3 October 2005 - First Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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The nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime has suffered a series of destabilizing ordeals in the past year and continues to struggle to find its equilibrium. Attempts to strengthen it and help it find balance are coming from many directions, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, motives and audience. Many believe the situation is dire, and governments and civil society are responding with urgency and innovation. During this 60th session of the UN General Assembly, it is imperative that civil society and governments build on our most productive collaborations to help this vulnerable regime find its center. According to its opening statement, San Marinobelieves “that a country’s own citizens can be the most effective negotiators with their governments.”

A great deal of the General Debate this week has highlighted the past year’s failures in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Member States have often not even been able to work to find common ground on substantive issues because a few States are using the rules of procedure to block the initiation of substantive work. Last week, a group of cross-regional states presented a clever new idea for initiating substantive work on disarmament and non-proliferation within the existing multilateral machinery. This simple proposal to adapt the near-consensus A5 proposal for work in the CD to the non-consensus bound General Assembly just  may be what gets the governments working again. (See the Disarmament Machinery report)

Governments have been working together and making progress in controlling conventional weapons, and many of the statements during the General Debate reflected optimism in the area of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), Chemical and Biological Weapons, and Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The Open-Ended Working Group on marking and tracing SALW concluded their negotiations on an international instrument to mark and trace small arms and light weapons (A/60/88), and many Member States hope it will be adopted during this session of the General Assembly. (See the SALW report)

Even arms control agreements in conventional weapons are often still weak in their accountability and verification mechanisms. Although the Chemical Weapons Convention has a Technical Secretariat and a verification mechanism, the Biological Weapons Convention does not. (See the Biological and Chemical Weapons report) The newly drafted international legal instrument on marking and tracing of SALW is not legally binding, and the UN Conventional Arms Register is still voluntary. In the nuclear arena, the United States is opposing the verifiability of a Fissile Materials Treaty. (See Fissile Materials report) Many States lamented that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has a nearly complete International Monitoring System (IMS) to verify compliance with the treaty, would stem vertical and horizontal proliferation, and is the first of the 13 steps toward nuclear disarmament, has not yet entered into force. (See the CTBT report)

The International Parliamentary Union concluded its statement to the First Committee with some advice for working through these problems. “Women can bring a unique perspective on all these issues and can make a decisive difference to their overall outcome,” said Ambassador Anda Filip. “[I]t is now more urgent than ever to ensure that more women be included in all organizations and forums promoting disarmament and arms control.”

Last Friday, several Member States congratulated Mohammed ElBaradei on winning the Nobel Peace Prize along with the International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei and his agency are simultaneously tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and with promoting the process that has historically been the first step in nuclear proliferation [1], causing peace groups to try to balance or choose between applauding non-proliferation work and the diplomatic resolution to non-proliferation concerns, and condemning the process that allows proliferation. This catch-22 is a direct reflection of the loss of balance between disarmament and nonproliferation in multilateral fora. States cannot simultaneously try to prevent proliferation while not making progress in disarmament and conferring status to Nuclear Weapons States.

Governments and civil society will stabilize and balance the disarmament and non-proliferation regime by recognizing what is in our best interest, and working together to achieve it. Time and again it has been demonstrated that it is not possible to have absolute control of every aspect of proliferation through inspections, controls, coercion and force. Even with extraordinary resource expenditures, there will still be loopholes, and states, or individuals, will choose and find a way to proliferate. Complete, irreversible, internationally verifiable disarmament is the only way to guarantee these weapons do not spread and are never used again.

True security will never be achieved through absolute domination; it must be achieved through cooperation and mutual trust. Multilateralism is required for our survival. We must, in our enlightened self-interest, choose cooperation and the total elimination of nuclear weapons rather than competition and a new arms race. Increasing arms expenditures at the expense of development, increasing terrorism bred out of poverty and resentment, and the possibility of total annihilation is losing situation for everyone. We must be able to see the scientific certainty of this prisoner’s dilemma.

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