22 May 2015, Vol. 13, No. 16

Editorial: ¡Ya basta! It’s all about the ban
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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The President’s new draft text for Main Committee I issued Thursday morning is a nuclear-armed state text. It sells out nuclear disarmament and serves those who seek to preserve and embolden the false perception of legitimacy of nuclear weapons asserted by nuclear-armed and their nuclear allied states. It is a text that reflects the view of a radical, recalcitrant minority and it should not be accepted by the majority. Refusing to accept this text would not be an act of obstruction. It would be an act of courageous leadership by governments that believe that nuclear weapons are unjust, indefensible, horrific, catastrophic, unacceptable weapons of terror. It would signal to those militarily powerful, often violent countries that want to impose their vision of the world on the rest of us, that enough is enough.

The critique of the state of play on nuclear disarmament expressed in the new text is much weaker than in previous drafts—so much so that it should be unacceptable to any state that does not value nuclear weapons. The new text makes no reference to the slow pace of nuclear disarmament. It deletes the explanation that any assumptions about “indefinite possession” of nuclear weapons are incompatible with the NPT, non-proliferation, and international peace and security. It suggests that only non-nuclear-armed states and civil society learned anything about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW) over the last three years and argues that it is only the perception of some states that there could be no adequate response to a nuclear weapon detonation.

The new text only “notes” rather than “welcomes” the joint statement on the HINW delivered by Austria on behalf of 159 states, putting it on the same footing (and in the same sentence) as the statement delivered by Australia on behalf of 26 (nuclear-allied) states. It also deletes the acknowledgement that the awareness of the HINW must underpin all approaches and efforts towards nuclear disarmament.

The new draft also only seeks to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, rather than the use. This absurd formulation makes a mockery of the 159 states that have resolutely called for the prevention of any use of nuclear weapons ever again. In this context, it also suggests that possession, and even use, are not as dangerous as potential proliferation.

The revisions to this draft text also regress from even the minimalist understandings and commitments made in 2010. It deletes the reaffirmation that states must at all times comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law. It no longer calls for a review of military doctrines “with a view to reducing substantively or eliminating the role and significance of nuclear weapons”—which was already weaker than 2010’s call for action on security doctrines (in action 5). The text also no longer emphasises the need to reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons “leading to a phased removal of all nuclear weapons from high alert levels,” but instead encourages “consideration of further measures” for reductions—and makes no mention of the action 5 commitment from 2010. The reporting provisions provide an escape clause through the not-so-ambiguous reference to “without prejudice to national security”—which translates to: “You don’t have to report on anything, really. We understand.”

On nuclear weapon modernisation, the new text only “notes concerns expressed by non-nuclear-weapon States regarding programmes for the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons as well as the qualitative improvement of existing nuclear weapon systems.” In 2010, the outcome document expressed the “legitimate interest” of states in constraining and ending the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, and described this as an effective measure for nuclear disarmament.

In various ways, the text decouples the pursuit of a nuclear weapon free world from article VI, decouples article VI or nuclear disarmament from the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, and decouples the humanitarian impacts from international law. It systematically attempts to reject—in the NPT context—the progress that has been made since 2010 to investigate and articulate the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation and to draw conclusions and motivation from the relevant findings. The efforts of many states to bring the work of the HINW into the NPT have been roundly rejected by the nuclear-armed masters of the Treaty.

While recognising that “accelerated efforts are required to implement article VI” and other disarmament commitments, the text explicitly ties any benchmarks and timelines to those set out exclusively in the document at hand—and then only provides dates for two specific undertakings, neither of which are mandatory. Will this later be used by those who want to prevent progress to say that anything pursued outside of the document undermines the NPT? This is what such states, particularly France, have tried to say about every initiative undertaken by non-nuclear-armed states since 2010—including the first open-ended working group held in 2013.

Perhaps ironically then, the worst part of the text remains OP19, which now recommends the UN General Assembly establish another OEWG later this year to identify and elaborate effective measures for the full implementation of article VI. It also recommends the OEWG operate on the basis of consensus, which, as anyone working in disarmament knows all too painfully, privileges the nuclear-armed (or more generally heavily-armed) countries over all the rest. The nuclear-armed states have prevented any progress in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) for twenty years because they treat consensus as a veto; they also managed to significantly weaken the Arms Trade Treaty through the course of consensus-based negotiations.

Through and through the text privileges the nuclear-armed states over the rest of the world. It is not a credible document and was not developed through a credible process. It was developed in a room outside of the UN, amongst a handful of states, with the nuclear-armed bullies surely deploying some heavy-handed pressure tactics to intimidate the pro-disarmament delegations in the room and back in their capitals. We don’t know how much the President’s text reflects discussions in that room. But we do know that it demonstrates clearly that the NPT is a treaty of the nuclear-armed states.

States truly committed to disarmament must say “enough is enough” to the nuclear-armed states. As of writing, 99 states have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. This Pledge is not about talking for another year or so in an OEWG, under the constraint of consensus, about what constitutes an effective measure for nuclear disarmament. We have done that. For years. We have talked in the CD, in First Committee, in the Disarmament Commission, and in nine review cycles of the NPT about what should be done to finally achieve the legal obligation of nuclear disarmament.

The only credible option available is to refuse to accept this document and begin a diplomatic process to develop a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons. The Humanitarian Pledge is the outcome of this Review Conference, no matter what happens tomorrow with this text. The Pledge should be the basis for negotiations of a nuclear weapon ban treaty. This is an historic opportunity, one that must be seized by those who have the imagination and the courage to actively pursue a better world for us all.

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