Q&A: Nuclear disarmament
President Obama has spoken of his hopes for a nuclear-weapons free world.
On 24 September 2009, the UN Security Council, adopted a resolution (1887) calling for the creation of "conditions for a world without nuclear weapons... "
Is a nuclear-weapons free world possible?
It is possible but unlikely for the foreseeable future. Even President Obama said that he did not expect to see it in his lifetime and also said that as long as such weapons existed, the US would keep its own nuclear arsenal.
In the meantime, he is reported to be wanting far fewer US nuclear warheads What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue? (in the hundreds rather than thousands) and he wants the US Senate to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. On 4 May 2010, the US disclosed that it has 5113 warheads in its nuclear stockpile.
There is no suggestion that nuclear-weapon states are ready to disarm completely.
Russia and China have both announced upgrades to their nuclear arsenals and so has the UK, with a plan to build four new submarines with Trident missiles.
However British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed that, as part of an overall agreed package, Britain might build three submarines not four.
Are not the nuclear states What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue? supposed to be disarming under the NPT?
Yes but by how much is a subject for debate. The main issue is the interpretation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Article VI. The treaty was basically a bargain agreed in 1968 between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states.
The nuclear-weapon states - the US, Russia (then the Soviet Union), China, Britain and France - were allowed to keep their weapons but not to give them to anyone else. The non-nuclear-weapon states were allowed to develop nuclear technology but only for peaceful purposes.
The treaty also laid disarmament obligations What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue? on the nuclear states. These states say they are in compliance with the treaty, but critics say the treaty requires further, indeed complete, nuclear disarmament.
What exactly does the NPT say?
The key passage on the issue, Article VI, says: "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."
What does it mean?
Interpretations of it vary, and this What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue? is the problem.
What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue?
They say the article clearly implies that nuclear-weapon states should start with an early end to the arms race, move onto negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and then, with all other states, agree on a treaty on general disarmament.
These campaigners quote an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in 1996 that "there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."
They also quote a final statement What do critics of the nuclear-weapon states argue? from the 2000 NPT Review Conference in which one of the steps agreed was "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI."