6 May 2010, No. 4

Finding common ground while refraiming the debate
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will

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As the third day of general debate closed on Wednesday, we are beginning to look beyond the general statements to focus on the practical and substantive work that will be commencing in the main committees and their subsidiary bodies soon.

During the day, the President of the Review Conference, Ambassador Cabactulan announced that he had reached agreement with states parties on setting up three subsidiary bodies, one for each main committee. These subsidiary bodies will focus more in-depth on a specified subject: practical nuclear disarmament, regional issues including the Middle East resolution, and institutional issues of the Treaty. So as all procedural issues for the Review Conference are solved, which on its own is a positive achievement, and the last list of general statements are being delivered, focus now turns to the substantive issues and the negotiations ahead.

Many of the speakers have emphasized the need for a successful outcome document, and more so, the importance of avoiding another failure. By listening to the general statements, there seems to be quite a lot of common ground already. There are a number of issues that seem to enjoy broad agreement amongst the speakers, such as the value of continued nuclear arsenal reductions, the need for progress on the resolution on the Middle East, the importance of the entry into force of the CTBT, the desire for negotiations of a FMCT, and the right to develop nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes”. The reaffirmation of previous outcome documents, such as commitments to the 13 steps, seems to be another issue that enjoys widespread support, including from the P5, and signals a re-emergence of the consensus from 1995 and 2000. The broad recognition for the need to implement the resolution on the Middle East might differ in its practical form, but a promise from the P5 that they are “ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the Review Conference” is encouraging when the Middle Eastern states are emphasizing this as a key issue for the continued credibility of the NPT. So while vague commitments to these issues are far from enough for a successful outcome document, there appears to be a foundation for focused negotiations during the coming weeks.

However, significant differences still remain, especially regarding views on nuclear weapons and security, despite recent changes in rhetoric from some nuclear weapon states. While Switzerland's foreign minister pointed out that nuclear weapons have no use, since they are fundamentally immoral and illegal with regard to the international humanitarian law, France's minister argued their importance under “extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.” And while the P5 emphasized the “unprecedented progress and efforts made by nuclear-weapons States in nuclear arms reduction, disarmament, confidence-building and transparency,” Egypt argued that the new stated policies of nuclear weapon states have not changed their inflexible military doctrines, which continue to rely on nuclear deterrence and stipulate that nuclear weapons are a basis for ensuring security and peace.

It will be difficult to overcome such fundamentally different concepts of security during the weeks here in New York; such agreement must emerge through a shift in thinking about security and by challenging the concept that national security is determined through the size and power of a state's military force.

This is why civil society is here. While Reaching Critical Will follows and reports on the negotiations with great interest, we are also here to remind governments that nuclear weapons do not provide security for any human being and that they cannot combat any of the threats we are facing today. We monitor and engage in the negotiations that will take place in the main committees and we hope to see progress and a strong outcome document. But we will also continue to argue that the possession of nuclear weapons is illegal, immoral, and a waste of money and we will continue to reiterate that only the complete abolition of nuclear weapons will be a true success.

However, NGOs are not the only ones talking about changing concepts of security. Several delegations called for the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines during Wednesday's debate and several others critiqued the belief that nuclear weapons provide security in any situation. Costa Rica's ambassador argued, for example, that nuclear weapons are “a greater threat than any they intend to confront.” Many delegations also criticized the waste of resources spent on the false notion of security that nuclear weapons provide and the Samoan ambassador noted that “the nuclear weapons industry is more entrenched in the national nuclear weapons laboratories now than ever and more is spent today on nuclear weapons than ever before, even at the height of the Cold War.”

In an effort to engage governments in a discussion of the perceptions of security and nuclear weapons, Reaching Critical Will would like to offer a copy to each delegation to the NPT of our latest book Beyond arms control: challenges and choices for nuclear disarmament. This book, a collaborative work of 25 non-governmental researchers and activists, explores some of the most important challenges for the 2010 NPT Review Conference and beyond, highlighting the prospects and pitfalls for nuclear disarmament in the current world order.

We encourage each delegation to pick up their copy of the book outside Conference Room B at 1:00 PM today.


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