4 May 2009, No. 1

Optimism is on the table
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

Download full PDF here 

When it comes to nuclear weapons, there is much anticipation of a new chapter in international security and disarmament. US President Obama’s 5 April speech in Prague, coupled with the proliferation of newspaper op-eds calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, has made the topic of nuclear disarmament more popular than it has been since the 1980s.

Recent policy declarations like the Prague speech and the joint statement between Obama and Medvedev have increased many governments’ and NGOs’ level of optimism. Everyone, however, should be sure to consider the substantial challenges on the PrepCom’s plate.

Some of these challenges—and opportunities—have been laid out in a variety of working papers submitted to this review cycle so far. They consist of a good mix of disarmament and non-proliferation proposals, including (in no specific order):1

• Revitalizing or restructuring the “practical steps” to nuclear disarmament;
• Strengthening states’ commitments to the NPT with a “new consensus”;
• Implementing the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East;
• Regular reporting;
• Considering negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention;
• Prohibiting the development of new types of nuclear weapons;
• Drafting a binding protocol on negative security assurances;
• Recognizing and strengthening various nuclear weapon free zones;
• Adopting the IAEA Additional Protocol as the safeguard standard;
• Developing national means to detect and reverse non-compliance;
• Endorsing compliance enforcement by the UN Security Council;
• Requiring “adequate security” as condition of transfer of nuclear materials;
• Recognizing export control regimes;
• Establishing principles and response mechanisms for withdrawal;
• Considering steps to promote disarmament/non-proliferation education;
• Considering ways to control the nuclear fuel cycle; and
• Establishing a Universality Adherence Support Unit and/or a standing secretariat.

Much food for thought is provided in these proposals. However, basic underlying tensions will continue to plague delegations at this PrepCom, such as: the continued debate between non-proliferation first or disarmament first; the tensions between those accused of non-compliance with their obligation to disarm and those accused of non-compliance with their commitment to not develop or acquire nuclear weapons; and the overwhelming non-implementation of the 13 practical steps to nuclear disarmament.

Furthermore, despite rhetoric calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons from western policy elites, their conception of the process of disarmament process is characterized by steps and conditions to be imposed almost exclusively on non-nuclear weapon states. If this sort of narrow, self-interested pursuit of nuclear disarmament through non-proliferation is upheld at the PrepCom, it will likely be the biggest stumbling block to success. Only when disarmament and non-proliferation efforts move forward jointly, will success be achieved.

As an NGO dedicated to nuclear abolition, WILPF welcomes all the new attention to disarmament. WILPF encourages more leaders and people to speak out, loudly, in favour of abolishing nuclear weapons and to engage in good faith dialogue about the proposals, challenges, and opportunities ahead of us.

1. See Michael Spies, “Toward 2010: Proposals, Positions and Prospects,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No 90, Spring 2009 [forthcoming] for details.

[PDF] ()