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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Briefing 4, May 14, 1999

1999 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 4 Nuclear Disarmament (2)

This is the second part of the briefing on disarmament issues raised during the closed debates at the third NPT PrepCom for the 2000 Review Conference. Many statements emphasised the importance of fulfilling the obligations in the 1995 Principles and Objectives, especially the CTBT and fissile materials production ban. Many also underlined the importance of the US and Russia moving beyond the START impasse and undertaking accelerated reductions in their strategic arsenals. Several went further, detailing actions that would reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons, including those identified by the 1996 Canberra Commission, such as taking nuclear weapons off alert and restricting or withdrawing tactical nuclear weapons.

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Algeria, Peru, Egypt and others recalled the various proposals from non-aligned states in the CD and argued that the ideas for substantial progress were available but that the political will appeared to be lacking among some parties. This was a theme echoed by many statements, with frequent calls for the NWS to reaffirm their unequivocal commitment to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and to speeding up the process for getting there. New Zealand, Canada and others rejected the view (heard from some of the NWS) that article VI makes nuclear disarmament contingent on general and complete disarmament, with Canada providing legal and political arguments in support of their case that nuclear and general disarmament are two distinct undertakings by all NPT parties.

The impasse in the Conference on Disarmament inevitably spilled into the debate. A large number of non-aligned delegations called for an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to be established. As in past years, the statement from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) called for a CD committee to commence negotiations on a phased programme for the elimination of nuclear weapons "with a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapon convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, employment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination". Others, such as South Africa, Japan and Canada emphasised the need for the CD to set up a committee to discuss nuclear disarmament issues as a first step. Italy, on behalf of five NATO countries (including Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Norway) spoke in favour of a working group at the CD to exchange information on nuclear disarmament. While dismissing the idea of multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament, France said it would be "prepared to join in a consensus" based on the NATO-5 proposal for the CD. South Africa, which has its own proposal for a CD committee on nuclear disarmament, said that in view of the importance of having some kind of mechanism to address the issue, it would be willing to lend its support to the NATO-5 proposal.

Proposals for Action

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) asserted that all NPT parties bear responsibility for nuclear disarmament, particularly the NWS with the largest arsenals. The NAM statement and interventions from several non-aligned delegations reiterated their long-held demand that the Geneva Conference on Disarmament should establish an ad hoc committee to commence negotiations on a phased programme for the elimination of nuclear weapons "with a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapon convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, employment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination". The NAM also argued for a subsidiary deliberative body to be established at the 2000 Review Conference, quoting the commitment in 4c of the 1995 Principles and Objectives committing NPT parties to "practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons".

Brazil made a statement on behalf of 32 countries, based on the New Agenda Coalition, which originated in a statement on June 9 1998 by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden. Following from their UN General Assembly resolution (53/77Y), which garnered 114 votes in December 1998, seven of the originators were joined by Bolivia, Botswana, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Iran, Indonesia, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malawi, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. After reviewing the situation, including the START process, CTBT, nuclear testing in South Asia, lack of a fissile materials ban and security assurances, the NAC statement concluded that "the pace of efforts to implement all the obligations of the NPT is faltering". Concerned that the NWS were reaffirming their nuclear doctrines and re-rationalising the continued possession of nuclear weapons, the Coalition said that the NWS had not been fulfilling their obligations with sufficient vigour, and emphasised that "we must not enter the next millennium with the prospect that the retention of these weapons will be considered legitimate for the indefinite future." NAC called for mutually reinforcing bilateral, plurilateral (among the NWS) and multilateral efforts to be pursued in concert, including greater progress on START reductions and steps to de-emphasise the role of nuclear weapons in security strategies, including de-alerting and de-mating warheads from delivery vehicles and reducing reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons, as well as transparency and confidence-building measures. Critical of NATO's recent affirmation of the central role played by nuclear weapons in its alliance doctrine, NAC also called for "the early examination of measures to enhance strategic stability and to review strategic doctrines". A number of the co-sponsors gave their reasons for supporting the NAC initiative, with some elaborating more fully on the practical steps they would like to see.

Between the NAM and the NAC, it is clear that a large number of parties had strong views that more needed to be done. In addition to the NAM call for a nuclear weapons convention, several others reinforced this objective, including Egypt, Malaysia and Brazil. The NAC statement acknowledged that "the total and final elimination of nuclear weapons will require a multilateral agreement", without specifying further. Outlining actions on START, no-first-use, CTBT and fissban, China repeated its position that on that basis, "a convention banning nuclear weapons should be negotiated". Australia took the view that "until nuclear disarmament nears the elimination phase, it will be premature for the international community to address the question of a single weapons convention".

Speaking for the first time, Brazil -- whose recent accession to the NPT was enthusiastically welcomed in many statements -- outlined a comprehensive and practical programme, recognising that "after the CTBT and the FMT, there is a logical step at the multilateral level, that is, a Nuclear Weapon Convention..." urging parties to begin at least considering this objective. Brazil also called for interim steps that would complement and reinforce the bilateral reductions underway, including: the de-alerting of nuclear weapons; the removal of nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles; an agreement on the no-first-use of nuclear weapons; an agreement not to increase or modernise nuclear arsenals; the removal of non-strategic nuclear weapons from deployed sites; and greater transparency on fissile materials stocks. Peru specifically supported the de-alerting and de-activation of nuclear weapons and the withdrawal of non-strategic weapons. Supporting the NAC statement, as well as more support for the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme, Nigeria also called for the other NWS not to "sit on the sideline", but to join in nuclear disarmament negotiations. China reiterated its long-standing demand for a legally binding instrument among the NWS on no-first-use of nuclear weapons.

Demands for more specific actions have increasingly been aired outside the non-aligned movement as well. Canada, for example, called for a new programme of action for 2000 to include the following additional elements: acceleration and full implementation of the START process, with the direct engagement of the other three NWS (Britain, China and France) "in the near future"; measures such as de-alerting, transparency and confidence-building, and negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons.

Warning that unless the tasks of nuclear disarmament were "thoroughly addressed, the NPT could lose its credibility", with grave consequences, Japan recalled its resolution to the UN GA (53/77 U). Like Canada, Japan emphasised the importance of the START process, CTBT and fissban, but also called for "further efforts" by all five NWS "to reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally and through their negotiations". Together with a growing number of states, Japan also underscored the importance of practical measures such as de-alerting and de-targeting, as well as assistance in dismantling nuclear weapons, and managing and disposing of the resultant fissile materials. Both France and Britain said that their weapons were no longer targeted and that they had reduced the state of alert, though without characterising this as 'de-alerting' in the way that most states intended.

Written by Rebecca Johnson with assistance from Nicola Butler.