Nuclear disarmament has drawn the focus of an international conference in Berlin for the second time in 2011, which might prove to be a stepping stone towards a world free of thousands of nuclear weapons that are a huge menace to global security.

On the same day as Germany assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council on July 1, some 300 current and former policy makers and experts from 43 countries launched the 59th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs on ‘European Contributions to Nuclear Disarmament and Conflict Resolution’ with a special day-long symposium focusing on NATO-Russia relationship.

The first conference with foreign ministers of 10 non-nuclear nations stretching across continents was held at the initiative of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in April in Berlin.

In their ‘Berlin Statement’, the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates stressed “the crucial need to promote the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, in line with pending requirements for the organization in 2012 of the special conference agreed at the (May) 2010 NPT Review Conference” in New York.

This, Westerwelle told Pugwash conference participants, was a clear indication that the German Government was pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons. The participants included key arms negotiators Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, who addressed further steps in nuclear reductions.

Other participants from around the world included eight current ministers, four former intelligence chiefs, several sitting parliamentarians, among other leading voices from key regions.

The German foreign minister told them: “Within NATO, we want to include sub-strategic nuclear weapons in the next disarmament talks with Russia. Global Zero, a world freed from the nuclear threat, is our long-term goal. And we will always place these efforts in the larger context that includes conventional arms reductions.”

Even before he was appointed Foreign Minister in Germany’s conservative-liberal coalition in October 2009, Westerwelle embraced nuclear disarmament as an eminent goal – at home and abroad.

At home it would mean doing away with some 20 nukes on German territory, which the United States continues to maintain despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, end of the cold war and re-unification twenty years ago. Abroad it meant progressing towards a nuclear-weapon free world President Barack Obama pledged to work for in his famous speech in Prague in April 2009.


Westerwelle pointed out that nuclear weapons pose a threat to humankind not only when these are in the hands of authoritarian regimes. “Even in the hands of democracies nuclear weapons are not guaranteed to be safe from abuse or negligence,” he warned.

Explaining the potential threat of nukes under the control of dictators, the German foreign minister said: “Authoritarian regimes become most troubling when they seek to control nuclear weapons. Iran and North Korea are the most prominent examples. But they need to be put in a larger context.”

Referring to an agreement achieved at the 2010 conference on nuclear non-proliferation in New York, he said: “After ten years of stagnation, disarmament process has got off to a solid start in this new decade. The Convention on Cluster Munitions has come into force last summer. NATO made the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons part of its new strategy. The United States and Russia ratified a new START Treaty on reducing strategic nuclear weapons.”

“This is not only good news for you as experts. This is excellent news for mankind. Disarmament is as important a task for humanity as combating climate change,” he added.

Westerwelle assured: “Our policy towards peace and security is deeply rooted in the United Nations. The answer to global challenges is a strong Europe within a strong United Nations based on strong international law. To retain its credibility as the cornerstone of international security and legitimacy, the United Nations needs to adapt to the realities of the 21st century.”

Africa, South America and Asia are not adequately represented in the Security Council, he said, in an oblique reference to the ‘G4′ – Japan, Germany, India and Brazil – nations’ initiative to enlarge the Security Council, with South Africa often mentioned as the fifth in the league.

Addressing the symposium, ‘Reducing the Role of Nuclear Weapons in the NATO-Russia Relationship,’ on June 30, Westerwelle’s deputy, Werner Hoyer said: “Our joint political goal – further reductions in nuclear arms – can only come about by using the cooperative instrument of fostering dialogue and mutual confidence.”

2010 was a good year for arms control, he said, referring to the consensus reached at the NPT Review Conference after 10 years of deadlock, the signing of New START and the adoption of NATO’s new strategic concept.

“Nevertheless, we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to focus now on the open issues. Concrete problems in the NATO-Russia relationship cannot be argued away. It is therefore important to clearly indicate what the problems are, and to try and find adequate solutions,” Hoyer said.


The “problems” needing solutions related to nuclear weapons reductions, invigorating conventional arms control, and how to establish a missile defence system that NATO and Russia can both benefit from.

Hoyer said, the new Strategic Concept adopted at the Lisbon summit expressed NATO’s readiness to create the conditions for further reductions of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. At the same time it also pointed at the need to address the disparity with the much greater Russian stockpile.

“Unfortunately, in the last months official Russian voices have made it quite clear that Moscow is not very interested in discussing the topic of its sub-strategic nuclear arsenal,” regretted, adding: “This rejection should not prevent us from discussing concrete proposals, at least for initiating a possible future reduction process.”

One idea, he suggested, could be to revive the so-called U.S.-Russian Presidential Initiatives of 1991/92. Since those days, non-strategic weapons have not been the object of arms control efforts. We are aware that addressing them in a New START follow-on process will be a complex and challenging issue – both with regard to the political and the technical aspects.

“As a starting point we could aim at improving transparency and confidence-building. Implementation of the 1991/92 commitments has never been subject to any accountability or verification, which adds an additional hurdle to re-engaging on these weapons. But this should not prevent us from getting started,” said Hoyer.


Stressing the significance of the conference, Pugwash president and former UN Under Secretary General for disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala; said: “Pugwash focuses on decreasing the salience of nuclear weapons, and promotes nuclear disarmament.”

Ahead of the conference, he said. “The Simons (Foundation) Symposium will demonstrate the urgency of addressing broader security issues that will open the door for deeper nuclear cuts, and will seek to regain lost momentum following the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The European example is significant, and can have tremendous positive effects on decreasing nuclear threats in other parts of the world.”

Pugwash Secretary General Paolo Cotta-Ramusino said: “This world-class gathering, devoted to the idea of seeking diplomatic solutions to conflict, will gather inspiration from the city of Berlin. If walls could come down in Berlin, then we also have the possibility to solve challenging issues in other parts of the world: South Asia, the Middle East, the Korean peninsula.”

Cotta-Ramusino added: “We also are very pleased to organize this event in cooperation with the VDW, the German Pugwash Group, which has long historic leadership in promoting solutions to some of the world’s most difficult challenges at the intersection of science and society.”

Whether such expectations were fulfilled remained anyone’s guess. But panels at the conference addressed key issues such as whether talking to the Taliban could help prospects in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear programme, decreasing tensions between India and Pakistan, the Arab Spring, progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear energy post-Fukushima.

Looking back, a conference source recalled that the first historic Pugwash Conference was held in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, bringing senior scientists from across political divides to discuss in a cooperative setting ways to diminish the nuclear dangers facing society. The meeting resulted from the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Adding his name to this manifesto was the last public act of Albert Einstein’s life.

The importance of Pugwash Conference was recognized when Pugwash and one of its founders, Joseph Rotblat, jointly received the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”.

***(By Jamshed Baruah, IDN-InDepthNews, 05.07.2011)***