12 votes

UN treaty banning nuclear weapons takes effect, without the US and others

11 comments

  1. [3]
    nukeman
    Link
    Here is Alex Wellerstein’s take on the issue:

    Here is Alex Wellerstein’s take on the issue:

    For those saying, it's futile: it's not, unless you misunderstand the goal. Nobody thinks this treaty is, by itself, going to lead to the elimination of nukes. But it is an expression of a desire to make nuke-having a negative norm (a taboo), and to show dissatisfaction with the NPT regime (which has not led to disarmament by and large).

    It's easy to laugh at these things but the policy people take this seriously, and some even oppose it vigorously because they think it undermines the NPT.

    Frankly I think it's amazing that it has gotten to this point. If you had asked me a decade ago whether something like this was possible I would have laughed. It is an indication of major fractures in the international position on nukes since the end of the Cold War. They did a poll of nuke wonks maybe 5 years ago at the Carnegie "nuke fest" and basically none of them thought that this treaty would be in force by this time.

    It's an impressive piece of policymaking by ICAN; they've approached this piecemeal, one nation at a time. They'll be looking very close at the nuclear nations to see which of them (the UK?) is the most likely to leave the fold in the next decade or so. It's a long-term project. Whether you agree with the goals or not (I am somewhat ambivalent), don't laugh at it — take it seriously, one way or the other. This was not an easy thing to accomplish and it is not an empty statement to sign a binding treaty.

    12 votes
    1. nacho
      Link Parent
      I think this is unfair to the NPT. The NPT has been hugely successful in hindering the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The secondary aim of nuclear disarmament and then total disarmament is...

      I think this is unfair to the NPT.

      The NPT has been hugely successful in hindering the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

      The secondary aim of nuclear disarmament and then total disarmament is Article VI of the treaty:

      Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control

      The nuclear arms race has stopped, barring those who are in non-compliance or never signed on to the NPT.

      Negotiation in "good faith" on general and complete disarmament won't happen. The genie is out of the bottle. International law, politics and enforcement have not been in a position to deal make "strict and effective international control" possible because the UN is too weak.


      This ban treaty is an empty statement. It costs the signatories so close to nothing because they aren't and won't pursue nuclear arms due to domestic concerns.

      If anything, 10-12 years ago, the (Western) world seemed much more likely to push for the goals of this worthless paper in ways that may have mattered. That means ways in which nuclear powers and countries hosting those nukes would partake.

      Lest we forget the situation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote this when they gave the peace prize to Obama in 2009:

      The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

      The conflict between the US (and the western nuclear powers), Russia and China has escalated tremendously since. The conflict between India and Pakistan has escalated. The conflicts between India and China have escalated. North Korea: Escalation. The Arab Spring has become and Arab Autumn.

      This treaty is a UN diplomatic powerplay to look good domestically, and to be able to wag ones' fingers at the West and superpowers who are high and mighty, speak of human rights, combatting poverty etc.

      Alex Wellerstein says a lot of smart things about nukes in a historical context, but on this, I think he's very wrong.

      4 votes
    2. gpl
      Link Parent
      I just discovered Wellerstein (and his blog) recently and he is quickly becoming one of my go-to experts for nuke related issues. I think I basically agree with everything he's saying there.

      I just discovered Wellerstein (and his blog) recently and he is quickly becoming one of my go-to experts for nuke related issues. I think I basically agree with everything he's saying there.

      2 votes
  2. [4]
    RapidEyeMovement
    Link
    I know this is controversial. Hell it goes against my own moral leanings. And it is the wrong incentive structure to support. But as a country, using the MAD doctrine to secure your sovereignty...

    I know this is controversial. Hell it goes against my own moral leanings. And it is the wrong incentive structure to support. But as a country, using the MAD doctrine to secure your sovereignty has historically been a good strategy

    5 votes
    1. [3]
      gpl
      Link Parent
      MAD has been effective thus far, but we are early in the history of nuclear weapons and we've had more than a handful of close calls. In fact, there are good arguments to be made that our closest...

      MAD has been effective thus far, but we are early in the history of nuclear weapons and we've had more than a handful of close calls. In fact, there are good arguments to be made that our closest calls have remained "close calls" only because the doctrine was intentionally ignored. A true MAD approach in the situations like the one above would necessitate a launch.

      This highlights the main drawback of MAD, which is that it assumes both rational actors as well as good information. As in the close call linked above, the latter assumption has not always historically been a good one, and a real risk is to be had from false alarms and other instances of uninformed choices. None of this is to mention the fact that MAD doesn't necessarily cover the usage of "tactical" nuclear weapons, and I personally think the biggest nuclear threat in the near future isn't some full scale nuclear exchange (at least immediately), but rather an unwise use of tactical nukes by a leader who believes them to be an appropriate escalation to some conventional attack.

      14 votes
      1. [2]
        balooga
        Link Parent
        I consider it a monumental success that we emerged from the Trump years without a nuclear incident. The thought of that man in control of the American nuke arsenal is a terrifying one. For all of...

        I consider it a monumental success that we emerged from the Trump years without a nuclear incident. The thought of that man in control of the American nuke arsenal is a terrifying one. For all of his failures in office, he managed to at least avoid pushing that button.

        7 votes
        1. Omnicrola
          Link Parent
          Frankly the more amazing thing might be that we didn't even (that I recall) get into a situation where the use of nukes was even part of the discussion/threats.

          Frankly the more amazing thing might be that we didn't even (that I recall) get into a situation where the use of nukes was even part of the discussion/threats.

          2 votes
  3. [4]
    Sand
    Link
    Without the U.S. and all the other countries that actually possess them. Is this going to amount to anything?

    Without the U.S. and all the other countries that actually possess them. Is this going to amount to anything?

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      nacho
      Link Parent
      No. It's something that could have fit well in the 1930s League of Nations where all sorts of nice resolutions regarding putting genies back in bottles were agreed to. With the benefit of history,...

      No.

      It's something that could have fit well in the 1930s League of Nations where all sorts of nice resolutions regarding putting genies back in bottles were agreed to.

      With the benefit of history, we all know these are meaningless. So do the 50 countries that have ratified this ban.

      I'm no fan of nuclear weapons. The history of command and control and vulnerabilities, lucky breaks etc. speak for themselves. The last nuclear treaty between the US and Russia that seriously limits nuclear armament is set to expire in something like two weeks. Those sorts of treaties are the way to go. They have actually led to lessening of nuclear tension and likelihood of use.

      The ban itself only applies to those who have signed. It's without teeth. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. That's certainly the case here.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        gpl
        Link Parent
        Just an FYI, the Biden administration is seeking to renew this treaty for up to 5 years. This is something too that the Kremlin previously had supported, and is seen as somewhat of a concession as...

        The last nuclear treaty between the US and Russia that seriously limits nuclear armament is set to expire in something like two weeks.

        Just an FYI, the Biden administration is seeking to renew this treaty for up to 5 years. This is something too that the Kremlin previously had supported, and is seen as somewhat of a concession as some nuclear experts in the US wanted to terms renegotiated in order to address new Russian deployment of medium range weapons:

        Victoria Nuland, a longtime Russia hawk whom Biden will nominate to be the No. 3 official at the State Department, wrote in Foreign Affairs over the summer that the United States should seek only a one- or two-year renewal in the hopes of retaining leverage over the Kremlin.

        "Washington should not grant Moscow what it wants most: a free rollover of New START without any negotiations to address Russia’s recent investments in short- and medium-range nuclear weapons systems and new conventional weapons,” she wrote.

        So it seems somewhat likely that the Kremlin will agree to the extension, which on balance is a good thing in my opinion.

        5 votes