14 May 2010, No. 10
Didn't we make that downpayment already 40 years ago?
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will
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As we’re approaching half-time of the Review Conference, the Main Committees and their subsidiary bodies seem to be making progress on their work.
In Main Committee I, states parties have “looked back” and reviewed the 13 steps from 2000 and “looked forward” and debated an action plan for disarmament in its subsidiary body. In Main Committee II, states parties have debated non-proliferation and the IAEA safeguards system the P5 and the Arab states have been meeting to explore options for the implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution. Main Committee III continues to discuss peaceful uses of nuclear energy and institutional issues and while it has been announced that MC I and II will circulate draft text today, MC III appears to need a few more days before the chair is ready to draw his conclusions.
However, the circulation of draft texts does not mean we are any closer to agreement on the substantive issues. Yesterday, the discussions in Main Committee II continued to focus around the IAEA safeguards system and its additional protocol. By engaging in an interactive debate, most western countries continued to argue that the additional protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement should be considered the verification standard. Delegations from the NAM continued to argue that the additional protocol was never a part of the original bargain and that new obligations should not be opposed automatically. This major disagreement, one day before the committee is supposed to discuss its draft text, led to some countries wanting to focus on the current common ground, such as the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement or the language agreed upon in 2000. However, while 2000 final document “encourages all States parties, in particular those States parties with substantial nuclear programmes, to conclude additional protocols, as soon as possible”* , Iran hinted that they would not agree to anything similar this time. The German ambassador seemed convinced that strengthening the safeguards system was a pragmatic step to encourage nuclear weapon states to take further disarmament measures. He argued that if the nuclear weapon states had confidence in a strong and robust safeguards system, they might consider more reductions. “It’s like a down payment. We do it now, and reap the benefits later.”
The Brazilian delegation responded immediately, arguing that considering reductions of nuclear stockpiles that have over 5000 warheads in them should not be dependent on whether or not all of the non-nuclear weapons states have signed up for the additional protocol.
During these two first weeks, several countries have continued to emphasize the double standard over the modernization of nuclear arsenals, the insignificant reductions in numbers, and the empty promises of commitments to article VI. But a large group of non-nuclear weapon states remain vague and silent on these issues.
As the US government is now sending New START off to the Senate for ratification, together with an extensive package of nuclear weapons complex modernization plans, many non-nuclear weapon states still seem to accept this type of behaviour as a sufficient demonstration of commitment to nuclear disarmament. So when states parties are moving into concrete negotiations about words in a draft text, all non-nuclear weapon states must look beyond the words and colourful brochures of the nuclear weapon states and start demanding actual disarmament through measurable commitments and promoting efforts to reduce the asymmetry of the Treaty.
We need more than a reaffirmation of vague commitments. We need more than a conference on the Middle East. Is it not time to eliminate nuclear weapons, before they eliminate us?
* Final Document of the NPT Review Conference 2000, NPT/CONF.2000/28, p. 7