14 May 2015, Vol. 13, No. 10

Editorial: Timelines, then and now
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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Work on the nuclear disarmament portion of the outcome document carried on behind closed doors on Wednesday, in anticipation of a new, merged draft being circulated Thursday morning. But at the opening plenary in the morning, the Non-Aligned Movement emphasised once again that timelines must be added to the commitments related to disarmament in the outcome document. And once again, the nuclear-armed states have been rejecting any attempts to create timeframes or benchmarks for disarmament.

Thus the fight continues from 2010. At that Review Conference, the nuclear-armed were equally resistant to timeframes. The French, for example, argued that the imposition of “artificial deadlines” in nuclear disarmament has never worked and said that timelines would weaken the non-proliferation regime because nothing is gained by imposing deadlines and not meeting them.

We have heard this argument again from some of the nuclear-armed states at this Review Conference. Of course, timelines do not just get magically missed. Those responsible for meeting a timeline have to actively fail to do so either by choice or due to extenuating circumstances. Refusing to establish timelines or benchmarks is not the solution. Real commitment and effort to meeting those deadlines is the solution.

Furthermore, a critical look at this assertion reveals the double standard: that deadlines or timeframes for disarmament cannot be established, or if established, they cannot be expected to be met, because they are “artificial,” but that deadlines and timeframes must be imposed and met for non-proliferation in order to remain “in compliance” with one’s Treaty obligations.

As we wrote in 2010, the Treaty’s non-proliferation obligations are in force swiftly and in perpetuity. The comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement must be concluded within 90 days of ratification and stays in force indefinitely, providing a clear benchmark by which to measure states’ compliance. But there is no benchmark by which to measure the pace at which the nuclear-armed states comply with their disarmament obligations, the degree to which they comply, the sustainability, the verifiability, or the irreversibility, of said compliance.

Initially conceived of by Ireland as an urgent “stop-gap” needed while the two major military powers continued their negotiations on general and complete disarmament, the NPT is credited with preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond a handful of states. However, the NPT “discriminates between those who possess and those who do not possess nuclear weapons,” commented Reaching Critical Will and Article 36 in a joint publication last year. “This makes it vulnerable to accusations that it maintains a double standard while also enshrining disincentives for the nuclear-armed states to seriously undertake effective actions for nuclear disarmament.”

Article VI does not establish a timeline or an accountability or verification mechanism for nuclear disarmament. The disarmament obligation it contains originated at a time when the Soviet Union and United States were conducting formal negotiations on disarmament. But these negotiations never resumed after the NPT was concluded, despite those two states immediately reaffirming their intention to do so. They did embark on a programme of arms control, which continues to this day. However, that programme has a different objective: ensuring the sustainability and predictability of their nuclear weapon enterprises, not preparing them for inevitable disarmament.

But as Ireland said last week in Main Committee I, there is no opt-out clause or conditionality to fulfilling article VI. All states have an obligation to pursue effective measures to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. The continued failure to do so would signal acquiescence and acceptance by the non-nuclear-armed states that the indefinite extension of the NPT equates to the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons and further entrench the two-tier international system, backed by the incredibly dangerous and unjust assertion that the possession of nuclear weapons are the ultimate source of power and authority.

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