Andrew Brown: Western Europe could lead the way in disarmament

From a lecture by the biographer of the scientist, Desmond Bernal, given at Birkbeck College in London

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The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, signed originally in 1968 and renewed in perpetuity by most of the world's nations in 1995, was intended to stop nuclear proliferation and to prevent global catastrophe.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, signed originally in 1968 and renewed in perpetuity by most of the world's nations in 1995, was intended to stop nuclear proliferation and to prevent global catastrophe.

The five original nuclear weapons states flouted it for decades; in more recent times, the Treaty has been strained by the surreptitious attempts of countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons, while non-signatory states India, Israel and Pakistan have become nuclear powers.

Although the NPT cannot hold sway over nuclear terrorists, it remains the key, international, counter-proliferation agreement. Article VII simply states: "Nothing in the Treaty affects the rights of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories."

In his farewell speech as President of the World Peace Council in 1965, Desmond Bernal warned against "the monolithic principle of obtaining unanimous decisions, policies and universal actions". It seems this caveat applies to the ideal of global nuclear disarmament, and that a regional approach might be more practicable. The disarmament of former Soviet states and dismantling of Soviet weapons through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is one example. The obvious place to try next is Western Europe, where France and the United Kingdom could set the world an example by negotiating a regional treaty.

The diplomatic and technical lessons learnt might be invaluable in future regional treaties in more unstable parts of the world where unilateral disarmament is unlikely. Concerted international pressure might result in the gradual, symmetrical reduction of weapons assembled for mutual deterrence.

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