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10 May 2010, No. 6

Planning for nuclear disarmament now
Beatrice Fihn & Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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After a week of general statements in the GA hall, the substantive work finally started on Friday. As Main Committee I opened, delegates delivered statements focusing on disarmament actions plans. In the afternoon, civil society representatives addressed the Review Conference. Moving and informative speeches from Hibakusha, Jody Williams, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other members of civil society gave the Conference a sense of urgency and brought a humanitarian injection to the discussions.
In Main Committee I, a large number of non-nuclear weapon states delivered strong statements calling for further steps towards nuclear disarmament. Such calls seemed to focus mainly on two themes.

The first was the importance of developing a nuclear disarmament action plan for the outcome document of the Review Conference. There was widespread support for reaffirmation of the 13 steps and for moving further beyond them through a plan of action with benchmarks or a time frame to measure progress. The NAM introduced its working paper, which proposes a plan of action for the full implementation of the 13 steps and article VI.. South Africa and Argentina’s ambassadors emphasized that reductions are not the same as elimination, since reductions have more to do with excessive capacity and do not automatically translate into commitment to nuclear disarmament. In addition, Switzerland’s ambassador argued that quantitative reductions are not enough if nuclear weapon states simultaneously develop new and more efficient types of weapons. The NAM and the NAC called for a moratorium on upgrading and developing new types or missions for nuclear weapons. Iran called for a prohibition on research, development, modernization, and production of new nuclear weapons or delivery systems and a ban on the construction of any new facility for such activities.

Measures to prevent vertical proliferation lead to the second reoccurring theme, the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines. The NAM argued that security doctrines, including NATO’s Strategic Concept, still set out rationales for the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and maintain unjustifiable concepts of international security based on promoting nuclear deterrence. Brazil’s ambassador argued that nuclear weapons are not needed to deter NNWS or terrorist attacks and thus nuclear deterrence doctrines only apply to NWS and their relations among themselves. Several other delegations, including the NAC, Japan, Switzerland, the Philippines also called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

However, the five nuclear weapon states had a different view on these issues. Russia and the US devoted most of their individual and joint statements to describing the advantages of the new START. While the NAM and others noted that these reductions did not meet the international community’s expectations, Russia and the US emphasized new START’s contribution to international security and to the implementation of article VI and pointed out “everyone will win as a result of its implementation”.

At the same time, they and France argued that fulfilment of article VI is everyone else’s responsibility. France and the US argued that preventing proliferation is a necessary condition for disarmament, following on from the P5 joint statement wherein they continue to put disarmament off into the distant future, arguing that other states need to first “create the conditions” that they deem necessary to fulfil their own obligations under article VI. They argued, “All other States must contribute to fulfilling these disarmament goals by creating the necessary security environment, resolving regional tensions, promoting collective security, and making progress in all the areas of disarmament.” France’s ambassador argued these conditions are important “so that nuclear disarmament does not set off an arms race in other areas.”

However, as the Brazilian ambassador pointed out, the vast majority of non-nuclear weapon states “have never put their non-proliferation duties on hold, conditioning their fulfilment to indefinite, more favourable international conditions.” The international community cannot leave it up to the nuclear weapon states to decide when they are ready to disarm. Allowing these states to retain their nuclear weapon capabilities, accepting their reliance on nuclear weapons as a form of security and defence, and remaining silent when they develop new weapons and facilities might be the greatest challenge to international peace and stability that the world is facing. In one of the NGO presentations, Rebecca Johnson from the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy argued, “if we postpone the elimination of nuclear weapons until the world has achieved some ideal threshold of peace and stability, we will get neither disarmament nor security.” And when Mr. Taniguchi Sumiteru, a survivor from the nuclear bombing in Nagasaki, presented his story to the Review Conference, and an image of his burnt back was held up in front of us, it was clearer than ever that nuclear weapon attacks are a violation of international humanitarian law and must be outlawed immediately.

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