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19 October 2009 - Second Edition

Editorial: Getting from rhetoric to reality
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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The second week of First Committee saw the last of the general debate, an exchange of views with high-level representatives from various intergovernmental disarmament bodies, and thematic debate on nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Throughout it all, especially the thematic debate on nuclear weapons, an increasing number of delegations highlighted the mutually reinforcing relationship between disarmament and non-proliferation, arguing for a balanced pursuit of both. Several states pointed out that the existence of nuclear weapons constitute a source of nuclear proliferation, arguing that the attempt to focus exclusively on non-proliferation undermines those very efforts. Mr. Luvuyo Ndimeni of South Africa emphasised, “Continuous and irreversible progress in nuclear disarmament and other related arms control measures therefore remain fundamental to the promotion of non-proliferation.”

Rather than accepting the argument of the nuclear powers that their atomic weapons afford them and their allies security, more countries are speaking out against the unacceptable risks posed by their existence.

The US delegation continued to maintain that states “acquired nuclear weapons in order to promote what they saw as their national security” arguing, “If they are to give them up, they must be convinced that doing so will not harm their security and that of their friends and allies.”

However, an increasing number of delegations are critiquing the role and value assigned to nuclear weapons in domestic security and international relations. Swiss Ambassador Streuli said it is time to “reflect on the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and of their roles in military doctrines. The vision of a world free of nuclear weapons must trigger a fundamental revision of nuclear thinking taking global security into account.”

In this spirit, Japan’s Ambassador Suda, reiterating his general debate statement, emphasised “that possessing nuclear weapons per se should not grant states any political advantages in international politics.” Chile’s Ambassador Labbé argued, “Nuclear disarmament will be a reality when States which possess atomic weapons relinquish an instrument of power.”

The nearly universal support for a nuclear weapon free world, while refreshing and welcomed, still remains rhetorical. Some governments, such as those highlighted above, are trying to push the positive rhetoric forward toward concrete changes in policies and actions.

To this end, more delegations than ever before have called specifically for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention or relevant framework agreement. Some of the calls have been made before, including those from the Indian and Non-Aligned Movementdelegations.

Others have so far included China’s delegation, which suggested the international community should develop “a viable, long-term plan composed of phased actions, including the conclusion of a convention on the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons, so as to attain the ultimate goal of complete and thorough nuclear disarmament under effective international supervision.”

Cameroon’s delegation called for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a convention to prohibit nuclear weapons andMorocco’s called for creation of subsidiary body in CD on nuclear disarmament to study the question of nuclear disarmament and elaborate a Convention on this theme. Austria’s delegation also announced support for the idea of a global nuclear weapons convention, while the Philippines’ delegation announced that it “supports the calls for irreversible and complete elimination of nuclear weapons under international supervision. It is prepared to examine proposals for a phased process leading to the ultimate objective of achieving total nuclear disarmament and to secure the agreements under a nuclear convention.”

There have been several other suggestions for concrete action over the course of debates so far, inter alia, full transparency of nuclear weapon holdings, development, and plans through mandatory reporting; IAEA safeguards and full access by IAEA inspectors to all nuclear facilities in all states; reducing the stockpiles of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems; reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines; reducing the operational status of remaining deployed nuclear weapon systems; refraining from modernising nuclear aresenals or facilities; and developing a legal framework prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons.

In addition, the Canadian delegation has repeatedly proposed enhancing the institutional process of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This proposal is a good way to turn the call for a nuclear weapon free world into reality by creating the structural and procedural basis necessary for the integrity and viability of the principle Treaty promoting both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

We hope that support for these concrete steps will be demonstrated through positive engagement with this year's First Committee resolutions and through real policy changes at the national and international levels.

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