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European Parliaments Demand ‘No-First-Use’ – Obama’s Nuclear Agenda Analysed

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OSCEAlyn Ware and Jean-Marie Collin analyse the Declaration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) early July, calling for taking nuclear weapons off high alert and adopting no-first-use policies. In this context, they explore whether President Obama’s reported plans along the same lines would fly.

BERLIN | PARIS | WELLINGTON (IDN) – The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) convened in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, July 1-5 and called on all OSCE States with nuclear weapons or under extended nuclear deterrence relationships to reduce the risks of a nuclear war by taking nuclear weapons off high alert and by adopting no-first-use policies.

This plea was part of the Tbilisi Declaration, which was adopted by the OSCE PA on July 5. The Declaration also highlighted the risks of nuclear confrontation between Russia and NATO, welcomed the UN Open Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations (OEWG) and supported the commencement of such negotiations in 2017.

The OSCE debate on nuclear risks was initiated by Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) through their members from Austria, Canada, France, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, Slovenia and Spain who serve on their parliament delegations to the OSCE Assembly.

According to Jean-Marie Collin, PNND Coordinator for France, “The Tbilisi Declaration is extremely significant because the 54 OSCE parliamentary delegations supporting it include four of the nuclear-armed States (France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), as well as all the NATO countries and all the former Soviet countries.”

In addition it comes at a time when U.S. President Obama is considering next steps in implementing his Prague Vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world. The Washington Post reported on July 10 that a no-first-use policy is one of the options being considered.

“If adopted, this would be a fundamental shift in policy and a monumental step toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. It could re-start the stalled nuclear reduction talks with Russia, and kick-start pluri-lateral negotiations, i.e. amongst the P5 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) along with India and Pakistan,” explains Collin.

Pluri-lateral nuclear disarmament measures are unlikely to take place if nuclear doctrines continue to include the option of first-use of nuclear weapons,” notes Alyn Ware, PNND Global Coordinator.

Such doctrines imply that these weapons will continue to be required to meet a range of threats including from conventional, chemical or biological weapons. However, if the purpose of nuclear weapons is changed to one of providing deterrence only against the nuclear weapons of a potential enemy, then nuclear disarmament becomes possible, as long as it can be verified,” he adds.

“More simply put,” he explains, “if nukes are to deter all sorts of evil, regardless of whether or not they are effective against such threats, then we will hold onto nukes as long as there is evil in the world. But if nukes are just to deter other nukes, then we can work to eliminate the nukes together, jointly removing the reason for keeping nukes.”

President Obama made a commitment in his 2008 Nuclear Posture Review to achieve ‘sole-purpose’ deployment, i.e. that the only purpose for nuclear weapons would be to deter other nuclear weapons. This is very similar to a no-first-use policy. India and China already have no-first-use policies, but this has so far not motivated the other nuclear-armed States to follow suit.

Ware and Collin believe that if the U.S. adopted a no-first-use policy it would be a significant signal to Russia of U.S. good faith and could move Moscow to re-subscribe to no-first-use, a policy it held until 1993.

In addition, the United Kingdom and France have both come under pressure from their parliaments to respond to the humanitarian initiative, which highlights the catastrophic impact of any use of nuclear weapons. Adopting a no-first-use policy is a confidence-building step they could take in response. However, they would be unlikely to do this alone,” says Collin.

He is of the view that the support for no-first-use at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly from all four – the French, Russian, United Kingdom and United States delegations – is “a very positive sign, especially as the deliberations were chaired by Senator Roger Wicker (Republican, United States) and the French delegation spoke specifically in support”.

According to Ware, the support for no-first-use from the parliamentary delegations of the other NATO countries at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is also significant and helpful.

NATO policy still holds the option for the first-use of nuclear weapons, and it would be difficult for President Obama to adopt a no-first-use policy for the U.S. if there is considerable opposition to this move from NATO countries. To do so could give fuel to right-wing opposition in the U.S. who would claim that Obama is letting down U.S. allies. The OSCE resolution demonstrates that there is overwhelming support in Europe for relinquishing the first-use option,” explains Ware.

Ware concedes that there is opposition within NATO to the no-first-use proposal, particularly in the defence establishments and from some political figures in NATO countries those that are situated on the border of Russia.

They perceive first-use as a necessary policy to prevent Russian aggression. On the other hand, those in Europe supporting a move to no-first-use argue that there are better ways to prevent Russian aggression than to up the nuclear-ante. Conventional deterrence, and a better use of political, legal and diplomatic approaches, would provide much stronger, more reliable and more sustainable security.”

According to Collin, a number of NATO governments, not only France and the UK, are under pressure to respond to the humanitarian initiative. “This includes calls on them in the OEWG to join negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty, which they most likely won’t do as they are reluctant to abandon nuclear deterrence while Russia and other potential enemies continue to possess nuclear weapons. However, they might be able to adopt a no-first-use policy as an initial, compromise measure, especially if there are indications that Russia, France and the UK could follow a U.S. lead on this,” says Collin.

The Tbilisi Declaration is declaratory, and is not binding on OSCE governments. However, Ware believes it can be extremely influential, especially if followed up by parliamentarians and civil society actors in OSCE countries.

PNND plans to follow-up with the OSCE governments, particularly those participating in the UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG), which holds its final session for 2016 in August. The OEWG will then report to the UN General Assembly for action on proposals or recommendations.

“We will hold an international conference of parliamentarians, mayors, religious leaders and disarmament experts in Kazakhstan at the end of August to build further international support for key disarmament measures highlighted by the OEWG, prior to the UN General Assembly,” says Ware.

He believes that, if the proposal for no-first-use gains traction in 2016, it could assist multi-lateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, which may commence in 2017, as is currently being discussed in the OEWG. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 July 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly | Credit: OSCE

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