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USA: missing in action on nuclear disarmament.

Over the past three years, there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations. The United States has been notably missing in action at best and dismissive or obstructive at worst. This conflict may come to a head at the 2015 Review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

After decades of campaigning by Arab states, the 2010 NPT Review Conference unanimously agreed to hold a conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction to be attended by all states in the region. A date was set for December 2012 in Helsinki, Finland and the U.S. was a designated convener. The Finnish ambassador worked feverishly, meeting individually with all of the countries in the region to facilitate the conference. Suddenly, on November 23, 2012, the U.S. State Department announced that the Helsinki conference, "Cannot be convened because of present conditions in the Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for the conference." It went on to say, "We would not support a conference in which any regional state would be subject to pressure or isolation." The statement was referring to Israel, the only nuclear armed state in the region.

In an historic November 2011 resolution, the International Red Cross Movement emphasized that, "The incalculable human suffering that can be expected to result from any use of nuclear weapons, the lack of any adequate humanitarian response capacity, and the absolute imperative to prevent such use, (makes it) difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with the rules of international humanitarian law."

The Red Cross resolution appealed to all states "to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement." In March 2013, Norway hosted a conference in Oslo on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, with 127 governments in attendance. Mexico hosted a follow-on conference in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014, with 146 governments present. The U.S., with Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China (known as the "P--5" nuclear-armed states recognized by the NPT), boycotted Oslo and Nayarit. Austria has announced that it will host a third conference in Vienna late this year.

In November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) established an Open-Ended Working Group for all member states "to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons." It scheduled the first-ever summit-level meeting of the UNGA devoted to nuclear disarmament for September 26, 2013. The U.S. voted against both resolutions and refused to participate in the Open-Ended Working Group, declaring in advance that it would disregard any outcomes.

The U.S. did send a representative to the UN High-Level meeting. It was Deputy Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Anita Friedt, rather than the President, Vice-President or Secretary of State. Worse, the U.S. joined with France and the U.K. in a profoundly negative statement, delivered by a junior British diplomat, "While we are encouraged by the increased energy and enthusiasm around the nuclear disarmament debate, we regret that this energy is being directed toward initiatives such as this High Level Meeting, the humanitarian consequences campaign, the Open-Ended Working Group and the push for a Nuclear Weapons Convention."

In contrast, the new President of Iran Dr. Hassan Rouhani used the occasion of the High Level meeting to roll out a disarmament roadmap on behalf of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The roadmap calls for "early commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons for the prohibition of their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and for their destruction; designation of 26 September every year as an international day to renew our resolve to completely eliminate nuclear weapons and convening a High-level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in five years to review progress in this regard."

The NAM roadmap was subsequently adopted by the UNGA with 129 votes in favor. The U.S., which is contributing to a 16- year deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, voted no. An exchange between Anita Friedt and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, at the February 2014 Assembly of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament in Washington, D.C., encapsulates the role of the U.S. in the dismal state of nuclear disarmament. Ms. Friedt restated the familiar U.S. refrain that it is committed to the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament through a step-bystep process. And, as President Obama noted in Prague, "This will not be easy"--maybe not in his lifetime. She explained that as long as we have nuclear weapons, the U.S. will maintain modernization programs to ensure that its nuclear deterrent remains, "Safe, secure and effective." While acknowledging disappointment with the pace of U.S-Russian arms reduction talks, she proclaimed that regular meetings of the P-5 since 2009 demonstrate meaningful progress. She concluded that, "Retaining a minimum credible deterrent"--an absurd characterization of the current U.S. posture--"while going step-by-step, will make the world a safer place." In response to a question, Ms. Freidt declared that outlawing nuclear weapons would be "counterproductive" to the P-5 process.

Angela Kane noted that, in her UN position, she hears many different points of view. She reported that she has seen a considerable hardening of the position of the NAM in response to the lack of action on nuclear disarmament by the P-5 and that the coming together of the P-5 is seen as putting up a wall. She described how new international disarmament initiatives outside the traditional forums--in which the P-5 refuse to participate--such as the conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons hosted by Norway and Mexico and the UN Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, have come about because of P-5's lack of action on nuclear disarmament. She warned that these efforts will accelerate. And, with only one year to go until the 2015 NPT Review Conference, dissatisfaction among states not possessing nuclear weapons is growing.

Jackie Cabasso is executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation. She is a WILPF lifetime member.
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Author:Cabasso, Jackie
Publication:Peace and Freedom
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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