27 May 2010, No. 19

Is this what momentum looks like?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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The closed door negotiations continued on Wednesday, with states parties reviewing the draft declaration paragraph by paragraph. The debate is still rife with disagreement over many elements of the text and many delegations seemed confused on how to move forward from here within the limited time left. After three weeks of assertion that “the stakes are high” and “failure is not an option,” some delegates are expressing concern about the Conference’s ability to agree on a strong outcome document within the next two days. The P5, especially France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have continued a seemingly coordinated assault against all concrete disarmament steps; in some cases, their “amendments”—if accepted—could result in a document weaker on disarmament than in 2000 or backtrack from language to which they have previously agreed.

The Russian delegation, for example, continued to pursue the deletion of Action 6e in the action plan, which calls on nuclear weapon states to “consider further reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons” as part of the P5 “consultations” mandated by Action 6. It is worth noting that the language of 6e is pulled directly from UN General Assembly resolution 64/47 “Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” which the Russian Federation voted in favour of in 2009.

It is not just specific measures being rejected by the NWS. They seem allergic to accepting any language related directly to disarmament. Reportedly, they have asked for the elimination of any reference to timeframes in the declaration chapeau and of course have already ensured the removal of specific dates related to disarmament steps in the action plan. They are also apparently seeking the deletion of Action 5, which very mildly says that nuclear weapon states “commit to cease the development of and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and to end the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons.” Some of them have also rejected the reference to the UN Secretary-General’s five-point plan, which notes that this proposal “contributes toward this goal” of establishing the framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.

Curiously, the French and UK delegations are also reportedly having problems with the language on international humanitarian law in the action plan, which states that IHL must be observed by all states at all times. It seems that both delegations said their lawyers are looking at the language to make sure it is consistent with international law. This apparently prompted a number of interventions from other delegations seeking clarity on the UK and French positions on this matter. Perhaps it is worth noting  here that it was not only NGOs and press that were kept out of the conference room on Wednesday—by a sign written in pink highlighter—but also all official observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. They, and the several lawyers with NGO badges who were waiting outside in the hallway, would have been particularly interested in this element of the discussion.

Other delegations seem to be maintaining hard lines as well. Many appear reluctant to compromise. The Non-Aligned Movement has reportedly been reiterating its lengthy list of amendments to the draft, insisting that its preferred language be reflected in the text. Attempts to resolve divergences over issues such as withdrawal, the additional protocol, and other non-proliferation concerns have proved equally contentious. Yesterday evening, the informal plenary broke up into three groups dealing with similar issues of the previous subsidiary bodies in an attempt to reach agreement on key pieces of the draft declaration. In the group dealing with disarmament, delegates were given until 9:30 PM to submit inputs and a revised text is due out this morning.

On Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of the ongoing negotiations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to the Review Conference urging delegations “to be pragmatic and coalesce around solutions that will advance the interest of the whole community of nations.” He encouraged all states parties to “step up their work with flexibility and in a cooperative spirit, to reach agreement on an outcome document that will contribute to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime and to further progress on disarmament.”

Unfortunately, we are not seeing a spirit of comprise or cooperation at this Review Conference and the positive atmosphere that characterized the opening weeks has slowly changed to a skeptical concern among most participants. Compromise, like balance, is apparently in the eye of the bolder. Many of the so-called “key delegations” seem to be treating the art of comprise like a zero sum game of “winners” and “losers”, in which one party demands another change its position to meet theirs, rather than agreeing to meet that party in the middle. Quick to point fingers at each other, opposing delegations do not appear to be engaging in diplomacy but in a game of chicken.

Coming into this Review Conference, and over the last year, we have heard a lot about the “new momentum” for nuclear disarmament. Momentum can be defined, as it is by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as “strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events”. It can also be defined, as it is by the same dictionary, as “a property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force or moment.” This Review Conference can perhaps be defined as the property of the “vision” of nuclear weapon free world that will determine the length of time required to bring this vision to rest. The constant force applied against this vision has come from the governments of some of the most vocal professors of this “vision”.

However, regardless of how much force the nuclear weapon states apply against their own purported vision, there will always be those to carry the vision forward with conviction and integrity, to see it implemented, concertized, operationalized.

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