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8 May 2012, No. 6

Editorial: Integrity and the rule of law
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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On Monday delegations delivered statements on the cluster two theme of non-proliferation, safeguards, and nuclear weapon free zones. Most delegations highlighted the importance of strengthening the safeguards regime, with the main division occurring between those that consider the comprehensive safeguards agreement to be sufficient and those that argue the additional protocol must also be in force in order to meet the new “verification standard”. While the additional protocol undoubtedly provides the International Atomic Energy Agency with valuable additional capacity to determine states’ compliance with their safeguards agreements, some countries are becoming increasingly concerned that the goalposts for Treaty implementation are changing without their consent. This has broader implications, of course, for a Treaty that is already rife with double standards and cases of discriminatory application.

For example, while the arguably extra-legal decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant an exemption to India for nuclear trade received scant attention this year, most countries taking the floor on Monday expressed concern with Iran’s nuclear programme. Several delegations, primarily from Western countries, essentially argued that the onus is on Iran to prove a negative—to prove that it is not developing a nuclear weapon and to restore the international community’s confidence in its intentions. The UK delegation, for example, called on Iran to implement “practical steps to build confidence around the world that Iran will implement its international obligations and does not intend to build a nuclear weapon.” The French delegation argued that Iran must “take urgent and concrete measures to establish trust, in compliance with the resolutions of United Nations Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors”.

This is an interesting approach to non-proliferation, considering that in Western courts of law, the onus is not on the accused to prove her/his innocence but rather on the prosecution to prove her/his guilt. Furthermore, it is unclear specifically what is meant by non-proliferation obligations in the case of Iran. The countries that say Iran is in non-compliance with such obligations reference among other things UN Security Council resolutions, which call for the cessation of all uranium enrichment, which does not comport with NPT states parties rights to develop civilian nuclear programmes.

It is difficult to adequately address the complexity of this situation in a brief editorial; these initial comments are meant merely as responses to some of the statements made in plenary in Monday. Few delegations take the opportunity to comment directly on each other’s statements, which would make for more interesting plenary debates.

The Brazilian delegation, which is one of very few that have engaged interactively so far this session, argued that when states decide to become party to a treaty, they have to analyze the consequences flowing from undertaking the treaty’s obligations. Creating new obligatory provisions after a treaty has been ratified “doesn’t make much sense,” argued Ambassador Guerreiro. This logic applies to many elements of Monday’s discussion, from the additional protocol to civilian nuclear programmes. But it also applies to the expectation that all parties to the treaty will fulfill the obligations that they agreed to undertake when they ratified it. In terms of the NPT this of course applies to both non-proliferation and disarmament.

As the US delegation said, the NPT is only as strong as the parties’ willingness to maintain its integrity. It is this that should guide the discourse on cases of proliferation concern. No country should be able to hide behind the letter of the Treaty to develop a nuclear weapons programme, and all countries should adopt the additional protocol in order to strengthen the safeguards regime. At the same time, however, no country should be subject to discriminatory reinterpretations of state party obligations. Furthermore, the desire to maintain the integrity of the Treaty should also guide comprehensive investigations into nuclear weapon states’ (non-)compliance with article VI, which is just as critical for the integrity of the Treaty.

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