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Outcome? What outcome?

May 25, 2015

After the NPT Review Conference was over, we couldn’t get out of the building. The place was deserted. All those grim security men who had barred any shortcuts had gone home. Eventually we found a last door open at the other side of the building. It was Friday evening of Memorial Weekend in New York. The subway was full of young faces, singing along to a boombox, on their way to parties. Life goes on and nothing had changed just because a few hundred people had spent the last four weeks in air-conditioned rooms, talking about nuclear weapons till they were blue in the face.

In the end there was no agreement. Hundreds of statements had been given, instructions had been delivered from the capitals, working papers and chairs’ reports had been drafted, submitted, amended, rejected. All for nothing. Fierce divisions on how much the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons mean and should they compel action for disarmament, or should negotiations on a ban treaty begin? And what are “effective measures” anyway? Are the conditions ripe for disarmament already or only for glossary of common terms? Now there are no answers to these questions. Not even an agreement to disagree. If you want to see it for yourself, take a look at the first 38 minutes of the final plenary.

US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller was second up in the final plenary to give an aggressive speech of rejection, naming Egypt as the scapegoat, and it was all over, bar the speeches. The only thing all the states had in common was their disappointment. One after another they regretted the lack of consensus, called it a sad day for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, gave others the blame. But the one state that said nothing, and as a non-state party was not in a position to say anything, was Israel. And  because this one state refused to agree to setting a date for a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, the conference failed.

And yet something did happen at the NPT. Austria’s Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, Disarmament Person of 2014, described it in his closing speech on behalf of 47 countries:

“At this Conference, we have witnessed a clear shifting of the parameters, the focus, the tone and the balance of the discussion and the engagement of all countries of the treaty on nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear weapon states are today more empowered to demand their security concerns be taken in consideration on an equal basis.”

Up in the gallery, civil society clattered away on their computers and mobile phones, tweeting and blogging and skyping in a frenzy. They did not want such an insipid draft of a final document to survive the conference, rolling back the action plan of 2010, already weakened by inaction. No outcome is better than an outcome drafted by the P5. And in any case, what does it matter if there is or isn’t a final document? They never get implemented anyway.

Every five years the same circus. With one big difference. This time 107 states endorsed the “Humanitarian Pledge” to work towards closing the legal gap. That means finding a legal instrument that would prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Civil society applauded this as the real outcome of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Now all that remains is for these states to begin a new process. What better year to begin than the 70th commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Up in the gallery, we remained glued to our seats, hoping that South Africa would save the day with an announcement that we are all invited to Pretoria. But although the South African speech was by far the best of all the final speeches, they are keeping us waiting. The wheels of government turn slowly. Even with the support of the majority of states around the world to “close the legal gap”.

France took the final word, to everyone’s incredulity. A shame that South Africa’s applauded words comparing the NPT to apartheid, that has degenerated into the rule of the minority, where the will of the few will prevail even when it doesn’t make moral sense, were not the last and final ones of this cycle’s Review Conference. Instead we were forced, once again, to hear him say that France has an excellent record on disarmament. Calling this a disconnect is an understatement. Cognitive dissonance might sum it up better. Or, quite simply, lying.

Now I am back in Berlin and, sitting with my neighbours in our beautiful garden by the pond, they ask me: What was that all about? I find myself trying to capture the essence of a four-week long conference of 191 states with no outcome and see their eyes glaze over. It seems so far away from reality although it is just as real as the flowers around me. The saving grace is the vision of a ban and knowing that, although the media sees only an attention-seeking Israel and a failing international community that succumbs to blackmail, what we – civil society – have achieved is the real outcome of the last four weeks. As Costa Rica said in their closing statement: “The humanitarian conferences demonstrate that democracy has come to nuclear disarmament, even if democracy is yet to come to the NPT.” The NPT cannot deliver, it needs a new democratic process for a ban treaty to implement itself. Costa Rica finished their statement with these words, that we should take to our hearts:

“Despite what has happened at this Review Conference, there is no force can stop the steady march of those who believe in human security, democracy and international law. History honors only the brave, those who have the courage to think differently and dream of a better future for all. This is not the time to lament what has happened here, as lamentable as it may be. Now is the time to work for what is to come, the world we want and deserve. Let us all, boldly and finally, give peace a chance.”

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