Disarmament in Uncertain Times Discussed in Reykjavik

By Lowana Veal

Photo: NATO Conference group photo. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland.

REYKJAVIK (IDN) – With tension rapidly escalating between the United States and Russia – and indeed between these countries and others – a seminar on disarmament held in parallel with the 14th NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iceland came at an appropriate time. [P 12JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

The idea for the seminar, entitled ‘Practical Approaches to Disarmament in Uncertain Times', surfaced in July when Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, was in Brussels for a NATO conference. While inviting NATO officials to Reykjavik, Jakobsdottir said the focus would be on disarmament. "Disarmament is not discussed enough at NATO meetings,” she told IDN.

In Brussels, she took the opportunity of meeting delegates from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and invited them to Iceland as part of a side event at the NATO conference.

ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons."

The conference on October 29-30, 2018, which was attended by 140 delegates from NATO countries, burgeoning NATO countries such as Ukraine, the United Nations and international bodies such as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), was the largest to date.

In a keynote speech, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller stressed that NATO “must persist in working within the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and resist the temptation to seek shortcuts that leave out the nuclear weapon states, or ignore our other international commitments. NATO allies have stated clearly that they will not support approaches to disarmament that ignore global security conditions or undermine the NPT.”

Recently, both George Schultz, former U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, have written opinion pieces in the New York Times, with Schultz saying that the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) signed by Reagan and Gorbachev should be kept and Gorbachev asking if it was not too late to return to dialogue and negotiations. Their opinions formed an opener for panel discussion at the disarmament seminar.

Tytti Eräsö, who works with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden, pointed out that missile defence is one of the obstacles to nuclear arms control, and that Reagan and Gorbachev talked about eliminating all nuclear weapons, not just those of medium range. But “there is no political will for arms control”, she pointed out.

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm from ICAN, who was standing in for ICAN’s Executive Director Beatrice Fihn at the seminar, told participants: "At present, nuclear-armed states simply have no plans to disarm. So first, you have to agree on the general goal, and prohibit the weapon. Only afterwards can you increase the pressure and take all the necessary steps to move towards that goal."

“The important point to note is that states that rely on nuclear weapons do not like the idea of declaring them illegal,” he said, adding that “Iceland, which relies on nuclear deterrence via NATO, is currently boycotting the prohibition of nuclear weapons and continuing to rely on nuclear deterrence. The citizens of Iceland should know!”.

One of the speakers at the seminar, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu – who also spoke at the NATO Conference – summarised the main points of the new UN disarmament strategy presented in May 2018 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“The first pillar of the agenda,” she said, “is disarmament to save humanity. It focuses on the elimination of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as on preventing the emergence of new domains of strategic arms competition. The second pillar, disarmament that saves lives, focuses on the regulation of conventional weapons and the third pillar on partnerships for disarmament.” 

Nakamitsu used the opportunity to dispel a popular myth about disarmament, saying: “Disarmament is not a naïve and monolithic discipline, despite the popular misconception that falsely equates the removal of arms with insecurity and defencelessness. Rather, it offers policy-makers a strategic set of practical tools that can be applied in the widest variety of situations and contexts. These include measures for elimination, prohibitions, arms control, limitation, reductions, non-proliferation, regulation, transparency, confidence-building, etc.”

Meanwhile, the Japanese Peace Boat, Ocean Dream, docked briefly in Reykjavik within 24 hours of the departure of ten military vessels that sailed to Iceland to take part in Trident Juncture 2018, the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War in December 1991. On board were a couple of hibakusha, surviving Japanese victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who spoke about their experiences to Icelandic students while in Reykjavik.

“These hibakusha travel on Peace Boat as part of the ‘Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World – Peace Boat Hibakusha Project’, to share their tragic experiences, to educate people about the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and to engage policy-makers and catalyse public support to make a nuclear-free world reality,” explained Celine Nahory from the Peace Boat and ICAN.

Given that Iceland does not have a military force, when asked whether it was not more fitting for Iceland to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) than to host a NATO meeting and allow Trident Juncture exercises to be carried out, Nahory replied: "Let me make clear that Peace Boat and ICAN do strongly call on Iceland to join the TPNW without delay. We believe there is nothing in the TPNW that prevents Iceland from maintaining a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state.”

She pointed out that NATO’s legal foundation does not mention nuclear weapons, saying: "NATO members are not legally bound to endorse the policy of 'extended nuclear deterrence'. Some states in alliances with the United States have already signed and ratified the TPNW.”

ICAN submitted information to Iceland’s Foreign Affairs Committee in March this year in connection with a parliamentary resolution on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Part of it states: “The TPNW is designed to help implement the NPT, which requires all parties, including Iceland, to pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament. Such negotiations had, until last year, been at a standstill for more than two decades. The NPT itself envisages the creation of additional legal instruments for achieving a nuclear-free world.”

In addition, “A state with nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a state that hosts another state’s nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a deadline.”

The NPT comes up for review in 2020. The first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference was held from May 2 to 12, 2017 at the Vienna International Centre,. The second session was convened from April 23 to May 4, 2018 at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The third and last session is scheduled for April 29 to May 10, 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 November 2018]

Photo: NATO Conference group photo. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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