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30 April 2008, No. 3

Philosophy of compromise
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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On Tuesday morning, the ambassador of Indonesia said nuclear disarmament should not only be seen as reducing the number of weapons, but also preventing the use of those that do exist. Civil society could not agree more. Tuesday afternoon was reserved for NGO presentations, all of which reflected this goal. The statements covered a wide variety of topics related to the NPT, including compliance (and lack of compliance) with Article VI; NATO nuclear sharing; the US-India deal; operational status of nuclear weapons; nuclear power; and nuclear weapon delivery systems. Delegates also heard statements from mayors, youth, and Hibakusha, and an explanation of gender analysis as it relates to nuclear weapons, security, and disarmament. These presentations are available on www.reachingcriticalwill.org and the conclusion has been reprinted in this edition of the News in Review, on page 4.

NGOs offered several recommendations to all government delegations—many of which are also applicable to members of civil society—urging them to unconditionally reject all arguments that are put forward for the continued existence of nuclear weapons; to support negotiations of a nuclear weapons convention; to cease (and in terms of civil society, oppose and resist) all programmes for the research, design, development, and production of nuclear weapons; and to provide or continue providing detailed information about the size and composition of their nuclear arsenals and on their actions to implement the provisions of the NPT each year of the NPT review process as required by Step 12 of the 13 Practical Steps.

We have heard similar recommendations from many delegations so far this PrepCom. On Tuesday morning, the representatives of Costa Rica and Malaysia called for a nuclear weapons convention. Norway’s ambassador argued that reporting is an obligation, not a matter of choice. The representative from Jordan called for increased transparency and accountability and Morocco’s representative called for a verifiable plan to implement the 13 Practical Steps by the 2010 Review Conference. The United Kingdom’s ambassador urged others to remember the sense of shared purpose from negotiating the NPT and to reaffirm all of their commitments to the Treaty. Ambassador Streuli of Switzerland emphasized that the NPT has always been characterized by compromise, citing the compromises between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states in 1968 and 1995.

However, Ambassador Streuli noted, the “philosophy of compromise today seems to be reaching its limits. Too many States parties are now expressing their frustration because, in their view, the promises made during key phases of the history of the NPT have not been kept in each of the three pillars of the Treaty.” He argued that the focus on Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have drawn more and more attention to non-proliferation issues, “thus masking the slowness of nuclear disarmament and indiscriminately fueling fears about the development of civil nuclear programmes throughout the world,” and that no significant disarmament has taken place since the last PrepCom.

Yet in a colourful brochure distributed by the United States’s delegation on Tuesday, the government emphasized its commitment to Article VI of the Treaty, highlighting some of the “dramatic and unprecedented steps” it has taken toward the goal of nuclear disarmament—including “working to resolve destabilizing global and regional tensions; reducing its nuclear forces and nuclear weapons stockpile . . . and working cooperatively . . . to reduce nuclear threats.”

The gulf between the United States’ perception of its behaviour and the perception of the vast majority of other states and citizens in the international community is striking. When there is so much space between parties’ understanding of a situation, let alone their varying approaches to it, reviving a spirit of compromise seems unlikely.

Yet that is exactly what is needed. During the recent Disarmament Commission session, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renewed his call for delegations “to move forward in a spirit of compromise and accommodation.” He argued that the “solemn duty” of pursuing disarmament and non-proliferation

cannot be fulfilled through confrontation, condemnation or the adoption of intractable policy positions.... There is little doubt that we will not go far if each delegation proceeds expecting to achieve—here and now—nothing less than 100 per cent of their desired objectives. The pursuit of maximalist goals by some will yield only minimal results for all.... It is not a defeat to move forward today on those issues where progress is possible, and to pursue other goals tomorrow. There is no shame or loss of pride in acting according to the laws of reason.

In her statement, Ambassador Thompson of Costa Rica quoted Hegel: The only thing humankind ever learns from history is that humankind never learns anything from history. Diplomats and civil society alike cannot forget the history of compromise—and failure—of the NPT. We have to remember how we managed to agree on the Treaty in the first place, how it was extended and strengthened over time, as well as what led to the failure of the Review Conference in 2005 and what has led to stagnation throughout the disarmament regime and to the global instabilities that jeapordize the Treaty’s, and our, future.

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