06 July 2009

Group Offers Plan to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by 2030

Tuesday June 30th 2009
By Robert Burns, AP National Security Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A group committed to eliminating nuclear weapons presented on Monday a four-step plan to achieve that goal by 2030, while acknowledging that Iran could be a "show stopper."

The plan by the nonpartisan Global Zero Commission calls for the United States and Russia - the world's largest nuclear powers - to agree to reduce first to 1,000 warheads each, then to 500 each by 2021.

The U.S. is believed to have about 2,200 active strategic nuclear warheads and Russia about 2,800. Each has thousands more in reserve as well as large numbers of non-strategic, or tactical, nuclear arms.

During the second phase of cuts to 500, all other nuclear weapons countries would have to agree to freeze and then reduce their warhead totals. Those other countries are China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan and Israel but not North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests but may not have a useable weapon.

In a third phase, from 2019 to 2023, a "global zero accord" would be negotiated to include a schedule for the phased, verified reduction of all nuclear arsenals to zero total warheads. In the last period, from 2024 to 2030, the reductions would be completed and a verification system would remain in place.

The Global Zero Commission includes former and current senior officials from all existing nuclear powers.

The plan's public unveiling was timed for the July 6-8 summit meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In April the two leaders endorsed the idea of a nuclear free world, but neither country has proposed a way of achieving that goal, which many consider to be unrealistic.

The U.S. and Russia possess at least 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

Global Zero Commission member Richard Burt, a former chief U.S. negotiator for strategic nuclear arms reduction talks with the former Soviet Union, said the key to getting Washington and Moscow to reduce their warhead totals to 500 as an intermediate step is having other nuclear powers agree to freeze their arsenals and then join the United States and Russia in going the final step to zero by 2030.

He said the commission also sees North Korea as a problem, but not necessarily an obstacle, to getting a global zero agreement. By the second phase of the Global Zero Commission's plan, at the midpoint of the next decade, North Korea's nuclear status is likely to be clarified, the former diplomat said.

An even stickier problem is Iran. Under the Global Zero Commission's plan, the Iranians would become an issue in the third phase, in the 2019 to 2023 period, when a global zero accord would be negotiated. That is because the plan requires that all "nuclear capable" countries - defined as those with any nuclear power program, civilian or otherwise - sign and ratify the accord in order for it to take effect.

The U.S. and other countries assert that Iran's declared civilian nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb. Iran denies it.

"If they were to decide over the next couple of years that they want to acquire nuclear weapons and were to go forward and deploy them, then it's hard to see how global zero goes anywhere," Burt said.

"It's a potential show stopper," he said.

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