Year XXXIX, 1997, Number 1, Page 37

 

 

PEACE AND DISARMAMENT
 
 
To find one’s bearings in analysing the current world order it maybe useful to start with the following three questions. To what extent has bipolarism been overcome? What kind of detente is going on? And what policy are the USA and Russia pursuing?
From the 1950s the federalists have highlighted the limits and risks of the bipolar evolution of the world order, and have pointed towards both the intermediate objective of multipolarism, to be pursued through the creation of the European federation, and the final objective of world government. In subsequent decades this point of view made it possible to distinguish between the innovative and the traditional aspects of detente and disarmament.[1] Today, at a distance of over ten years from the start of the final phase of detente between the USA and the USSR, the birth of a new multipolar order has not yet appeared on the horizon, far less that of an embryonic

partial world government, and it is once more becoming important to reflect on that distinction.
 
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The last Helsinki Summit, as we know, ended with the Russian-American commitment to reducing their respective strategic nuclear arsenals by around 80% by the year 2007. This decision, which in the Eighties would have been greeted as a turning point in relations between the two superpowers, now, despite the efforts of both Clinton and Yeltsin to present it as such still, has passed almost unobserved. The reason is soon explained by considering some of the joint declarations signed in Helsinki, and three of these in particular (a fourth declaration concerns the Russian-American commitment for the ratification of the convention on chemical weapons and a fifth concerns economic cooperation). Let us briefly recall their contents.
Declaration on European security. With this declaration the importance of the OSCE is recognised “as the only framework for European security cooperation providing for full and equal participation of all states”, but without specifying any objective of institutional reinforcement and still respecting the sovereignty of the states and their right to choose the means to ensure their security. For the USA the key element to guarantee European security remains the expansion of NATO, while Russia confirms its opposition to this.
Declaration on the reduction of nuclear weapons. This is the most significant joint document, but also the most contradictory. Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to let slide for a year the terms of reduction fixed by the START II agreement. This, maintain Clinton and Yeltsin, could speed up the ratification of the treaty by the Russian Duma. By contrast, by their own admission, the modification of the time-table of the Treaty will require another difficult ratification by the US Congress. This element is not secondary if one considers that the agreement signed at Helsinki provides that only after the US Congress and the Russian Duma have ratified START II, can negotiations begin for a new agreement, START III, to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads to 2000-2500 a side by 31 December 2007. Finally, this declaration notes with satisfaction the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the start of the ratification of the ban on nuclear testing, but does not define any strategy for the complete elimination of the nuclear threat.
Declaration on strategic and theatre nuclear defence. With this document the USA and Russia, in confirming the common will to respect agreements on anti-missile defence, remove the mutual vetoes to the installation of so-called theatre nuclear missiles, as long as they are not used against the other superpower. “Theater missiles defense systems may be deployed by each side”. On this point, during the press conference at the end of the summit, President Clinton specified that these missiles should serve to protect friends of the USA, including those in Russia, which would know what use the Americans would make of them if they should have to protect their troops in the future.
As we see, Clinton and Yeltsin have proposed short and medium term objectives which are still moving in the same direction as the proposed arms reductions of the Eighties, but have baulked at making any long term declarations.[2] They have in fact limited themselves to re-affirming a method, that of progressive disarmament, which leaves Russia and the USA around five thousand strategic nuclear warheads, without proposing a political plan.
It is worth noting that, although setting out from opposing points of view, in the Eighties Reagan and Gorbachev had presented their respective short and medium term partial disarmament plans to world public opinion as steps towards total disarmament. The common objective was that of abolishing the nuclear threat by the end of the century. Reagan’ s programme provided for the abolition of nuclear arms in fact by strengthening the Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars), while Gorbachev’s programme, divided into three phases of disarmament, proposed a universal agreement on the ban on nuclear weapons construction by the end of 1999. These proposals had the merit of relaunching the objective of reforming international institutions for the first time since the end of the second world war, and of adopting the perspective of a world order free from the nuclear nightmare. The fact that they have progressively lost their momentum confirms the federalist analysis formed in the Eighties, which underlined how Gorbachev’ s plan could only be realised in the context of the gradual overcoming of the bipolar government of the world and Europe’s entry onto the international scene.
 
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How then is one to interpret the current attitude of the USA and Russia, which focuses on short and medium term objectives of nuclear arms reduction, but ignores the long term? First of all it must be stressed that, by failing to tackle the real crux of the problem of world security, namely the abolition of the risk of war, the USA and Russia are again proposing, primarily to the Europeans, the policies of the old bipolar world order.
This failure is not only the result of a Russian-American decision. We are in fact facing a more general difficulty of politics to imagine the future and precise political responsibilities of the Europeans who, for the second time in the last fifty years, hesitate to seize the opportunity to contribute to the birth of a new world order. The result is easily observable. On the one hand the end of the cold war, with the consequent easing of tension between the superpowers, has made the threat from nuclear arms less imminent and apocalyptic, both in the eyes of the military and political apparatuses, and in those of national public opinion. On the other hand, the slowness with which the new regional units in international politics, and in the first place the European Union, are asserting themselves, has led many — and not only Clinton and Yeltsin, but also those involved in the processes of regional unification themselves — to think that the future of world security still depends in large measure on a substitute for the bipolar order: the US leadership alongside a policy of benign neglect by the Russian power.
In the light of these considerations the results of the summit of Helsinki can therefore be considered as a symptom of the changed perception of the nuclear risk and of war, and as a confirmation of the Russian-American mistrust of the birth of a new multipolar order. But let us analyse these two aspects separately.
As regards the changed perception of the risks facing mankind, we note that there is now a widespread notion that the end of the nuclear arms race also represents the end of the nuclear threat. For example, a recent study on the future of the US nuclear arsenal conducted by major American experts has concluded that peace now depends on the capacity of the nuclear powers to adequately maintain their nuclear arsenals without resort to new experiments. This is only apparently a technical judgement, because in reality it is based on a point of view generally favourable to disarmament, but which prescinds from any political strategy to reach that objective.[3] This study is based on the hypothesis that the real arms race only developed with particular force over twenty-odd years, during the Forties and Fifties. After this it slowly died out over three stages: in the Sixties the scientific premises for the arms race were removed by the development of the hydrogen bomb; in the Seventies the military motivation disappeared after the testing of particularly insidious and invulnerable launch systems like those based on submarines; and in the Eighties the political reasons failed when awareness of the ecological and economic risks of the nuclear threat became widespread. The surprising fact is however that, as one of the authors of this report admits, despite the fact that the end of the arms race can no longer be considered to represent the end of war, the delusion persists that peace can be maintained by counting on the good will of the nuclear powers. Here however one must ask oneself if it is legitimate to undervalue the contradictory aspects which still characterise the current phase of detente. On the scientific and military level, the end of the run for techniques of defence and offence has by no means been reached. This is shown by the fact that the ban on nuclear tests is irrelevant to the great nuclear powers at least, since they can now replace explosions by simulated laboratory tests.[4] On the political level, while it is true that the terrible destructive force of nuclear weapons has imposed a certain convergence between the raisons d’Etat of the nuclear powers, it is equally true that none of these — the only exception being South Africa, which for the moment need face no regional or global threat — has renounced the possession of those arms and therefore of the politics of deterrence.
We are therefore faced with a difficult transition from an old to a new order, in which the process of disarmament is evidently a necessary condition to begin and consolidate that climate of trust and collaboration among the states which is indispensable to create the institutions of peace. But we are still far from having reached the point of no return on the road to building peace.
On the other hand, as regards the growing mistrust towards the birth of a new multipolar order, it has to be said that the absence of the European Federation is now playing an increasingly negative role. For some time now, the Europe of the nation-states has not only no longer been in a position to play an active role to guarantee international security, but now risks becoming a potential cause of instability and disorder. A growing mistrust is becoming apparent with regard to the capacities of the Europeans to guarantee stability, security and democracy for long on the European continent itself. This mistrust also emerged in the course of the press conference held by Clinton and Yeltsin at the end of their summit. Clinton remarked that one must recognise that there would be new threats to security in Europe: they had seen it in Bosnia and in other traumatic events of an ethnic, religious or racial nature at European borders, and it was even apparent in the continual disputes between member states of the European Community. And Yeltsin answered a journalist who asked him what he thought of Finland possibly joining NATO: “Russia respects the state of Finland as a neutral state which does not align itself with any bloc”. An even more brutal judgement was expressed by Secretary of State Albright before a Commission of the American Senate when, to explain the reasons for NATO’s expansion, she said: “To protect against Europe’s next war” (23 April 1997).
The inevitable consequence of this situation is that in the short and medium term the USA and Russia cannot yet give up including Europe in the sphere of their own security, and hence inevitably in the calculations of their respective military policies. It is therefore understandable that in such a context the USA seek to pursue stability and security through the reaffirmation of their role of global leadership, while Russia, because of its weakened condition, aspires to manage its own European and Asian policy through a policy of partnership with the USA. It is further evident that these policies, by not adopting the perspective of a significant supranational reinforcement of international institutions, cultivate the illusion of extending in time the Russian-American advantage in the military field with respect to the other states. The insidious aspect of this situation lies precisely in the fact that, since all that is for the moment compatible with the policy of reduction of the enormous arsenals accumulated in the past, it is possible to present disarmament as an end in itself, and not as a necessary stage on the road to peace. Now, if the connection between disarmament policy and policies for the construction of peace is not re-established, the risk of the restoration of bipolar government in Europe, even if attenuated, becomes inevitable.
For the Europeans such a restoration would mean the acceptance of a new period of subordination to Russian-American choices in the international field, and of a dangerous delay in the transition towards a new world order. The situation would change radically on the other hand if the Europeans decided to found a European federal state. In this case, new prospects would open for an innovative yet stable detente, whose objective could no longer be that of prolonging the military supremacy of one power or another at global level, but rather that of starting a policy of world partnership between Europe, USA, Russia and Japan (enlarged also to China and India), to create the premises for world government. But in order for this to happen it is urgent that the Europeans take cognizance of the fact that the destiny of detente and of peace depends increasingly on their will to transform the Union into a true federal state, and not on Russian-American summits.
 
Franco Spoltore


[1] See the editorial, “Traditional detente and innovative detente” in The Federalist, XXX (1988).
[2] See the editorial “First reflections on the Gorbachev Plan”, in The Federalist, XXVII (1985).
[3] See the article by Freeman Dyson, “The Race is Over”, which appeared in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLIV, N. 4, March 6, 1997. Dyson writes: “Stabilization is the essential prerequisite for allowing the weapons to disappear gracefully. Once a stable regime of stockpile maintenance has been established, the weapons will attract less attention both nationally and internationally. They will acquire the qualities that a stable nuclear deterrent force should have: awesomeness, remoteness, silence. Gradually, as the decades of twenty-first century roll by, these weapons will become less and less relevant to the problems of international order in a hungry and turbulent world. The time may come when nuclear weapons are perceived as useless relics of a vanished era, like the horses of an aristocratic cavalry regiment, maintained only for ceremonial purposes. When nuclear weapons are generally regarded as absurd and irrelevant, the time may have come when it will be possible to get rid of them altogether... The time when we can say goodbye to nuclear weapons is still far distant, too far to be clearly envisaged, perhaps a hundred years away. Until that time comes, we must live with our weapons as responsibly and as quietly as we can... The abolition of war is an ultimate goal, more remote than the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
[4] A week after signing the Treaty banning nuclear testing, President Clinton authorised an increase in federal expenditure (from 18 to 191 million dollars) for laboratory tests on the efficiency and trustworthiness of existing nuclear weapons and to run new tests on the use of lasers in nuclear experiments (Scientific American, December 1996). Russia, for its part, to exploit the opportunities offered by the ban on nuclear testing, is trying to acquire more powerful systems of elaboration on the international market to maintain an efficiency and trustworthiness of its own nuclear arsenal comparable to that of the USA (US Congress National Security Committee, 15 April 1997).

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