3 May 2005, No. 2

Rhianna Tyson | WILPF

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The first day of this much-anticipated Review Conference opened rather anticlimatically. Sure, there were hordes of NGOs estimated at about 2000 individuals who arrived at the United Nations only to be met with extemporaneous rules governing their access to the debate. Yes, it was true that the President of the Review Conference, Brazilian Ambassadoratlarge Sergio Q. Duarte, announced that, despite months of consultations, there was still no agenda. And yes, the NGOs who did make it up to the gallery collectively guffawed when Stephen G. Rademaker, speaking on behalf of the US delegation, announced that the NonNuclear Weapon States parties to the Treaty benefit from knowing “that their neighbors also do not possess nuclear weapons.” (The snickers of disbelief from some Canadian NGOs were particularly loud.)

All of these challenges, disappointments and surprises seemed a bit torpid in the shadow of the largest public demonstration for nuclear disarmament in over twenty years.

On Sunday, May 1, approximately 45,000 people from New York and the world marched through the heart of Manhattan to Central Park, demanding total nuclear abolition. Activists from all corners of the world from Malaysia to Europe to the Pacific Islands shared a stage with dozens of musical and cultural acts, overlooking throngs of people sprawled out on the lawn or interacting with educational booths set up around the area’s perimeter.

That’s an act that’s hard to follow.

States parties to the Review Conference must, however, heed the demands of this massive outpouring of civil society support for the Treaty’s objectives. Kofi Annan, SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, opened his remarks to the Conference by highlighting just a few of the catastrophes engendered by a nuclear attack: “Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people would perish in an instant, and many more would die from exposure to radiation…Carefully nurtured collective security mechanisms could be discredited. Hardwon freedoms and human rights could be compromised.” Tens of thousands of people marched in New York to prevent the exact type of scenario so hauntingly predicted by the SecretaryGeneral.

For their part, States and observers have already put forth ideas and prescriptions for strengthening the Treaty, so often hailed as the “cornerstone of disarmament.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, for instance, highlighted four important areas upon which the Review Conference should make progress, including: universalizing the Additional Protocol; ensuring civil nuclear energy is not misused for military purposes; providing security and physical protection of nuclear weapons and material; and strengthening enforcement against “severe violations of the Treaty.”

Germany was one of many delegations, including Canada, the NonAligned Movement (NAM), Ireland, Brazil and New Zealand, which reaffirmed the 13 Practical Steps as “the basis for and benchmarks by which we will measure” nuclear disarmament progress, as noted by Foreign Minister Fischer. These reaffirmations are a particularly significant element of these opening speeches, at a time when some delegations have worked hard to undermine the agreements reached in 2000.

New Zealand’s Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Marion Hobbs, speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), called for stricter adherence to the 13 Practical Steps, including entryintoforce of the Comprehensive Nuclear TestBan Treaty (CTBT), verification and irreversibility, as well as universalization of the NPT and strengthening of and support for Nuclear WeaponFree Zones (NWFZs).

For the NAM, represented yesterday by Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Syed Hamid Albar, the Package of Decisions reached in 1995 are equally important agreements that should not be so easily forgotten or discarded. The NAM, for instance, very much want a subsidiary body to focus on issues pertaining to the Middle East, one of the main features of the 1995 Package of Decisions.

For many of the States that spoke yesterday, as well as for NGOs, a major priority of this Review Conference will be to “pursu(e)… nuclear disarmament as a fundamental tool in addressing the international community’s deep concern about proliferation,” as asserted by Minister Hobbs. To these delegations, the crisis of the NPT lies not only in suspected proliferation by Iran and North Korea, but also, as Minister Albar pointed out, “the lack of balance in the implementation of the NPT” as well as the Nuclear Weapon States’ “continue(d)…belie(f) in the relevance of nuclear weapons” which they “continue to develop and modernize..., threatening international peace and security.” Minister Albar insisted that “(w)e must all call for an end to this madness and seek the elimination and ban on all forms of nuclear weapons testing as well as the rejection of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence.”

In an effort to meet these demands for accelerated nuclear disarmament, the US went to great lengths to produce several glossy brochures and pamphlets on their Article VI compliance, though none of these goodlooking documents offer anything by way of new nuclear reductions.

Not all delegations were as alarmed by the lack of nuclear disarmament, however. Australia, coordinator of the next CTBT entryintoforce conference scheduled for September, focused their statement nearly entirely on the proliferation threats to the Treaty’s integrity, citing nuclear terrorism, Iran and Libya as the main causes for concern. Australia parted ways from its American ally, however, when it maintained that negotiations on a Fissile Material CutOff Treaty (FMCT) “should include measures to verify that parties are complying with their obligations,” measures opposed by the United States government.

We are sure, however, to hear more statements along the lines of Canada’s position, a NATO State under that alliance’s nuclear umbrella that remains nevertheless an adamant nuclear disarmament advocate. Canada continued to press for its notoriously “Canadian” priorities that strengthen both disarmament and nonproliferation goals, such as regular reporting, increased NGO access and participation and a strengthened review process. Interestingly, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern voiced support for the Canadian proposals to replace Preparatory Committee meetings with annual General Conferences, which would have the authority and mandate to make decisions as required by international events.

Of course, it will not be one singular proposal that will save the cornerstone of disarmament. Rather, “action is required on many fronts,” as asserted by the SecretaryGeneral. If May 1 is any indication, we already know what type of action that civil society is prepared to take. Just what actions this Conference will take remains to be seen.



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