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3 May 2012, No. 3

A ban would bring balance
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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After two days of general statements, it is clear that the old non-proliferation versus disarmament debate continues to rage, though nuclear-armed states parties seem more prepared these days to assure their non-nuclear counterparts that they do not see non-proliferation as the singular objective of the NPT (i.e. the UK delegation’s insistence that it does not demand “non-proliferation first”.) Indeed, most states call for a “balanced” implementation of the Treaty and the 2010 action plan, though, as the Brazilian delegation pointed out on Wednesday, non-proliferation has already been delivered, while nuclear weapons still exist. Ambassador Guerreiro of Brazil called for an end to the “groundless addiction” to nuclear weapons, noting that that the international community has already been wise enough to ban the other two categories of weapons of mass destruction.

This was forcefully echoed during the afternoon’s civil society presentations, when non-governmental activists and experts from around the world called again and again for a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons. From the Mayor of Nagasaki and a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima to two young people from Italy and Pakistan, the message was clear: nuclear weapons should not exist and must be eliminated now.

It is not just civil society that believes this to be the case. The vast majority of the governments represented here at this PrepCom support the elimination of nuclear weapons and criticize the nuclear weapon states for their continued defence of their arsenals. The Mexican delegation highlighted the irrationality of conferring strategic value to nuclear weapons as guarantors of international security, arguing that instead, nuclear weapons constitute a threat to international peace and security. Ambassador Perez-Duarte of Mexico argued that as long as some states maintain these weapons, others will pursue them. He suggested that the way to strengthen the non-proliferation regime is nuclear disarmament, as did Ambassador Laggner of Switzerland on Monday, who argued, “More significant progress on disarmament might help to create a more favourable climate for broader acceptance of more binding safeguards.”

The importance of disarmament as a key tool for enhancing non-proliferation has been a clear and consistent message from the Non-Aligned Movement, the New Agenda Coalition, and many other states over the years; however, several Western governments still tend to indicate that non-proliferation is a condition for disarmament instead. Given how extremely difficult it is to prove a negative, to prove that a state is not developing a new nuclear weapon as opposed to proving that it is, holding non-proliferation as a pre-condition for disarmament means that the process to eliminate nuclear weapons can be put off indefinitely.

A new discourse is needed on non-proliferation that clearly and resolutely rejects the double standards and hypocrisies that are embedded in the Treaty and that have developed in the international normative regime. While this may seem like an obvious narrative, it is remarkable how many delegations at international meetings such as this PrepCom call for an end to double standards in one breath while they call for Iran to cease its uranium enrichment programme in the other, yet do not apply any active pressure on Israel to join the Treaty or challenge the sale of nuclear material to non-state parties India and Pakistan.

On Monday the representative of the Holy See called for the diffusion of a “culture of non-proliferation” among states and citizens, arguing that it is time for a “profound rethinking and change in our perception of nuclear weapons,” as both disarmament and non-proliferation are essential from a humanitarian point of view. This is an interesting proposition in light of continued calls for the promotion of a culture of peace; it offers an opportunity for further developing the norm against nuclear weapons rather than against certain states developing these weapons or against their upkeep and modernization and indefinite retention. It is also relevant in the context of the revived efforts to highlight the humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. In addition to the civil society statements on this topic, 16 states delivered a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. These 16 states argued that “nuclear weapons are useless in addressing current challenges such as poverty, health, climate change, terrorism or transnational crime” and noted that any financial resources for nuclear weapons could be made available for social welfare, health care, or education.

There is much work to be done inside and outside of these conference rooms to develop and universalize a narrative that categorically recognizes nuclear disarmament as the ultimate guarantor of non-proliferation and of international peace and security. This process will need to start with how the international community addresses specific cases of proliferation concern. As Austria’s delegation said on Monday, all NPT state parties have a vested interest in resolving these issues “in a way that strengthens the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

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