The world’s antiwar activists, including parliamentarians, civil society groups and diplomats, have succeeded in creating international treaties to ban a wide array of deadly weapons: anti-personnel landmines, blinding laser weapons, cluster munitions, dum-dum bullets and chemical and biological weapons.
But "the most iniquitous weapon of all" — the nuclear weapon — has continued to escape a treaty aimed at eliminating its use, spread and production.
Asked why a proposed nuclear weapons convention (NWC) has failed to get off the ground, Alyn Ware, global coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), told IPS: "The nuclear weapon is both a military and a political weapon."
"It projects power," he said, singling out the world’s five most powerful, and by definition, permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — who are also the five declared nuclear powers.
Ware says it is also one of the primary reasons why the four undeclared nuclear powers — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — are holding onto their weapons of mass destruction.
Still, the longstanding proposal for a convention to ban nuclear weapons has gathered increased momentum at the current month-long Review Conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NTP), which concludes May 28.
Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told delegates last week: "We do need a radical change."
"In the same manner as we have outlawed biological and chemical weapons among weapons of mass destruction, and anti-personnel landmines and cluster weapons as inhumane conventional weapons, we need to begin the process of outlawing nuclear weapons," said Dhanapala, president of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.
The negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention, he said, "must begin immediately."
The abolitionists, led largely by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), also include scores of anti-war and anti-nuclear activists worldwide: the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Nobel Women’s Initiative, Federation of American Scientists, Mayors for Peace and Soka Gakkai International of Japan.
A Model NWC, drafted by an international consortium of lawyers, scientists and disarmament experts, has been in circulation since 1997 as a United Nations document, and subsequently revised in 2007.
The proposed Convention calls for "the adoption of legally binding, verifiable and enforceable instruments, culminating in a comprehensive prohibition and destruction of all nuclear weapons under effective controls."
Dr. Rebecca Johnson, vice chair of ICAN, told IPS the model NWC is valid as a resource, with many useful ideas for how the technical and legal challenges might be addressed in a nuclear abolition treaty.
She said it was offered as a collection of ideas to demonstrate that a comprehensive treaty is feasible, not a "take-it-or-leave-it" draft for immediate adoption.
"When negotiations begin, they will start on their own terms, but we are confident the diplomats will find our discussions, and even some of our draft text, useful as they seek their own negotiated solutions," Johnson added.
Asked if the proposal will come up before the current session of the NPT, she said the 118-member group of Non-Aligned States, who are parties to the NPT, and several individual European countries, as well as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have openly called for some kind of comprehensive treaty.
The call is for a treaty or framework for the total prohibition of the use and deployment of nuclear weapons and to provide for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons — in other words, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, she added.
"This is most heavily supported by a new call from the non-nuclear countries at this 2010 NPT Conference," she said.
Because of opposition from some, if not all the nuclear-weapon states, it will be a tough challenge to get this support for negotiating a nuclear weapons convention into the final document, Johnson declared.
Still, she noted, there will be some commitment to pursue a comprehensive, treaty-based approach, which is feasible and clearly complements calls for reaffirming the 13 practical disarmament steps adopted by the 2000 NPT Review Conference.
Ware said a majority of governments have supported U.N. resolutions calling for the immediate commencement of NWC negotiations. These include some of the countries that possess nuclear weapons — China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
On the other hand, he pointed out, there are key countries — most notably the other nuclear weapons states and many of the countries in extended nuclear deterrence relationships with the United States — that express opposition to such negotiations.
They claim there are initial steps and fundamental security issues that must be addressed before such negotiations could start, Ware said.
Still, many analysts argue that these initial steps and security issues would be best dealt with in the context of comprehensive negotiations.
A more feasible aim for the NPT Review Conference is to persuade states parties to agree to a preparatory process of a NWC, Ware added.
A working paper submitted to the 2005 NPT Review Conference by Costa Rica and Malaysia calls for the exploration of legal, technical, institutional and political elements required to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons-free world.
Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, senior fellow at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, told IPS: "A nuclear weapons convention is an ambitious goal." But with U.S. President Barack Obama’s leadership, it could become a reality, she added.
Goldring pointed out that a nuclear weapons convention is a logical means of implementing President Obama’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. "The Obama administration is moving in the right direction, but needs a greater sense of urgency on these issues," she said.
She said the NPT Review Conference, currently underway, is a chance to reinforce the interlocking commitments of disarmament and nonproliferation. A Nuclear Weapons Convention would help establish the path toward nuclear disarmament.
"It would break the cycle of governments making rhetorical commitments to nuclear disarmament while continuing to develop new nuclear weapons," she said, noting that said even committing to negotiation of a convention would be a significant step forward.
Goldring said that important components of a nuclear weapons convention would include bans on the development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of nuclear weapons.
The staged approach included in model nuclear weapons conventions makes sense, as does the focus on U.S. and Russian arsenals in the early stages, Goldring said.
U.S. and Russian arsenals are by far the largest. Until the U.S. and Russia make significant cuts in their nuclear weapons, there is little incentive for other countries to follow suit, she added.
(Inter Press Service)
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