Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A World Free of Nuclear Weapons?

Ever since United States (U.S.) President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague on April 5 2009, there has been growing attention to the topic of nuclear disarmament throughout mass media. The foundations for his speech, however, where set by an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by four elder U.S. statesmen: Schultz et al. (2007) drew the academic community’s attention to a renewed vision of A WORLD FREE NUCLEAR WEAPONS . The article’s impact waves OF have since rippled through numerous institutes and think-tanks to give birth to a number of publications debating GLOBAL ZERO. Governments seem to have been caught up in this vision, as can be seen from the 6 for ATTAINABLE STEPS an eventual ban on nuclear weapons by the BRITISH FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (see Cole 2009) or JAPAN’ S MINISTER FOREIGN FOR A FFAIRS HIROFUMI NAKASONE’s (2009b) 11 to accomplish global BENCHMARKS nuclear disarmament.

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In order to escape arms control dilemmas and attain a, in constructivist terms, viable solution, institutions will have to be reformed and norms created. The possibility of a world free of nuclear weapons needs to be considered under social-constructivist premises. Realist theories would have us remain in a vicious circle of power balancing and extended deterrence and cannot sufficiently explain what role norms, expectations and perceptions play in a state’s (un-)willingness to disarm.

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Still, this means that the norm would need to be created by a body capable of instituting, verifying and enforcing such prohibitions and giving it a legitimacy that would be recognized and respected by the international community. Although it has been suggested repeatedly that the UN and its Security Council (UN-SC) watch over nuclear disarmament, they are, by definition, not eligible for that task. One of the reasons why India went nuclear, its seeking of a shortcut to
great-power status, to becoming a permanent member of the UN-SC (Tertrais 2009, 182), is a prime illustration of the fundamental flaw vis-à-vis nuclear abolition inherent in that institution. How can an institution that rewards nuclear weapons with permanent UN-SC membership and veto rights be expected to promote and enforce nuclear disarmament? Also, the 5 de jure nuclear weapons states (P5), as the UN’s norm entrepreneurs, would almost certainly veto the
setup of a nuclear prohibition, should they fear a loss of influence.

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Moreover, we have seen that nuclear disarmament must become desirable and thus a norm of the international community in order to keep states from considering cheating as a viable and fruitious alternative to abolishing their nuclear capabilities. It is therefore important to note that, even if the goal of global zero seems to unreachable under the current circumstances, “[...]
invoking the idea [of nuclear disarmament] has political value if it embeds in global consciousness an understanding of the direction in which policies and actions should move.” (Walker 2009, 16)

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