**Thalif Deen** – (IPS) – When U.S. President Barack Obama presides
over a meeting of world leaders in the Security Council on Sep. 24, he will
provide a high profile political platform for two of the most sensitive
issues at the United Nations: nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear
*”This is the time for the Security Council to plan together a route to
international security in a nuclear weapons-free world,”* Jonathan Granoff,
president of the Global Security Institute, told IPS.
*”We cannot threaten each other with annihilation on Monday and work together sufficiently to meet our shared threats on Tuesday, not knowing whether we will be friends or foes on Wednesday,”* he added.
Frida Berrigan, senior associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the
New America Foundation, says President Obama, in his historic Apr. 2009
speech in Prague, acknowledged the need for U.S. leadership and initiative
on nuclear disarmament.
As the only nation to use nuclear weapons, the U.S. has a moral
responsibility to act, Obama said, in the Czech capital.
*”We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it, we can start it,”* Berrigan added.
Obama’s decision to chair a special meeting of the Security Council *”is part of that commitment to lead efforts towards nuclear disarmament,”* Berrigan told IPS.
Obama is expected to make his maiden appearance at the U.N. when he
addresses the global summit on climate change on Sep. 22.
The next day he will address the opening of the high level segment of the
64th sessions of the General Assembly, in the company of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar el Qaddafi (who will also be visiting the U.N. for the first time).
The special session of the Security Council, which is to be chaired by Obama on Sep. 24, will also be attended by political leaders from the 14 other members states – including the other four permanent members of the Council, namely China, Britain, France and Russia.
The 10 non-permanent members in the Security Council, whose heads of state
have been invited to participate, include Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya, Vietnam, Austria, Mexico, Japan, Turkey and Uganda.
A similar session of the Security Council – on the maintenance of
international peace and security – was held in Jan. 1992 presided over by
then British Prime Minister John Major.
But that meeting *”came out with a self-serving statement making
proliferation of nuclear weapons a breach of international peace and
security and therefore justifying Security Council action, thus absolving
the five permanent members – all nuclear weapon states – of any blame for
nuclear weapon possession,”* Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N.
Under-Secretary- General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission chaired by Hans Blix – on a suggestion by Dhanapala – had proposed a Global Summit on proliferation,
disarmament and possible terrorist uses of WMD.
Dhanapala, one of the world’s foremost authorities on nuclear disarmament
and currently president of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, said the Security Council – as presently constituted – has a serious legitimacy deficit.
He said a credible Summit could only take place with the involvement of the
192-member General Assembly, and also the participation of those nuclear
weapon states outside the Security Council.
*”As importantly, the voices of civil society must be heard and so the
Security Council must break with past practice and invite Nobel Peace Prize
Laureates like Pugwash and others like Dr. Hans Blix to make presentations,”* he added.
Granoff of the Global Security Institute said the upcoming special session
will take place after several days of intense discussion regarding
protecting the climate and finding new levels of cooperation to address a
shared economic environment.
*”In a world where bridges of cooperation must be built to address our shared environmental and economic interdependence, what place do the walls of fear and threat of nuclear weapons play?”* he asked.
He said any progress on climate, sustainable development, and economic well
being will come undone by the use of nuclear weapons.
*”The threat of use will always be there as long as the weapons exist,”* said Granoff, who is also co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nuclear Non-Proliferation.
Steps need to be taken to lessen the threat on the road to elimination, he
These include entry into force of the test ban, strengthening verification
of cuts and making them irreversible, and quickly coming down to
sufficiently low numbers – to affirm that their only value is to prevent
them from being used.
*”We must build a security system based on the principle of zero nuclear
weapons,”* Granoff stressed.
That means promptly affirming that the first use of a nuclear weapon is
crime against humanity and that even any retaliatory use would have to be
aimed in such a manner as to not violate international humanitarian law –
thus never be aimed at a city.
This small window of qualified legitimacy to make sure they are not used
cannot be leveraged into a doctrine that justifies keeping the weapons, but
must be a mere step toward achieving the goal of elimination, said Granoff.
Berrigan of the New America Foundation said she expects President Obama to
champion the modest cuts that the U.S. and Russia have agreed upon so far;
call for greater cooperation from other Security Council members; reach out
in qualified ways to Iran and North Korea; and elaborate on how the work
towards nuclear disarmament is not just sensible and overdue, but also
contributes to U.S. national security.
*”All of this work is worthy of the spotlight, but will need a lot of
follow-up in order to be meaningful in its own right,”* Berrigan said.
Everything cannot be achieved in a single meeting, but even in the realm of
symbolism, this is an important shift towards engagement and away from the
former Bush Administration’s disdainful treatment of the U.N., said
Berrigan, who is also a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus.
Peter Weiss, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP),
told IPS: *”Here’s what I think Obama will do: announce the U.S. support of
the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START); ratification of
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and negotiation of the Fissile
Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).”*
*”And here’s what I think he should do, in addition: Announce that, at the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May next year,
the U.S. will propose an international conference for the purpose of
beginning serious work on a convention outlawing the possession of nuclear
weapons and criminalizing their use.”*
Without this second step, Weiss said, the first series of steps will not
bring about the nuclear weapons free world which Obama spoke about in
Granoff said that at the closing session of the 1992 Security Council
meeting then U.K. Prime Minister Major included in his statement elements
pertinent today: *”The members of the Council underline the need for all
Member States to fulfill their obligations in relation to arms control and
Since then, he said, the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament pursuant
to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the mandate of the unanimous decision of the International Court of Justice remain
*”It is time that the legal mechanisms of the U.N. Charter be followed in
this regard,”* Granoff stressed.
Amongst them, he pointed out, is Article 26 which would task the U.N.
Military Staff Committee to submit plans for nuclear disarmament to the
Members States. That Section – which requires *”maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments”* – must now be invoked and include nuclear disarmament in its mandate.
This Military Staff Committee is described in Article 47 as including Chiefs of Staff of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
*”It is high time that these military leaders be charged with fulfilling
their disarmament duties,”* he added.