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The Building Blocks Approach
for a World without Nuclear Weapons

October 22 MPI Event with Japan and the Netherlands  
More than two dozen representatives from governments, civil society, and international organizations attended the standing-room-only event.

On October 22, 2014, LCNP Executive Director John Burroughs delivered the following remarks at a seminar co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Japan and the Netherlands and the Global Security Institute.

Printable Version

Thank you Ambassador Sano. I am going to continue with the construction metaphor. I urge an understanding of one type of “building blocks” as referring to elements or pillars of the architecture of a permanent world free of nuclear weapons.

This type of “building blocks” would not refer to measures like reductions of number of warheads or diminishing the role of nuclear weapons, measures that lead towards a nuclear weapons-free world.

Rather “pillars” would encompass measures like a prohibition of testing, a prohibition of production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, a prohibition of use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance, a verification capability applicable to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Let me illustrate this approach with reference to a ban on testing and a ban on production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. In the 1950s and 1960s, these measures were rightly understood as means of halting nuclear arms racing. When the NPT was negotiated, the Article VI element of cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date was universally understood as referring to a CTBT, an FMCT, and capping arsenal build-ups of the Soviet Union and the United States.

Unfortunately, bans on testing and fissile material production were not achieved in time to stop large-scale nuclear arms racing. Those measures remain highly relevant today nonetheless. First of all, they would essentially halt nuclear arms racing in South Asia. Second, for the same reasons that they prevent arms racing, they would prevent breakout from a nuclear weapons-free world. Thus they would be pillars of the architecture of a global regime for the permanent elimination of nuclear weapons.

Regarding the CTBT, of course what is needed now is to observe the prohibition on testing and to bring the treaty into force. The CTBT could be easily integrated into an overall agreement or framework for elimination of nuclear weapons.

Regarding a fissile materials prohibition and other measures like a categorical prohibition of use of nuclear weapons integral to a nuclear weapons free world, adoption of this understanding of building blocks does not dictate how negotiations should be pursued.

Thus if there was a process to negotiate a framework or convention for the global elimination of nuclear weapons, negotiations regarding fissile materials and a prohibition of use could be elements of that process.

An essential point has already been made, but I want to underline it: Sequentialism should be completely rejected. It is highly counterproductive to assume that plurilateral or multilateral negotiations on reduction and elimination of arsenals, or on a prohibition of use, or on governance of a nuclear weapons free world, must await conclusion of negotiations of a fissile materials treaty. This point was made in the Building Blocks Working Paper for NPT PrepCom (NPT/CONF/2015/PC.III/WP.23), and Mr. Yamamoto made the point in his remarks. I am glad to say that the United States has accepted this point. In her remarks to the First Committee, Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller said that disarmament should be conceived of as a river, with many currents and streams, not as a ladder that must be ascended one step at a time.

What about vehicles and forums for progress on disarmament? The briefing paper I recently wrote for the Middle Powers Initiative generally notes that in any process:

*The aim should be a comprehensive and effective regime of zero, in which elimination is verified, irreversible, and enforceable.

*The early delegitimization of nuclear weapons, and the phasing out of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, would greatly facilitate undertaking and sustaining a process of elimination.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference is coming up in a few months. The paper states regarding the NPT:

There is widespread rejection of the NPT nuclear-weapons states’ grotesque treatment of the NPT as a license to possess nuclear arsenals indefinitely. In addition to being hazardous and morally reprehensible, that view is legally mistaken, as demonstrated by the Marshall Islands’ filings in the International Court of Justice and the New Agenda Coalition Working Paper for the 2014 NPT PrepCom (NPT/CONF.2015/PCIII/WP.18).

The paper briefly surveys and assesses forms of a disarmament agreement: a convention, a framework agreement, a framework of instruments, and a ban treaty. The Middle Powers Initiative intends to facilitate in-depth examination of those options.

Let me close by drawing your attention to one proposal I found thought-provoking recently put forward by Professor David Koplow of Georgetown Law. It suggests a two-stage process. First, states – including at least some nuclear-armed states – would enter into a political agreement to create the conditions for the elimination of nuclear weapons, through measures like transparency, limits and reductions involving all possessor states, elimination of short-notice launch, control of fissile materials and limits on nuclear technology, as well as universal adherence to the conventions on biological and chemical weapons and to the Additional Protocol. One can imagine such an agreement being reached in an NPT Review Conference, a Nuclear Disarmament Summit, or the 2018 High-Level Conference. In the second stage, a legally binding agreement – a Nuclear Weapons Convention - for the establishment of a permanent global regime of zero nuclear weapons would be negotiated.

I am encouraged by the fact that over the last few years there has been increasing examination of forms, institutions, architecture for a nuclear weapons-free world. We have to continue this work.

Thanks very much.



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