The Atlanta Consultation:
Building Bridges to Save the NPT

by Jim Wurst


There is a wide-spread belief among NGOs and most governments that actions and inactions by the US are placing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - and nuclear disarmament in general - in jeopardy and that US leadership is vital to reverse this course. The Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the stalled START talks with Russia, NATO expansion, and plans to deploy a ballistic missile defense are all cited as contributing to the breakdown in arms control.

In the interest of helping to preserve the non-proliferation regime, the Carter Center in Atlanta and the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), an international non-governmental coalition, convened a consultation drawing together governmental and non-governmental experts to explore the issues and search for solutions. Blending the "honest broker" and bridge-building talents of the Carter Center with the nuclear disarmament expertise of MPI, the two groups co-sponsored the Atlanta Consultation at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, from January 26-27, 2000.

Former President Jimmy Carter told the Consultation, "If you look at the political debates going on between the Republicans and Democrats, not one word is mentioned of non-proliferation or nuclear agreements or some of the policies our own country has adopted or failed to adopt. My own belief is that if this group doesn't speak very forcefully that we are going to go into the sessions at the United Nations in something of a vacuum. You are the voice that will let the American people hear some of the concerns that I'm sure most of you share."

Senator Douglas Roche, the Chair of MPI, said, "Because of its strength, the United States can provide the leadership needed to encourage all States to foster dialogue, openness and other trust and confidence building measures with their neighbors. A credible American commitment to a nuclear weapon free world would encourage other states to strengthen collective and cooperative means of addressing their security concerns."

For its part, the U.S. argued that it was taking "irreversible action" in reducing nuclear weapons. John Holum, the State Department official in charge of arms control and disarmament issues, said, "Progress to date confirms that disarmament is best achieved through practical, discreet steps, each building on its predecessors and each calibrated to the realities of the international security environment. Disarmament does not occur in isolation or upon demand, but from a number of tangible factors: the commitment of states to the process; a stable security environment; effective verification regimes; and enforcement mechanisms."

Besides the US, governmental participants came from the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) nations - Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden - as well as officials from Canada and Germany. The NAC participants, and most of the NGOs, advocated the NAC blueprint for substantive steps leading toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

It was not the intention to come to any conclusions, but there were several themes that enjoyed wide support:

  • The NPT is the cornerstone of the international regime for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The 2000 Review Conference will be crucial in determining the continuing viability of the Treaty.
  • While acknowledging and welcoming the progress made by the United States and Russia in cutting their arsenals, all participants (other than US officials) believed that much more needs to be accomplished, and accomplished quickly.
  • Substantive progress in nuclear disarmament would include deeper cuts in strategic force, elimination of tactical weapons, no-first-use commitments, and a rethinking (at the minimum) of deterrence.
  • There needs to be greater efforts to raise the issues among policy makers, not only in the US, but around the world. Such initiatives could include parliamentarian exchanges and an effort to reinvigorate the bipartisan US approach to arms control.
  • The media and public are unaware of the debate over nuclear weapons and have limited understanding of risks of proliferation and of not pursuing disarmament. Thus, the risks of current policies and the links between disarmament and non-proliferation must be made in the public domain.

The MPI delegation included Senator Roche; the Chairman of the Conference, Jonathan Granoff; retired US Senator Alan Cranston; and Alice Slater of GRACE (both Slater and Granoff are also on the LCNP Board). LCNP was represented by Consultant-At-Large Alyn Ware; LCNP's Program Director Jim Wurst attended in his role as UN Coordinator for MPI.

Other non-governmental participants included actor/producer and UN Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas; civil rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian; former US ambassadors Jonathan Dean, Thomas Graham, Jr., and James Leonard; Shazia Rafi of Parliamentarians for Global Action; David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum; and Scilla Ellsworthy of the Oxford Research Group.

A detailed report of the Atlanta Consultation will be published by MPI in April. Contact: MPI, Suzanne Pearce, 727 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge MA 02139, tel: (617) 492-9189, fax 868-2560, e-mail:

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