First-ever reference to nuclear weapons convention in NPT review conference final document

by Yumi Kanazaki

For the first time ever the final document adopted by the recently concluded review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty referred to "a nuclear weapons convention." The review conference was held at United Nations headquarters in New York May 3-28. A nuclear weapons convention would clearly outlaw the development and possession of nuclear weapons, and if it were to be put into effect it would represent a new international norm for the promotion of the abolition of nuclear weapons. While citizens' groups and some nations at the review conference stressed the significance of such a convention, the nuclear nations offered strong opposition. The Chugoku Shimbun reviewed the course of the conference and took a look at future issues related to the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention and its future prospects.

First step toward realization

On May 14, when the review conference reached the halfway mark, the first draft of the portion of the final document referring to disarmament was shown to the various nations' governments. It included the reference "The Five-Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which proposes inter alia the consideration of a nuclear weapons convention."

But the reaction of American and European non-governmental organizations that have strongly promoted the enactment of such a treaty was muted. "If we rejoice and carry on we'll attract too much attention, and the nuclear nations will just attack us," said Dr. Rebecca Johnson, 55, director of the United Kingdom's Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, who wrote about the conference on the organization's blog.

Idea originating with citizens

"This was an idea that originated with citizens who worked together with some countries and developed it into a central issue that the international community needs to bring to fruition," Ms. Johnson said. "It also has the support of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The nuclear nations are afraid of this kind of movement that renounces nuclear weapons."

As that concern demonstrates, with the exception of China, which has expressed its support for a nuclear weapons convention, the nuclear nations were reportedly secretly opposed, although when the language related to the treaty was announced during discussions open to the public, they did not demonstrate strong resistance.

Russia asked that the reference to the U.N. secretary-general's proposal for disarmament be omitted. France asserted that rather than including it in the portion of the final document that described an "action plan" to be carried out by the signatory nations, it should be included in the section referring to the "review," the portion where provisions involving the operation of the treaty are assessed. France's attitude was seen by some as a desperate effort in that if it was impossible to delete the reference then at least language should be used that would not limit its own actions.

Ultimately, the final document that was adopted included references to a nuclear weapons convention in both the action plan and the review portion. Alexander Marshik of Austria, the chair of Subsidiary Body 1, which was responsible for drafting the action plan, described the significance of that move, saying, "A nuclear weapons convention was positioned as a framework for the strengthening of the NPT."

NGOs around the world are pressing for a nuclear weapons convention because of their frustration with the NPT, which they believe is inadequate as a legal framework for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Looking at other international laws that promote non-proliferation and disarmament, there are no prospects for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and negotiations for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty show no signs of starting in earnest.

Negotiations expected to be difficult

Because it would completely outlaw nuclear weapons, including their development and possession, a nuclear weapons convention is expected to create considerable difficulty for the nuclear nations. "That's why we must work to begin negotiations on a treaty at this stage and raise nations' political will,” said Regina Hagen, a disarmament expert from Germany.

Hagen, 52, went to New York for the review conference along with about 30 college students who are studying law. During the time the conference was going on, the students participated in six hours of mock negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty, inviting Ambassador Alfredo Labbé, the representative of Chile's government, to serve as chairman.

Tim Wright, 24, who lobbies governments for the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention in his work with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said, "The results of the review conference are far from satisfactory, but we will continue to campaign on a global scale."

Interview with Haruko Moritaki, co-representative of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition

Cooperation at the grass roots level as driving force

by Junichiro Hayashi, Staff Writer

What is the key to promoting a nuclear weapons convention? The Chugoku Shimbun put this question to Haruko Moritaki, 71, who has worked toward the enactment of a nuclear weapons convention in her capacity as co-director of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, a citizens' group. She visited New York last month for the NPT review conference.

The review conference's final document referred to "consideration of negotiations on a nuclear-weapon convention." What do you think about that?
Concrete discussions won't start right away, but I think this result reflects international opinion. At the review conference the positive approaches of Norway, Switzerland, and other countries to a nuclear weapons convention were particularly remarkable. How to increase the number of countries with similar resolve is a task for the future. At the same time, I sense the limitations of the NPT framework. I think it would be better to work toward a nuclear weapons convention under a different framework.

How do you see the path to the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention?
I think we need to look at the processes that were used to create the Land Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Last year a treaty banning depleted uranium shells took effect in Belgium. Underlying these efforts is the inhumane destruction that weapons cause. Non-governmental organizations and citizens are mobilizing public opinion in order to put a stop to that. The countries playing a central role have taken action, and more and more countries are sympathetic to the movement.

It is not easy to place legal restrictions on nuclear weapons because governments are heavily involved. Nevertheless their inhumanity is of the highest order. That point was also included in the final document of the review conference. If an overwhelming majority of the non-nuclear nations promote the creation of a nuclear weapons convention, the nuclear nations can be isolated. That will serve as a major driving force for abolition.

What do you feel is the role of Japan?
While the world has had high expectations of Japan, which is dependent on the nuclear umbrella of the United States, it has been disappointed. If Japan does not renounce the theory of nuclear deterrence, it cannot take the lead in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons. If you consider the destruction caused by atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, doesn't it seem strange that weapons that are so inhumane have still not been banned? This inconsistency must be recognized by citizens.

Do you mean the efforts of citizens are an important key?
Citizens' groups like ours must also study the issue of a nuclear weapons convention in greater depth and take action. We are now asking that an article banning the use of weapons of mass destruction be added to the supplementary protocol of the Geneva Convention, which includes a ban on the massacre of civilians.

I want to convey to citizens the significance of this kind of movement and the issues involved in an easily understandable way and raise public concern. I believe that action and cooperation at the grass roots level will serve as the driving force behind the realization of a nuclear weapons convention.

Model Nuclear Weapons Convention

The international momentum behind the enactment of a nuclear weapons convention originated with an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 1996, which stated that "any threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law." In response, in 1997 three organizations, including the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, issued a draft of a Model Nuclear Weapons Convetion. Later that year the government of Costa Rica submitted it to the United Nations.

After that, however, no progress toward the establishment of the treaty was made, and in 2007 the three organizations prepared a revised version. In its 19 articles it stipulates complete abolition and prohibits the development, testing, stockpiling and producing of nuclear weapons. The convention sets out a road map for ratification by 65 nations, including all of those that possess nuclear weapons or have the ability to develop them, and sets a target of abolition 15 years later.

At the 2007 meeting of the preparatory committee for the NPT review conference, the governments of Costa Rica and Malaysia submitted a revised draft of the convention to the U.N. General Assembly. In 2008 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered a five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament and proclaimed his support for a nuclear weapons convention.

In a report it prepared last year the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament included a reference to initiating action to pursue such a treaty.

Meanwhile, every year since 1997 the U.N. General Assembly has adopted by a majority a resolution calling for the start of negotiations on the conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention. Japan has abstained from voting on the grounds that such a measure is "premature."

(Originally published June 8, 2010)

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