They call it a "Treaty Review and Extension Conference." But the debates in hushed halls here beside the East River might just as well be dubbed a Constitutional Convention for the 21st century.
It's not just that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, up for renewal, clearly outlaws nuclear weapons for 173 nations. Just as importantly, it vaguely approves them for five.
And with a permanent treaty in hand, "The Five," in the decades to come, may begin acting more and more like a global executive branch.
In other words, if it's a New World Order you want, check out the simple 2,400-word document known as the NPT.
That ultimate meaning is not lost on Third World participants in the debate.
Indonesian Ambassador Izhar Ibrahim complained that the U.S. proposal for indefinite extension of the NPT would allow the "five privileged powers" - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - "to keep their nuclear arsenals while others are barred forever from acquiring them."
That would "ratify inequity in international relations," declared Ibrahim, from the world's most populous nation without atomic weapons.
Old agreements and recent history combine to put The Five in an unassailable position:
The U.N. Charter endowed them alone with veto power in the Security Council, giving them effective control of a United Nations that has begun intervening more and more actively in the world's conflicts.
When it took force in 1970, the NPT conferred international legitimacy on the nuclear arsenals of The Five - today an estimated 23,000 operational warheads - and obliged all other signatory nations to forswear atomic arms.
The Cold War's end has brought America, Russia and China closer together. The Five still argue over such issues as trade and aid, but explosive antagonisms have given way to something closer to nasty squabbles within a family, the nuclear clan. …