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Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: 

Nuclear Disarmament Commentary Index




Published by the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy,

New York

October 3, 2000 Volume 2, Number 4



The Good News and the Bad


William Epstein



A Substantive Final Document


For NPT Review Conference

The 1990 and 1995 Review Conferences of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) failed to agree on any substantive Final Document. The nuclear weapon states (NWS) hoped that the Sixth NPT Review Conference in April and May 2000 would not repeat the previous two failures or have to resort to voting. In the final days of the Review Conference, the NWS made a number of important concessions that made a consensus possible on a Final Document.

As is clearly stated in the Final Document, "The Conference agrees on the following practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the NPT and paragraphs 3 and 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on Principles and Objectives."

In listing and explaining the significance of the main practical steps that the NWS had agreed to, we shall also try to evaluate the performance of the implementation of the promises they made.

One of the long-standing objectives of the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) is to ban the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The promise made in this year’s Final Document was that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) should agree on "a program of work which includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years". The performance at this year’s session of the CD was the same as it has been for several years. Once again the CD failed to agree on a program of work. While the five NWS may not be solely to blame for this failure, there is a general feeling among the NNWS that the NWS did not try very hard to achieve agreement.

Another long-standing objective of the overwhelming majority of NNWS, which has been urged by the UN General Assembly for many years—but ignored by the NWS—is the necessity of establishing in the CD "an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament". This year’s Final Document called on the CD "to agree on a program of work, which includes the immediate establishment of such a body". (Emphasis added.) The performance of the promise implicit in this urgent appeal again resulted in failure. And once again, the feeling among the members of the CD is that the NWS did not try nearly hard enough.

This feeling was reinforced on 14 Sept. 2000, when the U.S. Representative to the CD, Ambassador Robert T. Grey, stated that "it is important to bear in mind that many Members of the Conference attach very great importance to the establishment of a subordinate body on nuclear disarmament. The United States is not among that group of countries, but we share their commitment to the underlying long-term goal". (Emphasis added.)


Promise and Performance

The most important of the new promises, made for the first time, is "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states parties are committed under Article VI." It is true that there was no predictable or target date set for the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals (as were set in some other promises). The statement of Ambassador Grey on 14 Sept. would seem to indicate that the performance of this important promise is not regarded by the NWS with any real sense of urgency. Indeed, some of the NNWS who regard this long-sought unequivocal undertaking as an important break-through have begun to express fears that the United States is beginning to backtrack rather than perform its promises.

Six further steps are listed by all the NWS leading to nuclear disarmament in a way that promotes international stability and based on the principle of "undiminished security for all". These further steps are:

  • Further efforts by the NWS to reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally.
  • Increased transparency by the NWS with regard to their nuclear weapons capabilities.
  • Further reductions of nonategic nuclear weapons based on unilateral initiatives.
  • Concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapon systems.
  • A diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used.
  • The engagement as soon as appropriate of all NWS in the process of the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.

The performance of these promises and their early implementation seem to have already been slowed down. There are no visible signs that any of these steps are regarded with any urgency. Indeed, the Western NWS (with the exception of the United Kingdom) continue to refuse to de-alert their strategic and subategic nuclear weapons or to separate their warheads from their missiles, but also continue to oppose any pledges of no-first-use of their nuclear weapons. In fact, as we shall see later, the three Western NWS have now publicly opposed Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for convening a major international conference that would help to identify ways of eliminating nuclear weapon dangers.

One would have thought that all the NWS would gladly welcome any measures that would improve their own safety and reduce the risk or danger of any unauthorized or mistaken use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against them. But apparently, the NWS are still afflicted with Cold War habits of thinking and with outdated doctrines of nuclear deterrence. They are very reluctant to give up their reliance on weapons that President Bedjaoui of the International Court of Justice, in the Court’s Advisory Opinion on 8 July 1996 on the "Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons", described as "the ultimate evil".


President Clinton Defers Decision on National Missile Defense

On 1 Sept. 2000 President Clinton announced his decision to leave his successor the critical decision on whether to begin to deploy a National Missile Defense (NMD) system to defend all 50 American states against a limited ballistic missile attack.

Russia and China had warned that any unilateral attempt by the U.S. to deploy a NMD system, which was prohibited by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, or to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of treaties on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and to a renewal of a nuclear arms race.

The debate in the U. S. had been a long and tortuous one. The situation became somewhat confused since the Democratic Party did not want to be accused by the Republicans of being weak on national defense.

In January 1999, the Administration announced that it would spend $ 6.7 billion to develop and test the system. The Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, announced that the U.S. was prepared to withdraw from the ABM Treaty if the Russians did not agree to amend it. The White House and the State Department quickly disavowed his warning.

In July 1999, President Clinton signed into law the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 stating that it is the policy of the U.S. to deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective system.

In the fall of 1999, it was decided that the President would make a decision in the summer of 2000 on whether to begin to deploy the system based on four criteria: the system’s cost, its technological feasibility, the perceived missile threat, and its impact on national security, particularly on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

None of the 3 tests carried out so far of the 19 tests planned was fully successful. The U.S. also stated it would take into account the views of its NATO allies who had made it clear that they wished to preserve the ABM Treaty.

In December 1999, the UN General Assembly also adopted a resolution sponsored by Belarus, China and Russia, on the "Preservation and Compliance with the ABM Treaty". The vote was 80 in favor, 4 against (Albania, Israel, Micronesia and the U.S.), with 68 abstentions.

The question was sidetracked at the NPT Review Conference by agreement amongst all the NWS on a paragraph in the Final Document calling for "preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic reductions of strategic offensive weapons, in accordance with its provisions". This seemed to take the heat out of the issue.

Now that the President has decided to defer any decision on early deployment to a new administration, there will be no urgency for immediate action and there will be more time to work out some solution that is acceptable to all the main parties.

In June of this year, President Vladimir Putin proposed that a NMD that was designed to intercept enemy missiles in the "boost phase" was the best approach to the problem. Surprisingly, Richard Perle, an assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, in an Op-Ed article in the New York Times of July 13, 2000, also favored a more effective system of missile defense in the "boost phase". So, too, do Richard Garwin and many other scientific experts. This whole area remains to be explored, as do other systems for a "theater missile defense" instead of a NMD.


The Millennium Summit Declaration

On 8 September 2000, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 55/2, the United Nations Millennium Declaration. It is a remarkable document that had been worked out over several months. It covered all the main areas and problems dealt with by the United Nations and the Summit meeting’s desire to strengthen the United Nations and to resolve the many problems it faced. A lengthy 9-page Declaration that was highly praised and was adopted without a vote, was woefully weak on disarmament. It had only one sub-paragraph that dealt with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, which are the only weapons that could threaten human survival.

In an early draft of the declaration, the sub-paragraph read: "To strive towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons and to convene a major international conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan had suggested the idea of convening the major international conference in his report "We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century" because of the stalemate in nuclear disarmament. The NWS, however, in particular the Western ones, were opposed to the Secretary-General’s proposal and said it could be dealt with by holding a special session on disarmament SSOD IV instead. Some New Agenda Coalition countries accordingly urged that the sub-paragraph be moderated to read: "and to keep all options open for achieving this aim, including the possibility of convening a major international conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers". Indonesia proposed that "To strive towards the elimination …" be "To strive for the elimination…." This was accepted and included in the final text. Although it strengthens the text, it is still very much weaker than what the NWS had agreed to in the NPT Final Document. So, once again, it seems that the NWS are backtracking on rather than performing their Review Conference promises.

Actually, the holding of the major international conference is becoming of greater importance as the only way to end the stalemate on nuclear disarmament and to reduce the threat of nuclear weapon dangers.

Fortunately, during the general debate of the Millennium Assembly, a number of foreign ministers spoke up in favor of the major international conference. One statement in particular—that of the Foreign Minister of Mongolia, Mr. L. Erdenechuluun—stands out. In a remarkable speech, he proposed a number of new and important ideas for reviving and restoring life to nuclear disarmament. He also strongly supported the idea of the major international conference. I would urge all delegations in the First Committee to have a look at the Mongolian statement in the plenary meeting of the General Assembly on 21 September, 2000, and to consider proposing relevant resolutions that would indeed implement the promises made in the Final Document of the NPT Review Conference.



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Editor: William Epstein
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