UN Nuclear Disarmament Debate Stalled

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, December 2004 | Go to article overview

UN Nuclear Disarmament Debate Stalled


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


If a recent month-long UN disarmament meeting is a signpost for where key nuclear arms control talks are headed next year, a dead end might be around the corner.

From Oct. 4 to Nov. 5, UN members discussed, disputed, and voted on a smorgasbord of nonbinding arms control resolutions at the First Committee, which is the UN General Assembly's annual forum on disarmament and international security matters. Members endorsed a verification study, supported stricter controls for shoulder-fired missiles, and backed curbing the illegal small arms trade. Yet, no such consensus emerged on nuclear weapons.

Countries without nuclear arms pressed those possessing such weapons to do more to give them up, while nuclearweapon states-the United States most vehemently-argued greater attention must instead be devoted to stopping the nuclear club from expanding.

To be sure, this is an age-old argument between the nuclear haves and have-nots, but this latest round came amid the lead-up to a review conference next May on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970. Only India, Israel, and Pakistan-all three of which possess nuclear weapons stockpiles-have stayed outside the treaty. | North Korea's January 2003 withdrawal from the accord has not been recognized by the other 188 NPT states-parties.

Many countries are looking to the treaty review conference, which occurs every five years, as an opportunity to bolster what they fear is a weakening foundation for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The general concern is that the bargain between the non-nuclear-weapon states to forgo nuclear arms in exchange for access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and the nuclear-weapon states to disarm is eroding.

The First Committee meeting highlighted the sharp divisions over who shoulders the blame for the treaty's perceived ills and how to remedy them.

Illicit attempts by non-nuclear-weapon states, most notably Iran, to acquire nuclear weapons are the greatest source of danger for the treaty, U.S. officials forcefully and repeatedly insisted. Solving this problem, they said, will require all statesparties to put a premium on ensuring and enforcing treaty compliance.

Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter stated Oct. 22 that "detecting a violation is not an end in itself; it is a call to action." The United States is upset that other countries have resisted its attempts to take Iran before the UN security Council for Tehran's exposed illegal nuclear activities.

Many other countries, however, including the New Agenda Coalition of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, pointed their collective fingers at the nuclear-weapon states for failing to fulfill their side of the NPT deal. "If the nuclearweapon states continue to treat nuclear weapons as a security enhancer, there is a real danger that other states will start pondering whether nuclear weapons would not be a security enhancer also for them," Swedish Ambassador Anders Lidén warned Oct. 4. The New Agenda Coalition sponsored a resolution that garnered 135 affirmative votes calling on the nuclear-weapon states to pick up their disarmament pace.

France, the United States, and the United Kingdom opposed the resolution, arguing it failed to take into account their past nuclear reductions and neglected "the full range of obligations of all of us toward nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament." Israel and Latvia joined the lhree nuclear powers in their dissent.

On Oct. 8, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker labeled any allegation that the United States had not made progress toward nuclear disarmament as "unjust and untrue." Washington later sponsored a resolution with Moscow touting their past nuclear reduction activities. …

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