A Call to End the Nuclear Threat
Basel Peace Office & No First Use
BASEL, Switzerland (January 24, 2022) — On Monday January 24, an Open Letter urging nuclear weapons states to step back from nuclear war threats, end the nuclear arms race and commit to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, was delivered to the ‘nuclear five’ (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) as well as the other parties to the NPT. Copies were also sent to the four nuclear-armed states that are not NPT members (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan).
The Open Letter, entitled Fulfil the NPT: From nuclear threats to human security, has been endorsed by over 1100 signatories from 71 countries, including legislators and Nobel laureates, former government ministers and ambassadors, former military commanders and high level officials of the United Nations, as well as leading scientists, religious leaders, business leaders and other representatives of civil society.
The date is signficant as January 24 is the anniversary of the very first resolution of the United Nations in 1946, passed by consensus, which adopted the universal goal to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Start negotiating nuclear abolition now!
“The Non-Proliferation Treaty has been respected by the non-nuclear-countries, but the nuclear-countries have not respected their obligations. As a citizen of a non-nuclear-country I am particularly offended by their refusal to start the negotiations for achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons.”
— Professor Giorgio Parisi (Italy). 2021 Nobel Laureate in Physics. Endorser of the Open Letter.
What Should the Nuclear Weapon Countries Do?
The Open Letter, which is also available in French, calls on nuclear weapon states to:
- end the nuclear arms race by stopping nuclear weapons production;
- phase out the role of nuclear weapons in security policies starting with adopting no-first-use policies;
- commit to eliminating their nuclear weapons no later than 2045 – the 75th anniversary of the NPT;
- shift budgets and public investments from the nuclear weapons industry to supporting public health, climate stabilization, and sustainable development.
War is not the answer
“War is not the answer to the problems we face in the 21st century. This is also true of nuclear weapons and equipment which have already had dire impacts on people and our environment and will for generations to come. It is past time to divert our money, resources, and intelligence into finding solutions that meet the needs of the world today.”
— Adrienne Kinne (USA). Immediate Past-President, Veterans for Peace. Endorser of the Open Letter.
Nuclear Dangers Increase
The Open Letter was prompted by growing tensions between nuclear weapons states, nuclear weapons maintained in a state of high readiness to use, and a renewed nuclear arms race in which all of the Nuclear Five countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. These conditions have elevated the risk of nuclear war breaking out, whether by malice (intentional escalation), miscalculation, misinformation, malfeasance (unauthorised use), or malfunction (accidental use).
Last week the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock would remain set at 100 seconds to midnight for the third year in a row — closer to midnight than ever in its history – attesting to a continued high level of risk from today’s nuclear arsenals and nuclear policies.
Implement the Reagan-Gorbachev dictum
“It’s high time the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council sat down and had a serious discussion of how to reduce the risks of nuclear war, including such concepts as No First Use and Sole Purpose. After all it is only days since they collectively re-affirmed the Reagan / Gorbachev view that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought.”
— Lord David Hannay (United Kingdom). Co-chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security. Former UK Ambassador to the United Nations. Endorser of the Open letter.
Stop Playing With Fire!
The Open Letter notes that first-use options are literally playing with fire in very combustible situations, and have nearly led to a nuclear war being initiated by mistake or miscalculation. On the other hand, unilateral no-first-use declarations, bilateral no-first-use agreements and/or a multilateral no-first-use agreement can reduce these risks. These can be followed by nuclear force restructuring and operational controls to implement no-first-use policies, and to build credibility and confidence in the policies to further reduce nuclear risks.
These ideas are expanded further in a NoFirstUse Global working paper to the NPT entitled No-First Use of Nuclear Weapons: An Exploration of Unilateral, Bilateral and Plurilateral Approaches and their Security, Risk-reduction and Disarmament Implications which was sent to the States Parties of the NPT along with the Open Letter.
Who in their right mind would launch nuclear weapons first?
“Submerged on patrol, commanding officers of strategic submarines have no way of knowing why they have been ordered to fire, what the target is, or the consequences on civil population of doing so. As such, I was not prepared to launch a first strike with Polaris missiles from my submarine in the 1970’s and remain strongly opposed to First Use of any nuclear weapons.”
— Commander Robert Forsyth (United Kingdom). Royal Navy, retired. Endorser of the Open Letter.
No-First-Use Opens the Door to Nuclear Abolition
The Open Letter argues that the adoption of no-first-use or sole purpose policies could open the door to the nuclear armed states and their allies joining negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
“If nuclear weapons continue to be required to deter against a range of threats – not only nuclear weapons – then countries relying on nuclear deterrence will not agree to eliminate the weapons while these other threats still exist. However, if the only purpose of a country’s nuclear weapons is to deter against the nuclear weapons of others, then the country can agree to join a verified nuclear disarmament process as long as all other nuclear armed countries participate.”
No-First-Use a Game Changer!
“If a pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons were accepted by all nuclear weapons states, it could produce a revolutionary turn initially leading to the erosion of nuclear weapons and finally to the complete elimination of such weapons of mass destruction from our planet, for the benefits of all its inhabitants and international security at large.”
— Vladimir P. Kozin (Russia). Member of the Russian Academies of Military Sciences and Natural Sciences. Endorser of the Open Letter.
Nuclear weapons cannot solve the human security issues of today
“Nuclear weapons threaten current and future generations. They cannot resolve the conflicts between countries, and they are counter-productive to the human security issues of today and tomorrow – the COVID pandemic, climate crisis, food security, cybersecurity, and achievement of the sustainable development goals. It’s time to fulfill the NPT and the goal established by the UN in 1946 to eliminate nuclear weapons globally.”
— Maria Fernanda Espinosa (Ecuador). President of the 73rd UN General Assembly. Member of the World Future Council and former Foreign Minister of Ecuador. Endorser of the Open Letter.
Copyright © 2022 Basel Peace Office, All rights reserved. Basel Peace Office, Seminar fur Soziologie, Petersgraben 27, Basel 4051, Switzerland.
From Nuclear Threats to Human Security:
An Open Letter to the States Parties of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty
Note: The Open Letter will remain open for endorsement until August to keep the pressure on the nuclear weapon states and in preparation for a presentation to the NPT States Parties at the 10th NPT Review Conference.
Nuclear weapons threaten current and future generations. The security they may have provided in the 20th Century has no place in the world of today and tomorrow, which is struggling to address the COVID pandemic, stabilise the climate, resolve national and international conflicts in peaceful ways, protect cyberspace, and advance human security and the sustainable development goals.
It is time to start phasing out the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and develop a practical plan to achieve the peace and security of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
At the Tenth Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT-X) in 2022, we call on you to:
- Start the process to permanently end arms racing and phase out the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines by supporting the adoption of no-first-use policies and cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons no later than the 11th NPT Review Conference in 2025;
- Commit to a timeframe of no later than 2045 to fulfil the Article VI obligation to achieve the global elimination of nuclear weapons;
- Agree to adopt a concrete plan to implement this commitment, including through the systematic and progressive reduction of nuclear arsenals, at the Conference on Disarmament or the 11th NPT Review Conference;
- Agree to shift budgets and public investments from the nuclear weapons industry to instead support public health, climate stabilization and sustainable development.
The NPT was adopted in 1970 for a fixed timeframe of 25 years, after which it was expected that it would be replaced by a more comprehensive nuclear disarmament regime. This did not happen.
In 1995 the NPT was extended on the basis of three near-term (incremental) commitments – to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by 1996, to negotiate a fissile materials treaty and to establish additional nuclear-weapon-free zones especially in the Middle East – and a more comprehensive commitment by the nuclear armed States to reduce nuclear weapons in a process leading to their total elimination. Of these, only the CTBT has been negotiated, and it has yet to enter-into-force.
There can be no excuse for not achieving the three incremental commitments in the near future, and the more comprehensive commitment – the global elimination of nuclear weapons – within the next 25 years, if not sooner.
A key measure to reduce the risk of a nuclear war and to start phasing out the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines while maintaining strategic stability, is to commit to never initiate nuclear warfare by adopting no-first-use (or sole purpose) policies and related operational controls.
Options to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and preparations to enable such a first-use, escalate tensions and risks, stimulate counter measures such as launch-on-warning, justify nuclear modernisation programs and prevent negotiations on nuclear disarmament. First-use options are literally playing with fire in very combustible situations, and have nearly led to a nuclear war being initiated by mistake or miscalculation.
Unilateral no-first-use declarations, bilateral no-first-use agreements and/or a multilateral no-first-use agreement can reduce these risks. We commend China and India for already adopting unilateral no-first-use policies and we commend China and Russia for adopting a bilateral no-first-use agreement. These can be followed by nuclear force restructuring and operational controls to implement no-first-use policies, and to build credibility and confidence in the policies to further reduce nuclear risks.
And most importantly, the adoption of no-first-use or sole purpose policies could open the door to the nuclear armed states and their allies joining negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are required to deter against a range of threats – not only nuclear weapons – then countries relying on nuclear deterrence will most likely not agree to eliminate the weapons while these other threats still exist. However, if the only purpose of a country’s nuclear weapons is to deter against the nuclear weapons of others, then the country can agree to join a verified nuclear disarmament process as long as all other nuclear-armed countries participate. For this reason, the States Parties to the NPT also need to engage with the states which are not parties (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) in the nuclear disarmament process.
We thank the governments of China, France, Russia, the UK, USA and other States Parties to the NPT for considering this letter, and we look forward to supporting and engaging with you as you adopt these policies and as we jointly establish the peace and security of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
(The Open Letter is also available in French)