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The only protection is a ban!

Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
7 August 2012

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 7 August to discuss negative security assurances (NSAs). Statements were delivered by the delegations of Japan, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Algeria, United States, South Africa, Chile, Republic of Korea, and Nigeria.

Negotiating NSAs

Most of the speakers highlighted the need for a legally-binding agreement on negative security assurances. Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, and Chile all noted existing policies on this topic, such as protocols to nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) and UN Security Council resolutions, but argued that only a legally-binding agreement would be adequate to ensure non-nuclear weapon states against the threat of nuclear weapons. Mr. Combrink of South Africa drew attention to previous proposals, such as the ones submitted by the New Agenda Coalition to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 and 2005, and argued the key concepts remained valid today.

The Republic of Korea and the United States both argued that protocols to NWFZ are the most appropriate way of dealing with NSAs. The delegate of Republic of Korea also argued that NSAs should only be extended to non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT and in full compliance with its non-proliferation obligations.

Nuclear weapon free zones

Several speakers highlighted the important contribution to international peace and security that NWFZs play. Iran, Indonesia, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria and particularly called for the establishment of a WMD free zone in the Middle East and looked forward to the 2012 conference in Helsinki on this topic. Ambassador Badr of Egypt underlined that only a successful conference would indicate the seriousness of the international community on the issue.

Ambassador Kennedy of the United States argued that certain practical conditions would need to be in place before this “long-term effort” of a WMD zone in the Middle East could become reality, such as regional peace and security and full compliance by all states in the region with “non-proliferation obligations”. Ambassador Kennedy also stated that it is the regional states that now have the primary responsibility to ensure that the conference is “carried out in an unbiased and constructive manner”.

In addition, the Indonesian delegation took the opportunity to summarize the status of consultations between nuclear weapon states and the parties to the South East Asia NWFZ and said he hoped that the signing of the protocol by the NWS would be realized soon.

Notes from the gallery

As many speakers took the opportunity to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is important to remember the truly catastrophic humanitarian consequences that a nuclear weapons explosion has on civilians and the environment, consequences that cannot be contained in time or space.

Even if states parties to a NWFZ or all NNWS receive legally-binding assurances that nuclear weapons will never be used against them, the consequences of a nuclear war in another area of the world can still have global catastrophic impact. For example, as IPPNW’s study on nuclear famine has shown, following major worldwide climate disruption due to a limited nuclear war in a food producing areas, corn and rice productions could decline by 10–20% over a decade, leaving the 925 million people already chronically malnourished at risk for serious starvation. No security assurances or nuclear weapon free zones can protect these people against the devastating consequences of a nuclear bomb; the only protection is a ban on their possession and production.