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Laying down the law on nuclear disarmament

May 13, 2010

by Tim Wright

The tired old mantra of arms control and incremental steps is still dominating discussions at the NPT Review Conference, despite the growing push for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. All too many of the non-nuclear-weapon states seem content in seeking only the most modest action on disarmament. Their calls, for the most part, lack any sense of real urgency — even though it is clear that meaningful action for abolition is needed now, and cannot continue to be postponed.

The prevailing attitude among governments is that the NPT must be gently nursed back to “good health”, when in fact the only effective remedy to the problem is for the nuclear-weapon states to be jolted into action. A take-it-easy, business-as-usual approach will only reinforce the status quo of inaction on disarmament and the persistent threat of nuclear proliferation. Unless we radically alter the current trajectory, we will see only further disintegration of the NPT regime.

The nuclear-weapon states contend that it is premature to pursue negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention — and thus to fulfil Article VI of the treaty — even though four decades have now passed since the NPT’s entry into force. Based on this logic, should we also consider it premature to expect full compliance with the non-proliferation provisions of the treaty? This apparent double standard is certainly not in the spirit of the NPT bargain, and should be vehemently rejected.

From bad faith to good

Under the NPT, disarmament is more than a mere aspiration — it is a legal obligation. This was emphasized yesterday at events hosted by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. Not only must NPT parties “pursue” negotiations for disarmament, they must achieve that goal, as affirmed unanimously by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 advisory opinion on the illegality of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear-weapon states purport to be living up to their obligations — and some have even produced glossy brochures for this Review Conference showcasing their “achievements” — but there is little reason to be satisfied. Despite all the hype surrounding New START, for example, this treaty is unlikely to result in any true reduction in Russian and American nuclear forces. It must count among the most celebrated non-accomplishments in recent political history.

The NPT stipulates that negotiations for disarmament be pursued in “good faith”. Modernizing arsenals and boosting funding to nuclear weapon laboratories is a clear manifestation of bad faith. And it is not enough to dismantle a few dozen old nuclear weapons each year, when global stockpiles still number in the tens of thousands. Non-nuclear-weapon states must express their clear dissatisfaction with the lack of progress, and demand that work begin now on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

This is the most obvious and realistic way to realize the NPT’s core promise — the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

One Comment
  1. malteandre permalink
    May 14, 2010 10:14 pm

    fully agree tim, BUT
    don´t you jeopardize our good relations with the nws??
    just kidding

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