At the Global Zero #ReachingZero conference

February 19, 2012

This weekend, I’ve flown out State-side to visit New Haven where the Global Zero activist conference, Reaching Zero is being held at Yale.

Global Zero is an international group that campaigns for the reduction of nuclear weapons to “global zero” — that is, total nuclear disarmament.

Earlier this year, the global doomsday clock ticked one minute closer to midnight. This doomsday clock measures how close we are to nuclear conflict. With the increasing risk of conflict between the US, Israel and Iran over nuclear weapons programs, there is an urgent need to campaign for disarmament.

The Reaching Zero conference has a fairly impressive line up of speakers, including Hans Blix and Valerie Plame. As the two-day conference progresses, I’ll try to blog some updates.

9:28

After an introduction from Yale President Richard Levin, Global Zero founder Matt Brown argues that the world is at a sensitive time, with elections in both the US and Russia that could derail progress on nuclear stockpile reductions. He also mentioned the recent leak from the White House that Obama will be asking the Pentagon to plan reductions to as few as 300 deployed nuclear weapons. (Last night I was watching Fox News where Republicans like John Bolton and Liz Cheney were complaining that the US was at risk through these proposed reductions!)

Matt Brown also points out that of the 1000s of nuclear weapons in the US, 100s are aimed at, not only Russian cities, but also cities in former Soviet Bloc that are now members of NATO! The problem is compounded when polls show that most Americans think the US has only 200 nuclear weapons.

9:40

Former US Ambassador under Reagan and Bush Snr, Richard Burt, talks about the “horizontal proliferation risks”, which could lead to up to 20 countries having nuckes. We can’t rely on the luck we had during the Cold War where only two fingers were on the button. Key risks include North Korea, Pakistan and Iran.

Burt argues that main nuclear powers, US & Russia have responsibility to bilaterally reduce nuclear weapons, and use that momentum to “multilateralise” reductions with China, India and Israel, and all the other important nuclear and non-nuclear states.

9:46

Hans Blix up now – introduced by Matt Brown as the “Elvis” of Global Zero.

Blix: Important for groups like Global Zero to “reach out” with its message – rather than just be a think-tank.

He argues that nuclear deterrence is “obsolete”. There needs to be vertical proliferation reduction in order to achieve horizontal reduction. A major worry for US, etc is the military growth of China — the “worry about China”. China doesn’t have many nukes though (compared to US/Russia). Blix also believes that the global budgetary problems in Europe and the US will lead to pressure to reduce arms — the nuclear weapons now not aimed at any specific enemy.

10am

Ambassador Saran from India now talking about deterrence. Was a genuine strategy when the actors were states, but most nuclear threats are now from individuals and non-state actors. Deterrence does not work when the nuclear threat may come from internally or from the territory of an ally. How do you retaliate then? The deterrence rationale for nuclear weapons is the one that is still used widely. For example, it is used by India (and also by the Fox News punditry in the USA).

Saran also cmments on the argument that nuclear reductions must “wait” until other regional problems are resolved — for example, improvement in Pakistani-Indian relations. However, he argues, when nuclear disarmament in the 60s was a big movement, disarmament cannot be linked to oter issues, like regional conflict. Nuclear weapons are dangerous. Full stop. They need to be disarmed because they are weapons of mass destruction.

He also laments that the global momentum for disarmament has declined in recent years. However, this means there needs to be a credible movement to zero nuclear weapons — i.e. Global Zero. Obama’s statement that he wanted to make disamament a “central plank” in his global security strategy has unfortuntely been lost. Which is why there needs to be a global movement to reenergise talks.

10:14

Johnathan Schell — a key player in founding Global Zero — talking about the role of Ronald Reagan and his Secretaries of State Kissenger and Schultz, played in advocating nuclear abolition. (He comments that he is waiting for all the Reagan Republicans running for president to remember that Reagan opposed nuclear weapons.)

Placing the global zero movement in historical context, he notes that the anti-nucler movement in the 60s was about nuclear freeze, not complete abolition. Disarmament has moved significantly — and arms control is essential to reaching lower numbers. Zero nuclear weapons becomes practical when talking about control.

The world has becomea a lot “feistier” in the last 18months. The arab spring, the sub zero movement in Russia and the Occupy movement in the US now allow for new systemic critiques. Unfortunately, none of these movement are talking about nuclear weapons — but the issues that are under discussion, economics, climate change, form a natural bridge to nuclear disarmament.

10:21

Galit Gun, the only woman on the panel this morning. Leader of strategy for Global Zero and former staffer ith Avaaz. Talking from the perspective of a person who did not grow up with the Cold War.

Movement entrepreneurship — not traditional picketing, working around around institutions rather than become an actor. Gobal Zero is effective because it works at the grass-roots and the grass-tops. It produces reports but also mobilises people to take action.

Hmmm. My laptop is playing up so I think I’ll have to finish up the blogging for now.

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