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While nuclear weapons are being tested, the CD continues to fail

Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will
12 February 2013

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 12 February and heard statements by the CD President, Nigeria, Iraq, United States, Canada, Republic of Korea, Japan, Finland, Tunisia, European Union (EU), Germany, Sweden, Slovakia, Pakistan, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Brazil, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, France, Australia, Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, and South Africa.

The plenary meeting was unusually eventful, with an obvious focus on the nuclear test by the DPRK, but also saw a failed attempt to adopt a programme of work.

Nuclear test by the DPRK

On Tuesday morning, the DPRK conducted its third nuclear weapons test. According to seismic data, the test was magnitude 4.9, significantly larger than the tests in 2006 and 2009.

The DPRK representative stated that the test was a response to hostile acts by the United States, and argued that it was “confirmed that the test did not give any adverse effects to the surrounding environment.” The representative further emphasized that the nuclear test would “greatly encourage” the people of the DPRK and “reflects our will to become a thriving nation.”

Almost all speakers condemned the nuclear test. Many delegations referred to or quoted from official statements made by their heads of governments or ministries of foreign affairs, such as the United States, Australia, France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU. The USA called it “a highly provocative act that, following the December ballistic missile launch;” the EU believed it was a “flagrant violation” of the DPRK’s international obligations; and Sweden argued it was conducted in “disregard for the disarmament and nonproliferation regime”.

Some delegations called for caution. While calling on the DPRK to stop carrying out prohibited activities, return to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and implement all resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, the Russian delegation warned countries from using the test as a pretext for stepping up military activities in the region.

The Chinese ambassador called on the DPRK to “honor its commitment to de-nuclearization” and urged everyone to “respond in a coolheaded way”. The Chinese delegation promoted dialogue and consultations in the framework of the Six Party Talks.

CD programme of work

The CD President, Ambassador András Dékány of Hungary, circulated his informal draft programme of work as a formal draft decision and proposed that the CD adopt it. Most delegations raised concerns about the draft. The delegations of United States, Canada, Japan, and France voiced concerns that the draft programme of work no longer had a specific working group for a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), but they were nevertheless ready to join consensus. Other delegations, such as Cuba, South Africa, and Egypt raised concerns that the joint working group for nuclear disarmament and FMCT explicitly prioritizes work on fissile material in the mandate.

Ambassador Akram of Pakistan reiterated his delegation’s long-standing position that it would not agree to direct negotiations, indirect negotiations, or pre-negotiations on an FMCT that did not include stockpiles. In addition, Mr. El-Atawi from the Egyptian delegation also announced that his delegation wished to have further consultations on the draft programme of work before being able to join consensus.

Despite these statements, the CD President asked the CD if it could adopt the programme of work. As Ambassador Hoffmann of Germany pointed out, despite knowing it will not reach consensus, it is important that the CD takes a decision on a programme of work. “For those who try to follow what we are doing here […] it is important to get a transparent picture of what is actually going on,” he stated.

The delegations of Pakistan and Egypt did not join consensus on the programme of work, with references to their previous explanations, and once again the CD failed to commence substantive work.

Notes from the gallery

The nuclear test of the DPRK is a worrying sign that countries still see nuclear weapons as a way of providing security and gaining power. Incentives for proliferation only increase when existing nuclear weapon possessors continue to postpone nuclear disarmament with arguments that nuclear weapons are still essential for their security.

Every single nuclear test, such as the 1,151 tests by the USA, 969 by the Soviet Union, 210 by France, 45 each by the UK and China, and 6 each by India and Pakistan, has been carried out in order to prepare for the eventual use of nuclear weapons. However, as we’ve concluded in our recently launched publication Unspeakable suffering: the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, any use of nuclear weapons would have unparalleled consequences on people’s health and the environment. The effects of the use of nuclear weapons reach beyond borders and throughout generations to impact our environment, economy, food production, and commerce; and undermine development goals and catastrophically harm people worldwide.

And while the more nuclear weapons are being tested, the CD remains in a deadlock. One delegation will not negotiate an FMCT without including existing stocks, and other delegations won’t negotiate anything but an FMCT without existing stocks. The latest DPRK test and the inability to achieve progress in the CD highlight the urgency for all countries, including those without nuclear weapons, to break out of the deadlocked disarmament machinery and start negotiations to outlaw and eliminate these weapons.

Next plenary meeting

The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 19 February at 10:00.

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