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26 May 2010, No. 18

You can't even use them!
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will


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At 12:00 AM on Tuesday, 25 May, the President of the Review Conference released the first draft of the Final Declaration. It is a compilation of the Chairs’ draft reports from the three main committees and subsidiary bodies, with the addition of a preamble. While the substance has not been changed from the last revised versions discussed in each committee, the Non-Aligned Movement requested time to review the document, so negotiations were postponed until Tuesday afternoon.

When the afternoon closed meeting kicked off at 4:00 PM, delegations engaged in a section-by-section review of the document, making comments, suggesting changes, and identifying areas where consensus still has not been reached. These areas are roughly the same as the beginning of the Conference, and include such controversial topics as the action plan on disarmament, the IAEA safeguards system and its additional protocol, export controls, and non-compliance. In addition to these, the issue of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East hangs over the Conference like the sword of Damocles with no official reactions to the draft proposed by Ambassador Kelly last week.

While some compromises have already been made on the remaining areas of disagreement and some potentially bridge-building proposals have been suggested, the diversion of views on key issues is still fundamental. And as the Conference gets down to its last three days, time is running out for perfect solutions to these differences. There is a possibility that the substance of each text will be stripped away to the point of unacceptability for those states that are genuinely committed to progress on these issues. There is also a possibility that a final document could include a large list of paragraphs that no one is happy with but all can live with and still consider the Conference a success.

However, a successful outcome does not automatically guarantee progress on nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation, as has become evident since 2000. Real progress on such issues must come through a shift in thinking about security to a mindset far removed from the Cold War mentality that created the NPT.

It is beyond doubt that nuclear weapons are not usable in warfare. The International Court of Justice stated that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.” The potential for devastating human and societal consequences cannot be accepted. Furthermore, these weapons are completely useless in combating the threats the world if facing today, such as climate change, intrastate conflict, poverty, and terrorism. Rather, the existence of nuclear weapons create conditions for further tensions and injustice around the world that can enhance such threats. That nuclear weapons are not for use is confirmed by the nuclear weapon states that purport their arsenals are solely for deterrence purposes.

But deterrence does not work on climate change. Deterrence does not reduce social inequalities, nor does it prevent terrorism. How long are citizens of these countries going to accept such argument for useless weapons? In our recent publication, Beyond arms control: challenges and choices for nuclear disarmament, we note in the fiscal year of 2008, the US spent an estimated $52.4 billion on nuclear weapons-related programmes alone. According to a 1998 United Nations Development Programme report, an additional $40 billion a year (only half of what has just been spent on the modernization of nuclear weapons in order to ratify START) would be enough to achieve and maintain universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for all women, adequate food for all, and clean water and safe sewers for all

How can we still accept this?

In light of the current economic climate, with high unemployment and huge budget deficits around the world, spending on these weapons seems more irrational than ever. Could the US not spend $80 billion on something that would provide more benefits for its people and their security than a modernization of useless, illegal, and immoral weapons? Does the UK not have other holes in its budget to fill to increase the welfare of its citizens rather than the £97 billion that the lifetime cost of Trident replacement is estimated to?

As delegates are preparing for a last concerted effort to agree on acceptable language on actions in a final document, we must remember the big picture and ensure that the outcome meets human needs rather than the needs of the politico-military elite of nuclear-armed governments and the industries that support them.

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