23 April 2013, Vol. 11, No. 2

The responsibility for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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“Disarmament is not an obligation limited to the five NPT nuclear-weapon states,” said the US delegation in its opening statement. The Russian delegation highlighted that article VI applies to all countries, not only nuclear possessing states.

It is not always that we agree with nuclear possessing governments, but these comments we support wholeheartedly.

Nuclear weapons are a global concern, as any use would cause a catastrophic impact that could spread beyond boarders and affect future generations. Regardless to which governments the weapons belong, the existence of nuclear weapons is a threat against our common security. People around the world will suffer the consequences, independent of where we live, under whatever security arrangement we operate, or to which nuclear weapon free zone our governments adhere.

This is the reason we are here. We are at the NPT PrepCom because it is universally recognized that nuclear weapons are bad and they should not be used.

And after listening to the first day of opening statements, it is clear that the US and Russia are right: the international community absolutely must not leave the responsibility of disarmament only to nuclear possessing countries.

We cannot put the security of people around the world in the hands of governments that say such things as, “We have committed not to develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions for nuclear weapons” yet simultaneously commit to spend billions on upgrading those weapons to make them more “reliable and accurate”.[1]

Neither should we leave the responsibility of nuclear disarmament to governments that say the best way of protecting themselves against threats is through retaining a nuclear weapons capability.[2] As the South African delegation pointed out, the continued retention of nuclear weapons “serves as a catalyst for further proliferation, as illustrated by the recent deplorable nuclear weapons test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

And we should not sit by and wait for progress from a group of countries that are spending four years on a “P5 Working Group on the Glossary of Definitions for Key Nuclear Terms”.

This isn’t exactly progress on disarmament.

This is why many non-nuclear weapon states drew attention to the slow progress on nuclear disarmament during the first day. Switzerland highlighted that several independent reports from civil society actors (such as Reaching Critical Will’s 2010 NPT Action Plan monitoring report), conclude that while progress on non-proliferation and nuclear energy have been recorded, there’s “practically no progress whatever in the area of nuclear disarmament.” South Africa pointed out that most states parties to the NPT remain very concerned about the lack of urgency and seriousness of nuclear disarmament approaches.

It is therefore time for non-nuclear weapon states to step up and take responsibility, and to help create the conditions for nuclear disarmament. Because just as the US and Russia pointed out, all states must take the lead and make further progress on the way towards elimination of nuclear weapons.

Concern about the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons has grown since the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The majority of statements during the opening day of this PrepCom referenced to this topic and the recent conference in Oslo. By repeatedly highlighting how unacceptable nuclear weapons are, non-nuclear weapon states have a concrete way of actually creating conditions for a world without them. It is a way for non-nuclear weapon states to take responsibility for disarmament and implement article VI, especially at a time when progress in existing disarmament fora remains deadlocked.

Just as Ambassador Higgie of New Zealand noted, the discussion that the Oslo conference started is an opportunity “to advance our collective nuclear disarmament responsibility”.

Recognizing that any use of nuclear weapons would have unacceptable humanitarian impact and that no current capacity exists to provide any humanitarian assistance in such a case is not a controversial step forward, but it does open up space for serious deliberation on how to most efficiently prevent such harm.

After so many years of stalemate, the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments, in particular of those countries without nuclear weapons, must take responsibility for initiating progressive change and take the lead to reach our common goal, a world free of nuclear weapons.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/21/obama-accused-nuclear-guided-weapons-plan

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/apr/04/north-korea-trident-david-cameron

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