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Articles and Columns, 4/21/2010

Minister Stubb: We Should Strive for a World without Nuclear Weapons

According to President Barack Obama, the single biggest threat to U.S. security would be the possibility of a terrorist organization like al Qaeda obtaining a nuclear weapon. They have no compunction at using it, he noted at the Washington Nuclear Security Summit this week.

Obama’s vision is a world without nuclear weapons. A year ago in Prague he challenged other countries to join in co-operation to achieve the goal. Even small steps would be significant. Nuclear disarmament must take place without undermining international stability. It is essential that nuclear-weapon states contribute to building confidence by their actions.

Nuclear weapons are not a solution to such current security threats as terrorism, cyber attacks, fragile states or pandemics. Nuclear weapons will be of no assistance when it comes to problems related to energy security, poverty or climate change.

The military salience of nuclear weapons has simply diminished. In the changing world, nuclear weapons bring more insecurity than security. Acquiring them is precariously interlinked with regional conflicts.

For some states nuclear weapons are political tools to gain status and pressure neighbours. Nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists is a global threat which scares also the Finns.

These days we witness the first outcomes of the new U.S. nuclear strategy.

The first important step is the reduced role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. defence policy. Their fundamental purpose is defined in terms of deterring a nuclear attack. Thus, the United States is challenging Russia and other nuclear-weapon states to clarify the purpose of nuclear weapons in present-day security planning.

Another significant result was achieved when Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia signed the treaty on strategic arms reduction in Prague last week. It is the first legally binding and verifiable agreement on nuclear weapons in two decades.

The aggregate limit of warheads is set to 1,550 weapons, representing a reduction by a third of the treaty obligations in force today. Delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads are limited to 800. The number of nuclear weapons is reduced and their verification is tightened. This will reinforce confidence between the two countries.

We have every reason to hope that both parliaments will adopt the New START Treaty as soon as possible and that preparations for a follow-up agreement leading to clearly deeper cuts can be commenced.

The other nuclear-weapon states must commit themselves to be part of the process. By the time the U.S. and Russian warheads have been reduced from thousands to hundreds, the others should have joined in the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

A third step forward was the ambitious Washington Summit’s resolve to strengthen the commitment to preventing nuclear terrorism. Securing nuclear materials all over the world and in all facilities must be improved.

Finland has long called for the inclusion of tactical nuclear weapons in a legally binding, verifiable and transparent international treaty system. Tactical nuclear weapons refer to shorter-range nuclear weapons designed for use in battlefield.

Tactical nuclear weapons have been reduced and transferred to storage sites on the basis of past unilateral commitments by the United States and Russia but there is no reliable information on their numbers or locations. It is estimated that Russia holds 2,000 and the United States 500 weapons. Of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons 150-200 are stationed in Europe. Even today, no treaty arrangements limit tactical nuclear weapons, even though the threshold for their use is lower and the danger for their proliferation and falling into the hands of terrorists is greater than in the case of strategic weapons.

The reduction and elimination of tactical nuclear weapons would strengthen security in Europe and in Finland’s neighbouring areas. The first steps should be transparency and information exchange as well as other confidence-building measures, such as the withdrawal of weapons from forward emplacements. Progress should be made in conventional arms limitations as well.

A new window of opportunity has opened for nuclear arms control - the forthcoming weeks, months and years are exciting. The review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) will be held in May. Success in the coming into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will measure the credibility of the new U.S. policy in the near future. In addition, multilateral negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, for which all countries need to carry responsibility, should be started.

The NPT is a cornerstone of the international arms control regime. The Treaty should be fostered and the last holdout countries must be obliged to accede to it. The Treaty creates a jointly agreed framework for non-proliferation, peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear disarmament, which is reinforced by the steps in nuclear disarmament and the commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world.

There are, however, three serious threats to the NPT: the withdrawal of North Korea from the Treaty, Iran’s nuclear programme and confrontations in the Middle East and South Asia. These conflicts can destabilize the whole non-proliferation regime which is why progress must be made in their resolution.

For Finland, a nuclear-weapon-free world is a self-evident, far-reaching goal. We stand for reducing the number and salience of nuclear weapons in the world. As a nuclear-weapon-free country, employing nuclear energy, we have been delighted by the recent initiatives.

International negotiations can produce new results only if all parties assume responsibility. Obama’s vision started the engine – now it is up to the rest of the international community to jump in.

Alexander Stubb,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

An op-ed article published in the Helsingin Sanomat on 15 April 2010.


Updated 4/21/2010

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