Year XXVII, 1985, Number 3, Page 191
THE PROPOSALS FOR DENUCLEARISATION. A ROAD TOWARDS PEACE?
The recent “Treaty of Rarotonga” (August 1985) put forward by Australia and New Zealand which bans nuclear arms in a wide area of the Southern Pacific, once again proposes the idea of denuclearisation as a strategy by which to move towards a more peaceful world at last free from the nuclear threat.
Not all denuclearisation proposals have the same form or the same function. They vary significantly according to their proponents. Some of the proposals reject nuclear energy even for peaceful and social purposes by highlighting the ecological problem (an example of this is the Greenpeace initiative against French nuclear experiments on the Mururoa atoll).
Other initiatives are essentially designed to sensitize and directly involve public opinion by inviting citizens, or their representatives at a local level, to state that their city or even their house is a nuclear-free area. Such initiatives are partly linked with the Peace Movement in its continual search for “strategies” and action which demonstrate the desire and will for peace for all men. Although they may sometimes be exploited for political ends or take the form of unrealistic statements, nevertheless they may be considered as a testimony to the desire to keep peace in the public eye.
Nuclear ban proposals and treaties which involve states and their governments, or even whole continents, have very different implications, or at least they should have.
It is however necessary to stress that these proposals basically have the same objectives and reflect the same logic as the Non-Proliferation Treaty signed in 1968 by 82 countries and which came into force in 1970. The denuclearised areas are thus considered as a means of preventing the spread of nuclear capacity to other countries.
The miserable failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty should at least be a means of reflection on denuclearisation. What turned this treaty into an illusion was the baseless idea that the major nuclear powers, and in particular the USA and the USSR, which both signed the treaty, would respect the clauses that asked them to put an end to all nuclear tests, the cessation of the arms race and the promulgation of measures which are effective vis-à-vis nuclear disarmament. During the negotiations on non-proliferation the Japanese ambassador pointed out that if the powers who possessed nuclear arms did not fulfil their commitments, the treaty would have lost its moral base. In 1970, when the treaty came into force, Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister at the time, stated: “We know that there are two forms of proliferation, vertical proliferation and horizontal proliferation. Countries which are now committed to never possessing nuclear arms have the right to expect that the countries who do have nuclear arms play their part in the agreement.” The arms race in recent years only goes to show that those hopes were illusory and make it increasingly clear that such treaties imply the recognition of the predominance of states who do possess nuclear arms.
The same considerations are true for denuclearisation proposals. Moreover, their history helps to make us realize that, far from being concrete attempts at trying to reach a less armed and hence more peaceful world, they have always been subordinated to the logic of power politics and the confrontation between the USA and USSR, the world’s two greatest nuclear powers.
Nor is it mere chance that the USSR has tried to give the greatest weight above all to the proposals relating to Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, i.e. the areas where there is direct confrontation between the two blocs, in an obvious attempt to reduce American presence. Moreover, the USA have always stressed that any proposal must not undermine the current military balance and have applied this irrenounceable principle when rejecting, together with Western powers, the Rapacki plan (1958) for denuclearisation of the territories of Poland, Checkoslovakia, East Germany and West Germany, and subsequent amendments, right up to the Gomulka plan in 1964. Their acceptance would, in fact, have weakened America’s military position in Europe, where the German Federal Republic represents the advanced front.
Not so long ago (June 1982), the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, an international group of government officials and former officials set up in 1980 under the chairmanship of Olof Palme, developed a new proposal to create a denuclearised zone in Central Europe relating to battlefield nuclear weapons. This plan has been interpreted as an attempt to avoid the political implications and exploitation which undermined the credibility of previous plans, inasmuch as it is based on the characteristics of a certain type of nuclear weapon rather than on territorial extension. It does, in fact, provide for the denuclearisation of a wide band of territory 150 kilometres wide on both sides of the boundary of Western Germany, on the one hand, and East Germany and Checkoslovakia on the other hand, with the possibility of extending it vertically to the extreme north and south of the two blocs. There would be two advantages. The first that West Germany would continue to be part of the West’s defensive structures (the problems raised by a denuclearised Germany and hence in some ways separate from the rest of Western Europe have always been considered prominent particularly as regards German unification). The second relates to the strengthening of barriers against the involuntary or accidental outbreak of a nuclear war. The removal of battlefield nuclear weapons which might be used in a desperate situation against a conventional and unstoppable attack and which would give rise to uncontrolled escalation, would make it possible to take more studied decisions and solve the conflict before the situation could deteriorate.
It is highly significant that Cyrus Vance, former us Secretary of State was a member of the Palme Commission as was Georgij Arbatov, a member of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee and that the USSR not only approved the plan but also proposed an extension of the denuclearised zone. This means that it would not bring political or strategic questions of the two Superpowers or their hegemonic role into play, and hence cannot be presented as a real contribution to the peaceful evolution of international relationships.
But the most important consideration is the fact that this proposal, like the previous ones, does not consider Europe’s autonomy at all.
The real problem for Europe, both in the East and the West, is accepting the idea of being the front line for hegemonic powers and playing a subordinate role in international relationships.
Certainly the presence of tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons makes it easier to overcome the nuclear threshold, and the road towards which we need to direct our efforts is certainly denuclearisation, but this should be interpreted as the complete abolition of nuclear weapons throughout Europe. The possibilities for this approach being adopted are in the hands of Western Europe, where the realisation of the process of political integration would create the pre-requisites and the indispensable conditions for the refusal of tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons: the acquisition of political independence from the USA and resulting defensive autonomy. A united and independent Europe would have the possibility and good cause to propose a non-aggressive defence model both for conventional arms (through a territorial-type defence), and for nuclear arms (the Anglo-French deterrent placed on submarines), thus achieving the twin goal of real denuclearisation in Western Europe and rejection of irresponsible neutralist positions, which would leave the field even more open to the world hegemonic aims of the Superpowers.
This could be both the first step towards the abolition of nuclear arms in Eastern Europe, which would gradually lose its position as the front line of Soviet military strategy vis-à-vis the competitive power and, at the same time, a step towards the creation of less tense, less rigid and more evolved ties between the USA and the USSR, which would be to the benefit of Europe and the whole world.
A decline in international tension, in some areas of the world, which is not in fact always openly stirred up but behind which there is nearly always the hand of the Superpowers, is the indispensable premise for avoiding the “horizontal” and “vertical” proliferation of nuclear weapons and not vice versa. An example is the Middle East: a plan to denuclearise this area, presented by Iran in 1974 and backed up by Egypt, and accepted by the UN General Assembly became a dead duck because of Israel’s refusal (who at the time was in a belligerent state with Egypt). The same lot befell a proposal relating to Southern Asia, presented by Pakistan after the explosion of an Indian nuclear device, which was backed up by the USA but opposed by India, in turn backed up by the USSR.
The road to follow to reach world disarmament needs to be reconsidered, in the light of the foregoing examples and considerations made, so as not to refuse the concept of denuclearisation tout court but to envisage it in a more global preliminary strategic plan which provides for the creation of a multipolar world order without which denuclearisation could easily, though not inevitably, become the instrument by which the status quo, i.e. an unbalanced and hierarchical international position, is maintained.