As leading international experts on nuclear non-proliferation met in Rome and visited the Vatican to discuss ways to avert a nuclear arms race, President Xi was simultaneously making a State visit to Moscow to discuss Russia and China’s common position on North Korea’s nuclear program and the Iran nuclear deal.
In the face of widespread concern over the future of nuclear pacts, with the imminent expiry of the INF Treaty in August 2019 and with a date yet to be set for the start of negotiations for an extension of the New Start Treaty beyond its expiry in 2021, Luxembourg Forum President Dr. Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor warned against defeatism, as he argued that now was not the time to abandon diplomacy, quoting Winston Churchill’s famous words: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Key note speaker at the conference, former US Secretary of Defense and Member of the Supervisory Board of the Luxembourg Forum Dr William Perry, added that dialogue and treaties had traditionally been the way of building understanding and trust between leading powers and bolstering their security, in the absence of which we run the risk of “political conflict escalating to a nuclear conflict”. “This year they set the clock (which puts into context how close we are to nuclear catastrophe) at two minutes to midnight; closer to catastrophe than any year of the Cold War except 1954, one of the darkest years of the CW, when it was set at the same level,” he warned.
Raising concerns over the “new abnormal” in arms control policies, in which the key powers are reluctant to negotiate new or extend existing agreements to the expiring INF and New START treaties, Dr William Perry envisaged a climate where “for the first time in almost fifty years, no agreed limit on nuclear weapons; and there will be no bilateral talks underway on how to limit nuclear dangers”.
Dr. Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor insisted that as the clock runs down to the expiry of the INF Treaty, “our most urgent task is to draft a new treaty between the US and Russia which we would look to involve China in at a later date if we are to prevent a catastrophic nuclear arms race”.
Without an alternative deal, Dr Kantor warned, “the nuclear stockpiles of the great powers are likely to multiply exponentially over the next decade with dire consequences for global stability”.
As the threat of global nuclear terrorism “remains as high as ever”, he added, he paraphrased former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison’s conclusion that it is “not about whether terrorists will be able to carry out a catastrophic nuclear terrorist attack, but about when they will do so”.
As part of a meeting of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe (“The Luxembourg Forum”), which also saw a delegation of 20 eminent nuclear experts conduct high-level meetings at the Vatican to hear Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin reiterate the Holy See’s strong stance in favour of nuclear disarmament, discussions centred on averting a nuclear arms race in the absence of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty, from which the US withdrew earlier this year, ahead of the expiry of the treaty in August 2019.
As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conceded journalists on a European tour this week that whilst Europe and America might have a difference of opinion on the “technicalities” of the Iran deal but “share very common understanding about” the nuclear threat posed by Iran and others, experts at the Luxembourg Forum Rome conference evaluated the prospects for preserving arms control without a treaty amid a backdrop of ongoing nuclear testing in North Korea and the escalating impasse between the US, Russia and Iran. Discussions focused on strategies for navigating this complex geo-political landscape, as well as the need to defuse dangerous tensions between the US, Russia and other global powers.
Alongside the decline of official communication streams between major nuclear powers, the reduction in unofficial or Track 2 dialogue, which in the Cold War era often helped foster increased understanding facilitating official diplomacy, was also a major concern, according to Perry.
Heralding the Luxembourg Forum’s lone efforts to resuscitate Track 2 dialogue to help avert nuclear conflict, he concluded that “this Forum is of unique importance and we should all feel a responsibility to support it, and give thoughtful and well-informed advice to our two governments”.
Acknowledging Dr Perry’s comments, Dr Kantor said that parallel diplomatic tracks must be accepted and encouraged in the interests of resolving nuclear and terrorist concerns. Broadening efforts at raising awareness internationally should be explored through social media channels, concurred Dr Kantor, to ensure that where civil society leads “politicians will follow”.
The meeting also featured sessions on nuclear terrorism after the defeat of ISIS in Syria, cyber warfare and Preventing Nuclear Proliferation and Catastrophic Terrorism.
The International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe was established in Luxembourg on the 24-25th of May 2007 by decision of the International Conference on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. The Forum is one of the most representative non-governmental organizations to bring together leading international experts on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and arms reduction and limitation. The Advisory Council comprises more than 50 of the most authoritative and best-known international experts from 14 different countries. The President of the Forum is Dr. Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor who oversees the International Advisory Council and the Supervisory Board.
The main tasks of the Forum are:
To analyze threats of proliferation of nuclear weaponry and to draw up specific proposals and recommendations as to further ways of reducing nuclear weapons, strengthening nuclear and missile non-proliferation regimes, preventing attempts to acquire nuclear weapons and technologies by unstable regimes and terrorist organizations and of resolving regional nuclear crises.
To facilitate the process of arms limitation and reduction and to counteract growing threats to the non-proliferation regime and the erosion of the fundamental tenets of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
To strengthen global peace and security through fresh approaches and practical proposals for political leaders on key nuclear non-proliferation and arms-control issues.