U.N. Nuke Meet Ends with Good Intentions and Empty Promises


Thalif Deen - IPS

The road to a nuclear weapons-free world is apparently paved with good intentions – but littered with plenty of platitudes and empty promises.

A month-long nuclear non-proliferation review conference concluded late Friday “with more of a whimper than a bang”, said John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy.

“The result was disappointing without being surprising,” he said.

However, said Burroughs, one concrete achievement was on a make-or-break issue: a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

The final document, he pointed out, calls for a conference on this controversial subject in 2012, and the appointment of a facilitator to make it happen. The next nuclear review conference is due three years later, in 2015. “The road ahead is not easy,” said Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), “but it’s the only way forward.”

He singled out the reaffirmation by the conference of the importance of Israel’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

But whether Israel – a country pursuing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on its nuclear weapons – will accede to these requests remains to be seen.

Ambassador Abdelaziz said that NAM, the largest single political coalition at the United Nations, is aiming at the total elimination of nuclear weapons by 2025.

After four weeks of intense debate, the review conference adopted a 28-page document spelling out three “forward-looking action plans” on the most politically divisive issues: nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the right to nuclear energy. But the conference’s best efforts were still not good enough – judging by the mixed and negative reactions to the outcome.

“This is an action plan for treading water,” said Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, which monitors U.S. nuclear weapons programmes and policies.

Rather than being held to time-bound or otherwise measurable commitments, the nuclear-armed states are encouraged or called upon to take action on items such as security assurances and nuclear weapon-free zones, she said.

The final document that was adopted Friday was progressively watered down in order to achieve consensus, according to several NGOs.

The United States, Russia, Britain and France, four of the five declared nuclear weapons states, were largely successful in removing from the document anything requiring them to take meaningful short-term steps to advance disarmament.

Many of the disarmament actions were eventually phrased as vague aspirations.

On nuclear testing, a reference to closing the test sites was removed from an earlier version of the document, Cabasso told IPS.

Similarly, a call for cessation of development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons was removed.

Curiously, said Cabasso, new language was added to include the use of new nuclear weapons technologies in the action item calling on all states to refrain from nuclear weapon test explosions pending entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

This would appear to refer to the laboratory-based testing programmes underway in the U.S. and other nuclear-armed states, she added.

Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, told IPS the nuclear weapon states failed to make tangible and specific commitments in the final document. However, he noted, they clearly legitimised the principle that the world will be more secure and better off with the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Moreover, they set forth principles and policies to which they have unanimously committed themselves that will help us get to a nuclear weapons-free world, he said.

“The significance of this achievement must not be underestimated,” said Granoff, pointing out that naysayers will try to undermine this achievement, claiming the final document “is just words”.

This would be akin to claiming that a blueprint for a building is “just lines” on a page, he said.

First, the image and goal must be stated. Second, the principle for policies must be articulated, and third, the political forces mobilised to achieve them.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to mobilise those political forces,” he added.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, vice-chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IPS the process and outcome of the NPT Review Conference have made two things very clear: reaffirmations of commitments made 10 or 15 years ago are not enough, especially as these undertakings were not honoured and implemented.

And as the final document underlines, getting rid of nuclear threats requires not only concrete disarmament steps but the establishment of the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.

“The action plan on nuclear disarmament as well as the inability of the NPT machinery to deal with non-compliance and to strengthen its own safeguards agreements, as illustrated in what was left out of the final document, make it now clear to everyone the need to initiate a process leading to negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention,” she said.

Such a convention will also do away with the NPT distinction between nuclear haves and have-nots and comprehensively ban nuclear weapons for all, she added.

Cabasso said the review exercise revealed the huge gulf between the determination of the vast majority of non-nuclear weapon states to accomplish the disarmament objectives of the treaty and the intransigence of the nuclear weapon states.

The disarmament action plan clarified the differences among states parties once again and reaffirmed past though still unfulfilled commitments to the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency.

“There is nothing really significant or new here, but the process also clarified the need for new approaches to nuclear disarmament, such as a Nuclear Weapons Convention,” she noted.

Granoff said Academy Awards are given for excellence in acting. The world recognises athletic talent at the Olympics. Too little credit, however, is given to diplomats who were able to forge common ground for a passage to a safer, more secure future where countries with divergent interests and attitudes, such as the U.S. and Iran, could find common ground and commit themselves.

In no small measure, success was achieved at the NPT review conference because of the uplifting inspiration provided by Russia and the United States in their collective efforts to advance disarmament, he declared.



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