25 May 2010, No. 17

We hail concrete, transparent, irreversable, verifiable action
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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During Monday’s Main Committee I (MCI) deliberations, the delegations of France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States led a concerted attack against the remaining progressive or concrete elements contained in both the MCI and Subsidiary Body I (SBI) drafts. Their interventions indicated their views on nuclear disarmament at this Review Conference—to receive lavish praise for their arms reduction measures since the end of the Cold War (France specifically requested the Review Conference “hail the gestures” they have made) while refusing to commit to any concrete or progressive steps leading to actual nuclear disarmament.

For example, all four delegations objected to paragraph I.B.3, which “affirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within a legal framework with specified timelines.” This paragraph already constitutes a pained compromise from the majority view, which holds that article VI should be pursued within a timebound framework. France, UK, and US called on the latest revision to be further reduced by “noting” rather than affirming that nuclear disarmament should be pursued within a legal framework and by deleting “with specified timelines”. Russia called for the paragraph to be deleted altogether.

Despite the Chair’s calls on delegations to focus on the MCI draft rather than the SBI action plan, upon which deliberations closed on Friday, the P4 and two states with nuclear weapons on their territories made comments on the action plan, which prompted a few non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) to respond to their interventions.

The French delegation said it didn’t mind keeping a reference to the UN Secretary-General’s five-point plan in the outcome document but said it needed to be moved from the action plan to the review portion of the text because it doesn’t have anything to do with future actions. However, the five-point plan is by definition a plan of action and, as it has not yet been implemented, it is completely appropriate for the action portion of this document. Russia said the reference to the five-point plan should be deleted altogether.

France, Russia, and US rejected Action 5, which stipulates that the nuclear weapon states (NWS) “commit to cease the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and to end the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons.” France and the US argued that this action should be couched in the language of the CTBT preamble, probably in attempt to link modernization exclusively to nuclear testing, which would leave them free to continue their current modernization plans that do not necessarily involve testing via nuclear explosion. Russia demanded the deletion of the Action 5 altogether.

The US called for the deletion of nuclear sharing from Action 6b, arguing that the concept of stationing nuclear weapons and related infrastructure on the territories of NNWS doesn’t fall within the scope of this document. Italy and the Netherlands, which host such weapons on their territories, supported this proposal. It is unclear where exactly these states think nuclear sharing should be discussed. Despite the NAM’s repeated calls for nuclear sharing to be addressed in MCI or MCII, it is not sufficiently addressed in either of the Committees’ drafts. It is also important to note that no other NATO states supported the deletion of the nuclear sharing reference, including the three other NATO states that host US nuclear weapons on their soil.

France, UK, and US called for Action 7 to revert back to the language of CD/1864 with its absurd number of caveats, which calls for the establishment of a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament to provide a forum for exchanging “views and information on practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts to reduce nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of their elimination, including on approaches toward potential future work of multilateral character [emphasis supplied].” This “mandate” is so far removed from concrete measures that it undermines any value such a subsidiary body could potentially add to a nuclear disarmament process.

Regarding negative security assurances, France, Russia, and US called for the deletion of the last sentence in Article 10, which calls for the removal of reservations or interpretative declarations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of NWFZ treaties. And on nuclear testing, Russia and US called for deletion of Action 16 on closing down nuclear test sites.

France argued that in Action 23, providing information on the size of nuclear arsenals should be sufficient without also having to report on the composition of the arsenals. France also rejected the suggestion that NWS would provide information on their stocks of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons. Russia rejected Action 23 altogether.

In effect, the P4 have attempted to re-write the MCI text and the SBI action plan to fit their “vision” of a nuclear weapon free world—a world which apparently permits the continued existence of their nuclear weapons. Most disingenuously, they continue insisting that it is the responsibility of all other states to “create the conditions” for nuclear disarmament, while they systematically undermine the achievement of such conditions and ignore the will of the very states they say are responsible for disarmament—not to mention the will of the overwhelming majority of the world’s citizens. In this vein, the French delegation called for the first paragraph of the action plan’s principles and objectives to be changed from resolving “to achieve a peace and security with a world without nuclear weapons” to committing to “creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”. Despite the fact that the original language is based on President Obama’s famous Prague speech, the US delegation welcomed France’s suggestion to highlight the role of all states “in moving toward disarmament” and did not object to France’s proposal to change this language.

It is indeed now up to the NNWS—the states that neither possess nuclear weapons nor rely on them in security doctrines or shelter under a nuclear umbrella—to truly create the conditions for a nuclear weapon free world by insisting on the preservation of all concrete and progressive elements in the MCI and SBI texts. The texts as they stand already represent a carefully balanced compromise that arguably gives up too much leeway for the nuclear weapons states to forestall meaningful disarmament. If any of these additional P4 demands are met, nothing real will remain in terms of action on nuclear disarmament at this Review Conference except lofty rhetoric that serves only to disarm the hopes of the international community.

At the same time, civil society in each of these states needs to hold their governments accountable for their actions. If their governments say they seek a world without nuclear weapons, civil society must insist that these governments take specific and concrete actions toward this end. And when their governments do accept commitments, civil society and other governments need to hold them accountable for the implementation of these agreements.

Instead of “hailing the gestures” of nuclear weapon states (for they are at this stage gestures rather than concrete undertakings to eliminate nuclear weapons), the rest of the world needs to make it clear that rhetoric is not enough to placate our determination to achieve a peaceful, secure, and equitable world without nuclear weapons.


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