Deadlock Ends On Way To Nuclear Abolition

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Conference Hall | www.unog.chNuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Jaya Ramachandran
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) - A nuclear free world is far from within reach yet. But there is reason to rejoice: after 12 years of stalemate, the Conference on Disarmament adopted by consensus May 29 a document that contains a work plan for 2009 in run up to the crucial nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference next year.

The document, reportedly backed also by North Korea, is a landmark step toward negotiating a world without nuclear weapons. Dozens of delegations took the Conference floor to laud "this historical moment, which had saved the world’s sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations".

The breakthrough marked the first time since 1996 that member states had agreed on the substance of what they should negotiate, amid conflicting demands for full nuclear disarmament, the ban on fissile material and the arms race in outer space.

Outgoing president of the Conference in Geneva, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy of Algeria, said that he had a long career but the work plan agreement was one of the high points of it and that it had been worth living for just that moment. The decision the members had taken was one that would reinforce multilateralism, he said.

The participants that included all nuclear weapon states had not only saved the Conference on Disarmament from a possible demise but they had also set up what partnership could achieve when they could break the artificial barriers that sometimes separated the North and South today as East and West had been separated in the past. If the twenty-first century was about anything, then it was about saving the planet through multilateralism, the Algerian ambassador said.

The work plan adopted by consensus establishes several working groups to discuss specific issues in detail.

WORKING GROUPS

A working group established under agenda item one, cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament will enable exchange of views and information on practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts to reduce nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of their elimination, including on approaches toward potential future work of multilateral character.

A second working group will negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, on the basis of the document CD/1299 of March 24, 1995 and the mandate contained therein, also known as the Shannon Mandate.

Another working group will discuss several aspects of related to the prevention of an arms race in outer space and on negative security assurances.

The Conference will also appoint special coordinators on the other agenda items, including weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons; comprehensive programme of disarmament; and transparency in armaments.

Though historic, implementation of the consensus would require both political circumspection and diplomatic skill. This was underlined by statements made at the Conference.

INDIA'S PERSPECTIVE

Turning to the upcoming work, India's Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao spelt out New Delhi's perspective on the programme of work and the essential basis of India’s concurrence for commencement of negotiations. India, he said, supported the establishment of a working group to negotiate a Fissile-Material Cut-off Treaty (FMTC) as part of the Conference’s programme of work.

The scope of such a treaty should focus on the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other such nuclear explosive devices. India was committed to participate constructively in the FMTC negotiations. However, it would join only a non-discriminatory, multilaterally negotiated and internationally verifiable Fissile-Material Cut-off Treaty that fully addressed the country's security interests.

India was a nuclear weapon state and a responsible member of the world community and would approach these negotiations as such. The treaty should not place an undue burden on military non-proscribed activities, Rao said.

India further attached the highest priority to the goal of nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons were an integral part of India's national security and would remain so pending the global elimination of all nuclear weapons on a universal, non-discriminatory basis. A Fissile-Material Cut-off Treaty would be a step forward to this goal.

Rao said, while joining the consensus on the programme of work, he was disappointed that the Conference had not been able to decide on launching negotiations on nuclear disarmament. He felt that there was a heavy responsibility on the Conference to respond meaningfully to the growing international opinion in favour of nuclear disarmament. The Conference should continue to actively explore all possible avenues to advance work for actual commencement on negotiations on nuclear disarmament, Ambassador Rao said.

PAKISTAN'S VIEW

Ambassador Zamir Akram of Pakistan, India's nuclear rival, said the Conference on Disarmament was the most appropriate and legitimate body to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Document CD/1863 was not perfect but Pakistan had joined consensus because it represented a way to step out of the Conference’s stalemate. The allocation of time for the four working group should be balanced. The appointment of the Chairs of the working groups should also reflect equal geographical representation.

Akram said that the objective they all shared was a world free of nuclear weapons and they should not fail on this. Pakistan was committed to the vision of a nuclear weapons free world. Further a verifiable FMCT, covering stocks, would strengthen peace and stability. As was also envisaged by the programme of work, Pakistan would work on negative security assurances and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The Conference should take these items up where they had left them in the past.

A document posted on the Conference website said: "Before the adoption of the programme of work, Iran indicated this morning (May 29) that the delegation had forwarded the draft programme of work to their capital and had not received, until now, instructions about it."

The document quoted North Korea saying that they desired peace on the Korean Peninsula "more than anything else". They had decided to support the draft decision in order for the Conference to be able to start its substantive work, even though a negative debate was still taking place in the Security Council in New York" because of its nuclear bomb and missile tests.

Commenting North Korea rallying around the consensus document, Britain's Ambassador John Duncan said: "We were all concerned about the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), how they would react. The first reaction was a difficult one but they have come through and they support it today."

PROPITIOUS CONTEXT

The historic consensus has been achieved in Geneva very much because of the thaw in U.S.-Russia relations this year following Barack Obama's taking over the White House and in the joint statement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.

Also the current international context has been propitious for such a move as reflected in the statements made this year by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and before that by the European Union action plan introduced by the French Presidency.

Significantly, China has been consistent in its ongoing support for the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons. China's Ambassador Wang Qun expressed Beijing's warm welcome for the adoption of the programme of work and pledged that China would "continue to contribute to international peace and security and would actively participate in the discussions and negotiations on the relevant items."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had in his address to the Conference emphasized its essential role as the "main pillar of disarmament and non-proliferation." He voiced hope that May 29 decision "will generate another important impetus to advancing disarmament and non-proliferation in general and to achieving success" at next year's review conference of the UN-backed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forms the foundation of the world's nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995, requires that review conferences be held every five years. The treaty is regarded as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. Its objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and complete disarmament and to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The Conference breakthrough came after a growing number of countries signalled they were ready to support a compromise proposal drawn up by a group of non-nuclear states led by Algeria early May. One of the most contentious subjects in the Geneva conference has been the proposal first tabled in 1995 for talks on banning the production of fissile bomb-making material, championed mainly by Western countries.

Russia and China had countered with demands for a treaty preventing an arms race in outer space, which the United States had rejected, especially under the administration of former president George W. Bush. Younger nuclear weapon powers Pakistan and India were demanding talks on full nuclear disarmament, while non-nuclear states also sought assurances that they would not be nuclear targets for weapons powers.

All those issues were included in the Algerian-brokered compromise proposal, which set up parallel working groups on each topic. – 31.05.09

 

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