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8 May 2015, Vol. 13, No. 6

Editorial: Credible, effective, legal, and moral
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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Earlier this week, the NPT nuclear-armed states released their glossary of key nuclear terminologies. They spent the last five years working on this, instead of the actions they actually committed to in 2010. At this pace, noted Iran on Thursday, nuclear disarmament will take hundreds of years. Hence the demand of the majority of NPT states parties for credible, effective measures for nuclear disarmament.

In its subsidiary body 1 statement on nuclear disarmament,[1] the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) highlighted that action 5 of the 2010 NPT Action Plan concludes that “the 2015 Review Conference will take stock and consider the next steps for the full implementation of Article VI.” It is this provision that inspired NAC’s working paper 9, which “outlines the legally effective measures that will enable the full implementation of the disarmament undertakings of Article VI.”

The discussion about what constitutes effective measures is vital. There are plenty of options on the table and states must decide what constitutes the most effective measure in the current context. At a time when the nuclear-armed states are recalcitrant in complying with their legally-binding disarmament obligations and their nuclear-dependent allies provide cover for them, the rest of the world must seek a solution that allows them to take action without having to rely on certain states. As Austria pointed out, there has been no progress on the actions that only the nuclear-armed states can fulfill. Thus the question for nuclear weapon free states must be, what can we do to affect this situation? What can we do to confront this assertion of power and violence and mistrust and fear? What can we do to change the game?

The answer for many is a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Such an instrument can be negotiated now, even without the nuclear-armed states. It would have many practical and normative effects that could help further shift the way nuclear weapons are discussed, perceived, and treated. It would elevate moral and legal interests above material and narrowly-defined security interests. As Sweden said, claims that nuclear weapons provide security for those that possess them are based on the insecurity of everyone else.

This situation is unsustainable. And regardless of current preferences over the best way to change this situation, the Review Conference provides an opportunity for states to thoroughly consider the options and decide where to go from here. The key thing is that states commit to undertake concrete action.

Concrete action requires much more than continuing on the same path as before. The building blocks or step-by-step approach is no longer credible. It has been stagnant for years and its measures are too focused on piecemeal and incremental measures that do not address the crux of the issue: that nuclear weapons are inherently immoral; that the humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use and testing are unacceptable; that they generate risk of proliferation, accidents, and use; and that the only real answer to all of this to prohibit and eliminate them.

In its building blocks intervention, the NAC suggested that issues such as nuclear testing, fissile material, and verification may need to be addressed at some point in a legally-binding instrument or framework of instruments, or could be seen as interim measures. But it firmly argued that such measures are not alternatives or preconditions that must be in place before negotiations can begin on legally effective measures for nuclear disarmament.

The focused discussion on effective measures for nuclear disarmament is scheduled to take place this morning. This is the time for states to hash out the different options for moving forward. In doing so, states should recognise the broader context of their discussions. Effective measures for nuclear disarmament, if they are to be truly effective, will help to strengthen ways of thinking and sets of values that stigmatise nuclear weapons, create disincentives for proliferation, and bolster the sense of intrinsic immorality of these weapons. The time has come for a new approach to nuclear weapons, one in which those who promote their “benefits” no longer control the agenda.


[1] The previous two discussions in subsidiary body 1—on nuclear disarmament and “building blocks”—have been closed to civil society, but a few delegations interested in transparency have shared their statements, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

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