21 May 2010, No. 15

Bring the action back
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will

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Thursday saw the release of two more draft texts, with the Chairs of both Main Committees I and II releasing their first revisions for consideration. At first glance, it appears that the two committees are in different places regarding their proximity to consensus.

The new Main Committee I draft, which reviews the operation of the Treaty’s disarmament and security assurances-related obligations, is a weaker draft than its original. As with Subsidiary Body I’s draft action plan on disarmament, the MCI text moves further away from operationalizing the oft-expressed “vision” for a nuclear weapon free world. While the draft now expresses concern for “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons”, it reduces the urgency of achieving nuclear disarmament by replacing the call for implementing article VI in a timebound framework with an affirmation that “the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within a legal framework with specified timelines [emphasis added].” This phrasing endorses the perspective of the nuclear weapon states and countries that engage in nuclear sharing and that shelter under the US nuclear umbrella that the time is not yet “ripe” for a legal framework for nuclear disarmament.

In Main Committee II, however, the amendments in the second draft seem to have at least somewhat balanced the text, moving it closer to mutually acceptable ground. Some of the most controversial elements have been eliminated or toned down and compromises seem to have been made. For example, references to the Nuclear Suppliers Group have been removed, but so has also the request for nuclear weapon states to reconsider their reservations or interpretations of NWFZ treaty protocols. Despite such compromises, there are still some paragraphs where solutions need to be found, such as those regarding the additional protocol and conditions on nuclear exports. The new draft still does not include anything on the Middle East, as these parallel negotiations have not yet produced any agreed outcome.

Progress also seems to have been made in MCIII, where a paragraph-by-paragraph review has moved into an advanced discussion on details and specific wordings. Some disagreements remain unsolved as of yet, but the detailed exchange of views and proposals signals that consensus appears to be in reach.

While compromises in MCII and MCIII can contribute to consensus of the final outcome document, many governments and civil society are still concerned about the large divergences in opinion over the disarmament action plan. If a third draft of the action plan will be released this week, most NGOs and governments will be hoping that it restores some of the strengths from its first version. Governments from all regional groupings have emphasized that this Review Conference must move forward from 2000, yet some of these same governments seem to have suggested language changes to the initial SBI draft that have caused the actions to move backwards from 2000. While nuclear weapon states were called upon to implement the 13 steps in 2000, they would in 2010, under the revised action plan, only commit to “convene timely consultations” on the outlined steps under Action 6.

This Review Conference has highlighted a clear disagreement on the nuclear weapon states’ compliance with their disarmament obligation. In the ten years since their adoption, the nuclear weapon states’ claimed implementation of the 13 steps has failed to convince the world that the article VI obligation to disarm is being fulfilled. It is therefore unacceptable to adopt a weaker text in 2010, with 24 actions that can be ignored even more easily than the 13 steps. A weak text, with actions that can be manipulated and reinterpreted to fit any preferred policy, is only setting the world up for continued disagreement, lack of trust, and increased disappointment in the current system.


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