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Our Man In Geneva

Report from Tri-Valley Cares' Representative to the May 2008 Non-Proliferation Treaty Meeting at the United Nations in Geneva

News and Analysis: Melting on the Nuclear Front?

By Dr. Urs Cipolat

For Tri-Valley CAREs Geneva, May 2, 2008

The ice is melting, globally. To cope with the challenges of global warming, the UN has established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "To cope with today's equally serious nuclear weapons challenges, an Intergovernmental Panel on Nuclear Disarmament should be set up," a British disarmament advocate argued at this year's Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), echoing a Norwegian proposal.

The suggested parallelism works, if only diametrically. Climate warming is a fact, it's progressing, and it's bad. Nuclear warming in the form of stockpile melting, on the other hand, would be positive. However, it's been largely fictitious, and - if it occurred - rather slow.

More than 20,000 nuclear warheads remain on the planet. 90% of these are located in the US and Russia. Thousands remain on hair trigger alert.

Since the adoption of the "13 practical steps" at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the world has been waiting in vain for a warming on the nuclear front. The 2005 NPT Review Conference was a huge failure, challenging rather than advancing the accomplishments of 2000.

A core obstacle to success remains the Bush administration's aggressive nuclear weapon policy, including the call for new types of nuclear weapons and infrastructure, the affirmation of their indefinite retention, and threats of their use against non-nuclear weapon states.

In his address to the NPT member states on April 28, Christopher Ford, US Special Representative for Nonproliferation, tried to paint a rosier picture. "The [US] remains firmly committed to the goal of nuclear disarmament," he assured. "Indeed, we stand today at the forefront of the international community's attempts to ascertain how one might move toward a post-nuclear-weapons world."

Regarding the U.S. program to develop new and/or significantly modified nuclear weapons in the form of so-called Reliable Replacement Warheads (RRW), Ford insisted that the program "will not provide any new or improved military capabilities." Rather, it "can facilitate the continuing downward trends in our arsenal."

With the NPT celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Ford's remarks were met by much criticism. The NGO community, represented by 64 groups including Tri-Valley CAREs, took issue with his one-sided account.

"The gulf between the [US] perception of its behavior and the perception of the vast majority of other states and citizens in the international community is striking," Reaching Critical Will wrote. And, the Western States Legal Foundation emphasized, "The purpose behind these plans is to retain U.S. dominance in nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, with the ability to expand production capacity and to design and deploy new kinds of nuclear weapons if desired."

Numerous governments, including many US allies, joined the NGOs in expressing concerns. Canada observed that "Global stockpiles of weapons and fissile material remain too high, and some states are actually seeking to strengthen their weapons capacity." Accordingly, Canada called for the destruction of obsolete weapons rather than their replacement or retention within a stockpile.

South Korea stated that "any qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and the development of advanced new types are contrary to the obligation to work for nuclear disarmament in good faith." Similar positions were taken by Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, to mention just a few.

Finally, Norway argued, "The elimination of nuclear weapons cannot be achieved unless we are able to speed up the disarmament process," and concluded that "there is still a wide-spread sentiment that we are not moving quickly enough."

Despite serious concerns about the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament, some encouraging signs of nuclear thawing could be observed at the Geneva conference and during the months preceding it:

- France and UK announced transparent and irreversible reductions of their nuclear weapon stockpiles to fewer than 300 and 160 warheads, respectively.

- The UK, in collaboration with Norway, called for a meeting of the P5 to discuss the verification of nuclear disarmament. Equally in cooperation with Norway, the UK is developing verification technologies for multilateral nuclear disarmament.

- Norway organized an inspiring Conference in February 2008 on "Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons."

- Many other countries, including Austria and NATO member states Canada, Germany and The Netherlands, echoed the call made earlier this year by Kissinger/Shultz/Perry/Nunn for a nuclear weapon-free world.

- Australia? new government also joined the abolitionist camp, committing to "lead the international agenda for a nuclear weapons convention." Costa Rica submitted such a model NWC for consideration in 2007.

- Six more countries ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty since 2007, bringing the total number of ratifications to 144. Only 9 Annex 2 countries, whose ratification is a precondition for entry into force of the CTBT, thus remain outside the treaty.

- Since 2007, NGOs have been allowed to follow all plenary discussions between the states parties to the NPT, although their right to actually address the conference remains limited to a 3 hour session.

- At least one Senior NATO official indicated that the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from NATO bases in Europe was imminent.

- A group of NGOs is preparing the return to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the element of "good faith."

Whether these positive events will generate enough momentum for a successful outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference has yet to be seen. We can only hope that over the next 24 months, many more state officials, diplomats, and disarmament experts will come to agree with Norway's Foreign Minister who recently observed that "Abolitionists can be realists, and realists can be abolitionists."

We at Tri-Valley CAREs will continue to inform the international community about U.S. nuclear weapons activities as we continue to press our government and others toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

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