NPT News in Review, Vol. 14, No. 6

Editorial: Divergence doesn’t preclude progress
12 May 2017

Ray Acheson

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The final day of the 2017 Preparatory Committee heard much praise for the Chair, Ambassador Henk Cor Van der Kwast of the Netherlands, but also a number of critiques of his factual summary, produced “on his own authority”. The summary, which has the status of a working paper rather than an agreed outcome of the meeting, was seen by most states taking the floor as a valiant if flawed attempt to present a balanced view of perspectives aired during this meeting. Given the broad divergence of views on several issues—including the nuclear ban treaty, the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the Middle East, increasingly robust safeguards and non-proliferation obligations, etc.—it was clear from the outset that no one would be fully satisfied with the summary. Despite this, the summary at least covers the range of issues raised during this PrepCom.

However, even though this is not a negotiated or agreed text, it was still presented as a reflection of perspectives and in this there are a few key ways in which it is lacking. The New Agenda Coalition pointed out that the nuclear ban treaty only warranted two sentences on paragraph 49 of the report. Given that 132 states are participating in this process, and the broad support it received during the PrepCom deliberations, the NAC and several other delegations found this insufficient. The Austrian delegation also noted that while the reference in paragraph 49 only discusses the prohibition treaty’s benefits for the NPT, this treaty “will also contribute to more security for all,” which deserves a mention, too. In broader terms, the references to the “security benefits” of nuclear weapons espoused by some delegations that are reflected in the Chair’s summary “serves as a stimulus for further proliferation, as more and more states might wish to get hold of these weapons,” warned Austria.

France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States reiterated their opposition to the nuclear weapon ban treaty, with most complaining about the minimalist reference to it in the Chair’s summary. Despite Russia’s urge for negotiating states to “do no harm” to the NPT, so far, the nuclear weapon ban treaty has not destroyed NPT or its review process. Given that this was the predominant concern of the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supportive allies in the lead-up to the first preparatory committee, it seems fair to assume that their other predictions and anxieties about the prohibition treaty may be equally unfounded. What was made clear during this meeting is that the vast majority of NPT states parties—more than two-thirds—are actively and constructively participating in negotiations to outlaw nuclear weapons as a measure to facilitate implementation of the NPT, create conditions for nuclear disarmament, increase security for all states and people, and fill an essential moral and legal gap.

Other delegations expressed other concerns with the Chair’s summary, which are reflected in the “news in brief” section of this publication. But the summary has some progressive elements, too—one of which relates to increasing the participation of women in the work of the NPT. This is noted both as a recommendation for strengthening the review process in paragraph 135, and in more depth in paragraph 7. This latter paragraph reflects that states parties “emphasized the importance of promoting the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men in the process of nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” It even draws out research brought to the Preparatory Committee by Ireland showing that women’s participation in NPT meetings is lower than in other multilateral forums, and notes that states parties “were encouraged, in accordance with their commitments under United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, actively to support participation of female delegates in their own NPT delegations and through support for sponsorship programs.”

This language was welcomed by the delegations of Canada, Ireland, and Thailand—the last of which also reiterated the need to incorporate gender perspectives on nuclear disarmament in the work of the NPT, not just increasing the participation of women. Together with recognizing the disproportionate gendered impacts of nuclear weapons and increasing gender diversity on delegations, incorporating a gender analysis and awareness into our work is imperative to address one of the most central issues impeding nuclear disarmament.

The association of masculinity with militarism, particularly in the context of nuclear weapons, is one piece of the puzzle impeding disarmament and the pursuit of demilitarised security arrangements. The association of weapons and war as a symbol of masculine strength makes it harder to open up discussions about disarmament. One current example is that proponents of abolishing nuclear weapons (or even of discussing humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons) are put down as unrealistic and irrational and emotional.

This is classic patriarchy. It links caring about humanitarian concerns to being weak and not relevant for the job that “real men” have to do to “protect” their countries. It not only suggests that caring about the use of nuclear weapons is spineless and silly, but also makes the pursuit of disarmament out to be an unrealistic, irrational, and even “emotional” objective.

The challenges of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are complex, dynamic, and intertwined. But what has been clear throughout this Preparatory Committee is that the majority of states want to make progress. They want to prohibit nuclear weapons, they want the nuclear-armed states to eliminate their arsenals, and they want to cooperate with one another to make the world safer and more secure for all. The current imbalance, rooted in patriarchy and militarism, is intolerable. The fact that 132 states have started a process without the blessing of the “powers that be” is a remarkable development that will have reverberating effects on the NPT throughout this review cycle—for the betterment of this Treaty and the world. What can a group of committed states, determined to respect the rule of law and protect humankind and our shared planet, do for us moving forward? The ban is only the beginning.

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