Emily Welty and Jonathan Frerichs /Oikoumene & Dispatches from Wildfire News – 2015-05-26 22:25:00
New Humanitarian Pledge to Ban
Nuclear Weapons Advances as Troubled Treaty Stalls
Emily Welty and Jonathan Frerichs /Oikoumene.org
UNITED NATIONS, New York (May 26, 2015) — Four weeks of negotiations on nuclear weapons came to a close on Friday 22 May 2015, as the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended without a formal agreement. Despite the outcome, a bright new prospect towards a world without nuclear weapons has emerged in the form of a Humanitarian Pledge, now endorsed by 107 states, which promises “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”.
As the few states with nuclear weapons worked to complicate, and many critics say weaken, the NPT review process, more and more governments without nuclear weapons endorsed the new pledge.
Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), including the World Council of Churches and some of its member churches, are promoting the pledge in every region of the world.
The divide between nuclear and non-nuclear nations was apparent throughout the NPT conference at United Nations headquarters in New York. A large group of reform-minded countries told the final session there was “a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap and a moral gap”. The “reality” gap refers to compelling new evidence about the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
The “credibility” gap refers to the perceived chronic failure of nuclear-armed states to fulfil their treaty obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament. The “confidence” gap stems from the same states espousing the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world while modernizing their nuclear arsenals at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.
The “moral” gap is especially wide and of particular concern to representatives of the churches. “The nuclear powers at the conference are claiming that their security is worth whatever these horrible weapons risk doing to others,” the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary said in a statement issued during the meeting. “That is not acceptable. What nuclear weapons do to people and the planet — to God’s wonderful creation — is immoral, unethical and contrary to the will of God,” he said.
WCC representatives met with diplomats from countries where member churches had contacted their government prior to the meeting. Some WCC member churches sent pre-conference letters to governments stressing the need for a legal ban applying to all nuclear weapons, promoting the new pledge as a step in that direction, and lauding recent joint statements in which 159 countries declare “Nuclear weapons must never be used again under any circumstances”.
The churches said the new humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament “has done what the NPT has failed to do — empower the majority in their commitment to eliminate nuclear arms”.
The failure of the NPT to produce a consensus document frustrated the many countries that have fulfilled their commitments to refrain from developing nuclear weapons and who expect the nuclear-armed states to fulfil their legal obligation to disarm.
In open sessions and behind closed doors, nuclear powers attempted to block or weaken disarmament measures. France, the United Kingdom and the United States argued that nuclear weapons provide security and that disarmament must proceed slowly. However, a growing number of states and civil society organizations challenge this rationale and highlight the unacceptable risks that nuclear weapons pose to humanity.
South Africa, which abandoned its own nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, told the conference that states refusing to give up their nuclear arsenals “makes nonsense . . . of the historic [1970 NPT] bargain that nuclear-weapon states will disarm, whilst others will not proliferate”. South African Ambassador Abdul Minty said, “How long will it take to reach the destination? Do they need some fuel from us to make them go faster, or are they taking rest-stops along the way, or are they simply lost?”
Churches and related organizations in the WCC-led Ecumenical Peace Advocacy Network reminded their governments that this year’s 70 th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan makes 2015 “a propitious year for real progress on nuclear disarmament.”
Arguing in favour of a ban, the churches said, “To ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again, they must be eliminated. To eliminate them, they must be banned.” “The World Council of Churches and member churches are looking to governments to take decisive action in this memorial year,” the WCC general secretary stated.
The Humanitarian Pledge is a refreshing change amid the habitual misuse of the NPT by a few nuclear-armed states to perpetuate their privileges. It is widely believed the proposed outcome document from the 2015 NPT Review Conference was already weak and did not reflect the broad majority calls for urgent and effective measures for nuclear disarmament.
Then the US, the UK and Canada — two of the nuclear powers and one of their allies involved in weakening the document — announced that they would not be able to support it at all. They were acting on behalf of Israel, another nuclear-armed state that is not even a member of the NPT.
For decades Israel has refused to enter into negotiations to make the Middle East a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, a critical provision of the treaty that is of great importance in the region.
Several governments decried the current situation as “nuclear colonialism” or “nuclear apartheid” because a small minority of nuclear-armed states control both the NPT process and the nuclear weapons that should be eliminated.
However, new hope has emerged in the form of the Humanitarian Pledge which supports a process, open to all and block-able by none, “to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks”.
During the NPT conference, WCC representatives delivered a multi-religious statement, ” Faith Communities Concerned about the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons”, and served as panellists to discuss the NPT’s disarmament obligation, Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and the advocacy role of religious organizations in disarmament processes.
Dr Emily Welty, vice-moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, is a university professor in New York City. Jonathan Frerichs is a WCC staff member.
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 345 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 550 million Christians in over 120 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.
NPT 2015: The Silence of the Weasels
Dispatches from Wildfire News
(May 26, 2015) — The long-awaited 2015 NPT review conference is finally over (you can read our full coverage here). It would be hard to imagine a clearer, more comprehensive demonstration of why the NPT — and the current multilateral disarmament “machinery” in general — can never deliver on nuclear disarmament.
A feeble draft outcome document, with the disarmament provisions diluted far beyond any trace of credibility, was in the end blocked by three of the states largely responsible for its dilution.
The disdain and contempt of the P5 for the interests of the non-nuclear-weapon states, and for the object and purpose of the NPT itself, could not have been more starkly displayed. There have been various post-mortems published; we like this one from Reaching Critical Will. Our own Closing Remarks were written a week before the conference opened, and published in our guide; we didn’t have to change a single word to fit the actual result.
Yet perhaps the most telling reaction to the outcome of the conference is that from the weasels. Have a look at this press release from the Australian foreign minister — no, don’t, because there isn’t one. Other typically outspoken weasels like the Netherlands and Germany are also curiously silent.
They had plenty to say before the conference, about how they would be “building bridges” to help achieve “sustained, practical measures” for “realistic, step-by-step progress” on nuclear disarmament.
What really happened, of course, is that the weasels “built bridges” by working assiduously with the nuclear-weapon states to dilute the disarmament provisions of the draft, only to have the bridges swept from under their feet by the US and UK. So the weasels took a bath, and are now a little wet, bedraggled and woebegone — not to mention utterly discredited.
Except Canada, which is a special class of weasel. Canada actually joined the US and UK in blocking consensus on the outcome. The US and UK would naturally have been eager to have a non-nuclear-weapon state alongside them, but where to find a delegation dumb or desperate enough to play along? The conversation in the US delegation probably went something like this:
Scheinman: We need a non-nuclear-weapon state to join us in blocking consensus, give us some cover. Get me a weasel.
Flunkey 1: But sir, we’d need a completely feckless and unprincipled one for this, totally shameless yet gullible and easily manipulated.
Flunkey 2: Canada?
The silence of the weasels is important, because it shows the path is clear to a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Having just shown that they will cynically ditch a consensus NPT outcome over some regional sideshow, willingly sending their revered “cornerstone” regime into five years of limbo, the P5 and weasels now have zero credibility to claim that pursuing a ban treaty (or anything else) would “undermine” the NPT.
Non-nuclear-weapon states were apparently ready to join consensus even on the deeply flawed draft outcome text, in the interests of protecting the NPT and its ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. They are the true custodians of the treaty. And 107 of them have now joined the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. The next step is obvious — and the door is wide open.
So who will lead the way through?
The Closing Days of the NPR Conference
(May 19, 2015) — As we follow the closing days of the 2015 NPT review conference, there is a tantalizing sense of inevitability in the air. With the NPT’s nuclear-armed members as recalcitrant and stubborn as ever, helpless and trapped in the face of the challenge of the humanitarian consequences initiative, their nuclear addiction on clear display, it seems impossible that the non-nuclear-weapon states will not finally cast off the shackles of this patronising injustice and take control of nuclear disarmament by announcing the start of negotiations on a ban treaty.
Well, maybe not impossible. We should never underestimate the multilateral capacity for missing opportunities, especially where the Non-aligned Movement is involved (Egypt’s bizarre suggestion at the NPT that a ban treaty be negotiated in the Conference on Disarmaments is a disconcerting example of how easily things could run off the rails). But still, we are celebrating our birthday in a decidedly un-Wildfire-like mood of optimism and excitement.
Just don’t spoil it for us, non-nuclear-weapon states.
Weasels and a Ban Treaty
(May 13, 2015) — If a significant number of countries were actually to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, what would the consequences be for weasel states? What would the implications be for weasel states of such a treaty entering into force? These are interesting questions, especially for those of us who suspect that a reluctance to answer them is driving a lot of weasel opposition to a ban treaty.
So we are intrigued and delighted that Clingendael, a prominent foreign policy institute in the Netherlands, has published a comprehensive policy brief that examines these questions in detail.
The brief outlines what a ban treaty would be likely to involve, and then examines the legal and political implications of two scenarios: one in which the Netherlands joins such a treaty, and one in which it stays outside.
It makes for fascinating reading, and raises a number of issues that all weasels will need to consider. The study is also intriguing for what it reveals of the Dutch government’s perception of its role and reputation in multilateral arms control and disarmament diplomacy.
And the conclusion? There are likely both positive and negative consequences for the Netherlands in either joining or staying out of a ban treaty. But there are no legal obstacles, and joining a ban would not in itself violate any Dutch commitments to NATO. In the end, it will be a purely political choice.
We hope the publication of this Clingendael brief will encourage think-tanks and foreign policy institutes in other weasel states to do their own studies of the implications of a ban treaty. It is a rich and revealing field of enquiry.
Off to the NPT (Yawn . . . )
(April 23, 2015) — The ninth five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) starts on 27 April at the United Nations in New York, and will stretch over four excruciating weeks until 22 May.
According to diplomats and officials, it is a big deal; the headline event of the 2015 disarmament calendar. But after several decades, eight review conferences and innumerable unmet commitments, the NPT is no closer to achieving its objective of nuclear disarmament. We find it extraordinary that so many governments in favour of nuclear disarmament continue to put such faith in this instrument.
As we have written before, while the NPT has largely succeeded in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons, it has got nowhere on nuclear disarmament because it is used (very effectively) by its nuclear-armed members and their weasel allies as a tool to maintain the status quo.
So from our point of view, whether the 2015 review conference “succeeds” or “fails” is irrelevant. Neither outcome will make any difference to nuclear disarmament. If you want nuclear disarmament, you will have to take other steps. For Wildfire, the conference has only two purposes: to demonstrate (once again) that nuclear disarmament will not be achieved through the NPT, and to prepare the ground for more effective measures, i.e. negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Anyway, we have various things planned. For the next four weeks, please visit our our special section on the review conference to keep up with all the action.
Support for a Ban Treaty in Arms Control Today
(April 13, 2015) — Sometimes encouragement comes from unexpected quarters. In his feature article “Finding a Way Out of the NPT Disarmament Stalemate” in the April edition of Arms Control Today, former US ambassador Lewis A. Dunn unwittingly provides one of the clearest demonstrations yet of why a treaty banning nuclear weapons is needed.
Rich with unintentional humour, Dunn’s piece takes as its premise the notion that the NPT is in stalemate on disarmament because of the differing perspectives of nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, as if this were some recently-discovered phenomenon.
Pausing to dismiss the ban treaty idea with a series of bald, unexplained and unsubstantiated assertions of the “it will make hair grow on the palms of your hands” variety, he goes on to prescribe in some detail four measures for breaking the stalemate:
“Commitment by all NPT parties to rebuilding cooperation in pursuit of nuclear disarmament; creation of new processes of cooperative engagement between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states — that is, sustained dialogue and collaboration . . . ; agreement by all NPT parties on some priority nuclear disarmament building blocks . . . that they would seek to put in place between the 2015 and 2020 review conferences; and intensified action by the nuclear-weapon states in the P5 process to reduce to an absolute minimum any risk of nuclear weapons use . . . “
Now, does any of that sound familiar? Have we maybe tried those ideas already, pretty much from the moment the NPT entered into force? “Cooperative engagement” — why didn’t we think of that before?
Regular Wildfire readers will of course recognise this as the Hoffmann Doctrine: faced with extended failure, keep trying the same things that have not worked, and dismiss without serious consideration any alternative proposal.
Dunn has refined the doctrine by judiciously paring back the level of ambition when trying the same thing again, so that repeated failure is less obvious, and may even be presented as “progress”. So we have Dunn suggesting various activities that “would use today’s nuclear disarmament lull [sic] to lay the groundwork for progress later” or “to pave the way for later action”.
It is hard to see how anyone with any knowledge of the NPT could read this Groundhog Day article and not conclude that a radical change in approach is necessary. And the suspiciously vacuous and hand-waving nature of Dunn’s rejection of a ban treaty suggests that the path to a ban might well be worth exploring — even if only for the fun of provoking ever more ridiculous rhetorical contortions from those who think that outlawing nuclear weapons is somehow incompatible with the NPT and hostile to states which have made an “unequivocal undertaking” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
The “nuclear disarmament lull” has lasted nearly 70 years. It will continue indefinitely unless states without nuclear weapons are prepared to take control. Dunn’s article shows why.
Happy Birthday Biological Weapons Convention
(March 26, 2015) — Forty years ago today, on 26 March 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force. This short, simple treaty — it is only four pages long — completely prohibits the development, acquisition, possession and transfer of biological weapons. Before the BWC, in the 1950s and 60s, biological weapons were held by a number of states without reflection or apology, as just another part of their strategic arsenals.
The BWC has many flaws. It does not enjoy universal membership. It lacks any kind of verification system. It has no international organization to oversee its implementation. There was serious cheating during the 1970s and 80s, and doubts about compliance persist.
Yet, in only four decades of operation, this modest regime has rendered biological weapons totally and utterly illegitimate. They are beyond the pale. Nobody claims a role for biological weapons in national defence. Here are some things that you never hear:
â€¢ “We consider that biological weapons have helped to ensure our security, and that of our allies, for decades”
â€¢ “We will continue to rely on biological weapons, for as long as biological weapons exist”
â€¢ “The horrendous humanitarian consequences of biological weapons are precisely why deterrence has worked”
â€¢ “Our biological weapons allow us to preserve our freedom of action and decision in all circumstances, ruling out any threat of blackmail”
â€¢ “We cannot support and will oppose any effort to move to an international legal ban on biological weapons”
â€¢ “In the current security situation, banning biological weapons would be gambling with our future.”
If you doubt the utility of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, you should think about this. Norms are effective and powerful, and even “toothless” regimes like the BWC can build them.
So there is no need to wait for further cuts in stockpiles from the US and Russia, or for the “right” conditions to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention with all the disarmament and verification paraphernalia, or for “guarantees” of this, that or whatever. Most importantly, there is no need to wait for all states to be on board before you begin.
So Happy Birthday BWC: thank you for showing us what can be done. Now it is time to start building an equally powerful norm against nuclear weapons.
US Obstructs NPT implementation
(March 13, 2015) — Recent media reports suggest that the United States has been pressuring its allies not to join the Austrian Pledge. US officials are yet to comment publicly on the allegations, perhaps because they are trying to come up with some remotely plausible way of reconciling such an action with their NPT obligations and their own stated objective of a world free of nuclear weapons.
The Austrian Pledge, you will recall, “calls on all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”. By urging its allies not to join the pledge, the US is in effect asking them not to commit to implementing their Article VI obligations.
Now we have no objection if the US itself chooses not to join the pledge (although it would of course be better if it did). All NPT members are free to choose the means by which they discharge their treaty obligations.
And as we have said before, there is nothing wrong with debating different approaches to nuclear disarmament, or preferring one path over another.
But actively discouraging, obstructing or otherwise interfering with good faith efforts by one or more NPT members to pursue their Article VI obligations is quite a different matter.
Apart from clearly being at odds with the object and purpose of the NPT, such actions directly contradict Action 1 of the 2010 NPT Action Plan, which commits all NPT members “to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons”.
So why is the US doing this? Why would it care if its allies pledged “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”? As we wondered only last month, since it has already promised to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, why would the US object if other countries take their own steps to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons?
The truth is that resistance to the idea of a legal ban shows exactly why a legal ban is needed. At the NPT review conference, non-nuclear-weapon states should call the US to account for its actions in undermining the implementation of treaty, and adopt language committing all states to refrain from interfering with any initiative to advance the implementation of Article VI.
If you can’t support a ban, stay out of the way.
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