11 May 2007, No. 10

Shades of grey
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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Yesterday, governments tackled two of the most contentious contemporary political issues: the Middle East and nuclear energy. The tone was largely diplomatic, and delegations even engaged in some interactive debate during the morning session. Yet, observing from the corner, one has the sense that states are not hearing each other. There are many diverse, nuanced, fluctuating views about these two subjects, dependent on changing political, economic, environmental, and social factors. The debate here at the PrepCom, however, is largely stationary – there is a lack of acknowledgment of each other’s perspectives, and a lack of flexibility in reexamining one’s own position or understandings.

The main focus of the morning session was the implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution, which calls for the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) in the region. Many states recalled that the resolution was an integral part of the decision to indefinitely extend the NPT in 1995, and lamented that it has not yet been realized, despite the 2000 Review Conference’s affirmation that the resolution is still valid.

In determining why progress has stalled, most states pointed to the political environment in the Middle East, and the lack of determination by the nuclear weapon states to decisively participate in changing this environment.  Israel’s nuclear weapon programme was frequently indicated as the number one impediment to a NWFZ in the region, and many states called for Israel’s immediate accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state and to the IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards agreements. Some states also called for NPT member states to cease all nuclear cooperation with Israel, arguing that double standards are being applied in the region.  In Libya’s words, some states are “judging small creatures” while elephants act aggressively with the support of a gang.

The US argued that Iran’s alleged violations of its safeguards agreements were responsible for holding up the creation of Middle East NWFZ and the universalization of the NPT. The US delegate said, “We cannot hope to attract new parties to the Treaty if the non-proliferation assurances offered by the Treaty are not seen to be credible.”

Other states had very different perceptions of actions that undermine the Treaty. Some states questioned how the proposed US-India deal will affect the non-proliferation regime. For example, Canada said it wants “to ensure that any developments in this regard do not weaken the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime, and recall the positions already taken by the NPT membership regarding conditions of supply to non-nuclear weapon states.” NGOs have also invited the US to explain to the PrepCom how the US-India deal is in compliance with NPT. Other states argued that the failure to implement the Middle East resolution undermines the NPT, as it indicates a bias in implementing some of the Treaty’s provisions over others, and encourages further nuclear proliferation in the region.

States also disagree about how to implement the Middle East resolution. While the US argues that “progress toward [a Middle East NWFZ] requires progress toward a political and security environment in the Middle East that is conducive to creating this condition,” many other states, including South Africa, the Republic of Korea, Cuba, and Malaysia, believe that the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East would help create an atmosphere conducive to sustainable peace in the region.  As South Africa said, “the possession of nuclear weapons provides only an illusion of security for those who posses, but in reality it only serves to increase insecurity.”

This discord of perceptions continued in the afternoon session, when delegates discussed the “peaceful” uses of nuclear energy. In WILPF’s perspective, New Zealand correctly posited that “nuclear power is not compatible with the concept of sustainable development, given the long term costs, both financial and ecological, of nuclear waste and the risk of nuclear proliferation.” In contrast, France described nuclear power as “protective of the environment”. New Zealand has rejected nuclear energy for itself, while France profits from the sale of nuclear technology. South Africa, unfortunately, announced it is aiming to restart fuel cycle activities, while Jordan mentioned it is planning to begin a nuclear energy programme.  Most other states remained silent on this issue.

Some delegations argued that “non-compliance with non-proliferation commitments” voided NPT member states’ “inalienable right” to nuclear technology. Others expressed concern that there is an emphasis on non-proliferation at the expense of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, at a time when many developing countries are hoping nuclear power will supply their growing populations and industries with energy. These states called for a balance among the three pillars of the NPT. Malaysia even pointed out that the tern non-proliferation non-compliance “does not appear in that form, at all, in the text of the NPT.”

Similarly, some states argued that multilateral controls of the fuel cycle would discourage proliferation, while others pointed out such controls would be in violation of Article IV of the NPT, which affords member states the right to develop, research, and produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

In the end, both sessions revealed important fault lines between nuclear weapon states’ and non-nuclear weapon states’ positions on the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The NWS continue to prioritize non-proliferation, while the NNWS believe that the double standards placed on the NNWS and with respect to non-states parties are the true regime-eroding factor. 

A fundamental discord of perception lies at the root of the current impasse in the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. It is apparent in questions of reductions versus elimination, rights versus obligations, security first versus disarmament first, or Iran versus Israel – we are all looking at the same situation, but are some are seeing it black and others white. We all need a little more grey.



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