By Jamshed Baruah
GENEVA (IDN) - The stalemate on nuclear weapons disarmament needs to be resolved amid increasing concern about the "prodigious" number of warheads still in circulation, said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan addressing a Working Group at the UN in Geneva.
But the first session of the Open Ended Working Group on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations (OEWG) did not come close to breaking the stalemate. The nuclear armed states did not participate in the deliberations February 22-26, though several countries relying on nuclear weapons joined. These included many NATO countries as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The absence of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5) that play a critical role for ushering in “a world without nuclear weapons” – underlined their view that nuclear weapons guarantee security in terms of deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others and in deterring aggression, whereas nuclear disarmament could increase insecurity.
This, according to observers, is contrary to President Barack Obama’s commitment in a speech in April 2009 in Prague “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. Obama said: “This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime.” And yet, he added, “we . . .must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’”.
Nearly seven years later, there are hardly any traces left of “Yes, we can”. There remain over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the active stockpiles of the nuclear-armed States – most of which are undergoing costly refurbishment and modernization programs to continue their arsenals indefinitely.
Frustrated at this lack of progress, non-nuclear countries moved the United Nations in October 2015 to establish an OEWG with a mandate to undertake substantive work on the legal measures and norms required to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, says UNFOLD ZERO, a project of PragueVision, PNND, Basel Peace Office, Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign, Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace and Global Security Institute.
Considering that the Geneva deliberations highlighted a fundamental difference in perceptions on security, UNFOLD Zero fears that these “could continue to prevent agreement on the commencement of multilateral negotiations”. And this despite the fact, as Annan said, that "many non-nuclear weapons states rightfully question whether or not existing legal architecture is sufficient to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapon-free world or even to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons”.
Nevertheless, government representatives and non-governmental organizations that participated in the February session hope that the next rounds of deiberations – May 2 to 4, May 9 to 13 and three days the week of 22 August – would pave the way for negotiations and adoption of nuclear disarmament agreements, much as a similar working group established on weapons exports led to the successful conclusion of the Arms Trade Treaty.
This cautious optimism is based on the view that the conference, chaired by Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi of Thailand, opened up a refreshing and productive dialogue between non-nuclear countries and those under extended nuclear deterrence relationships. “Indeed, there was a very interactive discussion on possible legal measures to be negotiated and approaches to take,” notes UNFOLD ZERO. The issues under consideration are:
A comprehensive nuclear weapons convention (NWC) – similar to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention – that would prohibit the threat and use of nuclear weapons and include a phased program for their elimination. The NWC would necessarily include the nuclear armed States.
An agreement affirming that any use of nuclear weapons is illegal as a step towards their elimination – similar to the way the Geneva Convention Protocol of 1925 prohibited the use of chemical weapons prior to the negotiation and conclusion of the chemical weapons convention.
A framework agreement laying out general obligations of non-use and elimination, but leaving implementation details to be dealt with in subsequent negotiations.
An agreement prohibiting threat, use and possession of nuclear weapons (ban treaty) to be adopted in the near future by non-nuclear States with an invitation/challenge to nuclear umbrella states and nuclear-armed States to abandon nuclear deterrence and join the treaty.
A building-blocks approach which promotes initial arms control and stockpile reduction measures in the near future, with measures to prohibit nuclear weapons considered much later.
These ideas are important in view of the fact that there have been no multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted in 1996.
Twenty years later, it has yet to become law. Because eight countries including China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the U.S., which have signed the Treaty, and North Korea, India and Pakistan that have until now refused to put their signature have not ratified the Treaty.
The importance of the CTBT coming into force has been repeatedly underlined by Dr Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) based in Vienna.
It was also underlined by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in a joint statement in October 2015 in Kazakh capital Astana:
“As countries which experienced and are fully aware of the threat of nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan and Japan share the moral authority and responsibility to raise the awareness of the people throughout the world about the humanitarian catastrophes nuclear weapons have brought about. With this special mission in mind, Kazakhstan and Japan are determined to work together closely pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The need for a nuclear-weapons-free world has been stressed also by Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Tokyo-based lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International. In his 2016 Peace Proposal, he proposes that the following three items be included in the OEWG’s deliberations: removal of nuclear retaliatory forces from high-alert status; withdrawal from the nuclear umbrella; and a halt to the modernization of nuclear weapons.
In a joint statement A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Our Common Good presented on February 25 to the OEWG Chair Ambassador Thongphakdi, representatives of Religions for Peace, Mayors for Peace and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) called on governments to “commit to nuclear abolition, replace nuclear deterrence with shared security approaches to conflicts, and advance a nuclear weapons convention or framework of agreements that eliminate nuclear weapons”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 February 2016]
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Image: UNFOLD Zero