Jeffrey LewisInteresting Things I Heard Today

I heard two new ideas today that I found interesting, not least because they were, well, new.

Anyway, in both cases, the speakers suggested adopting successful ideas from other areas — one on efforts to combat climate the change; the other to keep Antarctica for science.

(1) An Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change for nuclear disarmament.

The speaker knew how to play to the crowd, since Norway handed out a Nobel Peace Prize to the the IPCC along with Al Gore this year.

Recall, that the goal of the IPCC is to assess the “latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature” relevant to the challenge of climate change. Just replace “climate change” with “nuclear disarmament.”

(2) A treaty committing states to the peaceful use of the fuel cycle modeled on the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

This would be a companion to the NPT, under which states would reiterate their right to the nuclear fuel cycle, while recommitting to the peaceful use of these facilities.

Like the Antarctic Treaty, they could sign _without launching a program, would only become active in governance when they did and would be immediately subject to an any time, anywhere no warning inspection regime. Also, just as the Antarctic Treaty which remains silent on past territorial disputes, this treaty would not affect past disputes, ie. Iran.


  1. Haninah (History)

    How would this new fuel cycle treaty based on the Antarctic treaty be any different in effect from the NPT (apart from the NPT’s exceptions for the P5)? The NPT already restricts countries from non-peaceful uses, and guarantees their right to the fuel cycle. The devil is in the details of enforcement and verification – and what makes the Antarctic treaty so easy to enforce, it would seem to me, is not some genius stroke in its terms, but rather the fact that it’s damn hard to do much in the antarctic without the rest of the world noticing you transporting people and goods to the frozen piehole of the planet.

  2. Maggie Leber (History)

    There’s no way short of time travel a treaty could effect past disputes.

    But it could possibly affect them.

    Tsk, tsk, Jeffrey. 🙂

  3. Stephen Schwartz (History)

    “The speaker knew how to play to the crowd, since Norway handed out a Nobel Peace Prize to the the IPCC along with Al Gore this year.”

    Actually, Nobel prizes are handed out next door, in Stockholm, Sweden. But you knew that, right?

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The Swedes give everything BUT the Peace Prize, which is handed out by the Norwegians.

  5. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Sorry about that — fixed the error.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

  6. Felix Haass (History)

    In principle, I like the idea of an “Intergovernmental Panel on Nuclear Disarmament”. However, it is doubtful if this one would work as good as the IPCC did, mainly because the topic of nuclear disarmament is so much more a political topic than a, let’s say, a merely “scientific” one.

    It is one thing to assess more or less objectively that something’s happening to our climate by reviewing the “latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature”. But it’s a whole different story to assess objectively what do about nuclear disarmament, because there simply don’t exist any “scientific” means to decide adequately on a normative question.

    Don’t get me wrong, as I said, I like the idea, and it surely should be kept track of. And I also don’t consider any of the work in the academic Nuclear Disarmament Community as “unscientific”. I was just referring to the problem of getting an international consensus on a topic for which people are much less accesible to “facts” than e.g. to the phenomenon on “climate change” (and it is still quite hard on this one!).

    Keeping those caveats in mind, such a Panel could still be useful e.g. as an international (i.e. more or less “independent”) “catchment basin” of the work of all those disarmament researchers out there. Or something the like. Anyway, did the speaker on this topic get any more speficic in terms of the functions of his proposed Panel?

  7. Andreas Persbo

    Jeff. Okay, “the Swedes give everything BUT the Peace Prize, which is handed out by the Norwegians”. True, but it is all funded by the Nobel Foundation, which is Swedish. I never quite figured out why we gave the peace price to our neighbours. Who do I lobby to change that? 🙂

  8. Gelfant

    No NNWS has a right to the nuclear fuel cycle, which is not a per se right in the treaty, anyway. It is foolish to think that you solve any problems by trying to do better than A IV, or in this case, much, much worse. This is a truly harmful idea.

  9. Hass (History)

    Gelfant – “per se” right? The right to the nuclear fuel cycle — as well as the absolute right to build megaton nukes themselves — is a sovereign right. The NPT doesn’t “give” it since all countries inherently have it as an inalienable right. That’s why countries which haven’t signed the NPT have the perfectly legal right to the full nuclear cycle as well as to build nukes too. India, israel, or the US and china, didn’t need anyone’s permission to build their programs. Under the NPT, all NNWS did was agree to suspend one aspect of that rights — building nukes — in return for some promises by the NWS. That’s all. In fact under art X of the NPT they’re free to go back to the status quo ante.

  10. James (History)

    Hass: but that’s where authoritarian logic leads us, isn’t it? As persons and nations, they argue, we have no rights until someone powerful grants them to us. The libertarian assertion that our rights are limited only we surrender them is in full decline, and not just in the area of nuclear technology.

    Thus the NPT, which began as mutual agreement between nominally equal sovereign nations, entered into freely and without intimidation, has become a vehicle for the powerful to maintain their superiority over the weak, even as they recognize no restraints upon themselves. Gelfant is merely stating the common view of the treaty among the favored nations: that it is binding even upon those who haven’t signed it, and that they have no rights until they agree to surrender their rights.