4 May 2005, No. 3
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF
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Yesterday, the Review Conference continued to plod on through its poorlyattended General Debate, even as the prolonged lack of an agenda threatens the continuance of the Conference itself. While President Duarte acknowledged that some progress has been made on particularly sticky points (without divulging further details), the time remaining for serious work is running out.
The second day of the General Debate perfectly demonstrated the type of polarization that has mired so much of the international disarmament machinery. On one side of the spectrum, there are States such as Sweden, South Africa and Indonesia, which remain determined to use the Review Conference to strengthen the disarmament commitments under the treaty and accelerate the implementation of agreements already reached. For these countries, which are equally worried about proliferation of nuclear weapons, they rightly understand, as South Africa noted, that “(t)hose who rely on nuclear weapons to demonstrate and exercise power should recognize that such dependence on weapons of mass destruction only serve to increase insecurity rather than promote security, peace and development.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there are States such as Poland and South Korea, which failed to even mention the word “disarmament” in any substantive way. After espousing support for a laundry list of non and counterproliferation measures such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Poland called upon the Conference to “avoid our energy being wasted on petty and secondary issues.” Then there are other delegations, such as Slovakia, which, while viewing the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference as “highly relevant and of particular importance,” continue to prioritize nonproliferation of nuclear weapons as an issue “at the very top of the international danger list.”
To make matters worse, we have also seen some significant backtracking and weakening of expectations of our international disarmament and nonproliferation regime. Almost a year after the US announced that it no longer supports the previouslyagreed upon Shannon Mandate as a basis for negotiations of a Fissile Materials CutOff Treaty, we hear more and more delegations dropping references to the need for this treaty’s verifiability, such as Kyrgyzstan, Poland, China, Russia and Slovakia.
Some lip service is paid to universalization of the Treaty, as well as early entryintoforce of the CTBT, by both disarmament and nonproliferation advocates. (Though perhaps we need to clarify for the delegates the meaning of “early”, which surely was not intended to mean nine years the time that has passed since the negotiation of the CTBT concluded.)
Kazakhstan expressed hope that the Review Conference works to universalize not only the Treaty, but also the responses of States when dealing with suspected cases of nonproliferation. “Some States are punished upon mere suspicion that they might possess weapons of mass destruction; others are constantly warned about the harmful nature of such a policy course or censured by means of unilateral embargo, while still others May 4, 2005
are simply forgiven.” Hence Kazakhstan recognized a need to adopt “a unified and fair approach” to handling these cases. Equally, they maintained, there should be standardized mechanisms in place “that reward States for honoring…their NPT obligations.
At this stage in the game, States parties are becoming increasingly concerned with the prospects of a failed Review Conference; the perceived need to adopt a final document at all costs seems to be growing. Perhaps Sweden’s assertion that, to do otherwise, would “weaken our collective security” and make us “all be losers.” Perhaps it is the low expectation of this Review Conference that dissuaded governmental representatives from filling the floor of the General Assembly, which remains, two days into this seemingly historic event, eerily empty, with just a dozen or so governments at their seats at any given time.
Though perhaps the delegates, cognizant as Indonesia is of the “unprecedented opportunity” of the Review Conference, are squirreled away somewhere, ironing out the remaining disagreements over a program of work, rather than sitting in the GA hall, listening to the somewhat predictable General Debate.
So perhaps, then, progress isn’t always visible to the naked eye. Perhaps, just like the unobservable poison of radioactivity, the Conference that will save the world from the scourge of nuclear weapons has begun in the rays of invisible progress, sorted out behind the scenes, away from the spotlights of the General Assembly and the watchful eye of civil society.
But just as civil society i.e., hibakusha, downwinders, physicians, mothers and scientists is needed to shed light on the invisible dangers of the nuclear age, perhaps it is precisely this type of public attention that will illuminate the potential successes of this meeting as well.