Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate

Chapter 5: The Common Project of Nuclear Abolition

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Scott D. Sagan, James M. Acton, Jayantha Dhanapala, Mustafa Kibaroglu, Harald Müller, Yukio Satoh, Mohamed I. Shaker, and Achilles Zaluar
Global Nuclear Future

Harald Müller

In his article, Scott Sagan offers a robust approach to nuclear disarmament that bridges the gap between nuclear-weapons states (NWS) and non-nuclear-weapons states (NNWS). His discussion of the shared responsibility of NWS and NNWS for implementing Articles IV and VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for dealing with enforcement and withdrawal issues as common endeavors rather than as separate responsibilities divided between these two groups of states is especially useful. Below I focus on three key issues in which I basically agree with Sagan, but with a few reservations.

The first issue concerns multinational fuel-cycle facilities. Sagan rightly notes that the expected expansion of nuclear power makes the future pursuit of sensitive national fuel-cycle facilities incompatible with the notion of a nuclear-weapons-free world. Internationally shared and managed fuel-cycle facilities offer the best solution to this problem. Sagan proposes that NWS start by voluntarily submitting some sensitive fuel-cycle facilities to international safeguards and then consider the possibility of eventually making all of their plants subject to these safeguards. In addressing this issue in 2005, however, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) international expert group on multinational fuel arrangements reached the following conclusion:1

A new binding international norm stipulating that sensitive fuel-cycle activities are to be conducted exclusively in the context of MNAs [multinational agreements] and no longer as a national undertaking would amount to a change in the scope of Article IV of the NPT. The wording and negotiation history of this article emphasize the right of each party in good standing to choose its national fuel cycle on the basis of sovereign considerations. This right is not independent of the State parties’ responsibilities under Articles I and II. But if the necessary conditions are met, no legal barrier stands in the way of each State party to pursue all fuel cycle activities on a national basis. Waiving this right would thus change
the “bargain” of the NPT.

Such a fundamental change may be possible if the parties were able to agree on a broader negotiating framework. For NNWS, such a bargain could probably be realized only through the adoption of universal principles, applicable to all states, and with additional steps by NWS regarding nuclear disarmament. In addition, a verifiable FMCT [Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty] might be one of the preconditions for binding multilateral obligations. Because such a treaty would terminate the right of participating NWS and non-NPT parties to operate reprocessing and enrichment facilities for nuclear weapons purposes, it would level the playing field between NWS and NNWS. The new restrictions would apply to all states and facilities with the relevant technologies, without exception. At that time, multilateral arrangements could become a universal, binding principle.2

Persuading reluctant NNWS such as Argentina, Brazil, or South Africa to consider MNAs would require a monumental shift in how states think about national nuclear activities. The requirements go far beyond the various proposals submitted by NWS in the last few years, which can be summarized as offering guaranteed services for the civilian fuel cycles, such as enrichment, fuel fabrication, interim storage of spent fuel or spent fuel reprocessing and conditioning, while maintaining their national nuclear autonomy.3 This is untenable. Sagan’s discussion of the role of an FMCT is significant in this regard, although I would disagree with his recommendation to establish a new NWS organization of inspectors to verify facilities and fissile material in NWS rather than relying on the IAEA to perform these functions. The time for dividing the NWS and NNWS has passed. Where access by NNWS inspectors to sensitive former weapons-material production facilities is problematic, a special office within the IAEA’s safeguards department, consisting exclusively of NWS-origin inspectors, could be created.

The second issue concerns the future of extended deterrence. The current extended deterrence situation in Europe underscores the tremendous change in the attitudes of many NNWS NATO allies toward nuclear disarmament. Nowhere is this more obvious than in my country, Germany. In the coalition agreement that now governs the Federal Republic, the position of the Conservatives and the Liberals reads as follows:

We emphatically support President [Barack] Obama’s proposals for
far-reaching new disarmament initiatives—including the objective of
a nuclear-weapons-free world. . . . We want to use the NPT Review
Conference in 2010 to create new momentum for treaty-based regulations. In this context, and in the context of a new strategic concept for NATO, we will strongly promote within the Alliance and vis-à-vis the American allies the withdrawal of the nuclear weapons still in Germany.4

Liberal and Conservative speakers confirmed this objective in a recent debate in the German Parliament.5 In addition, Germany is consulting with other NATO NNWS on ways to promote this goal. Given that Germany has historically been the main beneficiary of extended deterrence, the coalition’s new position indicates that the perceived need for a first-use nuclear guarantee in Europe has largely disappeared.

Nevertheless, there are allies (for example, Poland, the Baltic States, and Turkey) for which the nuclear guarantee maintains a higher degree of salience than it does for the Western and Northern Europeans. This brings me to the third key issue: the crucial role of the NWS in shaping the security environment for NNWS. The security concerns of states in Eastern Europe derive largely from Russia’s unfriendly policies toward its neighbors; for Turkey, this concern has been revived by Russia’s harsh actions in Georgia. The establishment of a good neighbor policy by Russia would lay these security concerns to rest. The same is true for East Asia: a more pacifist China, with lower armament rates, less naval posturing, and the withdrawal of missiles from the coast facing Taiwan, would reduce concern among the Japanese and South Korean defense communities of the likelihood of a Chinese first use of nuclear weapons.

The behavior and doctrines of NWS influence the security of NNWS in yet another way, as the Turkish case again demonstrates. Turkey’s interest in continued extended deterrence is, of course, also related to the potential Iranian threat. This threat has continued to grow largely because of the constraints placed on the UN Security Council by China’s and Russia’s extremely shortsighted and parochial policies. Consequently, NWS must abstain from issuing threats against NNWS in good standing with the NPT, while acting with determination against rule breakers. This combination of changed attitudes and threatened action would largely eliminate the need for an extended deterrence commitment that goes beyond deterrence of a nuclear attack.6

My final thought concerns Sagan’s discussion about security assurances and the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The debate about negative and positive security guarantees has suffered because NWS and NNWS have never jointly deliberated about the consequences that states should face if they are the first to use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The security assurance debate has been largely ritualistic and lacking in substance.

I would therefore propose the establishment of a standing conference of security diplomats and military experts from NWS and NNWS to discuss how the international community should respond to WMD first use.7 As an explicit component of the effort to abolish nuclear weapons, the conference could be installed by the UN General Assembly as a deliberative forum that would eventually become a negotiation body. An international legal instrument, adopted by the General Assembly with the prescribed two-thirds majority and endorsed by the Security Council, would be an outstanding step on the road to nuclear disarmament. Such a legal instrument would clear the field for the universal adoption of a no-first-use doctrine and enhance the security of all states that feel threatened by the biological and chemical capabilities of others.


1. I was the German representative in this group. Since I was heavily involved in negotiating this particular language, I feel entitled to quote it here at some length.

2. Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Expert Group Report to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna: IAEA, 2005).

3. Cf. Harald Müller, Multilateralisierung des Brennstoffkreislaufs: Ein Ausweg aus den Nuklearkrisen? (Frankfurt am Main: PRIF, HSFK Report, October 2006); Yuri Yudin, Multilateralization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Assessing the Existing Proposals (New York and Geneva: UNIDIR, 2009).

4. WACHSTUM. BILDUNG. ZUSAMMENHALT. Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und FDP 17. Legislaturperiode, Berlin, October 26, 2010.

5. Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 9. Sitzung, Berlin, December 3, 2009, 646–653.

6. See Scott D. Sagan, “The Case for No First Use,” Survival 51 (3) (June 2009).

7. For earlier ideas on this point, cf. Harald Müller, “Between Security Council Inaction and Self-Helplessness: The Case for a Positive Security Assurances Alliance,” in Security Assurances, Implications for the NPT and Beyond, ed. Virginia Foran (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1995), S. 25–38.