1 May 2014, Vol. 12, No. 4
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will
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“However much we may wish to make short-cuts on [the route to a world without nuclear weapons], there are none,” cautioned Mr. Åkesson of Sweden. “The road ahead will be burdensome.” While it’s true there are no short cuts to nuclear disarmament, there could be a clear path if were it not for the many perceived obstacles. Whether it is missile defence, conventional weapon forces, future potential for proliferation, or theories of “nuclear deterrence”, nuclear-armed states (and their allies) have many excuses to delay disarmament. And new ones are being generated: the current situation in Ukraine, for example, has been used by some states as a pretext for celebrating the “security benefits” of nuclear weapons. But some states are pushing back, insisting that there is a clear and logical way forward, if only governments would have the courage to pursue it.
“While the current political climate may not make nuclear disarmament easier,” argued Ambassador van der Kwast of the Netherlands, “this should not be used as an excuse to lose sight of our common goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.” He and Germany’s Ambassador Biontino both expressed frustration with the slow pace of disarmament, with van der Kwast noting that progress in this area lags behind compared with the other two “pillars” of the NPT. Likewise, Malaysian Ambassador Haniff noted there have been several initiatives pursued outside the NPT dealing with non-proliferation, but that the disarmament objectives have not been pursued with corresponding urgency either inside or outside the NPT framework.
Despite these concerns, the nuclear-armed states have not been willing to engage in any concrete initiatives to meet their disarmament obligations. Ambassador Uliyanov of the Russian Federation even claimed that article VI is being “effectively implemented”.
This is not reflected in reality, which is why most non-nuclear-armed states call for urgent and concrete action. The New Agenda Coalition has explored several options for moving forward in working papers that were introduced by Ambassador O’Brien of Ireland. In particular, an increasing number of states have begun to call for the development of a treaty prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons. Archbishop Chillikatt of the Holy See argued that the logical course of action is “a global legal ban on nuclear weapons to accompany the current global bans on other weapons of mass destruction,” while Ms. Chan of Costa Rica said that nuclear weapons must be prohibited and subsequently eliminated like other WMD. Noting that the Oslo and Nayarit conferences have demonstrated the increasing will of states to make substantial progress, she said the 2015 NPT Review Conference must decide to “commence negotiations to adopt a legally-binding framework for the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Even those who have been reluctant to recognize the logic of a framework treaty banning nuclear weapons do recognize the need for something new. Mr. Åkesson of Sweden called for “new constructive approaches,” though he described a different kind of framework from a ban treaty. Instead, he and others in the group of states that submitted a working paper on the “building blocks” approach suggest the development of “mutually reinforcing and complimentary treaties, institutions, and commitments “to “narrow the margin for nuclear weapons in international security peace and security.”
Narrowing the margins seems like a shortsighted goal to most others. Nuclear weapons have existed for 69 years. The NPT has been in force for 44 years. The catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of nuclear weapons have been well documented and presented. The risk of the use of nuclear weapons, by accident or by design, has been equally well demonstrated. At this point, much bolder, more concrete actions are necessary, with or without the nuclear-armed states.