8 May 2009, No. 5
Challenges to collective security
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will
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On Thursday, statements on Cluster One and the specific issue of nuclear disarmament and security assurances concluded and Cluster Two statements (relating to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, safeguards, and nuclear-weapon-free zones) began.
Some of the most interesting remarks, however, were unprepared. For the first time this year, a delegation delivered interactive remarks in response to statements that had been made thus far and to nuclear weapon policies more broadly.
Quoting from the United Kingdom’s paper, Lifting the Nuclear Shadow: Creating the Conditions for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, an Egyptian representative noted that the UK justifies its possession of nuclear weapons by emphasizing their “continuing value in deterring war as well as new threats to national security which may emerge in the future.” He went on to point out that the paper says, “Including states which come under a ‘nuclear umbrella’, such as NATO allies, well over half of the world’s population is covered by a nuclear deterrent. The impression that only a small minority benefit from nuclear weapons is misleading.”
The Egyptian delegate noted that this contradicts other states’ concerns with “ensuring collective security”. He argued, it is quite difficult to perceive of the NPT in its current status as a preserver of collective security if over half the world’s population is “protected” by nuclear weapons while the minority is threatened by them.
The NGO presentation on deterrence, delivered Tuesday afternoon to the PrepCom, argued, “Nuclear weapons are not weapons of deterrence, they are weapons of domination.” Writing in the first edition of the NPT News in Review, Andrew Lichterman of the Western States Legal Foundation noted that deterrence is “intended to emphasize through terror that transcends all reason that the victim—or potential victim—is utterly vulnerable, and that the hand that wields the power of ultimate violence is not, is invulnerable, all powerful. The intention—and the effect—is to sustain a world in which most are powerless but some hold great power, most are poor but a few hold great wealth, most are vulnerable but a few can at least convince themselves that for the duration of their time here on earth they are not.”
Despite its position of power, the United States spoke as if endangered. In its Cluster Two statement during the afternoon meeting, US representative Rose Gottemoeller argued, “Today’s nuclear weapon states will not eliminate their nuclear weapons without the assurance that additional states will not obtain such weapons tomorrow.” This position, that nuclear weapon states will not disarm until they are given absolute guarantees about the future, makes the possibility of nuclear abolition virtually nill.
Similarly, the UK delegation spoke about the “real” and “imminent” threat of “a dangerous era of new nuclear-armed states and even of nuclear-armed non-state actors.” This assertion also suggests that proliferation is a generalized phenomenon when in fact it very specific, limited to much fewer states than initially predicted at the inception of the NPT, and not necessarily attributable to the broader “security environment”. As the Brazilian delegation noted in its Cluster Two statement, “The difficulties and challenges facing the international community in the implementation of the NPT do not derive ... of a supposed inadequacy of the Treaty to today’s global environment. It derives from the unbalance in the implementation of all its obligations by the different actors.”
Regarding this type of “non-nuclear imperialism,” wherein current weapon possessors strive to prevent new possession as a precursor to eliminating their own weapons—an excuse to delay disarmament—the Egyptian delegate argued that the world cannot accept the reduction of the NPT vision to one that features a world no longer threatened by the spread of nuclear weapons. He argued, the objective of the Treaty is that the world will be free of nuclear weapons. To this end, he emphasized the need of a timebound framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons, arguing that even a guarantee of no first-use of nuclear weapons does not substitute the basic promise of the NPT: a prohibition of nuclear weapons.
During the same meeting, the Indonesian delegation called for the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapon Convention (NWC), which it argued would build upon the NPT and provide the opportunity for non-NPT states to join relevant negotiations. In the NGO presentation on a NWC, the drafters noted, “The Nuclear Weapons Convention provides a nondiscriminatory approach and opens the door for immediate engagement by the non-NPT nuclear weapon states. The expectation that India, Pakistan, and the DPRK could be persuaded to join (or rejoin) the NPT unconditionally as non-nuclear weapon states is clearly unrealistic. The expectation that they would join negotiations on an NWC is not.” They also explained, “Adopting a more comprehensive framework does not mean abandoning the step-by-step approach.... The Model NWC has been designed to overcome the divide between incremental and comprehensive approaches” to reaching a nuclear weapon free world.
The text of the model Convention can be found at www.icanw.org and the NGO presentations can be found at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.