The State of Nuclear Disarmament in 2013: The First High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament and Links to Civil Society

3 Oct

Editor’s Note:  This is the first post by GAPW’s disarmament fellow for Fall 2013, Marianne Rijke.  Marianne will be working on several disarmament projects and covering the First Committee of the UN General Assembly.  She will make frequent posts in this space.

Even though they have only been used twice in the course of warfare, by the United States (US) at the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have posed a threat to mankind ever since their creation. Since these bombings, there have been over two thousand detonations for testing and demonstration purposes. Every time a bomb is detonated human communities and environmental health are both put at risk. There have been several attempts by the international community to stop these tests, to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to ensure total nuclear disarmament. So far these attempts have not resulted in the desired outcome because certain state parties refuse to honor their agreements to dismantle their nuclear weapons.

In 1970 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) went into force. A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon states (NWS): US, Russia, United Kingdom (UK), France and China (also known as the P5 states). The Treaty had been extended indefinitely in 1995 and will be reviewed every five years. The 2010 NPT Review Conference resulted in a Action Plan, agreed upon by state parties, which contains measures to advance nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and regional issues, including the implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.

With the 2015 NPT Conference around the corner and frustrations building up by the lack of substantial progress in nuclear disarmament, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries participated with the office of the GA president in organizing the First High-Level Meeting (HLM) of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament (September 26, 2013). The original draft resolution which called for the HLM was approved by a vote of 165 to none, with five abstentions. The countries that abstained were the P3 states (US, UK and France), Israel and Ukraine. During the HLM, the P3 gave a combined statement in which they expressed the view that the HLM was essentially a waste of time and energy. In their eyes there are already enough efforts to speed up nuclear disarmament and states should focus on the 2010 Action Plan. This statement received a lot of criticism, as the first deadline of this Plan, the convening of a weapons of mass destruction free-zone (WMDFZ) in Middle East, was already missed.

This missed deadline was acknowledged at the HLM, and the states, once again, insisted on the need for this WMDFZ. One problem with attaining this zone, is a lack of involvement of Israel in the disarmament conversations. Even though Israel neither denies nor confirms having nuclear weapons, there is a wide belief that they do posses them. These undeclared weapons form a key impediment to a WMDFZ in the Middle East. “All countries in the region”, as stated by Saudi Arabia, “should call on Israel to open its doors for the inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency”. Israel has not yet opened its doors and since they have the support of the US, it is also crucial for the US to be more involved in talks related to the formation of the zone.

Another problem for nuclear disarmament is the fact that neither the P3 states nor Russia seem willing to engage in multilateral dialogues about this subject. This produces an insolvable problem, since it is strongly maintained by some parties that nuclear disarmament must start with the US and Russia before the rest will follow. They refer to the NWS as falling behind due to the lack of new ideas from these countries and their unwillingness to participate in new disarmament initiatives. The P5 states decided not to be part of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), which was convened by the General Assembly in October 2012 to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. This decision to ignore the OEWG was referred to by some parties as the “P5 digging their own grave”. At the side event, organized by United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES), with the support of the Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN, the OEWG was hailed as a success with a minimum of ‘blaming and shaming.’ However, the realization was there that there were a lot of interesting ideas, but a lot also needs to be done to turn good ideas into concrete action plans.

UNIDIR stated that for the HLM to fulfill its mandate there has to be a change in national security doctrines of both the NWS and the umbrella states (states that ‘benefit’ from extended nuclear deterrence). These states need to realize that nuclear weapons are no longer needed to ensure their security. “Only if the majority of a given country’s population is convinced that nuclear weapons are no longer required to ensure its security, and may indeed decrease rather than increase it, will the government of that country be encouraged to begin to adapt its security doctrines”.

At the side event, the role of civil society and the importance of getting it more involved was also emphasized, but the way to do so was not clear. Some parties stressed the importance of partnerships between civil society and states. Others believe that talking to governments is a waste of time and that the existing structures will not have the preferred outcome because civil society has no say within a lot of states, including some P5 states. A way for these groups to be involved is by building partnerships between civil societies in different countries and by connecting stakeholders within regions to build a movement at the grassroots level. There was also talk of reaching out to institutions in non-nuclear states that are not yet on board to get their support to persuade the NWS to give up their nuclear weapons. There seems to be a lot of frustration within non-nuclear states about being excluded from the actual disarmament talks and feeling powerless due to this process. It was underlined that all states and stakeholders need to be engaged in the disarmament discussions if disarmament is to succeed.

It was interesting to see that there was only a little talk about making connections to other pressing global issues we are facing such as regional conflicts, human rights, poverty and climate health. Global Action to Prevent War stresses that security issues, such as nuclear weapons, are always connected to these other security concerns. To make these linkages, it might be helpful if these meetings were more accessible to people from outside the nuclear weapons community. People not working primarily on nuclear disarmament could possibly add some fresh ideas to the table. It seemed that the meetings, mostly containing the ‘like-minded’, may have gotten into a stalemate on how to actually develop and execute plans that would help the nuclear disarmament process. The overall impression these meetings left on me, was the lack of such plans. I believe that it is a good thing to get civil societies more involved to strengthen the international community’s call for disarmament. But I am afraid that if there are no actual plans to follow up on, these meetings will function as just another ‘talk shop’.

Marianne Rijke

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