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Lifting the nuclear shadow.

Nuclear weapons remain potentially the most destructive threat to global security. Since the end of the Cold War there has been significant progress in reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons. We have reduced the total explosive power of its nuclear arsenal by some 75%. The US, Russia and France have also made very significant reductions.  

New nuclear threats are emerging. There is increasing concern over the risks of nuclear weapons spreading to states like Iran and North Korea or to terrorists. We need to be careful that the renaissance of nuclear power for good climate change and energy security reasons does not lead to the much wider spread of the more proliferation-sensitive nuclear technologies.  

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has sought to  re-energise international efforts to combat these threats, issuing a call 'to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons.'

Achieving a global ban on all nuclear weapons requires the creation of conditions which will give confidence to all those who are covered by a nuclear deterrent (over half of the world’s population) that their security will be greater in a world without nuclear weapons than with them.

There are three main sets of such conditions and six specific steps to help create them which are potentially attainable within the next few years.

Condition 1: watertight means to prevent nuclear weapons from spreading to more states or to terrorists at the same time as nuclear energy is expanding

Step 1: Stopping further proliferation and securing agreement among all the Non-Proliferation Treaty states that the way forward must include tougher measures to prevent proliferation and tighten security, and the vigorous implementation of such measures, including practical help to states which need it.

Step 2:  Working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to help states which want to develop a civil nuclear energy industry to do so in ways which are safe and secure and which minimise the risks of nuclear weapons spreading.

Condition 2:  minimal arsenals and an international legal framework which puts tight, verified constraints on nuclear weapons

Step 3: US-Russia negotiations and agreement on substantial further reductions in their total nuclear arsenals. This needs to be complemented by efforts by other states with nuclear weapons to reduce and keep their own forces to an absolute minimum. We and France have made significant reductions, but China, India and Pakistan are believed to be expanding their nuclear weapons capabilities.

Step 4: Bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, banning all nuclear weapons test explosions and thereby constraining the qualitative development of nuclear weapons. Nine states still need to ratify the Treaty to enable it to be brought into force.

Step 5: Starting negotiations, without preconditions, and making progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. This is vital to help make reductions in nuclear weapons irreversible and to establish many of the mechanisms that would constitute the core of an eventual regime to oversee a global ban. We are urging those countries still blocking the start of negotiations to reassess their position .

Condition 3:  finding solutions to the challenges of moving from small numbers of nuclear weapons to zero in ways which enhance security.

Step 6: Exploring the many complex political, military, technical and institutional issues which will need to be resolved if the states which possess nuclear weapons are to reduce and ultimately to eliminate their arsenals securely and to prevent nuclear weapons from ever re-emerging. A strategic dialogue among the five Nuclear Weapon States (and, in due course, others) needs to lay the groundwork. We are doing ground-breaking work on how to verify nuclear disarmament and has proposed a conference of the Nuclear Weapon States in 2009 to discuss confidence building.

Over the longer-term, there will need to be:

  • an improved political relationships between key states, building trust and understanding between these countries to the point that a nuclear exchange between them becomes unthinkable. Long-standing disputes need to be resolved to remove key causes of conflict and terrorism
  • consideration given to ways to ensure that limiting or banning nuclear weapons does not provoke arms races in other forms of weapons – chemical, biological or conventional
  • collective security arrangements to enforce a global ban on nuclear weapons and to maintain international security in a world without them. This is likely to require the reform and strengthening of international institutions and the international rules-based system as a whole.

Although the challenges are considerable, progress on these six steps would mark a decisive break from the deadlock of the past decade. Making progress will require the active engagement of the entire international community. We are working to build a broad coalition of governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and businesses which share the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and to forge agreement on how we will work together to make it happen.

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