Global Panel Calls for Steep Nuclear Cuts

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Providing a boost to President Barack Obama's nuclear weapons agenda, an international panel of experts sponsored by Australia and Japan released a report Dec. 15 finding that global stockpiles of nuclear weapons should be reduced 90 percent by 2025 and ultimately eliminated.

"[T]he key recommendation is to get serious about a world without nuclear weapons because there are far more risks associated with the continuation of nuclear weapons than there are these days any benefits," commission co-chair and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans told Australia's ABC News Dec. 15. "We're realistic about how long that will take. We're setting a target date, 2025, to achieve a dramatic 90 percent reduction in the world's nuclear weapons. We think that's realistically achievable."

In releasing the report, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called it "an important framework for discussions and debate on nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament." Rudd initially proposed the creation of the panel, known as the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). In September 2008, he and Yasuo Fukuda, then Japan's prime minister, launched the ICNND as a joint initiative of their governments. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is a co-chair. The report was formally released in Tokyo by Evans, Kawaguchi, Rudd, and Fukuda's successor, Yukio Hatoyama.

The report, entitled "Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers," drew criticism from opposite flanks. "Capping U.S. and Russian arsenals at 500 warheads is unrealistic given today's world," wrote Franklin Miller, a Pentagon and National Security Council official from 1979 to 2005, and Andrew Shearer of Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, in The Wall Street Journal Dec. 16. They were referring to the number of weapons that would remain in U.S. and Russian arsenals after 90 percent reductions.

Meanwhile, 17 leaders of the international nuclear abolition movement, including the mayor of Hiroshima, signed a joint letter saying, "The pace of the action plan for nuclear disarmament laid out in the report is far too slow. Rather than adding to the global momentum for nuclear abolition, there is a danger that it could in fact act as a brake."

Among its many findings, the 230-page report noted that nuclear weapons are "the only weapons ever invented that have the capacity to wholly destroy life on this planet, and the arsenals we now possess are able to do so many times over. The problem of nuclear weapons is at least equal to that of climate change in terms of gravity - and much more immediate in its potential impact."

Directly challenging traditional approaches to nonproliferation, the commission, which included former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Russian Duma member Alexei Arbatov, found that "[s]o long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design."

The commission laid out a phased action agenda, similar in many ways to that of the Obama administration. In the short term (by 2012), the panel called for U.S.-Russian agreement on the START follow-on, a strengthening of the nonproliferation system at the May 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty. The commission also called for progress on nuclear security and multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle.

"Sole Purpose" Policy

In a policy recommendation that reportedly prompted considerable debate within the commission, the panel called for a declaration by all nuclear-armed states that the "sole purpose" of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others. In the ABC News interview, Evans said the "immediate priority" for U. …