UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2015 (IPS) – As she prepared to leave office after more than three years, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane painted a dismal picture of a conflicted world: it is “not the best of times for disarmament.”
The warning comes against the backdrop of a new Cold War on the nuclear horizon and spreading military conflicts in the politically–volatile Middle East, including in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
“The return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage.” — Jayantha Dhanapala
“The prospects for further nuclear arms reductions are dim and we may even be witnessing a roll-back of the hard-won disarmament gains of the last 25 years,” she told the Disarmament Commission last week.
In one of her final speeches before the world body, the outgoing U.N. under-secretary-general said, “I have never seen a wider divide between nuclear-haves and nuclear have nots over the scale and pace of nuclear disarmament.”
Kane’s warning is a realistic assessment of the current impasse – even as bilateral nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia have virtually ground to a standstill, according to anti-nuclear activists.
There are signs even of reversal of gains already made, for example, with respect to the longstanding U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
No multilateral negotiations on reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals are in sight, and all arsenals are being modernized over the next decades.
And contrary to the promise made by the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, a proposed international conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East never got off the ground.
John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LNCP), told IPS: “As the world heads into the NPT Review Conference, Apr. 27-May 22, is nuclear disarmament therefore doomed or at least indefinitely suspended?”
Not necessarily, he said.
The tensions – with nuclear dimensions – arising out of the Ukraine crisis may yet spark some sober rethinking of current trends, said Burroughs, who is also director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).
After all, he pointed out, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis served to stimulate subsequent agreements, among them the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing the Latin American nuclear weapons free zone, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the 1972 US-Russian strategic arms limitation agreement and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said the “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 64-point Action Program, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal and the conceptual breakthrough on recognizing the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, augured well for the strengthened review process.
“And yet the report cards meticulously maintained by civil society on actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage,” he added.
Unless the upcoming NPT Review Conference reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT, Dhanapala warned.
A stocktaking exercise is relevant, he added.
In 1995, he said, “We had five nuclear weapon states and one outside the NPT. Today, we have nine nuclear weapon armed states – four of them outside the NPT.
“In 1970, when the NPT entered into force, we had a total of 38,153 nuclear warheads. Today, over four decades later, we have 16,300 – just 21,853 less – with over 4,000 on deployed status and the promise by the two main nuclear weapon states to reduce their deployed arsenals by 30 percent to 1550 each within seven years of the new START entering into force.”
Another NPT nuclear weapon state, the UK is on the verge of renewing its Trident nuclear weapon program, he pointed out.
Turning to the issue of conventional weapons, Kane said: “We are flooded daily with images of the brutal and internecine regional conflicts bedevilling the globe – conflicts fueled by unregulated and illegal arms flows.”
It is estimated that more than 740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence.
“However, in the midst of these dark clouds, I have seen some genuine bright spots during my tenure as high representative,” Kane said.
The bitter conflict in Syria will not, in the words of the secretary-general, be brought to a close without an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, but Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, facilitated by the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons agreed upon between the Russian Federation and the United States of America, has been one positive outcome from this bloody conflict, she added.
“We have seen the complete removal of all declared chemicals from Syria and the commencement of a process to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities.”
Emerging from the so-called ‘disarmament malaise’, the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, supported by a clear majority of states – as illustrated by the 155 states that supported New Zealand’s statement in the First Committee – has continued to gather momentum, Kane told delegates.
“This is not a distraction from the so-called ‘realist’ politics of nuclear disarmament. Rather, it is an approach that seeks to underscore the devastating human impact of nuclear weapons and ground them in international humanitarian law,” she said.
“This movement is supported by almost 80 percent of U.N. member states. The numbers cannot be ignored.”
One of the international community’s major achievements in the last year has been to bring the Arms Trade Treaty into force only a year and a half after it was negotiated.
This truly historic treaty will play a critical role in ensuring that all actors involved in the arms trade must be held accountable and must be expected to comply with internationally agreed standards, Kane said.
This is possible, she pointed out, by ensuring that their arms exports are not going to be used to violate arms embargoes or to fuel conflict and by exercising better control over arms and ammunition imports in order to prevent diversion or re-transfers to unauthorized users.
“To my mind, these achievements all highlight the possibility of achieving breakthroughs in disarmament and non-proliferation even in the most trying of international climates,” Kane declared.