4 May 2010, No. 2

Deterrence or Disarmament?
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will

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Since the failed Review Conference in 2005, the international community has emphasized the importance of a successful outcome in 2010. “Failure is not an option” has been stated over and over and many governments have taken many opportunities to emphasize the importance of the NPT and their commitment to the Treaty. So when the 8th NPT Review Conference opened yesterday, civil society sat down in a packed balcony above the UN General Assembly Hall in order to listen to concrete suggestions and proposals that our governments are putting forward in order to reach a successful outcome.

But the debate was similar to previous years. In between pointing out that the NPT is the cornerstone of non-proliferation and disarmament and emphasizing the inalienable right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, the arguments and priorities seemed to remain much the same. The western states continued to single out Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as the most serious threats to international peace and security and the states from the Non-Aligned Movement continued to argue that nuclear weapons states need to take stronger disarmament measures.

While some delegations put forward concrete proposals and new ideas (see the News in Brief for some examples), most of the attention of the first day was given to the presence of Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The two speakers accused the others' country of non-compliance with their obligations and of distracting the international community from the real issues.

The real issue, from the perspective of most civil society representatives gathered here and many of the delegations, is the problems caused by nuclear weapons and the doctrines that continue to uphold them as an integral element of security or strategic stability. In her statement, Clinton reminded the Conference that the US would keep its “nuclear deterrent” as long as nuclear weapons exist.

But several delegations rejected this reasoning. In his opening statement, the speaker for the Non-Aligned Movement said, “The world should realise that the doctrines of nuclear deterrence neither bring about peace nor international security, and constitute an impediment to progress towards total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

At this Review Conference, governments have an opportunity to acknowledge that nuclear deterrence does not make us safer and that concrete steps towards complete nuclear disarmament, the only way to keep the world safe from nuclear war, must be explored. As the Moroccan foreign minister said,  “Disarmament should not be perceived as a concession, but rather as an effective and a necessary contribution to a world free of nuclear weapons and to strengthen international peace and security.”

Several countries are starting to acknowledge that nuclear weapons are becoming obsolete in today’s world. During the general debate, we saw significant support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. 116 states parties to the NPT in the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as Austria and Switzerland, argued that the consideration of such treaty banning all nuclear weapons should begin. Furthermore, Switzerland's foreign minister argued that nuclear weapons are useless, immoral, and illegal and called for a debate “concerning the legitimacy of the use of nuclear weapons regardless of the legitimacy of the motive of defence that can be invoked,” noting that its aim “is to bring the humanitarian aspect to the heart of the current debate on nuclear disarmament.”

As the general debate continues throughout the first week, civil society will demand more support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, more concrete contributions to nuclear disarmament, and more efforts to make this Review Conference a credible and sustainable success.

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