|Nuclear proliferation is reaching a “tipping point”, says Queen Noor of Jordan [EPA]|
As Barack Obama, the US president, chaired an historic UN Security Council summit on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, Al Jazeera discussed the issues with Queen Noor of Jordan, a founding leader of Global Zero, an international initiative working toward the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.
Al Jazeera: Is nuclear disarmament a realistic prospect or a noble aspiration?
Queen Noor: I know that this has been debated since the 1940s, intensively by the original architects of the technology. I am encouraged, and others are, in ways that weren’t really possible before because we now have US and Russian commitments … to work together toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and that is historic.
There is a consensus. Our polling has shown that 76 per cent of populations around the world, in a range of nuclear and non-nuclear countries, agree and support the elimination of nuclear weapons.
There is a consensus that has emerged among nuclear and non-nuclear former heads of state, security ministers, military commanders and others, often the architects of the original programmes in their countries, that proliferation has reached a point that if we don’t pull back from the tipping point that we are very close to, we are increasing the possibility of nuclear terrorism and accidents occurring.
You mention a proliferation tipping point. How close do you think we are to that?
I believe that we are precariously close, if not at, a tipping point beyond which it will be virtually impossible to reign in the proliferation of these weapons.
I have children, I have grandchildren, we are all thinking about the world that our children are going to live in and it is very bleak indeed if we don’t act now.
Does Global Zero have a plan to get back to a nuclear weapons free world?
The Global Zero commission has been meeting over the past year, and has just released a practical, step-by-step plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons over a 20-year period.
It’s a four-phase strategy that could be possible, given the momentum I mentioned earlier. The United States and Russia are the first step in this process. And then the next step is creating a multi-lateral process that we hope may be initiated, or at least addressed, in this September 24 UN Security Council meeting by President Obama.
The final stage is to complete the phased and verified dismantlement of all remaining nuclear warheads by around 2030. These are numbers that are obviously not absolute, but it is a framework for a phased approach, an approach that will focus on verification and enforcement.
How does that plan account for states such as Iran and North Korea? Israel, for example, does not want to give up nuclear weapons while it believes Iran is developing its own. How do you deal with that dynamic?
We believe that beginning really serious discussions on the elimination of nuclear weapons, and expanding that beyond the US and Russia to include all the nuclear states and the non-nuclear or nuclear capable states, would really help to strengthen diplomatic efforts to fight proliferation in a variety of countries.
Coming from the Middle East and having watched the dynamics of the region for more than 30 years, I think it would go a long way to tackle regional insecurities which have been a driver of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region.
It’s not going to come from the weapons systems, it’s going to come from the feeling of security that the people have on the ground in these states.
So you see disarmament as a prerequisite for security, and not security as a prerequisite for disarmament?
No. When I talk about human security, I am talking about the need for every government to proportionately allocate resources for the fundamental needs of their people, as well as addressing any real security threats.
You can’t expect any country to ignore those, but I think, when we are talking about nuclear weapons and you look at what has occurred in various regions, you can see understandable insecurities that I think we could go a long way to tackling in the types of discussions that would take place on this issue.
The proposals that we have made are ones where there are no exceptions, no double standards and everyone would be held accountable.
What is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of making progress on this issue?
Well, coming from the Middle East, I’m so conscious of the regional insecurities that drive weapons programmes.
The Middle East has the highest per capita expenditure on the military in the world, and we are probably the most insecure region in the world.
Those insecurities are not easy to deal with, and Global Zero recognises they have to be tackled politically. They have to be tackled socially.
If the population at the grass roots of these states are more aware of the lose-lose proposition of nuclear weapons technology, the more support there would be for leaders having to take what would be very difficult decisions.
When people become more aware of what is at stake, we have something to work with.
When you mention the security situation in the Middle East as being an obstacle, do you envisage a situation where a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians would be a prerequisite to having this debate?
The Israeli position is, as I understand it, that while the rest of the region, the Arab states, signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty pretty much at the outset, Israel has made it a point to say that is a step it would take after achieving a peace agreement.
I would hope that the people of Israel could understand that, in fact, this process might build the trust and confidence needed to create a sustainable peace between Israel and her neighbours.
These types of negotiations, bringing their programme out into the open and being as transparent as possible in the context of multilateral negotiations, could actually be a step forward in reducing some of the tensions, the insecurities and the anger over double standards or exceptionalism in the region.
Andrew Wander, a media fellow with legal charity Reprieve, works on Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk.