7 May 2012, No. 5

Editorial: Taking charge and making progress
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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On Friday morning delegations concluded the cluster one debate and conducted in full the debate on specific issue one, nuclear disarmament and security assurances. Despite the Chair’s encouragement for states to conduct their work in an interactive session and raise questions and comments about each other’s positions or statements, the discussion was largely route and dependent on prepared statements.

That said, a few delegations did take the opportunity to address specific issues of concern that have come up at the PrepCom so far and in other contexts. For example, the Australian delegation expressed concern about the lack of transparency around the P5 joint meetings about which that the nuclear weapon states reported in their joint statement. The Australian representative noted that the references to transparency, confidence building, verification, terminology, and the development of a standard reporting form were all “somewhat vague”. He acknowledged that the idea of non-nuclear weapon states asking for more information makes the nuclear weapon states uncomfortable, but emphasized that the fundamental bargain of the NPT requires the nuclear weapon states to go beyond their comfort zones and the benchmarks they have set for themselves and to be more transparent about issues other than what they’ve reported on already.

Indeed, leaving the reporting form—not to mention the other issues outlined in action 5 that the nuclear weapon states are obligated to address—solely up to the nuclear weapon states is not in the best interest of the rest of the international community. The NPT itself was negotiated behind closed doors by the United States and the Soviet Union, which is why we now have a Treaty rife with double standards and loopholes. Non-nuclear weapon states have a right and an obligation to demand increased transparency from the nuclear weapon states and an active role in processes addressing disarmament and non-proliferation. It is the only way to ensure that the interests, concerns, and rights of the rest of the world—the vast majority that do not rely on arsenals of mass destruction and terror to “defend” their interests—are fully taken into consideration.

Last week, the nuclear weapon states paid some attention to the concerns of others, but ultimately rejected each of the concerns as having been already addressed or as illegitimate. For example, four of the P5 reiterated their commitment to and implementation of the NPT disarmament provisions, describing the steps they have taken in this regard over the past several decades. Some insisted that their modernization programmes are completely compatible with their disarmament obligations; others argued that the security assurances they have already issued are sufficient. Realizing that the issue of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons is receiving more international attention and concern, the UK delegation argued that the International Court of Justice did not unanimously conclude that the use of nuclear weapons is unlawful in all circumstances, while the US delegation said that it is impossible to discuss the “hypothetical” use of nuclear weapons and that the issue has to be considered in a specific context.

These examples demonstrate the danger of leaving disarmament and non-proliferation processes and discussions up to the P5 alone. Not only have they continued to be dismissive of the legitimate arguments and concerns of non-nuclear weapon states, but they also continue to make claims about the legality and necessity of their arsenals despite their obligation to disarm. Brazil’s delegation addressed on Friday some of the comments made individually and collectively by the nuclear weapon states throughout the week. For example, the Brazilian ambassador argued that citing non-proliferation cases as an excuse to justify the retention of nuclear weapons is a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” since as long as there are nuclear weapons other states will want them. Similarly, he argued that the statement that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the nuclear weapon states will retain them is “delusional”. This position—expressed frequently by the United Kingdom and United States in particular—is indeed a catch-22 of epic proportions. If the nuclear-armed states do not eliminate their arsenals, then nuclear weapons will always exist!

Non-nuclear weapon states have a vital role to play in operationalizing the so-called “vision” of a nuclear weapon free world espoused by the nuclear weapon states. While using NPT and General Assembly meetings to criticize the policies of the nuclear weapon states is useful, it is also necessary to actively seek creative solutions to the continued existence of nuclear weapons. In this context, the 2013 meeting on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons will be a vital contribution to establishing the “conditions” for nuclear disarmament and promoting justifications for the end to nuclear weapons rather than their indefinite retention. Brazil’s suggestion that negotiations on a fissile materials treaty be firmly embedded into the context of nuclear disarmament, to ensure that it is not simply a discriminatory, status quo-reinforcing agreement, is another example of creative thinking to overcome the current stalemate on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues.

The most important thing is that non-nuclear weapon states actively take the reins. On Friday, the afternoon plenary meeting was cancelled because no one was interested in taking the floor after the first few speakers. Delegations squandered three hours they could have spent questioning the policies and positions of the nuclear weapon states and making suggestions for alternative courses of actions. The nuclear weapon states keep reiterating that nuclear disarmament is everyone’s responsibility; it’s time for the non-nuclear states to embrace this claim and determine the path forward.

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