- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Special correspondent John Zarocostas in Geneva interviewed Patricia Lewis, director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, on Friday about the findings of a report by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. The 14-member commission which included former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry was presented Thursday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan by Hans Blix of Sweden, commission chairman. Mrs. Lewis, of Ireland, was a member of the commission.

Question: What’s the main message in the “Weapons of Terror” report?

Answer: The main message is that [weapons of mass destruction] are the most inhumane weapons that exist on the planet. They’re weapons designed to terrify. Two types of those weapons — chemical and biological weapons — have been outlawed, and it’s time for the third type — nuclear weapons — to be outlawed in exactly the same way.

Q: The commission proposes something your critics say is idealistic, given their number: 27,000 nuclear weapons, deployed and not deployed in the possession of nuclear-weapons states.

A: Well, on one level you can say it’s idealistic and I’m not ashamed of that. We need ideals, we need people of ideals. On the other hand, I think it’s also realistic. I think it’s very unrealistic to imagine that we can continue the way we are without there being a nuclear war.

I think it’s very unrealistic to imagine that we can continue the way we are without larger numbers of states wanting to possess nuclear weapons. So we need to tackle this problem, and we need to tackle it urgently. To put our heads in the sand and imagine that we can carry on the way we are, with there being no negative effects, it’s clearly unrealistic.

So from that point of view, yes, we’re idealists in that we have a vision. But we’re also realists in that we think this current trend we’re on is heading for disaster.

Q: Some representatives of nuclear-weapons states have said the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls for elimination of nuclear weapons down the road, but not about outlawing them. Are you going a step further here?

A: I think what we’re trying to do is provide a coherent philosophical framework. The NPT commits the nuclear-weapons states to negotiate in good faith, and we’re calling on them to do that. And we have a number of ideas as to what constitutes good faith.

In terms of elimination, we know that we have not completely eliminated chemical and biological weapons. But there are treaties to outlaw their use, their possession and their acquisition. We want the same treatment for nuclear weapons. It’s a step on the way to elimination.

So I think that the nuclear-weapons states can relax a little bit in our approach and say, “Yes, we can outlaw first before the complete elimination.” It’s a commitment to elimination. It’s part of a good-faith commitment under Article 6 of the NPT.

Q: In the case of chemical and biological weapons, there was talk of “no use” going back to the 1920s, but banning came many decades later — in the 1970s and 1990s for biological and chemical weapons, respectively.

A: That’s true. Now, there are all sorts of undertakings with nuclear-weapons nonuse. There’s the security assurances, which are about no use against non-nuclear-weapons states. … Also, the Chinese have had a no-first-use [policy] from the beginning. Russia used to have that but no longer has. China also has a no-use [policy] against states that don’t possess nuclear weapons.

So there are a number of undertakings by the nuclear-weapons states over nonuse, and we’re just looking to extend that overarching concept. We don’t want nuclear weapons to be ever used again. We know what their impact would be. We know how horrific it would be.

And we are raising an alarm that the road that we are on at the moment is leading us — and we can see this from North Korea, we can see it from Iran, we can see it from what happened in Libya, and what happened in the early 1990s with Iraq. We know that a number of states are also now thinking about getting nuclear weapons, or may have already crossed that line.

We know that’s going to continue unless we do something, and do something quickly, and we want a commitment from those states that possess nuclear weapons. That’s the five states that have them under the NPT, and the three states that are outside it [India, Pakistan and Israel]. We want a commitment from them that they will work toward outlawing those weapons and eliminating them once and for all, along with chemical and biological weapons.

Q: The commission also recommends that negotiations continue with North Korea and Iran. Any ideas about how to break the deadlock between Washington and Pyongyang and Washington and Tehran?

A: The commission has been very careful in its report not to undermine the processes that are going on. We’re very supportive of the European approach and the recent approach to negotiations with Iran, and we’re very supportive of the six-party talks with North Korea.

We do, however, have feelings that the Security Council should get engaged. Now, I know that neither North Korea nor Iran is comfortable with that, and they shouldn’t be. But we do think that the Security Council is the primary body within the United Nations that has the responsibility for peace and security. And serious issues of noncompliance ought to come up before the Security Council, and we would really strongly encourage all [members] to involve the Security Council in the deliberations in some way or another.

Q: Another recommendation in the report is that in light of the terrorist threat … all weapons of mass destruction worldwide be secured from theft. Is that a tall order?

A: We know it’s a daunting task, but nonetheless states have embarked on this process already under the various cooperative threat-reduction programs, and the cost of not doing it is far greater than the cost of doing it.

Prevention, rather than cure: We do not want to wake up one day to be faced with a terrorist nuclear bomb or a biological-weapons attack by terrorists. So, I think all efforts need to be made to secure the materials that the non-state actors might try to get hold of.

We may, of course, be too late. It may have already happened, but we don’t know that, so every attempt needs to be made. … We take it extremely seriously.

Q: You’re also calling for a summit of world leaders on disarmament and arms-control issues, less than a year after the declaration from the last summit of world leaders did not have a single sentence on disarmament issues.

A: We realize that the failure of the world summit to agree on any measures on disarmament and nonproliferation — other than on small arms and small conventional weapons — made it very difficult for many states to swallow the outcome document of the world summit, and this needs to be redressed.

This means it’s going to be extremely difficult. … So a summit on this issue would focus the world’s attention on the issue of disarmament and nonproliferation.

Q: In the meantime, how do you get the stalled negotiations on disarmament off the ground?

A: There are some very practical and quite controversial views on that in the report. On a practical level, we’re suggesting that we drop the need for consensus to begin the process to agree on a program of work for the conference. … Why not go for a two-thirds majority — which is what we’re proposing — to accept an agreement and just begin?

A state can just begin the negotiations. They don’t, in the end, have to sign on to an agreement if they don’t want to. We seriously encourage the Conference on Disarmament to get on and negotiate what has always been agreed to be the next step in nuclear disarmament: a fissile material production ban.

What we’re suggesting now is a step-by-step approach that we begin the negotiations without preconditions. One way we think it can be done is to set up a group of scientific experts within the Conference on Disarmament, as was done during the test-ban negotiations, and let them begin to explore these parameters. If we can’t agree politically, let’s at least have scientists sit down and hammer out some of the details.

Q: What drives governments to pursue nuclear capability?

A: We looked into this very carefully, because many of us were quite puzzled why states would be so keen to seek what is essentially a 1940s technology that almost everyone agrees cannot be used, although obviously, with biotechnology, there are some new and horrible things on the way.

There seems to be certain reasons why states want them. Sometimes it’s a basic security issue. They feel that under attack [nuclear weapons] would be a last resort. A large part of it seems to be a prestige issue. The very fact that the nuclear weapons are not prepared to give them up completely sends extremely strong signals to other states. …

I think that if we look at the situation now with India, and the proposed India-United States cooperation, there’s some reality to this situation. … There are some drivers in the direction of pursuing WMDs, and we want to examine those drivers and get people to really face up to what’s going on. …

Q: Hans Blix said one way to energize the process would be for the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and that could have a domino effect on other nuclear-weapons states ratifying the accord. What is your view?

A: Yes, the commission looked on this again and with great concern and suggested that the U.S. look again at the issue of ratifying the [1996] treaty and do an impact assessment to see what would be the effect of the United States ratifying, and how many other states would ratify, and then have a revision of their policy. That is something we would warmly welcome.

If that doesn’t happen, we have another idea: At the end of next year, during the conference that CTBT signatories hold to consider entry into force of the treaty, states look at the possibility of provisionally applying the treaty.

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