The treaty, adopted on July 7, was approved after months of talks in the face of strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and their allies. Supporters hope it will lead to the eventual elimination of all nuclear arms.
“I very much doubt that this pressure will be enough to lead to disarmament,” Matthew Bunn from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government tells the Tehran Times.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Q: Why despite a strong emphasis on nuclear disarmament, the treaty was adapted so late?
A: The ban treaty expresses the hope of the majority of countries in the world for a world free of nuclear weapons. But all nine of the states that actually possess nuclear weapons believe that for now, these weapons are important for their security, and none of them participated in the negotiation of the ban treaty. Quite a number of other states rely in part on support from a nuclear armed state for their security, and they generally also did not vote for the treaty.
I think that the ban treaty was not agreed to until 2017 because most states previously took a more pragmatic approach, understanding that disarmament could only be achieved with the states that actually possess the nuclear weapons to be disarmed taking an active part.
Q: Why was the treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly which is not mandatory?
A: The ban could only have moved forward in the General Assembly, where the majority rules; in the Security Council, it would have been vetoed by nuclear-armed states.
Q: Can the ban treaty lead to nuclear disarmament?
A: Supporters of the ban treaty hope that over time it will generate political pressure on the states that possess nuclear weapons to get rid of them. I very much doubt that this pressure will be enough to lead to disarmament.
If disarmament is to be achieved, it will require difficult work to build new structures of international security that can provide security without nuclear weapons, new approaches to verification, and more, none of which was addressed in the ban treaty.
Q: Supporters say the treaty will put pressure on nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear arsenal. What can be the possible pressures?
A: Except for votes in the General Assembly, UN bodies will not be able to put much pressure on the nuclear powers, given that five of them have vetoes on the UN Security Council.
Q: Why hasn’t the IAEA been seeking nuclear disarmament?
A: In fact, nuclear disarmament is not included as a goal of the IAEA in the IAEA Statute.
The only mention of the issue in the statute is a provision requiring that the IAEA conduct its activities “in conformity with policies of the United Nations furthering the establishment of safeguarded worldwide disarmament and in conformity with any international agreements entered into pursuant to such policies.” In other words, the IAEA does not have the job of pursuing disarmament or verifying disarmament itself, but it does need to do its job in a way that conforms with what the United Nations is doing with respect to disarmament. States COULD ask the IAEA to verify some aspects of disarmament, however — as Russia, the United States, and the IAEA discussed with respect to verifying excess fissile material in the Trilateral Initiative of the 1990s.
One area where Iran could play a very helpful role in the future of the ban treaty is in helping states come to a common definition of what the provision that says states cannot “develop” nuclear weapons actually means. (The NPT just prohibits non-nuclear-weapon states from receiving, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons; the word “develop” is not included.) In the JCPOA, Iran wisely agreed not to undertake a number of activities that have few real purposes other than contributing to the development of nuclear weapons. Those prohibitions could be a major part of what states might come to agree “develop” means, and Iran could help explain its experience with implementing such provisions.