Day 9 at NPT: disarmament issues

by Rebecca Johnson and Tim Wright

Main Committee I: Disarmament steps and comprehensive approaches

As the various Committees and Subsidiary Bodies get underway for the second week of the NPT Review Conference, debates are gradually going beyond the repetition of established positions.  Initial drafts from the chairs of the working groups (and subsidiary body 1) are in the works and may even be circulated by the end of this week.

Where relevant, the nuclear arms reduction measures, withdrawal or renunciation of certain weapons systems, and dismantlement of former test sites and fissile materials production facilities, have been widely welcomed. There is a welcome recognition of the need to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in nuclear doctrines and postures, including publication of a new book from Commander Robert Green (UK Royal Navy, retired), titled Security without Nuclear Deterrence, and a new report on Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons, from the Swiss Government and Monterey Institute.

In this regard, the US emphasis on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was welcomed, although this is currently more on the level of declaration and intent than practical or verifiable changes in military policy and operations.  In view of the huge amount of words already generated by the statements and working papers – almost all of which are available on the Reaching Critical Will website – Acronym Institute blogs do not purport to provide a summary of the entire landscape, but rather a snapshot of what we consider interesting, unusual or depressing in this Review Conference.

The nuclear weapon states have formally and in detailed publications and side-bar events listed their achievements, reiterated their commitments (at least some of them) and underlined their reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence, security or at least as long as anyone else has some!  A lunchtime event featuring the chief US and Russian negotiators on the New START treaty, Dr Rose Gottemoeller and Ambassador Anatoli Antonov, provided a fascinating insight into the dynamics, challenges and compromises that contributed to achieving an outcome that the Presidents of Russia and the United States could both sign.

Within the open Committee meetings, there have been relatively few challenges to the complacent tone that has crept into some of the P-5 presentations, though there have been more questions in the subsidiary bodies and side-bar events.  It was therefore refreshing to see a European member of the New Agenda Coalition – Ireland – support the arguments by many of the developing states that nuclear disarmament requires more than arms control.  After listening carefully to the achievements that France characterised as demonstrating its full compliance with Article VI, including its implementation of 10 of the 13 practical disarmament steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, Ireland’s representative asked which particular steps France had in mind and whether they included step 6, which contained the “unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals”.

In its remarks Ireland echoed South Africa and many others and highlighted a major issue of concern – relevant to all the nuclear weapon states’ presentations – that “reductions in nuclear weapons, in and of themselves, do not necessarily equate to a commitment to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons reductions, while welcome, may be undertaken for a wide variety of reasons, many of them laudable reasons. Such reasons may include financial considerations, safety and security, preventing weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, environmental reasons and so on.”  The Committees are supposed to have “interactive debate” – i.e. impromptu exchanges of view, questions, answers and comments as well as the long lines of prepared statements.  It is a pity, therefore, that France did not avail itself of the opportunity afforded by Ireland to respond to its questions in open session, as we would all have benefitted from this.  Instead, a row erupted in the cafe upstairs, where Ireland’s open and thoughtful intervention was astonishingly treated as an act of European disloyalty.    That said, Ambassador Eric Danon spent an hour this morning discussing French nuclear policy in an off-the-record meeting with representatives of NGOs, responding in thoughtful detail to the questions that were put to him.

Norway made a strong statement in Committee I, arguing that success will require restoring the “compact from 1995 and 2000” but that going beyond such 10-15 year-old obligations will be required in order to “have an outcome that could make a real difference”.  Commenting that after 40 years of the NPT “we cannot claim that we are where we should be”, Norway made the case for establishing “a new international nuclear agenda with an action plan for nuclear disarmament with clear benchmarks and deadliines holding us all accountable”.  Norway called on the NWS to “advance practical measures” to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies and lower their operational status, “refrain from developing new categories of nuclear arms” and advocated “the full elimination of tactical nuclear weapons” and “active use” of “proposals on how to move toward our overall objective of abolishing all nuclear weapons” specifically mentioning proposals from the UN Secretary-General, among others.

In echoes of the way in which International Humanitarian Law and the humanitarian consequences of the deployment and use of anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions were evoked in campaigns to bring about comprehensive, treaty-based bans on these inhumane weapons systems in 1997 and 2008 respectively, Norway, which had played crucial roles in these negotiations, argued that it was time to consider how nuclear weapons relate to International Humanitarian Law, concluding: “Nuclear weapons are the most indiscriminate, disproportionate and inhumane weapons ever created. After 65 years experience of living with the threat of nuclear weapons, we have the necessary means and knowledge to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Now we have to, together, employ the necessary political will.”

Calls for a comprehensive, treaty-based approach

Thirteen years ago Costa Rica and Malaysia sponsored a draft Framework Convention on Nuclear Weapons based on a model draft treaty researched and written by civil society lawyers, scientists and nuclear specialists.  Updated and presented again to the First Preparatory Committee of the 2010 NPT Review Conference in Vienna in 2007, this draft was called a “good point of departure” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in 2008. It offers technical, legal and political solutions to all aspects of nuclear disarmament, safety, security and the prevention of the spread and military uses of nuclear weapons and materials, for governments to consider in order to move from the partial instruments of NPT-based counter-proliferation to full compliance with the NPT’s core obligations. This will require a comprehensive approach capable of facilitating nuclear disarmament and establishing much more effective institutional tools and benchmarks for compliance and implementation over the longer-term.

Last year, 124 governments — roughly two-thirds of all UN member states — backed the General Assembly resolution, which is a follow-up to the International Court of Justice’s landmark advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The court held, unanimously, that governments have a legal obligation to achieve (“bring to conclusion”) nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

Below we summarise the compilation made by Tim Wright of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who researched who said what in the General Debate and Committees about working towards some kind of a comprehensive treaty that would prohibit the use and deployment of nuclear weapons and provide for the phased elimination of existing arsenals.

Following many General Debate statements, cited below, the need for negotiations on some kind of nuclear weapons convention has featured prominently in Main Committee I, with a number of delegations expanding on their general calls for preparations towards laying the groundwork for negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear weapons treaty.

Of the nuclear weapon states, China argued, “The international community should develop, at an appropriate time, a viable, long-term plan composed of phased actions, including a convention on the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.”

Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, which comprises some 110 non-nuclear states party to the NPT, stated: “The consideration of a Nuclear Weapons Convention banning all nuclear weapons, as mentioned in Article VI of the Treaty, should begin and should be an integral part of any plan of action on nuclear disarmament to be adopted by this Conference.”

The States Parties to Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones reaffirmed “the urgent need to advance towards the priority goal of nuclear disarmament and the achievement of the total elimination and legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons … We support the United Nations Secretary-General’s call in his five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament for all Non-Proliferation Treaty Parties, in particular the nuclear-weapon States, to fulfil their obligation under the Treaty to undertake negotiations on effective measures leading to nuclear disarmament.”

Similarly, noting that “Current barriers to nuclear disarmament could be overcome through commencing a preparatory process which would explore the legal, technical, institutional and political requirements for a nuclear-weapons free world,” the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) considered that: “this process could be guided, but would not be bound by, the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention circulated by the UN Secretary-General. The Nuclear Weapons Convention provides a non-discriminatory approach which builds on currently existing mechanisms, such as the CTBTO and IAEA — and fills in the gaps.

Noting that “the eradication of all nuclear weapons is our only assurance that they will never be used,” Indonesia talked of the need to “work intensively together to produce a universal nuclear weapons convention with a specific timeline for the attainment of complete nuclear disarmament.”

Switzerland argued: “ultimately, the question of banning nuclear weapons by a new convention — as proposed by the UN Secretary-General — must be addressed. Switzerland expects the final document of this conference to reaffirm the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, and to encourage the discussion on a convention to ban nuclear weapons…  In addition to military and legal considerations, Switzerland’s aim is to bring the humanitarian aspect to the heart of the current debate on nuclear disarmament. In fact, it is necessary to ask the question at which point the right of States must yield to the interests of humanity. In the long term we must outlaw nuclear weapons, specifically by means of a new convention as the UN Secretary General has proposed.”

Brazil considered “commitment to the goal of concluding a Nuclear Weapons Convention outlawing this category of weapons entirely, with a well-defined timeframe, in line with the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions” to be a necessary component of a “successful outcome of the work in this Main Committee I”

Chile argued that states “should support the Secretary-General’s five-point plan and, in particular, lay the foundations for preliminary discussion of a Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

Mexico “expects that as a result of this conference we agree on … the reaffirmation of the unequivocal commitment by the NWS to achieve the destruction of their nuclear arsenals and to negotiate a convention that prohibits these weapons with a timeframe that provides certainty to the international community.”

Austria noted: “Moving from the dream of a world free of nuclear weapons to actual global zero will take time and much effort. There are several promising ideas, like UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s five-point plan. Austria supports this plan and believes that the most effective way to move towards “global zero” is through a universal legal instrument, a ‘Nuclear Weapons Convention’, equipped with a strict multilateral verification mechanism.”   Austria recalled how it had been “at the forefront of initiatives resulting in conventions banning mines and cluster bombs. The Austrian government and the legislature — which recently adopted a formal resolution on a world without nuclear weapons — will examine closely how disarmament is dealt with at this Conference. If there is no clear progress towards “global zero”, we will discuss with partners the feasibility of a global instrument to ban these weapons. The NPT remains the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. But a static regime that has lost its vision may benefit from fresh ideas.”

New Zealand, one of the Western countries to consistently vote in favour of the annual UN General Assembly resolution on a convention, welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s “strong push in his five-point plan for progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons”.

Senegal The NPT would be reinforced if this Conference would express the commitment to move towards achieving a general nuclear weapons convention, in fulfilment of Article 6 of the NPT.

Holy See: “[T]he world has arrived at an opportune moment to begin addressing in a systematic way the legal, political and technical requisites for a nuclear weapons free world. For this reason, preparatory work should begin as soon as possible on a convention or framework agreement leading to the phased elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Iran made several statements which in different ways referred to the need to “realize the humane aspiration for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as well as the peaceful use of nuclear energy” and in several different ways called for “adoption of a legally binding instrument on the full prohibition of production, stockpiling, improvement, proliferation, maintaining and use of nuclear weapons.”  In a further statement, Iran expressed “the firm belief that early negotiation [of] a Nuclear Weapons Convention shall be started. In this regard we reiterate our call for the establishment, as the highest priority and as soon as possible, of an ad hoc committee with negotiating mandate on nuclear disarmament in the Conference on Disarmament. Such negotiations must lead to legally prohibit, once and for all, the possession, development, stockpiling of nuclear weapons by any country and provide for the destruction of such inhuman weapons.”

Yemen urged a ban on the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, and ultimately their complete elimination.

Egypt has made several statements referring to the need for a comprehensive approach to accomplish nuclear disarmament. Complaining that “the implementation of the Treaty in the field of nuclear disarmament remains below expectations”, Egypt argued that this “confirms the need to create a legal framework to eliminate nuclear weapons through the conclusion of an international legally binding convention to eliminate nuclear weapons in a specified timeframe.”

Costa Rica, which submitted a civil-society-drafted model nuclear weapons convention to the United Nations in 1997, considered it “important to explore new paths that can lead us towards a world free of nuclear weapons, a goal that has been hindered by the fragmentation and inconsistency of the instruments we have available today”.

Lichtensteinsupports the long-term goal of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, in line with the Secretary-General’s five-point plan. This Conference should prepare the ground for such a project by adopting a Program of Action including concrete goals to be achieved within set time-frames.”

Lebanon said “our joint endeavor to stave off any possible nuclear tragedy in the future should be boosted by further strengthening the international legal system in this regard … Let us start negotiations on crucial international instruments such as the Nuclear Weapons Convention and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).”

Tunisia quoted from the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and argued that a Nuclear Weapons Convention would enable the nuclear weapons states to comply with their obligations to reduce and gradually eliminate their nuclear weapons under strict and international control.

Mongolia considered that “the Secretary-General’s five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament is a balanced, realistic and promising initiative to which we extend our full support.”

Kenya expressed its “conviction that there is need to commence early negotiations leading to the conclusion of an international convention for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

Colombia said: “The international community has witnessed the devastating effects of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, those deadly weapons of mass destruction have not been banned. The only way to free ourselves from that threat is to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals. That is where the importance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty lies, as the only multilateral instrument that creates the obligation for States that possess nuclear weapons to adopt measures to put a stop to the race to acquire and develop this type of armaments and reach full nuclear disarmament. For this reason we insist in the urgency of [an] international legally binding instrument that prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.”

Cuba agrees that, “as a transcendental outcome of this Conference, the adoption of a clear plan of action to comply with the implementation of all the provisions of the Treaty is required, particularly with respect to the nuclear disarmament obligations. The Plan shall establish a concrete schedule for the gradual reduction of nuclear weapons in a transparent, irreversible, verifiable and legally binding manner. We must ratify this Plan for the complete elimination of these weapons by 2025.”

Malaysia “has and will continue to do its part to realize a nuclear-weapon-free world” and cited two relevant initiatives: “At the international level, since 1997, we have submitted a resolution to the First Committee reminding all States of the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ, which reaffirms the nuclear-weapon States’ disarmament obligation under Article VI of the Treaty. Therefore, all States should fulfil this obligation by commencing multilateral negotiations leading to the conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention at the earliest possible date. In this connection, Malaysia calls on all States to undertake the preparatory process through an ad hoc working group or committees for a nuclear weapons convention.”

Qatar stressed the importance that the Conference adopt the Action Plan of the States Parties to eliminate nuclear weapons, which was presented by the Non-Aligned Movement … We hope that we will not wait long before we celebrate a universal treaty for disarmament and prohibition of nuclear weapons, for this has legal and political importance.”

Ecuador supported the NAM working paper and emphasised the importance of a treaty objective to give coherence to nuclear disarmament efforts.

Thailand “supports the UNSG’s five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament of 24 October 2008…”

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