17 May 2010, No. 11

If you want a world free of whaling, stop killing the whales.
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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On Friday afternoon, the three Main Committees released draft texts reviewing and reaffirming the operation of the Treaty and providing action plans for pursuing nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and “peaceful uses” of nuclear energy. These texts are reviewed in the “Draft Text Review” beginning on page 8 of this edition.

With the release of these texts, the real work of the Review Conference begins. For the next two weeks, delegations will be debating, horsetrading, and rearranging elements of each draft, refining them into a “compromise” hopefully acceptable to all states parties for adoption by 28 May. For the most part, the action plans of each draft seek to strengthen the implementation of all aspects of the Treaty; it remains to be seen if their weaknesses will be strengthened and their strengths retained by the end of what will likely be multiple negotiating cycles.

Of course, while the intense work to accomplish a robust agreement on disarmament and non-proliferation goes on inside the UN over the next fortnight, it is greatly important for delegates and civil society to pay attention to what goes on outside.

On Friday morning, the Obama administration submitted New START for ratification to the Senate along with a “Section 1251” report providing a comprehensive plan to: (1) maintain nuclear weapon delivery systems; (2) sustain a “safe, secure, and reliable” US nuclear weapons stockpile; and (3) modernize the nuclear weapons complex. The unclassified fact sheet explains, “This report is based on the policies and principles in the Nuclear Posture Review and describes a comprehensive plan for sustaining a strong nuclear deterrent for the duration of the New START Treaty and beyond. The plan includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.”1 Further, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, US Secretary of Defense Gates said, “the treaty preserves the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a vital pillar of our nation's and our allies' security posture. Under this treaty, the U.S. will maintain our powerful nuclear triad—ICBMs, submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and bombers—and we will retain the ability to change our force mix as we see fit.”2

If the Review Conference is to adopt a forward-looking agenda on both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation that has any bearing on reality, it is going to need to pay attention to that reality. That will necessitate a serious examination of some governmental rhetoric and action.

Is New START worth $80 billion in nuclear weapon maintenance and modernization? Darwin BondGraham of the Los Alamos Study Group, a watchdog of the nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico, notes that in the abstract, any treaty that reduces nuclear weapon stockpiles is a move in the right direction. Unfortunately, he says, “no treaty is forged in abstraction from the wider field of geopolitical power relations, or apart from the wrangling of domestic interest groups. In essence all treaties are political deals struck in highly complex moments, affecting many diverse parties, not just the signatory states.” He cautions us that it “should never be assumed that because a treaty ostensibly calls for reductions in some categories of nuclear arms that it is therefore a 'progressive' arms reductions treaty. Nor should it be assumed that it will have wider positive effects on the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons because it arrives on the wings of lofty moral addresses.”

“Consider this brash analogy,” BondGraham says. “If the two states that hunt the vast majority of the world's whales (out of the ten states that still allow this practice) agreed to a bilateral international treaty concerning whaling which stated that all parties 'seek a world free of whaling,' and if whaling states party to this treaty agreed to reduce their harvests by 10%, and yet the convention concretely allowed for the use of new hunting techniques, the killing of new species, hunting in new waters and the design and construction of advanced new whaling ships and harpoons, would it be hailed as an anti-whaling treaty? Indeed, if part of the domestic political deal made within whaling states in order to secure ratification in their legislatures included large investments in a 'national whaling complex' that would be able to build these ships and harpoons a century into the future, would anti-whaling activists publicly support it? Would they call it a good first step toward an end to whaling?”

As delegations proceed with their negotiations over the next two weeks, we urge them to look critically at the reality of the broader context. We urge them to adopt progressive disarmament and non-proliferation measures that truly lead to a nuclear weapon free world. Some of the nuclear weapon states say they are waiting for the right “conditions” for such a world, but it is primarily their own continued reliance on and investment in nuclear weapons that leads the whole world further away from disarmament and non-proliferation, not toward it.

1. “The New START Treaty—Maintaining a Strong Nuclear Deterrent,” White House Fact Sheet, 14 May 2010.
2. Robert Gates, “The case for the New START Treaty,” Wall Street Journal, 13 May 2010.


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