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1 May 2013, Vol. 11, No. 8

Walking out, or walking on?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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When it walked out of the PrepCom on Monday afternoon, the Egyptian delegation said it cannot wait forever for the start of a process to establish a WMD free zone in the Middle East. More broadly, Ambassador Badr cited his delegation’s frustration with making concessions for agreements that are never implemented—and then still being expected to comply with those concessions. While Egypt is the first country to walk out of an NPT meeting on this basis, it is certainly not alone in experiencing this frustration. Thus all NPT states parties, but especially those whose weapons are the main reason we come to these meetings, have the responsibility to address this problem.

The working paper by the League of Arab States on the Middle East WMD free zone gives a clear picture of mounting frustration. So do the cluster one statements by non-nuclear weapon states, which have waited more than 40 years for the fulfillment of article VI. Another indication of frustration can be found in the joint statement of 78 countries highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. While the 14 states that possess or harbor nuclear weapons to try restrain discussions about nuclear weapons to techno-strategic terms, the rest of the world is demanding a conversation about the unspeakable suffering that would result from the use of these weapons of terror.

These frustrations illuminate the problem with the status quo, but also the solution.

The problem is that commitments are made but not implemented. Most states compromise to reach agreements—they accept less than they would otherwise, they offer other commitments in return. But sometimes before the ink is even dry, the countries that forced those concessions have walked away from or reinterpreted the agreement. Article VI. The 1995 resolution on the Middle East. Most of the 13 practical steps from 2000. Actions 5 and 21, among others, of the 2010 action plan. All are examples of this phenomenon within the NPT context.

The solution is to stop waiting for these countries to take the initiative to fulfill their commitments, and to prevent them from dictating how agreements are reached. When there is a known and established pattern of certain states forcing concessions and then walking away from the commitments they have made, other states should act to ensure this does not stand in the way of achieving collective security goals.

Moving from a state-centric to a humanitarian approach to security is an excellent start. The debate on the humanitarian impact reestablishes the fact that nuclear weapons are dangerous and destructive. It also emphasizes the perspective that disarmament is everyone’s responsibility. In this shifting and insecure world, there are actions we can take and paths we can walk on without waiting for the obstacles to move themselves.

Egypt’s walk-out, regardless of one’s position on the matter, hinted at the potential fragility of the NPT. It made the point that the NPT regime is not so sacred that it can relegate important issues to an indefinite holding pattern. One easy way to address such frustration this is for all states to implement their commitments as reflected in the spirit and letter of the NPT and its outcome documents. Another is to engage constructively in the debate on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons—to talk about nuclear weapons as instruments of death and destruction, accept responsibility for getting rid of them, and take concrete action to outlaw and eliminate them.

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