Nuclear arms control and disarmament will be among the top issues on the
political agenda now and in the foreseeable future. It is an issue of
crucial strategic importance for Europe, and so one on which Europe
should articulate its own views. At the same time, this year will
determine whether US President Barack Obama's vision of a nuclear free
world will remain a distant but achievable hope, or whether it must be
abandoned. No one should today be under any illusions; even if all the
world's nuclear weapon states (NWS) rally behind the vision of a world
that will eventually be free of the threat of a nuclear conflict,
nuclear weapons will continue to exist for two decades at least, and
even that would require the most favourable conditions for disarmament
during all that time.
There are general reasons why 2010 is such a key year.
The agreement signed in early April in Prague between Russia and the US on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and possibly on further cuts was accompanied by the publication in the US of the Obama Administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) identifying the nuclear capabilities the President wishes to preserve for the next four years. Then there is the NPT review conference on the adapting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to our rapidly changing world, and in front of many policymaker's minds is the hope that before the year is out, 2010 will bring clarity on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programmes.
There are today more than 23,000 nuclear weapons, some 40,000 fewer than during the height of the Cold War, the total yield of these weapons is nevertheless greater than 150,000 Hiroshima-size nuclear explosions. Nuclear disarmament is therefore still urgently needed, and moves by prominent politicians in the US and in Germany have produced the US-led Global Zero initiative and the setting-up of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) sponsored by Australia and Japan and co-chaired by former Foreign Ministers Yoriko Kawaguchi and Gareth Evans.
Nine-tenths of nuclear weapons are owned by the US, Russia, France, the UK and China, all signatories of the NPT, while between them India, Pakistan and probably Israel possess some 1,000 weapons. North Korea presumably has a few and Iran is most likely still pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have agreed on a common objective of a nuclear free world and agreed on cuts that will reduce their respective strategic arsenals to 1550 weapons each. This is more by far than the 1,000 figure Barack Obama had in mind, but it is nevertheless a huge step that could bring about further nuclear disarmament.
But the road to global nuclear disarmament will be long and bumpy. To begin with, the capacity to dismantle and destroy nuclear warheads is rather limited, and it seems that it is virtually impossible to increase it. Present capacity is some 500 weapons a year in both countries which means that the total of 2000 weapons each which the ICNND Report suggests for the year 2025 can't be fully implemented much before 2028. Then there is the likely renaissance of nuclear power plants to be taken into account. To come close to the targets that were under discussion at the Copenhagen Summit, more nuclear power plants will be unavoidable, leading to additional enrichment and reprocessing facilities so that considerable quantities of fissile materiel are going to be produced.
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General Klaus Naumann is a former chairman of NATO's military Committee.
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