Saving the NPT from the Memory Hole
by Jim Wurst

 

Despite the historic accomplishment of the May 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference - a consensus agreement in which the nuclear weapons states commit to "an unequivocal undertaking... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals," a de-coupling of nuclear disarmament from general and complete disarmament, and agreement that the Conference on Disarmament establish a body with "a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament" - there were few indications that it wasn't just another disposable document until the UN General Assembly's First (Disarmament and Security) Committee met between October 2 and November 1 and approved a draft New Agenda resolution incorporating the NPT outcome.

The Conference on Disarmament remains deadlocked, and disarmament took a back seat to economic globalization at the UN's Millennium Summit and the annual general debate (both in September). So it was up the First Committee to keep the momentum going to fulfill the new commitments made at the NPT Conference.

The New Agenda (NA) nations of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden took up that campaign in their draft resolution that incorporates the NPT's 13 "systematic and progressive" steps leading to nuclear disarmament. The draft then goes further in operative paragraph 18 which "affirms that a nuclear-weapon-free world will ultimately require the underpinnings of a universal and multilaterally negotiated legally binding instrument or a framework encompassing a mutually reinforcing set of instruments." As some have pointed out, the NA draft actually includes only 12 steps. The 13th step - the "unequivocal undertaking" - is placed in a preambular paragraph in which the states are "taking into consideration the unequivocal undertaking...", framing it as part of the existing state of affairs. Thus, rather than being a goal, the undertaking is a given.

Speaking on behalf of the NA on October 2, Ambassador Henrik Salander of Sweden lashed NA tightly to the decision of the NPT Review Conference, basically saying if you support the NPT decision, you must support the NA resolution. He said, "The positive outcome of the 2000 NPT Review Conference was made possible because the states parties definitively agreed to engage in nuclear disarmament as an achievable goal without further procrastination and prevarication.... What had hitherto been implicit has thus become explicit." He explained the NA draft "will reflect the outcome of the recent Review Conference. It will be set in the context of the commitment made by the nuclear weapon states which we have duly welcomed. It will accept the compromises which all parties made to achieve a common purpose and common future agenda."

The strategy worked. The non-nuclear NATO countries, who abstained last year, were clearly ready to vote in favor of this year's draft, thus separating themselves from the nuclear-armed partners in the alliance, who opposed the 1999 resolution. However, some last minute changes that softened some of the language in the preambular paragraphs (for instance, "noting" instead of "recalling" the ICJ Advisory Opinion; changing the reference to the unequivocal undertaking from "underlining the fundamental significance" to "taking into consideration"; changing "negotiations on nuclear arms reductions are currently stalled" to "not actively under way"), opened the door wide enough for the US and UK to walk through and vote yes.

In explaining its vote, the US said the NPT Final Document "is our guiding light for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts." Further, the NA resolution "recognizes that nuclear disarmament is a process that requires pragmatic proposals in a step-like process ... [and] we view the resolution in this context, including the rather unclear and ambiguous operative paragraph 18 [regarding the legal framework for a nuclear-weapon-free world], which should not be construed as in any way limiting the ways and means available to pursue our shared goals." The final vote was 144 (including China, the UK, US) to three (India, Israel, Pakistan), with eight abstentions (including France and Russia). This serves the dual goals of bringing the NPT consensus onto the broader international stage and solidifying the New Agenda's role in nuclear disarmament deliberations. In short, this is the new agenda.

While the NA draft merely recalls the opinion of the International Court of Justice, the draft resolution following up on the opinion sponsored by Malaysia stresses the unanimous conclusion of the Court that states are obligated to negotiate and achieve nuclear disarmament and calls on states "to fulfill that obligation by commencing multilateral negotiations in 2001 leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention." It was adopted 109 to 27 with 21 abstentions. Other progressive aspects of nuclear disarmament - preserving the ABM Treaty, prevention of an arms race in outer space, strengthening existing nuclear-weapons-free zones (including Mongolia's single-state zone) and creating new zones - are features of other draft resolutions.

The ABM resolution, the Russian-inspired draft designed to get the international community behind its view that the US cannot have both the ABM Treaty and ballistic missile defenses, was adopted 78 to three (US, Israel and Micronesia), with 65 abstentions. Abstainers pretty much split the difference on the issue: yes, we think the ABM Treaty should be preserved (in other words, we don't like BMD), but no, it's not the business of non-states parties to tell states parties what to do with their treaty. Since the US allies could easily have joined the US in voting no, we can look at this vote as a ringing lack of endorsement for the US missile defense plans. Notably, Sweden in explaining its abstention said it "does not share the overriding preoccupation with 'strategic stability' expressed in the resolution. The concept of strategic stability is closely linked with cold war doctrines which ... should in Sweden's view not be the sole basis for disarmament and non-proliferation in the post-cold war era." This was the first challenge since the NPT to the catch-phrase "strategic stability" referring to stability allegedly arising from mutual vulnerability to nuclear attack.

Draft resolutions approved by the First Committee will become final when adopted by the General Assembly later this year. For text of resolutions and voting tallies, see www.reachingcriticalwill.org .

 

     

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