On Nuclear Abololition

Prompted by a presidential candidate’s speech, the blogosphere is suddenly buzzing about nuclear abolition. Greg Sargent, Matthew Yglesias, and Joe Klein, among others, weigh in.

This seems like an appropriate time to revisit a UNF Insights on strengthening multilateral non-proliferation efforts we ran three months ago. In the essay, we write that affirming American commitments to disarmament would help re-invigorate a flailing Non-proliferation Treaty. So too would supporting other non-proliferation instruments, like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.

The 2005 world summit outcome document, signed by virtually every head of state, detailed a number of important reforms for the world body. However, on proliferation issues, the document was shamefully silent. This occurred, in part, because certain key nuclear states would not back language on disarmament. In turn, nuclear states not party to the NPT banded together to block non-proliferation goals from entering the text.

This was a great disservice to the cause of arms control. Before it was stricken from the final draft of the outcome document, the section on non-proliferation and disarmament provided a useful blueprint for a long term strategy to reduce the nuclear threat. This included firm commitments to both nuclear arms reduction and a reaffirmation of non-proliferation instruments, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention…

The setbacks at the 2005 world summit…occurred, in part, because a small number of states could not make the mutual concessions necessary to move the debate forward. To help counter this disturbing trend, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has sought to incorporate the UN’s disarmament portfolio into the office of the Secretary General. Citing the need to “revitalize the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda through a more focused effort,” Ban proposed that the Department of Disarmament Affairs be augmented with a new Office of Disarmament Affairs that answers directly to the Secretary General. In March, the General Assembly approved this move and created a new High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to act as the voice of the Secretary General in disarmament and nonproliferation debates.

Of course, non-proliferation and disarmament are only two of the three pillars underpinning the NPT. The third is access to civilian nuclear power. And here, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, founded by Sam Nunn and Ted Turner, is promoting a cutting-edge proposal that would obviate the need for countries to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities by setting up a “nuclear fuel bank.”

In September 2006, The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), founded by former senator Sam Nunn and Ted Turner, took a key first step toward creating a reserve stockpile of low-enriched uranium, to be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As proposed by NTI, the bank would provide an insurance policy for countries that want to develop nuclear power, but lack domestic enrichment facilities and therefore must depend on importing enriched uranium. With a guaranteed source of low-enriched uranium, countries will feel less compelled to develop indigenous enrichment facilities, which in turn can be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. IAEA Chief Mohammed elBaradei has endorsed this proposal, which includes a grant of $50 million in seed money, pledged by NTI with the backing of investor Warren Buffet.

There is, however, a limit to what philanthropies can accomplish on their own. For the fuel bank to work, it needs financial and political support by a government or governments. To that end, Congressman Tom Lantos, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has introduced legislation that affirms this approach and provides another $50 million for the bank. Congress would be wise to act on this legislation. And other countries should follow suit with their own financial and political commitments to the bank.

Read the whole thing.