need to be addressed.  We take our cue from Einstein that a new approach to conflict is needed. "One cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that gave rise to it." A serious effort to implement the promise of nuclear disarmament in Article VI of the NPT would be a major contribution to moving the world to a new security system capable of addressing the challenges that we all face.

Einstein also said: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking." In the event of nuclear blackmail, the only way to deal with it is by negotiation. By far the best solution, however, is to shift the image of nuclear weapons from political virility symbol to the stigmatised status of chemical or biological weapons.

We need a new understanding of security: as a safety net for all, not a 'win-lose' military game. It is about fostering a just, sustainable world order which meets human needs and tackles the root causes of insecurity. We will not be secure while the global environment is at risk, nor while the risk of regional nuclear war is growing. Military strength is useless to starving people. No nation can feel secure if its neighbour feels threatened. Unprincipled arms sales cause or fan regional conflicts. People in the developing world will eventually tire of living on the edge of survival while the West preserves its comfortable way of life at their expense. Cooperative global action is the only way the biosphere will escape destruction. Cold War alliances have had their day; we must all be allies now if we are to avoid disaster.

Thank you.


1. "The Case Against Nuclear Deterrence" by General Lee Butler, Disarmament Times, Vol XXI, No 1, April 1998, p.3.

2. Our Global Neighbourhood The Report of the Commission on Global Governance, 1995, p.25.

3. Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica.

4 Sara Parkin Environmental Security: issues and agenda for an incoming government, RUSI Journal June 1997, pp.24-28.

5 Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, December 1997.

6 The former head of Russia's Security Council, quoted in Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, One Point Safe, Anchor 1997.

7. See UN Briefing Paper, The World Conferences, Developing Priorities for the 21st Century. ISBN:92-1-100631-7, March 1997.

8. Human Development Report 1994 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), pgs. 50-51.

Statement Coordinator: Janet Bloomfield (Abolition 2000), Dr. Scilla Elworthy (Director, Oxford Research Group), Jonathan Granoff (Lawyers Alliance for World Security) and Commander Robert Green Rn (Rtd) (International Peace Bureau).