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The growing tide of support for a Convention

May 6, 2010

by Tim Wright

UN Photo/Mark Garten - May 5, 2010, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) speaks prior to a special screening of "Countdown to Zero", a documentary film on the history of the atomic bomb. Also at the podium are: actor and UN Peace Messenger Michael Douglas (centre) and the President of the 2010 Review Conference, Libran N. Cabactulan.

Yesterday more than a dozen states and groups of states mentioned the need for a Nuclear Weapons Convention in their statements at the NPT Review Conference. This vocal display of government support for a global ban on nuclear weapons is unprecedented in this forum, and it is encouraging for the many civil society groups — and governments — intent on shifting the focus of the debate from the failed policy of arms control to a roadmap for abolition.

Review Conference President

The President of the Review Conference, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, whose government has become a major supporter of a convention, spoke off the cuff to a crowd Quit Nukes posterof diplomats and campaigners last night at a Middle Powers Initiative (MPI) function near the UN. He reiterated his determination to ensure that the proposal for a convention is properly discussed at this Review Conference.

Douglas Roche, a former Canadian Senator and MPI chair, handed Ambassador Cabactulan the signatures of more than 500 members of the Order of Canada — the nation’s highest public honour — making an urgent plea for work to begin now on a nuclear abolition treaty. Parliamentarians from various national legislatures presented Cabactulan with their own global petition for a convention.

Egypt’s support for a convention

Egypt was among the many governments to come out strongly in favour of a convention yesterday, which is important given its position as chair of both the Non-Aligned Movement and New Agenda Coalition, as well as a member of the Arab and Africa groups. The head of the Egyptian delegation said: “[C]ertain challenges must be decisively confronted through the outcome to emerge from the Conference … [including] the need to create a legal framework to eliminate nuclear weapons through the conclusion of an international legally binding convention to eliminate nuclear weapons in a specified timeframe.”

Among the other supporters of a convention yesterday were Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mongolia, Tunisia, Kenya and Colombia.  ICAN will circulate a complete list of supportive statements later in the week. Liechtenstein also welcomed Switzerland’s determination to work to delegitimize nuclear weapons by focusing discussions on the humanitarian risks of these weapons.

A humanitarian debate

Yesterday’s lunchtime seminar organized by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was a helpful reminder of the “human reality” of nuclear weapons. A fortnight ago, for the first time, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered a statement solely addressing the nuclear problem. His prognosis for preventing the use of nuclear weapons was simple: states must fulfil their existing obligations to prohibit and completely eliminate such weapons through a legally binding international treaty.

He also said: “[T]he debate about nuclear weapons must be conducted not only on the basis of military doctrines and power politics … The currency of this debate must ultimately be about human beings, about the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law, and about the collective future of humanity.” He went on to warn that there would be no effective international medical response to the use of a nuclear weapon.

Concern for the medical and environmental effects of nuclear weapons has been expressed in many government statements at this Review Conference. And with the new emphasis on a convention, it may be possible to begin work on such a treaty sooner than many of the skeptics would have us think — although there is certainly still much work to be done.

Tim Wright is the ICAN – NWC Project Coordinator

One Comment
  1. May 7, 2010 7:54 am

    Compelling piece, Tim. I’m thrilled to hear so many more states parties are beginning to endorse in no uncertain terms the need for a NWC. We must now secure the endorsement of a strong Middle Power in order for the tide to turn on a legally binding treaty to eliminate the nukes.

    Keep up the good work.

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