13 May 2005, No. 10

Riddle me this
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF

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How many subsidiary bodies does it take to strengthen a nonproliferation regime?

This is the riddle that keeps States parties to the Review Conference mired in what President Duarte called “a painful, protracted and difficult to understand” procedural process. For even after agreement on an agenda had, at long, long last, been finally reached, substantive work has not yet begun.

After a meeting of the General Committee Thursday morning, the three Chairs of each of the Main Committees (ambassadors from Sweden, Hungary and Indonesia) met with the coordinators of the three geographical groups (Western Group, Eastern European Group and the Non-Aligned Movement) to iron out the remaining procedural issues. These consultations focused primarily on the number of subsidiary bodies to be established.

Until Thursday, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had been demanding that a subsidiary body, focused solely on the Middle East, be kept separate from such a body with a much broader mandate to focus on “Regional Issues”. At some point during the closeddoor regional consultations, the NAM agreed to combine matters relating to the Middle East with other regional discussions. The NAM is still holding out, however, for separate bodies on Negative Security Assurances (NSAs) and nuclear disarmament. The Western Group, on the other hand, prefers the arrangement of the 2000 Review Conference, which had established only two subsidiary bodies: regional issues and nuclear disarmament. Under the Western Group formulation, issues of NSAs could be broached during discussions on nuclear disarmament.

Another contentious issue at this procedural stage is over the question of Article X: withdrawal from the Treaty. Many delegations are pushing for this issue to be taken up under Main Committee III, which deals with “peaceful uses of nuclear technology.” These delegations view MCIII as the most appropriate umbrella, since States which withdraw to develop nuclear weapons (as was the case with North Korea) can easily do so by converting their “peaceful” technology (derived under Article IV of the Treaty) into weapons programs.

Even if all of these disagreements were settled overnight, another troubling riddle remains: how much time is actually left for the Conference to discuss substantive issues? With almost two full weeks spent on procedural haggling, and with one week needed for negotiating the Final Document, how many hours will they be able to spend actually discussing the substantive issues at hand?

The answer to this mathematical quandary, of course, only points to another, more troubling equation: 5 Nuclear Weapon States + three unrecognized Nuclear Weapon States – 1 withdrawn State, multiplied by x number of nonstate actors seeking nuclear weapons, divided by 60 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, multiplied by 1,732 NGO representatives at the Review Conference. Put that in parentheses and divide it by the number of days left at this Review Conference and multiply it by the 35 years that have passed since the Nuclear Weapon States first undertook to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

Add that to the number of hours spent negotiating these procedural issues and tell us: are we any closer to a nuclear weaponfree world?

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