26 April 2013, Vol. 11, No. 5

NWS labelled "persistent underachievers" in the NPT yearbook
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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According to the P5, the step-by-step approach is the “most effective” path to nuclear disarmament. They argue that any initiatives other than those explicitly listed in the 2010 NPT action plan undermine this plan and that a “comprehensive” approach to nuclear disarmament is unrealistic. This assertion, however, is not grounded in fact. The agenda of the incremental approach has existed since the 1960s and its provisions have yet to be fulfilled. Furthermore, the P5 activities to implement the action plan have been extremely underwhelming—yesterday, China said it would report on the P5’s “nuclear definition glossary” … at the NPT Review Conference in 2015. Thus as several non-nuclear weapon states have argued during this PrepCom, there are multiple paths to zero and all must be supported in good faith.

The P5 consistently reiterate that nuclear disarmament is the responsibility of all states, not just those possessing nuclear weapons. They often demand that non-nuclear weapon states establish the “conditions” for nuclear disarmament—implying that those that do not possess these weapons of terror are somehow preventing their elimination. Yet the P5 also tend to reject disarmament discussions or efforts initiated by non-nuclear weapon states. In response to the draft reporting form developed by the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, some of the nuclear weapon states have cautioned against a “one size fits all” approach to transparency. They collectively boycotted the conference in Oslo on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. They have expressed their intention to boycott the open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament scheduled to begin its work in Geneva on 14 May.

As the Swiss delegation said, these decisions to not participate in initiatives supported by the overwhelming majority of non-nuclear weapon states does not help improve either transparency or confidence. Not only do these initiatives not undermine the NPT, said Ambassador Laggner of Switzerland, but they actually constitute good faith efforts to fulfill the Treaty’s objectives. Ambassador Higgie of New Zealand asked how it is possible for countries to undermine the NPT when trying to advance nuclear disarmament, given that this is one of the Treaty’s central goals?

The Brazilian ambassador, in an attempt to respond directly to the P5 mantra of incrementalism, argued that the distinction between a comprehensive and step-by-step approach is false. Even if nuclear weapon states agreed today to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention, those negotiations would develop a roadmap to get to zero. He also argued that any assurances against proliferation would of necessity be part of those negotiations, not preconditions for them.

As the Irish delegation emphasized, the “persistent underachievement” in nuclear disarmament is no longer acceptable. The discourse focusing on the humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons has sharpened the opposition to the continued possession of these weapons, while it remains apparent that the risk of their use is as high as ever. Nuclear weapons remain on high alert level, embedded in security doctrines, and, as Ireland said, just because they have not been used for 68 years does not mean they will never be used again.

But the P5 are devoted to their step-by-step process, despite its consistent failure to achieve results. This failure, of course, suits the P5 just fine. They still cling to the belief that nuclear weapons bring security, while the rest of the world is increasingly challenging that assumption.

“When we consider the vast progress which humanity has made since 1945, it seems incomprehensible indeed to us that we should tolerate, much less seek to justify, the continued retention of such uniquely destructive and dangerous weapons when we know they could, in an instant, change human life as we know it forever,” said Mr. Gerard Keown of Ireland. “Is this the best blueprint for security that we can devise?”

Clearly, the answer must be “no” if we are to have any hope of survival as a species.

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