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All that’s gold doesn’t glitter

May 20, 2015

HumanitarianPledgeThe 2015 NPT Review Conference limps to a conclusion on Friday. What started as a welcome opportunity to bring the evidence from the three HINW conferences and the renamed Humanitarian Pledge into the NPT as a clear path to the fulfillment of the treaty’s nuclear disarmament goals is ending with a cynical rejection of this game-changing initiative by the nuclear-armed member states.

The divisions between the nuclear-armed states and their allies on the one hand, and the vast majority of member states who have emphasized the fundamental importance of the humanitarian impact movement and the Humanitarian Pledge on the other, appear to be irreconcilable. Successive drafts of an already weak outcome document, as it relates to Article VI and disarmament, have been weakened still further, to the point where even the perceived gains in the 2010 Action Plan have been diluted almost beyond recognition.

Reaching Critical Will has meticulously tracked the evisceration of the MC1 document line by line in its daily NPT newsletter, and I highly recommend the editorials by Ray Acheson for a better understanding of just how the nuclear-armed states have guaranteed that this Review Conference would fail and the resentment this has caused among the non-nuclear member states, whose voices have been essentially squelched.

As things stand, there will either be no outcome document or else an extremely weak one that says none of the things most NPT states wanted to say, and that endorses none of the things they wanted to do to hasten the day when nuclear weapons are banned and eliminated.

This failure—assuming it is a failure (spoiler alert: narrow assumption)—has to be placed at the doorsteps of the nuclear-armed NPT states. They and their nuclear-dependent allies are the ones who have refused to allow a consensus to emerge around the overwhelming majority view that the pace of nuclear disarmament is too slow, that a more effective framework and timelines are required, and that the evidence of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons must be the basis for prohibiting and eliminating them.

As Xanthe Hall wrote yesterday, all that glitters is not gold. By the same token, all that’s gold doesn’t necessarily glitter. There’s another way of looking at this Review Conference as anything but a failure.  The states who have come together around the Humanitarian Pledge96 of them as of today — and the larger group of 159 that signed onto the Joint Humanitarian Statement are frustrated, angry, and appear prepared to advance the goals of the Pledge on their own. The nuclear-armed states have attempted to disenfranchise the large majority of nuclear-free states who are now committed to taking matters into their own capable hands. We need to respond quickly and persuasively at the end of this Review to ensure they start a new, more effective process without delay.

There should now be no question about one thing: the NPT, by itself, cannot deliver a world without nuclear weapons. ICAN’s campaign to ban and eliminate them—in concert with the states, international organizations, and civil society groups who no longer intend to be bullied and misled—can and will. The nuclear-armed states are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality, and the wrong side of the future. The ban treaty is coming, and then they will be indisputably on the wrong side of the law. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

  1. May 20, 2015 11:34 pm

    We should know tomorrow (Thursday) by 3pm if they will continue trying to get a consensus document or give up and let us have Friday off. I vote for the latter.

  2. May 20, 2015 5:14 pm

    Thanks, Bob. I appreciate and agree with your comment. It’s a shame that the nuclear-armed states are unwilling to provide the leadership we need and keep trying to substitute the illusion of nuclear disarmament for the real thing. But leadership is now coming from other directions, and I hope you can take encouragement from that. Getting a ban treaty isn’t going to be easy, and the job won’t be over even then, but we’re about to enter an exciting time. Take heart, and stay connected.

  3. Robert R. Holt permalink
    May 20, 2015 4:32 pm

    I must say that it is discouraging to see how a certain kind of political strategy causes the major decision makers in the nuclear-armed nations to disregard completely the nature of the weapons under discussion. Being indiscriminately destructive over a wide range of the earth, if detonated, these bombs cannot be used without committing a war crime and danger of self-damage. Moreover, that is another indication that those deciders fail to recognize that nuclear bombs are to an enormous degree unique in their nature and not simply part of a long historical process of merely quantitative change. It is difficult to resist the temptation to get impatient and denounce them as stupid and/or seriously unqualified for their positions, though I realize that that would be counterproductive. It is hard to know how to make any useful input, when one is (like me) an academic with credentials that are unimpressive to a military person. I’d be grateful for any advice how I might help the cause, which is ultimately no less trivial than the survival of civilization if not of multicellular forms of life–clearly threatened by the nuclear war for which both the US and the Russian arsenals are intended. How could any intelligent person deliberately prepare for such a doomsday war? Surely, the announced purpose of our arsenals–to deter any adversary from attacking us–cannot justify stockpiling such gigantic amounts! Is there, anywhere, an at least halfway plausible rationale for the great powers’ behavior?

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