The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
The Canberra Commission is persuaded that immediate and determined efforts
need to be made to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they
pose to it. The destructiveness of nuclear weapons is immense. Any use would
The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never
used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility. The only complete
defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will
never be produced again.
The end of the bipolar confrontation has not removed the danger of nuclear
catastrophe. In some respects the risk of use by accident or miscalculation
has increased. Political upheaval or the weakening of state authority in
a nuclear weapon state could cripple existing systems for ensuring the safe
handling and control of nuclear weapons and weapons material, increasing
the odds of a calamity. The same fate could befall other states or sub-state
groups with a less developed nuclear weapon capability or those that seek
to develop such a capability in the future.
Nuclear weapons have long been understood to be too destructive and non-discriminatory
to secure discrete objectives on the battlefield. The destructiveness of
nuclear weapons is so great that they have no military utility against a
comparably equipped opponent, other than the belief that they deter that
opponent from using nuclear weapons. Possession of nuclear weapons has not
prevented wars, in various regions, which directly or indirectly involve
the major powers. They were deemed unsuitable for use even when those powers
suffered humiliating military setbacks.
No nuclear weapon state has been or is prepared to declare as a matter of
national policy that it would respond to the use of chemical or biological
weapons with nuclear weapons. The solution to these concerns lies in the
strengthening and effective implementation of and universal adherence to
the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, with
particular emphasis on early detection of untoward developments. The response
to any violation should be a multilateral one.
Thus, the only apparent military utility that remains for nuclear weapons
is in deterring their use by others. That utility implies the continued
existence of nuclear weapons. It would disappear completely if nuclear weapons
A New Climate For Action
Nuclear weapons are held by a handful of states which insist that these
weapons provide unique security benefits, and yet reserve uniquely to themselves
the right to own them. This situation is highly discriminatory and thus
unstable; it cannot be sustained. The possession of nuclear weapons by any
state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them.
In the 1960s, the world looked at the prospect of dozens of nuclear weapons
states, recoiled and rejected it. The result was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968 with its promise of a world free of these
weapons. The overall success of the NPT and other nuclear non-proliferation
regimes has been gratifying, but it has been hard won, and is by no means
guaranteed. The prospects of a renewal of horizontal proliferation have
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is amongst the most immediate security
challenges facing the international community. Despite the impact of the
international nuclear non-proliferation regime, the disconcerting reality
is that several states have made, and some continue to make, clandestine
efforts to develop nuclear arsenals. The possible acquisition by terrorist
groups of nuclear weapons or material is a growing threat to the international
The end of the Cold War has created a new climate for international action
to eliminate nuclear weapons, a new opportunity. It must be exploited quickly
or it will be lost.
The elimination of nuclear weapons must be a global endeavour involving
all states. The process followed must ensure that no state feels, at any
stage, that further nuclear disarmament is a threat to its security. To
this end nuclear weapon elimination should be conducted as a series of phased
verified reductions that allow states to satisfy themselves, at each stage
of the process, that further movement toward elimination can be made safely
The first requirement is for the five nuclear weapon states to commit themselves
unequivocally to the elimination of nuclear weapons and agree to start work
immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement.
This commitment should be made at the highest political level. Non-nuclear
weapon states should support the commitment by the nuclear weapon states
and join in cooperative international action to implement it. This commitment
would change instantly the tenor of debate, the thrust of war planning,
and the timing or indeed the necessity for modernisation programs. It would
transform the nuclear weapons paradigm from the indefinite management of
a world fraught with the twin risks of the use of nuclear weapons and further
proliferation, to one of nuclear weapons elimination. Negotiation of the
commitment should begin immediately, with the aim of first steps in its
implementation being taken in 1997.
The commitment by the nuclear weapon states to a nuclear weapon free world
must be accompanied by a series of practical, realistic and mutually reinforcing
steps. There are a number of such steps that can be taken immediately. They
would significantly reduce the risk of nuclear war and thus enhance the
security of all states, but particularly that of the nuclear weapon states.
Their implementation would provide clear confirmation of the intent of the
nuclear weapon states to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their
security postures. The recommended steps are:
Ending deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons
- Taking nuclear forces off alert
- Removal of warheads from delivery vehicles
Ending nuclear testing
Initiating negotiations to further reduce United States and Russian
- Agreement amongst the nuclear weapon states of reciprocal no first use
undertakings, and of a non-use undertaking by them in relation to the non-nuclear
Nuclear weapon states should take all nuclear forces off alert status and
so reduce dramatically the chance of an accidental or unauthorised nuclear
weapons launch. In the first instance, reductions in alert status could
be adopted by the nuclear weapon states unilaterally.
The physical separation of warheads from delivery vehicles would strongly
reinforce the gains achieved by taking nuclear forces off alert. This measure
can be implemented to the extent that nuclear forces can be reconstituted
to an alert posture only within known or agreed upon timeframes.
The nuclear weapon states should unilaterally remove all non-strategic nuclear
weapons from deployed sites to a limited number of secure storage facilities
on their territory.
Pending universal application of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty all states
should observe at once the moratorium it imposes on nuclear testing.
The United States and Russia must continue to show leadership in reversing
the nuclear accumulations of the Cold War. Their purpose should be to move
toward nuclear force levels for all the nuclear weapon states which would
reflect unambiguously the determination to eliminate these weapons when
this step can be verified with adequate confidence.
The nuclear weapon states should agree and state that they would not be
the first to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against each other and
that they would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons in any conflict
with a non-nuclear weapon state. Such an agreement should be brought into
operation as soon as possible.
The following steps would build on the solid foundation of commitment, accomplishment
and goodwill established through implementation of the steps recommended
for immediate action:
- Action to prevent further horizontal proliferation
- Developing verification arrangements for a nuclear weapon free world
- Cessation of the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive
The problem of nuclear proliferation is inextricably linked to the continued
possession of nuclear weapons by a handful of states. A world environment
where proliferation is under control will facilitate the disarmament process
and movement toward final elimination, and vice versa. The emergence of
any new nuclear weapon state during the elimination process would seriously
jeopardise the process of eliminating nuclear weapons. Action is needed
to ensure effective non-proliferation controls on civil and military nuclear
activities, and to press for universal acceptance of non-proliferation obligations.
Effective verification is critical to the achievement and maintenance of
a nuclear weapon free world. Before states agree to eliminate nuclear weapons
they will require a high level of confidence that verification arrangements
would detect promptly any attempt to cheat the disarmament process whether
through retention or acquisition of clandestine weapons, weapons components,
means of weapons production or undeclared stocks of fissile material. Formal
legal undertakings should be accompanied by corresponding legal arrangements
for verification. To maintain security in a post-nuclear weapon world the
verification system must provide a high level of assurance as to the continued
peaceful, non-explosive use of a state's nuclear activity. A political judgement
will be needed on whether the levels of assurance possible from the verification
regime are sufficient. All existing arms control and disarmament agreements
have required political judgements of this nature because no verification
system provides absolute certainty.
A key element of non-proliferation arrangements for a nuclear weapon free
world will be a highly developed capacity to detect undeclared nuclear activity
at both declared and undeclared sites. Progressive extension of safeguards
to nuclear activity in the nuclear weapon states, the undeclared weapon
states and the threshold states will be needed with the end point being
universal application of safeguards in all states. Systems will be needed
to verify that nuclear warheads are dismantled and destroyed, and their
fissile material content safeguarded to provide maximum confidence that
such material cannot be reintroduced to weapons use.
The political commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons must be matched by
a willingness to make available the resources needed for nuclear disarmament
including effective verification. States must also be confident that any
violations detected will be acted upon. In this context, the Security Council
should continue its consideration of how it might address, consistent with
specific mandates given to it and consistent with the Charter of the United
Nations, violations of nuclear disarmament obligations that might be drawn
to its attention. This should demonstrate that the collective security system
enshrined in the Charter will operate effectively in this field.
Further United States/Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START)
and nuclear confidence building measures should establish a receptive international
climate for negotiations on global reduction of nuclear arms. The United
States and Russia could commence a process for bringing the United Kingdom,
France and China into the nuclear disarmament process. Further early steps
could be for the US and Russia to prepare the ground for verification of
nuclear weapon states reductions by sharing information and expertise on
START verification, on weapons dismantlement and on verification and control
of fissile material from dismantled weapons. US/Russian experience on nuclear
confidence building might be extended to the other nuclear weapon states
and new measures developed which involve them.
The Future Environment
Concurrent with the central disarmament process, there will be a need for
activity supported by all states, but particularly the nuclear weapon states,
to build an environment conducive to nuclear disarmament and non-
It will be extremely important for the pursuit of the elimination of nuclear
weapons to protect fully the integrity of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Nuclear weapon free zones are part of the architecture that can usefully
encourage and support a nuclear weapon free world. The spread of nuclear
weapon free zones around the globe, with specific mechanisms to answer the
security concerns of each region, can progressively codify the transition
to a world free of nuclear weapons.
At the level of national action, states have the fundamental obligation,
under a variety of treaties, and in moral terms, to ensure that sensitive
nuclear material, equipment and technology under their jurisdiction and
control do not find their way into the hands of those who would misuse them.
The Commission noted with satisfaction the response of the International
Court of Justice made in July 1996 to a request from the General Assembly
of the United Nations for an advisory opinion on the legality of the threat
or use of nuclear weapons. The Court's statement that there existed an obligation
to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to
nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international
control is precisely the obligation that the Commission wishes to see implemented.
The Commission considered carefully the merits of setting out a precise
timeframe for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but elected not to do
so. However, this does not imply that it accepts the extended timelines
imposed by such current constraints as limited warhead dismantlement facilities.
Those constraints could be relieved by political decisions and the allocation
of resources required to advance dismantlement. In addition, another limiting
factor may prove to be establishing the necessary confidence in the verification
regime which would be required to take the final step to complete elimination.
In this context, the Canberra Commission remains convinced of the basic
importance of agreed targets and guidelines which would drive the process
inexorably toward the ultimate objective of final elimination, at the earliest