14 May 2012, Final Edition

Editorial: Insecurity of the status quo
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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On Friday, 11 May the NPT PrepCom wrapped up its work with the adoption of its procedural report. Only one amendment was made to the draft report: paragraph 19 referring to the Chair’s factual summary was removed. The factual summary is now only listed in the report’s annex of working papers. This probably was done in an effort to preclude the unfortunate habit in other fora of heavily caveating chairs’ summaries with language suggesting it has no relevance to the proceedings of states parties.

Regardless of the change in the draft report, however, the Chair’s summary will be kept as part of the background documentation leading into the 2015 Review Conference. This summary mostly reaffirms the 2010 NPT action plan, which still requires serious implementation efforts. However, it also carries some issues forward, highlighting new opportunities for advancing the agenda throughout this review cycle (see NPT News in Review No. 9).

The PrepCom itself, unfortunately, did not do much to advance the agenda. States parties neither conducted a thorough review of implementation-so-far of the 2010 action plan nor did they utilize all of the time at their disposal to begin exploring options for moving forward. Many governments and civil society experts expect that the next Review Conference will need to make significant advances on a range of critical NPT issues, especially nuclear disarmament, in order to sustain the credibility and integrity of the Treaty. With a few exceptions, this PrepCom did not begin to engage with this difficult task.

One particularly important initiative at this PrepCom, however, was the 16 country statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, which calls on nuclear weapon states “to give increasing attention to their commitment to comply with international law and international humanitarian law.” The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are becoming increasingly important for giving impetus to their elimination, especially in a financial and environmental climate in which it is not only the use of nuclear weapons that has negative and lasting impacts on the safety and security of humanity and the planet, but also their continued possession and modernization.

Yet, while the majority of participating delegations demanded an end to modernization of nuclear weapons and called for their irreversible, verifiable, and transparent elimination, including through the full implementation of article VI of the NPT, there were signals emanating from some states during their concluding remarks that full implementation of article VI is in as much danger as ever. While most other delegations were thanking the Chair, his team, and the Secretariat for their excellent work in facilitating a remarkably smooth meeting, the Russian and Chinese delegations both warned that the unilateral (i.e. US) development of anti-ballistic missile programmes will effectively preclude multilateral nuclear disarmament. They called for the international community to focus on “creating the conditions” for nuclear disarmament by maintaining “strategic stability” and “undiminished security for all”.

Not only are these warnings concerning for the possibility of nuclear disarmament and for the future credibility of the NPT, but they stand in stark contrast to a world increasingly unified in its demand for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the call for “undiminished security for all” overlooks the fact that it is the current state of affairs—the continued possession, modernization, and potential use of nuclear weapons—that creates insecurity for all, not their elimination. The idea is absurd that the retention of nuclear weapons and the continuous threat of their use through “deterrence” policies provide security to any state. No weapon that poses a threat to the survival of humanity can legitimately provide security. As the 16 states said at the beginning of the PrepCom, it is of great concern that “the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment.” They questioned the “utility of these instruments of mass destruction to confront traditional security challenges” and argued that they are “useless in addressing current challenges such as poverty, health, climate change, terrorism or transnational crime.”

Overcoming the counter-intuitive security paradigm of the nuclear weapon states will be necessary for achieving nuclear disarmament. And demanding their compliance with article VI throughout the 2015 review cycle will be necessary for ensuring the continued integrity of the NPT. Just as non-nuclear weapon states are expected to comply with their non-proliferation obligations regardless of external security circumstances, so too must the nuclear weapon states comply with their disarmament obligations. The most important—and only real—condition for a world free of nuclear weapons is nuclear disarmament.

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