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22 April 2013, Vol. 11, No. 1

Momentum and mobilization
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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The second preparatory committee (PrepCom) of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) marks the half-way point in the treaty’s review cycle. It provides space for all participants to assess where we are and where we need to go ahead of the 2015 review conference. To ensure success for 2015, we must capitalize on recent events and the momentum that is building among civil society and governmental actors in favour of nuclear abolition.

Just two months ago in Oslo, 127 governments, several UN agencies, and many civil society representatives took a close look at what would happen if a nuclear weapon were detonated today. The overwhelming conclusion was that no agency or government would be able to effectively respond to the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that would be created by the use of nuclear weapons. The conference was a stark reminder—or for some, a first realization—that the effects of nuclear weapons are catastrophic, and that the threat posed by their existence is real.

Many Oslo participants will likely be coming into the NPT PrepCom with renewed determination to ensure these weapons are outlawed, eliminated, and relegated to history. The information and analysis generated for and by the Oslo meeting will provide an excellent catalyst for our work here in Geneva. Other initiatives and accomplishments should also give impetus and direction to our work. The open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament will soon to start its substantive work here in Geneva, hopefully providing a venue for governments and civil society to articulate concrete proposals on getting to zero. The recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty, while containing loopholes and limitations, provides an example of what governments and civil society can accomplish when they commit to developing international law aimed at preventing human suffering. In July and August, Nuclear Abolition Week and Nuclear Free Future Month, respectively, will provide opportunities for civil society groups around the world to demonstrate their thirst and dedication to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. In September, the high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament, to be held on the margins of the UN General Assembly, will give government officials a chance to demonstrate their similar commitment.

But right now, for the next two weeks, our work will be focused on the NPT. A flawed treaty suffering from lack of implementation, the NPT indeed requires much work. PrepCom participants should use these two weeks to evaluate implementation of the NPT action plan and to start discussions on the commitments necessary for 2015. A simple reaffirmation of the 65 actions developed in 2010 would be wholly unacceptable at the next review conference. The development of next steps must begin now, and should build off the momentum provided by recent events.

Reaching Critical Will has contributed to the assessment of where we’re at in terms of NPT implementation. Our 2013 NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report provides a clear assessment of the status-so-far. Our research indicates that progress on the plan’s 22 actions related to nuclear disarmament has been the most eagerly anticipated but also the most disappointing. Our update to last year’s report on nuclear weapon modernization, Still Assuring Destruction Forever, confirms this view, as the plans and investments in modernization undermine any minimal arsenal reductions.

At the same time as the nuclear weapon possessors have been failing to comply with their disarmament obligations and commitments, tensions have been mounting over threats of nuclear war from non-NPT start party the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Some nuclear weapon possessors have decided to use this as an opportunity to bolster support for their retention of their nuclear arsenals. In reality, this situation is a clear indication that no country should have these weapons of terror and that they must be banned once and for all, for everyone.

In Oslo, the conclusion drawn by many delegations—and by all of the civil society groups attending the meeting—was that the elimination of nuclear weapons is the only way to prevent the catastrophic consequences that would result from their use. In keeping with that conclusion, several countries called for a ban on nuclear weapons, a treaty that prohibits their possession and development by all countries. As work begins in the NPT context, pursuing concrete ways to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons will be vital for achieving the core objectives of the Treaty and international peace and security.

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