DISARMAMENT: UN Conference Mulls Over Nuclear Abolition

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UN conference on disarmament in Niigata was the 21st in a series hosted by Japan since 1989, Credit: Hiroshima Peace Media CentreNuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Taro Ichikawa

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TOKYO (IDN) - If a world without nuclear weapons is not to remain distant and just a dream, the nuclear haves must demonstrate political will, leadership and flexibility at the landmark Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference slated for May next year in New York. JAPANESE

This was the upshot of discussions joined by some 90 government officials and academics from 21 countries including the United States, China, France, Germany, Japan and the Middle East at the three-day UN conference on disarmament held in Niigata, a city on the northwest coast of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The gathering was the 21st in a series of conferences hosted by Japan since 1989.

The annual conference is considered an important forum for frank dialogue and exchange of views on pressing security and disarmament-related issues facing the international community. It also addresses the particular disarmament and non-proliferation concerns of countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The conference, organised by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs through its Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, took place less than four weeks in run up to the UN Security Council meeting Sep. 24.

U.S. President Barack Obama will preside over the meeting of world leaders providing a high profile political platform for two of the most sensitive issues at the United Nations: nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

While reaffirming Obama’s intention to bring about a nuclear free world, Ambassador Susan Burk, U.S. Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Non-proliferation told participants: "The U.S. cannot do it alone but can take the lead of (other nations)."

Explaining the U.S. strategy, Ambassador Burk said that "the U.S. will lower the military role (of nuclear weapons) by reducing stockpiles” of those weapons and it would request other nuclear states to take similar steps.

Further: "The U.S. will seek to include legally binding verification function in the new agreement which U.S. is currently negotiating with Russia to replace START I. (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)." The purpose, she said, was to seek an effective treaty.

Katsuhito Asano, deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government referred to President Obama's speech in Prague April this year, expressing his resolution to work towards nuclear disarmament and remarked that "a groundswell of nuclear disarmament is arising and it is the time to cooperate”.

TRANSLATE THE VISION

"In order to realise a world free of nuclear weapons, both nuclear states and non-nuclear states need to make efforts,” said Hannelore Hoppe, director and deputy to the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

The conference explored ways and means to translate the vision of a nuclear weapon-free world into concrete actions. Such actions include some preliminary steps aimed at significantly reducing nuclear arsenals, enhancing efforts to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, and negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT),

"The dangers posed by existing nuclear weapons and the risks of the proliferation of such weapons or their acquisition by non-state actors collectively pose the gravest challenges to international peace and security," said Hoppe.

Analysing the current global political situation, Yoriko Kawaguchi, a former Foreign Minister of Japan pointed out that “with the U.S. and Russia entering into negotiation for nuclear reduction, recent circumstances surrounding nuclear disarmament are in stark contrast with the situation several years ago”.

Kawaguchi, who co-chairs the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) expressed the conviction that "we need confidence-building among nuclear weapon states, drafting of law-abiding international rule, and discussions reflecting security circumstances in each region".

In an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun, a Hiroshima based daily newspaper, Libran N. Cabactulan, the Philippines Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, who will preside over NPT Review Conference next year, said: "Political will and leadership are critical to its success." He was happy that "these essential elements have been growing."

Cabactulan welcomed in particular the effort by President Obama for the U.S. ratification of the CTBT. “His enthusiasm is providing momentum for the success of the NPT Review Conference,” said Cabactulan.

At the same time, he emphasised the need for advancing discussion on all three pillars of the NPT: disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. He also pointed out that, due to the lack of progress in regard to agreements made at past conferences, "signatories have been feeling some dissatisfaction".

These agreements include the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as well as the 13 disarmament measures including "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenal".

Besides discussing the prospects of next year's NPT Review Conference, the Niigata conference addressed topics ranging from denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to the role of the media and civil society organizations in disarmament.

NORTH KOREA

Referring to the ongoing diplomatic effort to achieve a denuclearized Korean peninsula, a Chinese official said there should be a joint effort -- by the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia - rather than focusing on China's role.

"China has played and will continue to play its role in achieving the goal," said Jiang Yingfeng, an official from Arms Control and Disarmament Division of China's Foreign Ministry. "But we must acknowledge the importance of the other participating countries, as well as of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's desire to talk directly with the United States."

Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.

In a keynote speech, Kanat B. Saudabayev, Kazakhstan’s Secretary of State, tasked with nuclear non-proliferation said that "nuclear weapon states must set a role model for renouncing nuclear weapons by reducing nuclear weapons”.

Recalling that Kazakhstan was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Saudabayev informed participants: "Our country sustained serious damage as a consequence of repeated nuclear experiments during former Soviet era and we have voluntarily begun to move forward on the path toward nuclear abolition. Nuclear weapon states must set a role model by reducing nuclear weapons."

NUCLEAR UMBRELLA

The conference also discussed the issue of ‘nuclear umbrella, according to the Japanese Communist Party’s newspaper ‘The AKAHATA’. Japan enjoys U.S. protection through the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Former Foreign Minister of Japan and co-chairperson of ICNND Kawaguchi reportedly remarked: "How can Japan and South Korea, who are facing a ‘serious threat’ from North Korea, lower the role of nuclear umbrella without destabilizing the safety of their own nations?”

Conditions for lifting nuclear deterrence, she said, were the improvement of international security circumstances, and dependence on weapons apart from nuclear weapons. She pleaded for sticking to the "nuclear umbrella" till those conditions were fulfilled.

A civil society representative from New Zealand remarked that "countries should forego the ‘nuclear umbrella’ by agreeing legally binding ‘negative security assurances’ that pledge not to nuke non-nuclear states”. NATO member countries such as Belgium and Italy were stepping away from the nuclear umbrella just like nuclear free New Zealand, he pointed out.

The city of Niigata -- reportedly considered one of four targets of atom bomb by the U.S. besides Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura -- hosted the conference for the first time. Previous meetings had been held six times in Kyoto, three times in Hiroshima where the first ever nuclear bomb was dropped, two times in Nagasaki and one time each in Sendai, Akita, Kanazawa, Osaka, Yokohama and Saitama.

Akira Shinoda, the city’s mayor, expressed satisfaction that in the wake of President Obama having declared nuclear abolition as a national objective, Niigata was the venue of the conference. “It is significant to discuss this subject in Niigata at this time." (IDN-InDepthNews/30.08.09)

Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service
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