Nuclear Arms Issues: Progress but Still a Rocky Road Ahead

EDITORIAL, 30 Apr 2018

#532 | René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

This past week has seen three major discussions in part related to nuclear weapon issues.  Progress has been made, but there is still a rocky road ahead.  The representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peace researchers may play a role in lifting some of the rocks on the way.  The three meetings:

  • The Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in Geneva, 23 April to 4 May 2018.
  • The discussions in Washington, DC between Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron which concerned in part the nuclear accord with Iran, followed by meetings on 27 April between President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during which the Iranian issue was also discussed.
  • The meeting between the Presidents of North and South Korea with nuclear weapon issues certainly in the background.

As nuclear-weapon issues could potentially change relatively quickly, the 1970 NPT treaty for the first time had an article which called for a review conference of the treaty every five years after the treaty came into force. The first Review was held in 1975 and has been held every five years since.  Each Review has a fairly long preparatory phase in which there are both logistic questions to settle but also an opportunity when governments can raise the issues they will develop more fully during the Review itself.  The first preparatory meeting for the 2020 Review was held in Vienna in May 2017 and the second now in Geneva.

The issues at each Review are relatively the same: the failure of the nuclear-weapon States to honor article VI which calls for negotiations on nuclear disarmament as well as complete disarmament under international control; on the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for verification of the treaty, and on cooperation for the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  However, the Review is also a reflection of major conflicts at the time.

This year the tensions in the wider Middle East and the nuclear-weapon program of North Korea are being felt. During the Geneva session, the representative of the European Union reminded participants of the 1995 resolution on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in the Middle East.  This resolution was repeated in the 2010 Review, but no progress has been made.

I had chaired the non-governmental representatives to the 1975 and 1980 Review Conferences.  The Reviews are organized by the United Nations Secretariat, but the Review is of the Parties to the Treaty and not a regular U.N. meeting.  Thus we were able to negotiate for more NGO access than at regular U.N. disarmament meetings: our texts should be distributed as regular Review documents and NGO representatives had the right to address the Review.  NGOs have played a useful (if modest) role in the Reviews.  We need to prepare for the 2020 Review and to organize position papers well in advance.

The meetings in Washington were held against the backdrop of the armed conflicts in the wider Middle East: Syria-Kurdistan-Turkey, Yemen and the role of Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Part of the story concerns the continuation of the economic sanctions waiver of the USA against Iran.  These must be renewed every six months, and President Trump must renew or not by 12 May.  The Iran nuclear agreement (officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) would be seriously weakened, if not destroyed, by a US withdrawal.  The other States party, France-Germany-UK as well as Russia and China have been urging in different ways for the US to uphold the Iran agreement.  All recognize that the accord is not the end of the play and that other acts will follow.  However, the first act was long and repetitious, and few want to start in again at the first act.

However, President Trump now has Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and John Bolton as National Security Advisor, both of whom in the past in other capacities, have suggested military action against Iran nuclear facilities.  Thus, it is important that other voices, including those of NGOs, be heard proposing that the Iran accord be built upon with negotiations in good faith.

The third meeting, filled with symbolic meaning, was between the President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-ing, and the President of the Democratic People’s Republic, Kim Jong-un, on the line of demarcation between the two States.  It is too early to know what the next steps will be, but a phase in the crisis which had been building up for some time has been modified.

As the professor of economics Milton Friedman wrote,

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.  When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies and to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

The ideas that have been lying around for the reduction of tensions have been proposed by non-governmental organizations and peace researchers for some time: economic cooperation starting with a lifting of economic sanctions against North Korea, more possibilities for meetings among family members divided by the war, in general greater possibilities of travel and contact, educational and cultural exchanges. There are the difficult but vital issues of security and a modification of hostile military postures.  There is a need for a U.N.-sponsored Korean Peace Settlement Conference now that all the States which participated in the 1950-1953 Korean War are members of the United Nations.

Now, non-governmental organizations active in conflict resolution and tension reduction efforts must build upon this new momentum to help deepening the positive atmosphere. A new “window of opportunity” has opened, and we must see how to move forward creatively.

There are times, such as now with these separate but related nuclear issues, when there are links among otherwise separate events and concerns.  We need to take advantage of this convergence and work so that our voices are heard ever more clearly.


René Wadlow is a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on the Middle East, president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens, and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Apr 2018.

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2 Responses to “Nuclear Arms Issues: Progress but Still a Rocky Road Ahead”

  1. As René Wadlow correctly states: “the 1970 NPT treaty had an article which called for a review conference of the treaty every five years after the treaty came into force.” This is the reason why Nuclearism and nuclear weapons have developed and multiplied the way they did and why so many more countries can now threaten the world with pride in their nuclear capacity.

    By including “every five years” in the treaty, politicians sent a clear message to the world. Those three words, “every five years”, mean: WE HAVE NO PLANS TO REDUCE, LET ALONE ELIMINATE NUCLEAR WEAPONS”.

    A serious treaty would have said “….we call for a review (conference) every day of the year….until a treaty for the universal abolition of nuclearism comes into force. “

  2. rosemerry says:

    I must agree with the comment of Alberto Potugheis. The refusal of the USA to keep to commitments must also be the main reason there is so little progress- the USA seems immune to caring about any future for the rest of us, or for Americans who are not rich.
    As for Trump and Macron, what a disappointment that Macron caved in to the ridiculous demands of Trump, thus ruining the firm stand promised months ago by the UNSC plus Germany, and now even Frau Merkel is wavering. If they do not stand firm and let the USA ruin any chance for progress, even ruining Iran for NO REASON;there will be dire consequences. William Engdahl has just written a good article on this-sorry not to link, but it is in ICH (informationclearinghouse).