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Geneva hosted the thirteenth Supervisory Council meeting of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, one of the largest non-governmental organizations that unites leading world experts in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, reducing and limiting offensive arms. It focuses on possibilities of preventing an arms race without an Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and maintaining control over strategic arms after 2021, when START-3 loses effect.
"Today, the threat of a nuclear catastrophe is even greater than during the Cold War," said Viatcheslav Kantor, President of the Luxembourg Аorum. "This threat is not that nuclear weapons will be used deliberately, but rather that blundering into a nuclear war is possible due to a human mistake, system error, misunderstanding or miscalculation. The risk is even higher because of new cyber technologies. The degradation of strategic stability in combination with the erosion of key arms control treaties is happening in parallel with building crises and wars across the globe, which may result in uncontrolled escalation."
Failure of the perpetual INF Treaty, uncertainty around START-3 extension, US withdrawal from the deal with Iran and sanctions against those who keep working with Tehran under this deal, lack of decisions on denuclearizing North Korea, President Trump's intention to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, no dialogue or negotiations on these key issues are very disturbing to us, he says. The threat of a nuclear catastrophe is now higher than during the Cold War. This is not brought about by the deliberate use of nuclear weapons, but by the possibility of war by means of human or system error, misunderstanding or miscalculation.
A member of the forum's Supervisory Board, the US ex-Secretary of Defense (1994-1997) and Professor with the Stanford University, ninety-two-year-old William Perry failed to come to Geneva for health reasons. But the report he sent to the session was read to the audience. In it, the elder of global politics said he did not want his eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren to live in a world that could be devastated by a nuclear or environmental disaster, and urged his colleagues to do whatever it takes to prevent such a scenario.
"The danger of a nuclear disaster is higher today than during the Cold War," Mr. Perry says. "I am firmly convinced of it, and not only me. For the last 60 years, each of the annual bulletins by nuclear scientists has been indicating the number of minutes left before midnight (Doomsday). During the Cold War, the minute hand ranged between 2 and 7 minutes to midnight, and for just one year it was 2 minutes away from Doomsday. While I was the Secretary of Defense, it moved back and stopped 15 minutes to midnight. But over the past 20 years, it has once again started to approach the fatal mark. This year it was set two minutes to midnight: closer than in all but one year of the Cold War and at the same value. I strongly agree with that assessment."
"I believe," he says, "that we have allowed this happen because the leaders and people of both our countries do not simply realize how dangerous it is. This means that our policies and actions do not take due regard of the hazard rate. Ultimately, in order to eliminate this terrible threat, we must dismantle all the nuclear weapons, because the very existence of so many nuclear weapons creates a great threat. But this is hardly probable in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, there is much we could do to reduce it, but we are not doing it because we are unconscious of the threat we face."
Other experts who spoke at the forum shared the sinking feeling of nuclear catastrophe risks expressed by the Supervisory Board elder. They, including former UK Defense Minister (2006-2008) and now Vice President of the Initiative on the Reduction of Nuclear Threat foundation Des Browne; RAS academician, head of the International Security Center at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations Alexei Arbatov; academician and Professor at the University of Maryland Roald Sagdeev; former French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Pierre Lellouche; President of the Pugwash Brazil scientists movement Sergio Duarte and other experts, talked about the negative impact of the extreme mistrust between the West and Russia on issues of reducing and limiting nuclear weapons. They also dwelled on large-scale military exercises at the countries' borders, the accumulation of weapons and military equipment in the border areas, the need to develop contacts between military and diplomatic entities, the most rapid extension of the START-3 Treaty and the need to enter a dialogue on a new agreement to limit strategic offensive weapons.
I asked Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum retired Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, who is also a senior fellow with the International Security Center at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, whether the current lack of dialogue between Russia and the United States on strategic stability offers any chance of extending the Prague agreement.
"There are certain signs that an extension is likely until 2026," he said, "due to the fact that the treaty is vitally important to the Americans. It provides for their total control over the state of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. According to it, we issue many dozens of notifications about missile movements, status and launches, all the way down to telemetry data. They can inspect each strategic missile, they can have the mines open and the fairings removed, they can count the number of nuclear warheads and make sure of the compliance with the claimed data. This applies to both land and sea missiles and heavy bombers. Each party has a right to conduct eighteen inspections per year."
The fact, the expert stressed, that under this treaty, the Americans asked for an opportunity to inspect the Avangard strategic missile complex, and Russia granted them such, suggests that Moscow keeps complying with all the agreement terms. There was no good reason to refuse. And this is testimony to the Avangard's being included in the list of missiles of the START-3 Protocol.
But if the START-3 Treaty is not going to be extended after all, as Dvorkin believes, it is necessary to agree with the Americans on preserving a number of its provisions. On transparency, for instance, with notifying the parties of ICBM and spacecraft carrier launches, strategic exercises and other steps in this sphere. Not to take measures to disguise strategic weapons facilities from national space reconnaissance assets, just to name a few. To urge the United States and Russia to declare a national moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles. As for requirements of the Trump administration to include China in the negotiation process, it can only be recommended that the United States and Russia agree in a bilateral format. And only after that Beijing may be offered areas of cooperation on nuclear arms control acceptable for it, taking into account its traditional highly closed nature in this area.
There was an interesting novelty at the thirteenth Supervisory Board meeting of the International Luxembourg Forum. A section of young scientists and experts was created to take part in the meetings, deliver their reports, proposals and opinions on strengthening strategic stability and preventing a nuclear catastrophe.
According to Ph.D. in Engineering Science Konstantin Bogdanov, a research associate of the sector for military-political analysis and research projects with the International Security Center at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the intergenerational continuity of researchers and experts in global security issues is vitally important. Between the first and the second cold wars, there was a loss of understanding that this should be done. International relations were thought to have been stable and perfect harmony could have been reached by just fixing a couple of things. But those relations turned out to have deteriorated dramatically and were about to bury every achievement reached earlier. Including international stability. In fact, a fresh start is needed to sit down and constantly talk about these problems. This is something that should cause concern with the young experts and that the older generation should introduce the youth into.
One can't but agree with either the young scientist or with other experts of the Luxembourg Forum. The threat of a nuclear disaster must be remembered and talked about on a permanent basis, without ignoring the lack of international strategic stability, the danger of a nuclear arms race, the possible deployment of US missiles on the European continent and the deterioration of relations between the US and Russia, the US and China, the East and the West, climate change, environmental problems, and other things vital in the context of human survival. The main thing today is to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Move the hands of the Doomsday clock for at least half an hour from the current two minutes. Non-governmental public organizations like the Luxembourg Forum can also help solve the problem.