The 5-yearly cycle of reviewing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty got underway last week at the United Nations in New York but not before civil society organisations had organised hundreds of events around the world and in the Big Apple, under the banner of the Peace and Planet Mobilisation, to raise awareness of what was about to happen and to put pressure on politicians and diplomats to make some headway in a process that is frankly speaking in a comatose state.
The problem is this: 5 countries have nuclear weapons and are in the NPT, 4 countries have nuclear weapons and are outside of it, 185 countries don’t have their own nuclear weapons and are in the NPT (although some Nato countries host US weapons in breach of articles 1 and 2 of the treaty).
The review conference receives a series of statements prepared by the diplomats from the NPT countries (the 4 outside the treaty don’t get to participate) and different committees discuss different areas of concern; main committee 1 deals with disarmament and security assurances, main committee 2 deals with safeguards, regional issues and nuclear weapon free zones, main committee 3 deals with nuclear energy, safety and security, and institutional issues.
Civil Society was given a 3-hour slot on Friday in order to communicate their concerns to the delegates. The content of this slot was agreed more or less by consensus by NGOs who have campaigned for decades to get the world to disarm. Intelligent, compelling and common sense arguments were presented by mayors, parliamentarians, youth delegates, lawyers, physicians and disarmament experts; Japanese nuclear bomb victims were presented and gave their harrowing testimony, as did the victims of nuclear test explosions.
It is the same show every 5 years and for the last 45 years the same results have been seen: no progress on the ultimate goal of the NPT as outlined it its article VI “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
This impasse is due to the intransigence of the P5 to make realistic steps towards disarmament. They literally kick all talk of disarmament so far away into the long grass that it’s difficult to envisage how the NPT will survive for much longer.
The P5 in their joint statement set out again the reasons why they won’t make any movements towards disarmament. Here are the relevant quotes and some helpful translations.
“We stress that addressing further prospects for nuclear disarmament would require taking into account all factors that could affect global strategic stability.” Translation: While there is conflict and terrorism around the world, you can forget us giving up our bombs. Iran may not be troubling the world now, but we’ll find a new enemy very soon, we might even start a war in Ukraine just to make sure none of us have to disarm.
“While we continue to work towards our common goal of nuclear disarmament, we affirm that our nuclear forces should be maintained at the lowest levels needed to meet national security requirements.” Translation: Despite the fact that we are well aware that the detonation on the surface of the planet of even a tiny fraction of the 17000 nuclear warheads will lead to the extinction of all life apart from maybe a few sulphur-eating life forms at the bottom of the oceans, we need this many to make it utterly certain that no one gets off the planet alive.
“We are ever cognizant of the severe consequences that would accompany the use of nuclear weapons.” Translation: As the vast majority of countries are talking about “humanitarian consequences” of nuclear weapons, we can’t be seen to use their language in case they think we’re listening to them so we’ll say “severe consequences” instead.
“Our commitment to nuclear disarmament extends to efforts to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force at an early date.” Translation: Despite the fact that two of us (China and the United States) haven’t ratified it we think that all other countries who haven’t done so (Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) should do.
“We emphasize the very substantial efforts made in achieving the cessation of the nuclear arms race as called for in Article VI of the NPT and affirm our intention never to resume such an arms race.” Translation: Sorry, we’re lying about this because we’re all spending or planning to spend obscene amounts of money on modernisation of our existing arsenals possibly running into trillions of dollars in the next 10 years. We honestly can’t think of anything better to spend our money on.
“In keeping with the Action Plan [from last time], we reaffirm our support and readiness immediately to negotiate a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)) in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) […], within the context of an agreed, comprehensive and balanced Program of Work”. Translation: Sorry, we can’t even say this with a straight face, we know the CD hasn’t been able to agree a Program of Work for at least 15 years, but we insist that part of our step-by-step approach is to rely on a moribund disarmament forum.
“We continue to reiterate the importance of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and the progress made on this issue at the 2010 RevCon… We look forward to the convening of this conference once the states of the region reach consensus on an agenda and related arrangements.” Translation: Again we’re struggling not to laugh here because in order to have such a conference we’d first of all have to convince Israel to admit they have nuclear weapons and all they say is that they won’t be the first nation to “introduce” weapons into the region and we’re still trying to work out what that means given that we know they have all the parts and the nuclear material.
“Use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes substantially contributes to the sustainable development of humanity. [N]uclear energy promotes economic development of states and represents an important element of the world energy mix that provides energy security, addresses the challenges of climate change, and ensures vital non-power applications such as nuclear medicine, agriculture, water resources management and industry.” Translation: We make A LOT of money from building nuclear power stations and we need them in any case to make the uranium and plutonium for the bombs that we can have but the rest of you can’t have. We’d be grateful if you could just ignore the fact that once in a generation a power plant will leave a region uninhabitable and that taxpayers will fund the clean-up costs. Also, don’t worry about the radiation that lasts a quarter of a million years as you probably won’t be alive by then, so no need to be alarmed.
“We attach great importance to achieving the universality of the NPT. We urge those States that are not Parties to the Treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon States and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms. We stand ready to work with Parties to engage the non-Parties with a view to achieving this goal.” Translation: India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel must give up their weapons first and join the NPT before we give up ours, but we won’t actually take any concrete steps in order to encourage an end to the history of conflict on the Indian sub-continent, in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula.