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No First Use

Mr. Chairman, I am speaking today for those NGOs who are working on or who support programs of radical, deep cuts in all nuclear arsenals, going far beyond bilateral reductions now planned between the U.S. and Russia, as a necessary precursor to elimination of nuclear weapons. We believe that only a combination of pressure for total elimination of nuclear weapons and practical programs for moving to deep reductions can succeed in reaching the  objective. We use the term "practical" as shorthand for programs that are technically  workable and that take into account that the nuclear weapon states must be convinced by the details of these programs that their implementation would improve the security of the weapon states as well as that of others.

The most important single development with regard to future action on nuclear weapons that could come from the current Prepcom meeting of NPT parties -- or from the NPT review

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1998 NPT Index

conference in the year 2000 -- is agreement by non-nuclear weapon NPT parties to support a common program of proposals to the weapon states.

The united strength of over 180 countries behind a joint program would be a powerful, irrefutable voice to which the nuclear weapon states will be compelled to listen. Up to now, that force has been divided between those governments which focus on demands for total elimination of nuclear weapons and those which advocate specific steps. Only when these two strands are united, only when the people of the world can back a message which sets forth what they want, total elimination of nuclear weapons, together with a clear program of how that objective can be achieved, will the objective in fact be reached.

That is why we appeal today to the delegates of countries without nuclear weapons to use the time between now and the review conference in the year 2000 to hammer out such a unified program.

We want now to describe two possible components of such a common program in addition, of course, to a powerful statement of the case for total abolition of nuclear weapons.

The first of these components is de-alerting, taking steps to prevent immediate launch of nuclear-tipped missiles. It is a dangerous anachronism that the nuclear strategy of Russia and the United States continues based on deterrence of surprise attack through deployment of hundreds of missiles ready for rapid launch. This is a situation where human or technical error can bring accidental or unauthorized launch of a few missiles followed by massive exchange that could still obliterate most of the Northern Hemisphere, with possible fall-out extended to a still wider area.

Consequently, the governments of all states with nuclear weapons should be urged by all other NPT parties to eliminate reliance on continuously available weapons and to take actions which delay launch of nuclear-tipped missiles.

This approach is recommended by the Canberra Commission and the United States National Academy of Sciences. The United States and Russia are already committed to one of these actions in the context of the START treaties -- "deactivation," or removal of warheads from operational missiles and long-range aircraft, and placing them in storage. Other de-alerting actions would call for reducing the number of warheads carried by submarines or reducing the number of missile- launching submarines on patrol.

These actions, which are reversible if there is need, need not be part of formal disarmament agreements. They can be put in place fairly rapidly, without extensive negotiation. They could cover all strategic nuclear forces or, if verification proves a problem, all but a small, designated fraction of strategic forces. Large-scale de-alerting will compel revision of strategic planning  based on deciding within a compressed few minutes to go to massive retaliation. Large-scale de-alerting would provide a practical and self-enforcing basis for no-first-use commitments by the weapon states.

A second component of a common program of all NPT states without nuclear weapons would be agreement on a practical concept for the last stage of negotiated nuclear disarmament, the stage just prior to total elimination of all nuclear weapons. Several similar proposals for this last stage have been made in recent years, to the effect that the arsenals of the nuclear weapon states should be reduced to low equal levels of 100-200 warheads each and immobilized by separating permitted warheads from delivery systems and placing both in protected storage sites under international monitoring. A similar approach could be used with the threshold states. All excess warheads and delivery systems would be destroyed. Weapons could be withdrawn in national emergency, but not without giving warning.

This program would protect security interests of the weapon states while eliminating all possibility of surprise nuclear attack or threats to use nuclear weapons. If it worked satisfactorily over a period of time, the world would be much safer. Moving to complete elimination would be the next logical step.

Mr. Chairman, a common program of non-weapon NPT parties which contained as its three main elements the case for abolition, early de-alerting, and a practical final negotiated stage of nuclear disarmament, would be a very powerful instrument in moving the nuclear weapon states to fulfillment of their Article VI pledge to eliminate their nuclear weapons. We hope that Prepcom delegates will give serious thought to this suggestion.

Statement Coordinator: Jonathon Dean, Union of Concerned Scientists, 1616 P Street, NW, Suite 310, Washington DC 20036, USA,  Tel: 1 202 332 0900, Fax 1 202 332 0905, email: jdean@ucsusa.org