NPT Day 21: Push Back by nuclear addicts

Day 21 : Push Back by nuclear addicts

Posted by Rebecca Johnson

Oh dear oh dear oh dear! Today in Main Committee I we were treated to what looked like a semi-coordinated Push Back by the P-5 Nuclear Weapons Addicts.  One by one they took the floor to complain about a number of places where the nuclear weapons possessors were, to quote Russia, being “put under pressure”.  At least these objections are now out in the open.  Monday’s work in the committees has been all about positioning… reiterating familiar proposals and getting hardline positions back into play in advance of the Committee drafts being sent to the President who must now pull what he can together into a consolidated text or other outcome product(s).

It comes as no surprise at this stage that nothing but the formal procedural parts have been adopted. That isn’t as bad as it may sound, as there are considerable areas of convergence in the substantive sections, as well as a number of very important areas of pivotal contention.  Though each committee has some difficult areas of disagreement, those in MCII and MCIII will be familiar from our previous reports, and little on these positions has changed.  Now we must wait to hear what the Conference President Libran Cabactulan intends to suggest to take us through the endgame.

It also appears that Britain now has instructions, and – sadly – they are to get rid of anything resembling focused, comprehensive, practical or progressive action towards building a world free of nuclear weapons, i.e. mention of a nuclear weapons convention, nuclear doctrine etc.  Keep the vision language to fool the plebs, but god forbid there should be support for taking negotiated steps to get there.  The UK even got upset about a paragraph that gave brownie points to their own initiative with Norway and VERTIC, wanting it underlined that this should not be characterised as research on nuclear disarmament verification but only on “nuclear warhead dismantlement”.  Looks like we won’t hear much about Britain becoming a disarmament laboratory under the Conservative-led Coalition government.

France took the floor first, and proposed a long series of amendments which can be summarised as i) you should be lauding us for absolutely everything we’ve done since the cold war ended; and ii) do not ask us to do anything else.  So all the places in the current draft where the incremental steps from some or all of the P-5 were “noted”, they should be “welcomed”.  That is of course good psychology and does no harm…

More perniciously, however, they wanted to change or delete text relating to practically all the action steps, particularly in relation to devaluing nuclear weapons in doctrines and operations, and wants the UN Secretary General’s 5-point disarmament proposals to be noted in the review section and not the forward-looking action plan – i.e. noting it as a past initiative (presumably on grounds that he presented the idea in October 2008) but not as something to guide action for the future, which was actually how Ban Ki-Moon had intended when he made the initiative.

The UK then spoke up and seemed to have turned into tweedledum to France’s tweedledee, reinforcing most of the same demands.  The United States then made many similar points, particularly underscoring objections to calls for legally binding security assurances against the use or threat of nuclear weapons.  The US made two significant additions. The first was a bit bizarre, since the US wanted the very first paragraph amended to sound more positive about nuclear energy, i.e. to change language that refers to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons “without hampering the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” to say something along the lines of “while facilitating the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in accordance with article IV”.  Perhaps this was a sop to Iran and the other NAM states that have been lining up at the 2010 Review Conference to object to anything that might impede their “inalienable right” to nuclear energy, but it seemed oddly out of context in MC1, which is meant to deal with disarmament issues.

In its second additional point, the US objected to the proposal in Action 16 of Subsidiary Body I (on practical disarmament, which the chair kept reminding delegations was not meant to be discussed at this time, but in a fine show of rebellion various states continued to give their positions on this as well as on the MC1 issues.  Action 16, as you probably are dying to know, suggests closure of the test sites, and currently reads: “all states that have not yet done so are encouraged to initiate a process towards the closing and dismantling, as soon as feasible and in an irreversible and verifiable manner, of any remaining sites for nuclear test explosions and their associated infrastructure.”

This was proposed during the CTBT negotiations in 1994-1996 on grounds that it would be an irreversible way to demonstrate full compliance with and commitment to the CTBT.  A bridge too far for the nuclear weapon states at that time, the non-nuclear countries let the proposal be taken out of the rolling text during the endgame for the sake of achieving a timely CTBT. France’s President Sarkózy recently revived the call, which the non-nuclear countries took up with alacrity.  Russia, taking the floor a bit later, strongly endorsed the US position that Action 16 should be deleted.  France and, to my knowledge China and Britain, said nothing, though Britain used the Nevada Test Site under US auspices for many years and is understood still to conduct some joint experiments and activities with the US there.  The US and Russia use their former nuclear test sites in Nevada and Novaya Zemlya for a variety of nuclear warhead experiments, including sub-critical tests.  China may do the same (anyone out there have any knowledge about Lop Nor?). France, as we know, has completely closed and dismantled its Pacific Test Site facilities at Moruroa and Fangataufa.

Another issue that France, Russia and the US pushed back on (due to an interruption – a hazard of the job that is often welcome but occasionally distracting – I cannot be certain from my notes if UK as well) was Action 5 which wanted a commitment from the NWS “to cease the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and to end the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons”.  Since most of these governments are busy modernizing and improving their nuclear weapons it is hardly surprising that they should not want to make this commitment. But if Article VI is supposed to be a real obligation in the NPT and if all the flowery phrases about wanting to create security in a world free of nuclear weapons are meant to be more than rhetorical flourish and a diplomatic smokescreen, then it would appear obvious that continuing modernisation and perpetual decisions to renew and refine nuclear weapons systems are not compatible with compliance in good faith with Article VI, and that ceasing such development is compatible – indeed a necessary component of – the irreversible and practical process towards eliminating the nuclear arsenals that everyone – NWS included – avow (in 2000 and now, again, at this 2010 Review Conference).  So, opposition to Action 5 clearly demonstrates that these NWS want to carry on with business as usual.

Rather strangely, in opposing Action 5, some of them evoked language in the preamble of the CTBT, seeming to argue that this language should be used instead.  The language they seem to prefer derives from the following preambular para in the CTBT:  “Recognizing that the cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions, by constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, constitutes an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects…”

Citing this instead of the Action 5 text is inappropriate and suggests either ignorance of how this paragraph came about and its purpose and role in the Treaty (please read my book on the CTBT “Unfinished Business”!) or, perhaps, represents a disingenuous attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of those that in the political and security environment of 2010 (very different from 1996) want the nuclear weapons to stop doing end-runs around Article VI by modernizing, upgrading, updating and qualitatively enhancing their arsenals, even as the P-5 expect praise and adoration for having reduced the numerical size somewhat (though none below the hundreds).

China took a very different tack. China endorsed the references in Section A para 6 to calling on the NWS to “refrain from nuclear weapon sharing”, whether with other NWS (US-UK under their Mutual Defence Agreement, dating back to 1958 but most recently reconfirmed in 2004), with non-nuclear weapons states (ref to NATO policy) and with “states not party to the Treaty for military purposes”, which Russia asked for clarification on.   Unlike the other NWS, China supported the NNWS in arguing that the text should undertake not to be the first to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances or against anyone whatsoever, and should provide unconditional security assurances to all NNWS. China also wanted to see its own proposal for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of all nuclear weapons and said that it supported inclusion of commitments in the review conference outcome documents to negotiating a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons.

Faced with this surge and pushback by the NWS on most if not all the progressive disarmament proposals in the MC1 and SB1 drafts, Egypt reiterated and explained the importance of retaining these important proposals for the Non-Aligned Movement, and received considerable support from a number of individual delegations.  Time was running out, and the Chair, Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku, wanted to adopt the procedural parts of MC1’s report before lunch.  However, there were still several speakers on the list and Egypt insisted that its statement on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition of seven cross-regional nuclear-free countries should be in the record in order to count in the notes that the Chair would send from the Committee with his report.  This appeared particularly important in the circumstances, since there was no agreement on the substantive elements and the P-5 Push Back would need to be vigorously resisted.  So the Chair allowed these statements to be heard, and all but one of them (the exception being Spain on behalf of the European Union) strongly registered their oppositon to the NWS’ attempts to delete, amend or water down the disarmament commitments in the current drafts.

So the NWS’ Push Back is Public. They must not be allowed to roll the text backwards. Ten years have passed since 2000, the political and security environment has changed and a space has opened up within which genuine and practical progress – incremental steps with a comprehensive purpose – can be made. What is still missing is serious commitment and political will to address the effects, consequences, reasons and drivers of their own decades of nuclear addiction.  They need help, but they also need the NNWS to demonstrate a firmness of resolve not to give in to their whining and wheedling, obfuscation and delaying tactics. If we don’t start to wean them off these deadly and attractive security drugs now, when they say they want to give them up, then when is it going to happen?

The NNWS have seen many long-term proposals once again sidelined. They liked the first drafts and they would probably be willing for the sake of a successful Review Conference to accept the compromises in the current drafts, despite the positions being a lot weaker than they wanted.  Are the P-5 willing to move the same distance and drop these maximalist demands they reiterated today in order that through compromise the review conference has a chance to build a sucessful outcome?

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