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Rather agree to standstill than agree to disagree?

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), May 29

A costly display of faineance or else the very best step forward that happened to be in reach

The Conference reached a final document, adopted by consensus. It reaffirms the 1995 and 2000 RevCon’s decisions, states the final phase of disarmament, which has been, in its goal, reaffirmed unequivocally, and should, according to the document, be pursued under a legally binding instrument during its final phase. The majority of states’ wish to include timelines is mentioned.

No steps forward are to be seen in civil use (no further cooperation, nor dissociation from the technology due to its polluting character and development unsuitability), non-proliferation (no additional protocols as standard), NATO Nuclear Sharing (the mentioning paragraph is stripped of these words), fuel bank (paragraph deleted). Appeals are made to NWS, welcoming Negative Security Assurances, fissile material moratoria, ratification of NWFZ protocols and diminution of nukes’ role in security doctrines. Bilateral steps to decrease number of warheads are expected and encouraged. Reports are due for 2014. A conference on the Middle East and the prospect of a NWFZ or WMDFZ there is scheduled for 2012. Netanjahu has already made it clear he does not care.

So far so good. Now how did we get there, who wanted what, what was possible to reach, what had been agreed upon earlier? Find out more, in NPT TV’s analysis of the conference in the following.


US-Iran Bickering

At least we agreed. It’s a tough, complicated world, yet some certainties remain. Iran chose to vote for the document, as did everyone else. Teheran thus mysteriously continued to turn a blind eye on the diplomatic faux-pas the Obama-administration engaged in. To be sure, the US’ delegation had nothing to do with that, and surely no one would have wanted to fill their shoes, when even they learned from the news, on May 15th, that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had reached agreement sanctions against Iran and handed the draft in to its secretariat. The point of no return, in the midst of the ongoing RevCon. Where to from here? No where obvious, at least from a first glance, Iran did not seem to be reacting at all. What explanation is there? To every such communication, even in global scale, there are two sides. Iran for its part had decided to be engaging in cooperation, most probably because of the looming renewed sanctions China recently bought into, whereas Russia already had earlier this year. If they figured rapprochement is the best way to play it at the moment, well, than there is no need to change tactics just because the other side does not accept it. On the contrary, Iran will have a larger stage in displaying its effort of cooperation, as this time it can be sure they do not run the risk of the US accepting any deal. In the past, it had rather been Iran’s role to back off already brokered deals after previously staging the coactive stance.

Yet why would the US do this? Though Iran turned a blind eye this time, this could hardly be expected, judging from similar occasions in the past. The most convincing explanation I’ve come across is a setting of priorities. These were not set by the Department of State, but instead by the White House itself: the team brokering sanctions at the UNSC is formed by a separate branch of the foreign service, retaining no communications whatsoever with the latter, thus leaving the NPT-diplomats, eager to get results in the name of Obama’s Prague Speech, in the dark about their possibly compromising activities. So the easy part is about where the orders came from, but just why were they issued in the first place? I would like to take an approach of media politics. The extremely low worldwide coverage of NPT and RevCons is no secret, while UNSC resolutions against Iran are anticipated months before and resonate for years. This is a whole big different deal of diplomatic action, watched by the world. So while Iran thought it reasonable to show the world its good faith through the Brazil-Turkey-Iran deal, Washington was not willing to give Iran three weeks time in which to lull the world into a new era of confidence and talks. Instead of giving it a shot (avoiding at this point to go into the pros and cons of that), Obama thought it wise to take the wind out of these sails right away.

Iran may have anticipated this, and given in to the lost opportunity, still avoiding to display a negative image of itself at the RevCon, decided to carry on.

The Iranian nuclear program sure was a huge topic at the conference, but in my interview with Ambassador Hamid Baeidi Nejad, he just did not want to have himself convinced that increased transparency to the level of additional protocols to Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSA) currently in place would put Iran in so much of a better position to criticize Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and demand more concrete and timely steps towards disarmament according to article VI. Yet given the pure, civil nature of the Iranian nuclear program, this should not constitute too high a price to pay, right? In defying that and other suspicious issues (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, ICBMs, currently being developed at high pace and far too expensive for the sole purpose of satellite independence or for placing toys other than nukes upon them, developing of high-compression explosives used to reach critical mass in implosion-design nuclear weapons, sheer number of enrichment facilities currently envisaged), H.E. Mr. Ambassador Baeidi did not recur to arguments displaying the Iranian side in better light, merely stating that the maximum level of transparency had been reached and finger-pointing at NWS to justify their reluctance to commit in non-proliferation objectives. CSA ensure maximum security, right, how could I forget that?


So it already comes down to an opposition of articles VI and IV. A beautiful horse-trading landscape, once the Main Committees documents were united to one draft. An activity all diplomats happily deny. This said, about the proceedings, we may now engage in a contraposition of what states had demanded for, and what they have gotten.


Articles I & II – Non-proliferation

NWS and the west demand for higher non-proliferation standards. Canada and the EU had asked for the Additional Protocol (AP) to become the NPT-compliance standard already before the conference has even started. In having an appeal on all states parties to implement them, they got more than initially expected, though of course the status of the AP did not budge. What is rather hard to understand is the pertinence with which NAM states in particular (but besides Egypt and Iran also Brazil, a NAC country) try to “defend” against such measures. This is the kind of zero-sum thinking that makes horse-trading essential: they regard their non-proliferation commitments as an asset, a bargaining-chip, which they are willing to concede only if paid back in kind, namely through concrete disarmament commitments.
Trying to play a mediating role, Germany proposed feeding NWS some more AP-commitments in order to lure some more disarmament-commitments from these. In vain.


The next issue in line is one uncomfortable for the western, namely NATO-states. NATO Nuclear Sharing is being justified as having been put in place before the NPT, because of which, of course, the latter should not apply to it. Nonetheless the overwhelming majority of states regards it as being in breach of article I and II obligations (not transferring nor receiving nuclear weapons), as non-American pilots are actually training the dropping of such weapons. The receiving states themselves are rather uncomfortable, but due to peer-pressure within the alliance do not dare to budge, at least not in the NPT context. It is a positive sign that states such as Germany and the Netherlands have made it clear they want to rid themselves of these. Though the NATO strategic concept due later this year will decide, and according to Paul Ingram of BASIC the decision may be postponed altogether. It is, on the other hand, a negative sign that NATO states, in their airiness, state clearly that NATO strategic decisions shall not be influenced by “other bodies”, by which international law and the NPT are meant. Yet law is not merely a body, though in international law it often comes down to this, but supposed to set a framework within which participants may operate. Not the other way round. Action 5b, which in previous versions mentioned nuclear sharing, is still included, though the latter is no longer mentioned.

Testing moratoria and latest ratifications of the Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) are welcomed, steps towards the implementation encouraged, as are moratoria on fissile material production by some NWS and the encouragement to start negotiations on a non-discriminatory (i.e. prescribing the same rights and rules to everyone) and multilateral (i.e. including NPT-pariahs) Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) within the CD, which has been blocked for over 15 years.


Article III – Export controls

Actually, NWS wanted to have the NSG, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, lauded for their efforts in export controls and non-proliferation. But within the broader NPT-framework, the NSG now enjoys newly acquired pariah-status: with the US-India deal brokered between 2005 and 2009 now in force, India receives valuable civil use cooperation, thus enabled to divert any home-harvested Uranium to its military program and buy the civil usage abroad. Extensive cooperation in this field is reserved to parties to the NPT, one of the “advantages” a state achieves in abandoning its sovereignty to decide over its military nuclear capabilities. The deal thus undermines the NPT, and does so with the unanimous NSG’s blessing.
Worse still, China felt inspired to do much the same with Pakistan, though without the NSG’s permission, and without having Pakistan sign civilian facilities up for CSAs, as India did.
Egypt, among others, was outraged by the idea of even mentioning such a group of vandals, though, or rightly because, the NSG actually applies stricter rules than the NPT-mandated Zangger-committee does.


Article IV & V – Civil use

NNWS see their right to nuclear energy widely undermined by both rigid export-controls and ever greater interference of the IAEA, as possibilities to dodge CSAs are becoming ever more obvious. Other states try and dissuade NNWS from the idea of civil use altogether, a sensitive topic, as de-industrialized countries with worry over the environment may have another take on that, while NNWS perceive it as a welcome diversification of the economy, step into the door of high-end technological research and solution for energy problems. Yet problems such as a centralistic, strong and enduring power grid, waste disposal and security concerns are most palpable in the emerging and developing countries in question. It seems rather bizarre for a conference on disarmament to set out energy and development strategies for emerging countries, yet this is part of the initial deal to disincentivate nuclear weapons acquisition, and it has repeatedly been alleged that countries such as France use the NPT as marketing platform for their reactors… While Somewhere along the way, the mentioning of a multilateral fuel cycle, avoiding dangerous reprocessing and disincentivating the development of domestic enrichment capabilities (thus tackling proliferation risks) has been dropped.


Article VI – Disarmament

The disputed timelines for disarmament have made it into the document as an acknowledgement that the majority of states favor them. Also, the last phase of disarmament will need to be taken in a legally binding framework, though an NWC is not mentioned. Also, no clarification as to when that would be is included. Even states that “are not against a NWC” do not necessarily favor it to this point, as they fear it would undermine the NPT, not get enough states in during a time-span short enough to replace the NPT in time. Advocates counter the momentum should not be lost, and the NPT and NWC could co-exist, complementing each other, much as the CTBT does today.

Timelines have been added solely for the reporting back on implementation of 13 steps; which probably also means that the concrete implementation needs to have begun by 2014, with another report due to the next RevCon of 2015. Further bilateral agreements are encouraged, while the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Russian and the USA is welcomed.


Article VII – NWFZ and Article VIII – Institutional issues

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones are welcomed altogether; the appeal to all NWS to recognize and sign the protocols is reiterated.

The parties could not agree to a standing secretariat charged with organizational matters for the period between conferences. Nor could the parties achieve a common understanding on whether to hold yearly conferences and strengthen the Preparatory Committees, which is meant to take pressure off the RevCons and provide for a more flexible basis of the NPT.


Article IX – Universality

An appeal to remaining states to join the NPT was, of course, not missing. What states did fail to include is a valid explanation of just how these states should adhere. As things stand, they may do so as NNWS exclusively, thus leaving them with the options of disarming unilaterally or, plainly, keep out.


Article X – Withdrawal

Many states, mainly from the western group, had seeked to amend withdrawal procedures. As things stand, withdrawal will not defend perpetrators from answering offences they committed while still inside the framework. It is unclear how materials acquired for the purpose of civil use in the quality of NNWS shall be redeemed. A progressive yet illusory stance was to allow withdrawal only to thoroughly compliant states. 



The audacity of hope

While many observers and probably all NGOs are quite disappointed by the final document, there are enough upsides to having such a consensus document at all. Try and agree on a movie to watch with 188 friends; diplomats work did not go to waste but was appreciated by analysts. Rebecca Johnson, of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, reads strong symbolism out of this document, pointing unmistakingly in the right direction, and praises the far-reaching problems that had been overcome in order to reach this point. The Austrian Ambassador, a strong fighter, throughout the whole conference, on both the Action Plan for Disarmament and a NWC, showed himself very pleased indeed with the outcome, emphasizing various benchmarks that could be used to measure progress by the next RevCon in 2015. Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Initiative, lauds all parties for this achievement and the final document as an important step towards the building of a world free of nuclear weapons, would have wished for more but sees a positive tendency, a political space in which pushes towards this world can effectively be undertaken. His appeal to states is to drop horse-trading and act in the name of good, along the way honoring diplomat’s achievements so far.


If NWS do not report back on their further implementation of article VI and the 13 steps of 2000, as demanded by action 5, by 2014, the failure to meet any of these steps will result in a breach of the NPT. This is comes down to the most concrete benchmark for measurements of disarmament processes so far set by the NPT-community.


Steps ahead

Yet on the other hand, NWS and their allies are still „addicted“ to nuclear weapons, rely on them for their safety and attribute them power. What needs to change for that? Is something new needed, other than the NPT?

It emerged, during the conference, that most states regard nukes as incompatible with international humanitarian law (i.e. the minimum standard that needs be implemented even in times of conflict and war). Plus, a majority favors a timeline based ban within a legal framework.

The weak outcome attained, weak even though all states declared themselves in pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons, demonstrates the limitations of the NPT and the need for a further instrument. Some NGOs had been pushing for the failure of the conference in order to start negotiating an NWC with progressive states instead, inviting NWS to join as timely as possible. Yet most NWS have not even joined the latest such conventions, e.g. the Convention on Convention on Cluster Munitions or the Ottawa Convention on Landmines, which lets NWS’ adherence to a NWC brokered without them appear questionable, to say the least.


Light at the end of the tunnel

How should nuclear weapons actually provide for security? They do not shield against military attacks, as NNWS may never be attacked in light of the moral and economic drawbacks; such a possibility of retaliation is not even included in the new Obama-administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). They are unusable against terrorists either, though the latter do seek to acquire some of the huge masses of HEU and weapons-grade Plutonium around.

On top of that, the final document does include language binding all states to respect international humanitarian law, regardless of the context. The very same sentence can be rephrased as reading: nuclear weapons may be used in no circumstance. In spite the limitedly legally binding character of the document, this constitutes a rather good starting point for the question why nuclear weapons are still there. If nuclear weapons can move away from factual inusability to theoretical inusability, i.e. implementation of these findings in national security doctrines, than the jobs depending on the industrial nuclear complex really are the sole string keeping nukes from falling into the dustbin of eradicated earthly evils. Also, there really is no reason to keep nuclear weapons on hairtriggeralert, or, less figuratively, operational status. They should be taken off duty starting today. No one is pointing bombs at any one, though the hand rests firmly on the trigger. With thousands of deployed weapons, as long as the probability of mistakes is not equal to zero, which it is not, a mistake will be made sooner or later.


A triple approach, enlightening as broad a public as possible on firstly the uselessness in terms of security production, the inusability in terms of morals and international humanitarian law and the dangers still emanating from these devices, will increase the pressure upon all governments to do away with these weapons for good. As Jonathan Frerichs of the World Council of Churches stated in one of the most enlightening interviews on our page, by that also making the final statement of our Hairtriggeralert-production:

“We have to call them for what they are, and slowly drive them out into the light, into the sunlight, and then they will self-destruct almost; because they are completely, completely unacceptable.”

- Jonathan Frerichs, World Council of Churches

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm

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