Tag Archives: non-proliferation

Some Immanent Risks at the 2015 NPT Review Conference

5 May

Editor’s Note:  The following piece from Angela Trang Hoai Thi Nguyen represents her initial impressions of the NPT Treaty Review at UN Headquarters.  Angela is of Vietnamese lineage, was raised in Norway, and is a master’s student of Annie Herro, a longtime associate of our office who teaches at the University of Sydney. It is always good for us (and hopefully for others as well) to see UN processes through the eyes of younger people in our office who are seeking their own place in this work. 

Well-thought and rational decision-making entails inter alia reducing as much risk as possible in order to reach the most optimal outcome. But as I have observed in the opening sessions of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT), global decision-makers have, unfortunately, increased and reinforced the risks that could threaten the future of the NPT. With virtually no exception, member states reiterated their commitments to the elimination of nuclear weapons to achieve a nuclear-free world. However, the apparent emptiness of some of the promises given cannot be ignored. The question is whether those empty words are an outcome of so many multilateral deadlocks and disappointments or if this is intentional political rhetoric. If it is the latter then we can sensibly talk about a deliberate creation of risk factors impeding progress to achieving the objectives of NPT. If the former is true, the frustration creates disadvantages for NPT as it strives to become (as noted by DSG Eliasson and others) a “critical public good.”

Although all states emphasized commitments to building on efforts toward disarmament, the prevention of proliferation, and the general strengthening of the NPT regime, there appears to be little flexibility in their positions. Thus, the first week of NPT Review Conference did not seem particularly promising to me despite the high rhetoric, as equally high risks create both a vacuum and impediments to the realization of NPT objectives.

The risks exist in many forms. First, a mutually reinforcing mistrust derives from the need by some states to impose a nuclear security regime on the current state of global insecurity. Nuclear-weapon states continue to retain an effective (at least) minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as (these states say) the global security situation makes it necessary. Ironically, the necessity of being in possession of nuclear weapons to maintain global security only intensifies the security dilemma, in which actions by a state intended to heighten its security lead other states to respond with similar measures, creating more tensions and insecurity. Thus, while nuclear-weapon states claim nuclear deterrence is a means to maintain international security, it is recognized by the majority that it is rather the opposite.

Perplexingly, almost as soon as the NPT Review Conference opened, an NPT side event hosted by one of the leading nuclear-weapon states sought to address the “need” for further modernization of nuclear weapons and the will to do exactly that. The unavoidable obsession and blindness of the security dilemma that was played out, whereby narrowly defined national security interests jeopardize international security, creates potential grave dangers and threats. Modernization does not contribute to building trust and predictability, but fuels an undesirable Cold War mentality that we thought we had put behind us. As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is no real safety. No amount of rationalizing can change this.

Given these strange events, not only does the NPT conference risk empty promises and short-sighted interests, it also risks the marginalizing of (mostly) men and women of principle striving to realize their full NPT obligations. Although, unilateral disarmament is out of question, it is a simple matter to strive to uphold one’s part of an agreed deal, especially one as important as Article VI of NPT. While the status quo is clearly unsustainable, NPT nuclear weapons states continue to insist that other parties to keep the binding obligation of non-proliferation, while they themselves refuse to see their part of the equally fundamental responsibility to eliminate weapons and achieve a nuclear-free world. Desiring change requires that all parties make an effort to assess the performance of others, but more importantly to change themselves. This requires the qualities including persistence and self-discipline, which remain in short supply in regards to the achievement of the objectives of NPT. Additionally, as being principled seems impossibly challenging for some states at this stage, it is probably utterly senseless to ask instead for true generosity of policy and spirit, another quality much appreciated as it creates attractive role models that could contribute much to a world of peace and security.

In conjunction with the NPT Review Conference, a side event on eliminating “Hair-Trigger Launch Readiness” highlighted a report by Global Zero Commission on reducing the unintentional risks of use of nuclear weapons. In many ways, the event was a wake-up call reminding all of the unimaginable dangers that can occur when our nuclear security technologies (and their ‘high alert” status) go very wrong. Gen. Cartwright recommended particular restraint during moments of high stress and short timelines, as there is almost no room for good and rational decision-making. Moreover, the potential for a false alarm in a nuclear high alert system remains ever present. Given the risks of miscalculation that could lead to a nuclear launch, the grave humanitarian consequences that would follow from our follies and limitations should be more than enough to remove incentives for a reckless response. The danger that nuclear weapons can put an end to the human race makes the threat or use of nuclear weapons a crime against humanity. Thus, it is a moral imperative that the international community no longer allows senseless measures associated with “deterrence,” such as high alert weapons status, to be employed.

Regarding humanitarian consequences, we are also at risk of reaching a cross roads. A crucial test case is North Korea (DPRK), where its inhumane governance, highly related to its objective to invest in nuclear programs, represents a crime against humanity. As time passes, starvation and repression continue to take lives and cause other grave physical and psychological sufferings. Member states must bear in mind the consequences of the UN’s unsuccessful engagement with the DPRK which only perpetuates grave violations of human rights. Although there are risks related to any Security Council action, it is important that the world not stay quiet. The best outcome would be for the DPRK  to return to the NPT and come into full compliance with both the treaty and their obligations under international human rights law.  Balancing risks and violations in the DPRK context represents a grave global challenge.

The NPT process faces several challenges of non-compliance. In the Middle East, there are at least two nuclear weapons-related issues that remain to be resolved. First, although a framework agreement with Iran has been reached, which in many ways signals a positive achievement towards fulfilling the goals of the NPT, key parameters of the deal are far from settled and hard work remains to be done. The devil is in the details, and transparency and verification will be essential to any final agreement. Secondly, Israel remains outside the NPT and continues to undermine the possibility of a WMD-free Zone with its undeclared weapons of mass destruction. The risks of non-cooperation and non-compliance are therefore most worrisome in regards to regional efforts to end proliferation and build a nuclear-free world. Moreover, although, peaceful use of nuclear energy as guaranteed by the NPT help to address serious global challenges including Ebola, cancer, and food safety, it is important to have solid verification mechanisms in place to identify cases of misuse and proliferation. Our threshold must be able to balance and identify rightful use and any non-compliant intentions.

In order to reduce some of the risks created by short-term strategic interests, insecurity, miscalculations, non-compliance and other NPT-related matters with implications for international peace and security, it is necessary to state something very obvious:  the objective of the universality of nonproliferation and disarmament cannot be achieved if all states do not abide by their commitments. As Deputy Secretary General Eliasson underscored, the process for NPT fulfillment has clearly stalled. We must therefore rebuild it on stable, common ground, reinforcing shared interests for the public good. Dialogue and cooperation are key to achieving the three pillars of NPT; thus, we must use every possible communications channel and create trust-building conditions for strategic stability and predictability.

Additionally, there is a need to push our collective ambitions. A Middle East free of nuclear weapons and WMD seems highly ambitious at this moment, but as John Kerry stated, ambitious goals are always the ones worth pursuing. Then, I believe the next phase of this ambition is to create accountability mechanisms to eliminate impunity for states in non-compliance, whether understood as breach of the treaty or inaction, accountable for their policies. As world state leaders should be greatly ambitious, their nuclear goals and standards must also be set at a high level. Only then can we remove risks to the NPT and reinforce the responsibility that lies with each member state in creating a world free of nuclear weapons.

Angela Trang Hoai Thi Nguyen

UN Disarmament Commission Concludes Without Consensus Recommendations: Moving Towards Final Year in Review Cycle

19 Apr

The UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) concluded the second year in its three-year cycle on Friday, 19 April without adoption of consensus recommendations or guidelines. Much of the discourse during the concluding plenary had a positive tone with delegations noting that the work done in the 2013 substantive session will “set the stage” for progress next year, and in his concluding remarks, Chair Ambassador Christopher Grima of Malta called the three-week session “productive” and rich in discussion. Still, it is discouraging that the session could not come to more concrete conclusions.

The 2013 UNDC adopted a procedural report took account of the session’s organization of work, documents submitted by the Secretary-General (the annual report of the Conference on Disarmament) as well as by member states (a working paper from the delegation of Egypt), as well as the reports of the two subsidiary working groups. The delegations of Iran and Algeria underscored that converting the status of the Chairman’s non-papers to a working paper does not set a precedent for future sessions nor does it enjoy consensus. Indeed, both reports of the subsidiary working groups clearly noted that all working papers “do not represent negotiated positions or command consensus and should not set a precedent.”

The culture of stalemate across the UN disarmament machinery cannot afford any further delays.  While the progress made in both working groups of this session on the development of working papers is clear insofar as there is some substantive work upon which to build, it is discouraging that the international community must endure yet another delay of concrete movement forward in any part of the failing multilateral disarmament machinery. As noted by High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane in her opening remarks three weeks ago, the UNDC will be judged not according to its words, but its quality of its outcomes.  Once again, without adoption of recommendation of guidelines, there is little on which to positively assess the UNDC beyond yet another year of national statements and non-consensual working papers.

In the 20 years since its re-establishment in 1979, the UNDC was able to reach consensus a total of sixteen times to adopt guidelines or recommendations on a wide variety of disarmament issues. However, most strikingly, all of these consensus outcomes came before 1999 illustrating that any momentum generated in the UNDC has been elusive at best over the last fourteen sessions. Some combination of lack of political will and immoveable working methods surely accounts for the paralysis that continues to plague the UNDC, a paralysis also apparent in the inability of the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a program of work for more than fifteen years. While a fourth Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD IV) could dissolve and re-establish the UNDC to revamp its working methods, mandate, or perhaps both, the short-term provides only the opportunity to make one last stitch effort at consensus at next year’s 2014 substantive session building on the progress made in the working group papers presented by this year’s Chairpersons.

In addition to the substantive discussions in the two working groups, discussions of working methods arose. As noted by several delegations during the general exchange of views at the opening of this year’s session, the lack of willingness to adapt working methods to better address the lingering stalemate as well as the UNDC’s inability to reach consensus recommendations are worrisome trends. The proposals from the Swiss delegation to revitalize the UNDC’s working methods (limiting the agenda to one item, opening deliberations to experts, and submitting an annual report to the UN General Assembly regardless of the session’s outcome) must be more seriously considered if the UNDC is to move away from the road to irrelevance on which it is headed. Ambassador Grima agreed that the working methods would need to be reviewed for both how it conducts deliberations and how even limited success can be better reported after each session. Moreover, Ambassador Grima said that the application of consensus in the UNDC should be reflected upon.

Working Group I:  Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

The agenda item on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, an item that is mandated to be addressed at every session of the UNDC, once again saw divergence of views. Working Group I (WGI), chaired by the Ambassador Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairy of Saudi Arabia, adopted a report outlining its procedures over the last three weeks.  Other documents presented to WGI included a working paper submitted by the US entitled “Preventing the use of nuclear weapons” (WP1), and two working papers submitted by the Chairman entitled “Recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons” (WP2), and “General guiding elements for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” (WP3), respectively.  Also discussed in WGI was a compendium text of comments on the working papers of the Chairman (CRP2). CRP2 is a compilation of proposals made by member states during the consultations. It is clearly noted in the report that the working papers “could form a basis for further deliberations for the formulation of consensus recommendations at the conclusion of the Commission’s three-year examination of agenda item 4 at its substantive session in 2014.”

WP2 outlines so-called “recommendations” for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and recalls several current initiatives to take forward multilateral negotiations, including the open-ended working group (OEWG) in Geneva, the group of governmental experts (GGE) that will make recommendations on possible aspects of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and the upcoming September 2013 High-level meeting of the UNGA on nuclear disarmament. Also taken up in this document is the issue of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ), for which a 2012 conference was not convened as mandated by the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference outcome document. The DC document calls for such a conference to be convened “without further delay as soon as possible.” WP3 on “guiding elements” reconfirms the mutually reinforcing relationship between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and the importance of multilateralism in achieving nuclear disarmament. This document also “expresses grave concern about the current status of the disarmament machinery, including the lack of substantive progress in the Conference on Disarmament for more than a decade.”

The working paper presented by the US is a disappointing review of the US’ nuclear weapons policy underscoring the importance of a “future, step-by-step” approach to disarmament. The paper calls this approach “the only practical path” towards complete nuclear disarmament as there is “no quick fix.” The paper goes on to highlight the US and Russian new START commitments as well as the proliferation risks associated with the DPRK, Iran, and Syria, but does little on elaborating how disarmament obligations will be met in a serious and timely manner. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a FMCT are identified as “essential multilateral steps for nuclear disarmament,” both of which do little to further disarmament but instead have a distinct non-proliferation focus. Lastly, the US paper underscores the Nuclear Security Summit process as well as the Permanent 5 (P5) process as contributors to “strengthening global architecture that governs nuclear security” and “breaking new ground” on engaging new issues related to disarmament, non-proliferation, transparency, and confidence-building measures. However, it is still unclear what precisely a “step-by-step” approach would entail or what “new ground” is being broken. Such P5 declarations are often clouded in vague reiterations of previously accepted NPT commitments and the modernization programs currently being undertaken in all the nuclear weapon states further undermines the international community’s pursuit of the goal of nuclear abolition.

The working paper provided by the delegation of Egypt (WP1) considered by the committee as a whole noted that the League of Arab States is concerned about the issue of the Middle East and “expects a conclusion highlighting ways to ensure the implementation of the 2010 Review Conference commitments and to convene a conference on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons” in 2013. The fact that the Middle East conference was not convened during the 2012 calendar year will continue to be an issue of contention in all fora of the disarmament machinery as well as the upcoming NPT preparatory committee session in Geneva this coming week.

Working Group II: Confidence-Building Measures in the Field of Conventional Weapons   

Working Group II (WGII), devoted to confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the field of conventional arms, also adopted a procedural report and considered a working paper presented by Ireland on behalf of the European Union entitled “Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.” The Chairman, Mr. Knut Langeland of Norway, presented a non-paper that included principles as well as practical CBMs such as transparency and information exchange measures (the UN Register on Conventional Arms, the UN Report on Military Expenditure, the Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA), and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI)), observation and verification measures, military constraint measures, and cooperation and assistance. The previously mentioned working paper from the delegation of Egypt also addressed the issue of CBMs in conventional weapons measures noting that any CBM process must address overproduction, increased levels of stockpiling and mutual accountability, as well as principles in the UN Charter such as references to crimes of aggression and foreign occupation.

The WGII Chairman’s non-paper, drafted under Mr. Langeland’s own responsibility, also references existing instruments in the field of conventional arms, such as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the Anti-Personnel Mines Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), as well as the recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The paper “encourages” member states to “consider signing and ratifying” the ATT after it open for signature on 3 June 2013. The working paper contains brackets and bold text that highlight the various proposals made during the working group’s consultations. Mr. Langeland noted that hopefully some parts of the non-paper illustrated areas for possible consensus and a basis for work next year.

Last chance in 2014

In an environment of low-yielding (if non-yielding) multilateral disarmament machinery, there is a growing intolerance for delay in any part of its operations. With another year of the UNDC passing without adoption of recommendations or conclusions, it is quite clear that it has not been fulfilling its role as the deliberative body of the machinery providing consensus recommendations and guidelines for consideration in the General Assembly First Committee.

The general sense of the session this year has been that its deliberations will provide “a good basis” for the formulation and adoption of consensus recommendations and guidelines next year in 2014. However, according to this line of argument, the last fourteen sessions of the UNDC have formed a “basis” for adoption of consensus recommendations or guidelines. Delaying yet another year does nothing to address the stalemate in the disarmament machinery, but does increase the stakes for next year’s session. The pressure is most certainly on to finally adopt consensus recommendations and end a fifteen-year UNDC drought.

 

–Katherine Prizeman