Obama Administration Sabotages Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference
May 30, 2015
Joseph Gerson / Truthout | Op-Ed
Commentary: So much for President Obama's commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world. With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe . . . . The US failure to bring Israel to the table led a growing number of the world's nations to question whether US commitments are worth the paper they are written on.
Obama Administration Sabotages
Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference
Joseph Gerson / TruthOut Op-Ed
I mean you must take living so seriously that,
even when you are seventy, you must plant olive trees,
not because you think they will be left to your children,
because you don't believe in death although you are afraid of it
because, I mean, life weighs heavier.
-- Nazim Hikmet, "On Living"
(May 27, 2015) -- So much for President Obama's commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world.
With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe, shaking the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Why the sabotage? Well, for one thing, the draft text had the temerity to call for the convening of a conference within six months to prepare the way for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone. It called for all parties to the NPT Review -- read especially the United States -- to fulfill previous Review Conferences' promises to begin the process of creating the zone.
Though it doesn't currently garner much media coverage, the danger of nuclear war is anything but an innocuous abstraction. Each of the nuclear powers is currently modernizing its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. (US plans call for spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years for these nuclear weapons.) With NATO's expansion to Russia's borders, and Russia's responses in Ukraine and across Europe, we have entered a new era of confrontation between nuclear superpowers, which between them possess more than 90 percent of the world's 16,400 nuclear weapons -- weapons that have been exercised in posturing during the Ukraine war.
The situation isn't much better in Asia and the Pacific. China's second-leading official newspaper, Global Times, said in a May 25 editorial that "war was inevitable" between China and the United States unless Washington stopped demanding that Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in a disputed waterway (the South China/Western Philippine Sea).
Those islands may be designed to host naval bases for China's nuclear-armed submarines, in order to overcome the possibility of the US and Japan blockading China's mainland ports. Plus, at a time when the US is deepening its military alliances and deploying first-strike-related "missile defenses" along China's periphery, China has begun installing multiple warheads on its nuclear missiles.
Further afield, recent scientific studies tell us that even a "small" nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could lead to global famine and the deaths of 2 billion people. We must also take into account the staggering record of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations -- and what that record portends for our future on this planet.
Given these global tensions, along with the nuclear powers' resistance to engaging in "good faith" negotiations for the complete elimination of the P5's (1) nuclear arsenals as required by Article VI of the 45-year-old Nonproliferation Treaty, hopes for this year's NPT Review Conference were not high. T
he nuclear powers had boycotted the United Nations' Open Ended Working Group, failed to fulfill more than 1.5 of the 13 steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, and the US had insulted the majority of the world's nations during the UN High Level Meeting on Disarmament when it warned them to leave fulfillment of the 64 action items to Washington. In addition, Moscow sneeringly boasted that under China's leadership they were nearing completion of a glossary of terms.
Worse, the near-complete failure of this year's Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the seminal treaty, leaving the world without even a minimal agreement about how to reduce, let along eliminate, the risk of nuclear annihilation.
In the months leading to the Review Conference, many diplomats and analysts feared that the failure of the United States to co-convene the Middle East Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone conference in 2012 could lead to the failure of the Review Conference and the dangers that could follow.
Efforts to create the zone, which would include Iran, Israel and the Arab states, date to the deal that indefinitely extended the NPT in 1995 -- and which was reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.
The US failure to bring Israel to the table led a growing number of the world's nations to question whether US commitments are worth the paper they are written on, with the UN high representative for disarmament affairs wondering who could have reasonably expected the US to deliver Israel in a presidential election year.
Unfortunately, the critics were right. The US could not be taken at its diplomatic word. And in her speech in the closing session of the Review Conference, Rose Gottemoeller asserted that previous commitments to convene the Middle East zone conference had now expired.
Just as the US has repeatedly run interference for Israel as it disregards the UN Security Council resolutions that ended the 1967 war and persists with its illegal colonization, our government once again "had Israel's back" in that country's campaign to remain the Middle East's sole nuclear power. Rather than accept its military ally Egypt's demand that the Middle East nuclear weapons and WMD conference be held within 180 days of the Review Conference, the US scuttled that conference.
The contradictions are, of course, rife. The US warns that "all options are on the table" in relation to Iran's nuclear "threat" -- a position recently reiterated by President Obama in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic -- while protecting Israel's nuclear arsenal.
A Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-WMD-free zone would remove any threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, yet there is growing talk in the Arab world about a need to "match" Iran's civilian nuclear program. We must also recognize that if Israel lives in a "dangerous neighborhood," as its leaders have frequently claimed, so do Iran and the Arab states.
One doesn't have to endorse Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's dictatorship to agree with the Egyptian ambassador's statement in the closing session of the Review Conference that, "By blocking consensus, we are depriving the world, but especially the Middle East, of even one chance of a better future, away from the horrors and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons."
Functionally, in blocking the final document, the US also may have been doing heavy diplomatic lifting for Russia, China, France and Britain, each of which opposed many of the specifics in the draft consensus statement.
If the US hadn't blocked the statement to protect Israel, might others P5 nations or their allies have prevented consensus? That's unknown, but there is no doubt that as the head of Russia's delegation put it, it was a "shame that such an opportunity for dialogue had turned out to be missed, perhaps for a long time to come." I put those words in italics to emphasize just how significant the failure of the Review Conference is. Much -- including nuclear war -- can happen in a "long time."
As the saying goes, it is darkest before the dawn. Of necessity, we look for silver linings that illuminate life-affirming paths.
The first of these sources of hope is the growing divide between the vast majority of non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers. By the time the Review Conference ended, more than 100 governments had signed the Humanitarian Pledge initiated by Austria and growing from three international conferences on the human consequences of nuclear war, the last of which engaged 158 states.
The pledge, which is a long way from a treaty, commits its signers "to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, states, international organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks."
The challenge, of course, is to build from this nonbinding statement to the diplomatic and popular pressure necessary to force the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI NPT commitments and the related International Court of Justice's advisory opinion on the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons.
A second source of hope grows from the international mobilization that brought thousands of activists to New York on the eve of the NPT Review, along with its Global Peace Wave of events in more than 50 countries.
In addition to its street protest and the 8 million petition signatures calling for nuclear weapons abolition that were delivered to the president of the Review Conference and the UN high commissioner for disarmament affairs, the Peace and Planet network took important steps toward shattering movement silos.
Recognizing the limitations of single-issue movements and taking power analyses seriously, it has begun building alliances with peace, justice and environmental organizations to build more issue-integrated, and thus broader and more powerful, movements.
These types of coalitional movements are capable of actually challenging the deeply entrenched systems that serve as the foundations of policies -- including but not limited to nuclear weapons -- that reinforce the power, profits and influence of the privileged few.
Here again, we have to navigate contradictions. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is an urgent imperative, but building the integrated movements needed to achieve it will require patience, wisdom and time.
In the United States, this means building trust and making common cause with climate change activists, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with Move the Money campaigns, and certainly with those working for a just Israel-Palestine peace and an end to Washington's endless Middle East wars.
The anti-nuclear movement's next steps will be seen at the US Social Forum in Philadelphia this June, with commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in August and global wave actions in the run up to September's International Peace Day and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
It's no accident that the vast majority of the US threats to initiate nuclear war have been made during wars and crises in the global South. As this century moves forward, the majority of the world's nations will no longer accept a discriminatory hierarchy of nuclear terror.
1. The P5 are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which is a nuclear weapons state: the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.
Joseph Gerson is director of the American Friends Service Committee's peace and economic justice program and co-convener of Peace and Planet .
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
After the NPT
As I trust many of you know, the Review Conference failed to agree on a consensus document last Friday night, leading to the failure of the conference. With the nuclear powers opposing many of the provisions of the draft declaration, it is an open question whether or not consensus could have been reached.
But it was the US refusal to agree to a conference to prepare the ground for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone that took the conference down. It should be remembered that in 1995 the NPT was indefinitely extended on the condition that there be movement toward such a nuclear-free zone, a commitment reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.
Despite the Review Conference’s failures we can build on the growing divide between the non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers, and the progress that we made in building a broader and deeper issue-integrated movement.
Peace & Planet will continue our movement building on the basis of the proposal adopted during the Abolition 2000 annual general meeting in early May. Next up is a workshop at the US Social Forum in Philadelphia and building our movement from 70th anniversary events to the International Day of Peace and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in September.
For your information you’ll find an article from Unfold Zero “The NPT Phoenix – Success from the ashes of failure” below.
For a nuclear-free, peaceful, just and sustainable world,
The NPT Phoenix – Success from the Ashes of Failure?
Nuclear disarmament initiatives may survive the failure of the 2015 NPT Review Conference
United Nations forums could move them forward.
The States Parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty failed spectacularly to reach agreement on a final conference document on 22 May after four weeks of negotiations at the United Nations in New York. The failure masks the fact that some real gains were made during the course of the negotiations. This included a number of proposals in the draft final document that appeared to have found agreement by the NPT Parties. If acted upon, these proposals might be able to produce a phoenix from the ashes of the failed conference.
The conference collapsed on the Middle East issue. The United States, UK, Canada and possibly some others could not accept a call for the United Nations to convene a conference in March 2016 on establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Their objection arose because it has not yet been possible to secure agreement by Israel to participate in such a conference. According to the UN guidelines on establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, they should be arrived at freely by the States in the region.
UN Security Council Meets
With Phoenix Mural Behind
On the other hand, the establishment of such a zone was a core part of the agreement in 1995 to extend the NPT indefinitely, and was a vital part of the agreements of the 2000 and 2010 NPT Review Conferences. Progress on this issue is important to all States Parties to the NPT, and especially to the Arab countries and Iran.
They perceive Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons program as threatening their security and undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Indeed, the Arab countries and Iran are required to accept NPT verification and compliance measures as non-nuclear States, while Israel – a State believed to be nuclear armed -- is exempt from these. This is seen as a double standard and discriminatory.
The collapse of the NPT Review Conference over the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) issue is, therefore, very serious. However, it has not appeared to derail the warming relationship between Iran and the six power countries (Chiba, France, Germany, Russia, UK and the US) which have succeeded in an interim agreement on the control and verification of Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Indeed, when the US and UK announced on May 22 their unwillingness to support a 2016 conference on a Middle East NWFZ, Iran did not immediately condemn these countries for their double standards. Instead, Iran called for a suspension of the NPT Review conference to allow further negotiations to try to reach a compromise. Although unsuccessful, this sign of good faith from Iran bodes well for the continued negotiations with the six powers, who aim to reach a final deal with Iran.
The proposal to hold a UN conference on a Middle East NWFZ in 2016 regardless of whether Israel will join is not necessarily dead. It could be taken up by the UN General Assembly, a forum, which unlike the NPT, does not always operate by consensus.
However, to move ahead without agreement of Israel and without the support of all NPT Parties could weaken the conference, turning it into a grandstanding event, and possibly reducing further the likelihood of Israel joining any process to establish such a zone.
There were a number of other developments at the NPT Review Conference that could make a breakthrough in multilateral negotiations for global nuclear disarmament. Such negotiations have been blocked in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) for nearly 20 years.
The developments include the increased support for the Austria Pledge (now re-named the Humanitarian Pledge), a shift in focus from the CD to the United Nations as a whole to advance nuclear disarmament initiatives, and a general agreement (paragraph 154 (19) of the NPT draft outcome document) to establish a UN Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament.
The Humanitarian Pledge, announced by Austria at the end of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014, includes a commitment to ‘close the legal gap’ to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. During the course of the NPT review Conference the number of countries endorsing the pledge increased from 65 to over 100.
This elevates the political commitment to nuclear disarmament by those States signing. It also provides flexibility on the options for the legal gap to be filled, in order to ensure a critical mass and maximum effectiveness on which-ever legal instrument or instruments are negotiated.
Austria, along with members of the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa), emphasized that the pledge is not a specific call for a ban treaty (that could be negotiated without waiting for the nuclear-armed States).
Rather, the NAC submitted a working paper outlining a range of options. These include a nuclear weapons convention (i.e. a treaty which includes all nuclear-armed States), a framework agreement, a ban treaty (as an interim measure), or a hybrid arrangement including a range of measures.
Another group of countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine) submitted a proposal for the pursuit of a range of ‘building blocks’ toward a nuclear weapon free world.
UNIDIR and the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) advanced ideas in this proposal further in a research paper on Effective Measures: Builders and Blockers.
A key point in the paper is that 'States have different roles to play to complete the nuclear disarmament puzzle' and can therefore focus on different 'building blocks' in a complementary fashion.
Previous NPT Review Conferences have tasked the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate nuclear disarmament steps and/or a comprehensive agreement on nuclear disarmament. However, the CD which operates by consensus has been blocked from undertaking any such negotiations for nearly 20 years.
At the 2015 NPT review Conference there was a shift towards advancing nuclear disarmament in the full range of UN disarmament bodies. This was promoted by a number of groups including the Nordic Five (see recommendation 15 of the working paper of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), and was included in the draft final outcome document.
Indeed, there was a call in the document for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to re-establish an Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) to develop effective measures (legal and other) for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Civil society groups including the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and UNFOLD ZERO, promoted the re-establishment of an OEWG at the NPT Conference, and will now focus on getting this agreed at the UNGA in October.
If such a body is established by the UNGA, it could provide a forum to discuss the options outlined by the NAC and Building Blocks groups, find common ground between them and pave the way for actual negotiations.
Cuba has proposed that such negotiations should aim to draft a comprehensive nuclear abolition treaty (nuclear weapons convention) ready for adoption at the UN High Level Conference, which will be held no later than 2018. Ireland, in its concluding statement at the NPT Review Conference, indicated that, regardless of the NPT Conference outcome, the New Agenda Coalition would continue developing the options outlined in their working papers.
Nuclear disarmament initiatives are also moving ahead in other UN bodies. The Marshall Islands has launched a case against the nuclear armed States in the International Court of Justice on implementation of their nuclear disarmament obligation. Marshall Islands, which was very active in the 2015 NPT Review Conference, is calling on the Court to instruct the nuclear weapon States to initiate multilateral negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention within one year of the court’s judgement.
UNFOLD ZERO was also promoting other UN-based nuclear disarmament initiatives at the NPT Review Conference, including a proposal for the UN Security Council and UNGA to affirm the illegality of the targeting of populated areas with nuclear weapons.
The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on September 26 will provide a good opportunity to build public awareness, elevate the nuclear disarmament issue up the political ladder and publicise these initiatives at the United Nations.
Other civil society coalitions involved in the NPT Review Conference are joining UNFOLD ZERO to focus on September 26 and the United Nations as a key opportunity to take forward nuclear abolition proposals. These include Peace and Planet and Global Wave, which presented a nuclear abolition petition signed by over 7 million people to the Conference, organized a huge rally and march in New York and inspiring actions in more than 50 other countries.
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