Nuclear Disarmament Imperatives after the NPT PrepCom

This year’s Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference has confirmed two central realities: First, if the ailing NPT is to fulfill its foundational role in advancing global security it must be solidly balanced on its three equal pillars: disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses. Second, the international community is now well beyond simply debating a range of disarmament and nonproliferation options; rather, it is looking for meaningful implementation of an already agreed agenda.

While all states are equally bound by all Articles of the Treaty, there are really four categories of states in the nonproliferation regime; and each category faces particular implementation roles and challenges.

The biggest category, of course, is non-nuclear weapon states, and in exchange for forgoing nuclear weapons, they have received the legally-binding promise of disarmament by the nuclear weapon states, and they are to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But that access requires that they continuously verify their non-weapons status through safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Many have yet to fulfill their obligations (and, of course, Iran and DPRK are in much more serious violation of their safeguards and NPT obligations). Furthermore, about three dozen of these states are in possession of nuclear power technology and thus must sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty before it can enter into force. (Of the NNWS on the Annex II list, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, and Colombia have signed but not ratified the CTBT; the DPRK, which has withdrawn from the NPT but now is on track to return to it, has not yet signed the CTBT).

Nuclear Weapons States, the second category, are under legal obligation to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. At the 2000 Review Conference they renewed their commitment to achieving that goal, although they are not bound by a specific deadline. In the meantime nuclear weapon states are obliged to fulfill specific commitments that they have themselves made. I won’t go through the list, but irreversible and verifiable cuts to arsenals are at the core. Failure to meet these obligations constitutes noncompliance just as certainly as do failures by non-nuclear weapon states to meet all their safeguard requirements.

In the third category are India, Israel, and Pakistan – de facto nuclear weapons states but not signatories to the NPT. That does not mean they escape all disarmament obligations. They are bound by the NPT norm of nuclear disarmament, and as members of the CD (Conference on Disarmament) they are obligated to pursue in good faith the agreed objectives of that body: including the prevention of an arms race in outer space, legally-binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states, and a fissile materials cutoff Treaty. The CD also negotiated the test-ban Treaty and all three, as states with nuclear technology, must ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force (only Israel has signed the CTBT, and none of the three has ratified it). Both are also in direct violation of SC Res 1172 which unambiguously calls on them to end their nuclear weapons programs.

The fourth category is non-nuclear weapons states within NATO – a group that obviously includes Canada. They find themselves in a stark contradiction – affirming within NATO that nuclear forces are essential to alliance security, while at the same time affirming within the NPT that nuclear disarmament is essential to global security. It is a contradiction that must be resolved in favour of the latter commitment.

So, what priorities should Canada pursue within this broad and essentially agreed disarmament agenda?

To continue to set the right course, each new Canadian Government should, as a matter of course and at the highest level, reaffirm Canada ‘s fundamental commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. With that unwavering goal always at the core of its efforts, Canada should continue to actively promote the early implementation of the broad nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation agenda, referred to above and rooted in the NPT and its 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences, giving priority to particular issues that it is in a good position to influence. There will necessarily be some shifts in priorities according to changing circumstances, but currently at least four of the issues deserve the focused attention of Canada.

First among these is attention to the disarmament machinery. Nuclear disarmament depends first and foremost on the political will of states to simply do it, but the institutional mechanisms through which they pursue that fundamental and urgent agenda are critically important. The continuing dysfunction in the CD suggests it is once again time for Canada, along with like-minded states, to explore having the First Committee of the UN General Assembly form ad hoc committees to take up the four-fold agenda that lies dormant at the CD – that is, the non-weaponization of space, negative security assurances, the fissile materials cut-off Treaty, and new approaches to nuclear disarmament broadly.

In the context of the NPT, Canada should continue to press for a more effective governance structure involving annual decision-making meetings, the ability to respond to particular crises (such as the declaration of a State party’s intent to withdraw), and a permanent bureau or secretariat for the Treaty. In that context, Canada has made, and should continue to make, a point of promoting transparency through regular reporting by states on their compliance efforts and fuller NGO participation in the Treaty review process.

Second, the conflict regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment program raises important issues about the spread of weapons sensitive civilian technologies‚Äîto which all states in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations are now legally entitled. It is in the interests of nuclear disarmament that access to these technologies be severely restricted and placed under international control through nondiscriminatory multilateral fuel supply arrangements. Canada , as a state with high levels of competence in relevant technologies, should take an active role in investigating and promoting international fuel cycle control mechanisms.

Third, the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal has led to proposals to exempt India from key guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Canadian technology and interests are directly engaged. Canada must be at the fore of international efforts to bring India, Israel, and Pakistan under the rules and discipline of the nuclear nonproliferation system. In particular, and at a minimum, Canada should insist that the Nuclear Suppliers Group require that India ratify the test-ban Treaty and abide by a verifiable freeze on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes before any modification of civilian cooperation guidelines is considered.

Finally, Canada cannot avoid promoting within NATO a resolution of the NATO/NPT contradiction in favour of the NPT disarmament commitment.

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