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2 May 2014, Vol. 12, No. 5

Editorial: Burdens or responsibilities?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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It is perhaps quite fitting that on Thursday, the continuation of the disarmament discussion was postponed until Friday so that states parties could first address non-proliferation. As Brazil and Ireland highlighted, there is a stark contrast between implementation of the provisions on these two “pillars” of the NPT, despite their inextricable link. This state of affairs underscores the need for non-nuclear-armed states to take the lead to make credible, concrete efforts to fulfill article VI and achieve nuclear disarmament.

As pointed out in yesterday’s editorial, the nuclear-armed states have no shortage of excuses for their failure to implement their disarmament obligations. In its report released on Thursday, Russia argued that “conflict potential” has prevented “consistent steps” in disarmament. It also included its usual shopping list of preconditions it considers “critical” for nuclear disarmament. The Russian government has also structurally diminished its commitment to disarmament, abolishing its Department for Security and Disarmament and replacing it with the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control. This change, made on 3 April 2014, is due to the government’s perception that “disarmament in the ‘classical’ sense is in many ways becoming a thing of the past.”

Other nuclear-armed states continue to focus exclusively on proliferation risks as their motivation for maintaining nuclear weapons. Ambassador Simon-Michel of France, for example, argued that proliferation crises threaten disarmament and that the “fight against proliferation” is central to collective security.

Most other states parties might argue that disarmament is equally central to collective security—and more importantly, that disarmament is central to preventing proliferation. Brazil’s Ambassador Motta Pinto Coelho described disarmament as the “best antidote” to proliferation, while Mr. O’Reilly of Ireland argued that failure to act on disarmament undermines the NPT’s non-proliferation achievements. States parties “need to move both processes forward urgently, if we are to succeed in lessening the ever-present and increasingly known risks to life on this planet represented by nuclear weapons.”

In his report to the PrepCom on his work to facilitate preparations for a conference on the establishment of a WMD free zone in the Middle East, Ambassador Laajava of Finland noted that sometimes, small steps are the only way forward. Slow progress and setbacks are disappointing, he said, but states need to focus on the way ahead.

Ways ahead are firmly on the table. Whether it is the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, the 13 practical steps, or the 2010 outcome document, NPT states parties have no shortage of roadmaps for how to achieve the objectives of the Treaty. The key challenge is the lack of implementation of these agreed plans of action.

The burden of implementation, argued the Brazilian delegation, continues to fall exclusively on the non-nuclear-armed states. Given this situation, it would seem like the time is ripe for these states to take matters into their own hands and seek new and innovative ways to implement the whole treaty. For decades they have been told that nuclear weapons are the domain of those who possess them. This situation has proven untenable. Since non-nuclear-armed states are already shouldering the burden, they might as well take it upon themselves to ban nuclear weapons. Negotiating a framework treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states, will represent a good faith effort to implement article VI and subsequent commitments under the Treaty.

In his comments about the establishment of a zone free of WMD in the Middle East, Thomas Countryman of the United States argued that the states of the region need to take responsibility for the zone. He highlighted the significance of those in Latin America and Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia taking the lead to establish their own zones. These states, and others that have rejected nuclear weapons, should heed this advice and take the lead to establish a global ban on nuclear weapons.

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