It was a cool but sunny June afternoon in the newly refurbished ballroom of one of London’s most historic hotels, the Savoy in Piccadilly. Sitting in semi circles of blue-cloth covered tables, their names on blue rectangular signs that they raised when they wanted to comment, former military commanders, former national security officials, senior bureaucrats, diplomats, and eminent leaders of organizations from different countries listened to a panel of speakers.
At the back of the room cameras were trained on one person while interpreters in sound booths simultaneously translated at breakneck speed what she was saying into Chinese, Russian, French, Japanese and other languages. India and Pakistan were also there.
The person who held their combined attention was Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, wife of the late King Hussein bin Talal. The elegant Princeton graduate, born into an Arab American family, was chairing a panel called “Building an International Commitment for Global Zero,” -- she is a founding leader of the international organization which works for the worldwide phased, verified elimination of nuclear weapons.
The organization, founded in 2006, was launched in 2008 with a hundred political, military, business, faith and civic leader signatories-that number has now grown to 300. In 2009 Queen Noor represented Global Zero at a historic UN Security Council meeting, which endorsed the goal of the organization. At this, the third summit in London June 2011, Queen Noor told Al Arabiya English, it was clear that “Progress had been made since the last summit.”
For international student chapters had increased roughly threefold to a hundred, and “almost half a million” people worldwide were now part of the grassroots campaign.
President Obama for the United States and President Medvedev for the Russian Federation had been talking, and recently ratified a new START agreement reducing the size of their nuclear arsenals for currently, between them, the US and Russia own 95 per cent of the world’s 20,500 nuclear warheads.
“This time, the summit represented an even more diverse set of perspectives from round the world. We had an Iranian participant; we had an Israeli participant, which we have not had in the past. I think that is a testament to the fact that Global Zero is becoming a more credible, well-known organization, one that people are referencing in the media…an organization that is mainstreaming on this issue.”
The summit hosted some heavy hitters from the anti-nuclear field -- including former CIA operations officer Valerie Plame, Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament, and Bruce Blair, Global Zero founder who also set up the World Security Institute.
With Russia and the United States agreeing to restrict the amount of strategic warheads deployed operationally on each side to 1,550 after seven years, the stage is set for the rest of Global Zero’s four phase plan to take shape. The end goal – targeted, some say ambitiously, is a zero level stockpile by 2030. But how could this even remotely happen, asked The Economist in an article in its June 18 edition pegged to Global Zero, when there are seemingly intractable concerns, such as between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan? The issue was raised, Queen Noor said, at the London summit.
She said: “We discussed whether you put the cart before the horse or how do you even define which is the cart and which is the horse. Do you solve all regional disputes before you begin discussions on disarmament or do you begin formal discussions on disarmament before you resolve these disputes, which could take generations? I think the middle answer that everyone minimally agrees on is that these have to occur simultaneously. You cannot wait until the Israeli Palestinian conflict is resolved or the Kashmir conflict is resolved before you begin discussions about these deadly dangerous nuclear weapons.”
She feels that de-nuclearization talks need to begin “now, just as there need to be negotiations going on now on Israeli-Palestinian issues and on the Kashmiri issues and any other conflicts out there. I personally believe that time has shown that by engaging in genuine mutually respectful negotiation over, for example, a mutually agreed-on danger such as nuclear weapons, that can actually perhaps be an avenue towards resolving some of these other conflicts -- because it’s a way of building up confidence and trust between two states. If the political will is there to have genuine frank, and open, and meaningful discussions on any level, that can lead to resolving other, more tractable disputes. And don’t you think it can help the populations of those countries [to] begin to look at the other in a different way? When they see that actually you share a common danger and you are working together to resolve that for the welfare of your people? I think that helps to both humanize it and also to break down some of the distrust that has existed over time, and there are people –especially where India and Pakistan are concerned – that are deliberately trying to divide the two states through terror; and that should not be allowed.”
Global Zero calls for a multilateral approach to nuclear arms reduction. But as the Financial Times opined in a piece on the first day of the summit, Pakistan and Russia value their nuclear arsenals as a way of counterbalancing the superior conventional army numbers of both India and China. Global Zero estimates that the nine nuclear nations – the US, Russia, the UK, China, France, Pakistan, India, North Koreas and Israel -- are set to spend $100 billion between them on nuclear arms in 2011, and $1,000 billion over the coming decade.
The figures include research, development, procurement and the testing of weapons. But President Barack Obama has stated that “Global Zero will always have a partner in me and my administration” and, is, with Russia, Queen Noor confirmed, “committed; they are working now, we are told, on the next step of deeper cuts that they need to make.”
She highlights a knock on effect that could happen anytime soon. “Then you have a range of countries, including Great Britain, which have indicated that they are willing to start in negotiations now –even before that formal multilateral process begins. If you bring on China then that might well bring on India and Pakistan. It’s a cascading effect. The original proliferation of these weapons –it all began because one country had them –the US – and then it cascaded until we have nine countries with [nuclear] weapons and terrorist groups determined to either buy or steal or build them.”
Some nuclear armed countries are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an agreement that limits the spread of nuclear weapons. Her Majesty said that “there was a fair amount of discussion…and a range of perspectives on the treaty.” Those states that are not members, she surmised, “will have a range of reasons that they will give for not joining the treaty.”
But she cautioned against getting distracted from the topic to hand. “I think the most important thing right now is not who is a member and who is not a member of the treaty but that we begin this process that Global Zero is calling for-that is our next step, that the US and Russia complete the next round of cuts that they’re discussing now to open up a multilateral process for negotiation that brings all the nuclear states to the table to negotiate universal non-discriminatory phased elimination of all nuclear weapons.”
Queen Noor was hopeful but realistic.
“We may not get all the nuclear states to the table at the outset.” (North Korea was not represented at the London summit). “The credible nuclear states that do begin that process will inexorably draw in the states that may remain outside the process initially because there will be international pressure on them. There will perhaps be domestic pressure on them.” Queen Noor mentioned a recent Financial Times report highlighting the “enormous amounts of money that are being paid to obtain these nuclear arsenals by countries cutting health education, green energy development, and vital social services in order to direct those resources toward these obsolete weapons of mass destruction.”
(Rani Singh is a broadcaster who has worked with BBC television and radio, reporting, presenting and producing for much of her career, and specializes in politics, business and security. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In part two of this interview with Queen Noor of Jordan, she gives her views on Iran, and discusses the causes she cares about most passionately. This part will run tomorrow.)