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NGO Statement 10

Distinguished delegates,

In its historic 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice interpreted Article VI of the NPT and General Assembly resolutions dating back to the very first one, and unanimously

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concluded: " There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control ".

An essential question to be asked, then, regarding every proposed or actual forum or instrument in this field is: Does it contribute to the achievement of "nuclear disarmament in all its aspects" ?

Recent General Assembly resolutions have recognized the imperative of conducting multilateral negotiations with the endpoint of "nuclear disarmament in all its aspects" in view. The resolution on follow-up to the ICJ opinion called for " multilateral negotiations in 1999 leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention ". The New Agenda resolution, sponsored by a grouping of states cutting across traditional boundaries, affirmed that " a nuclear-weapon-free world will ultimately require the underpinnings of a universal and multilaterally negotiated legally binding instrument or a framework encompassing a mutually reinforcing set of instruments ".

The need to clarify the elements of the institutional framework for a nuclear weapon free world was anticipated by civil society organizations some years ago. This led a distinguished group of scientists, lawyers and arms control experts to draft a model nuclear weapons convention that provides for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons in a series of graduated, verifiable steps. A briefing book exploring the issues raised by the idea of a convention will be available next week.

The New Agenda resolution also usefully identified a number of measures and mechanisms that the nuclear weapon states alone or together could take to diminish present risks as well as set the stage for agreeing upon elimination. These include " reduction of reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons and negotiation on their elimination " and de-alerting of nuclear weapons and " removal of warheads from delivery vehicles" .

In general, the NPT nuclear weapon states, together with at least one outside party representing the international community, should begin now to discuss among themselves such matters as

  • transparency and accounting regarding warheads, fissile materials, and research and production infrastructures
  • verification of actual or proposed de-alerting measures and reductions in capabilities

Such cooperation would enhance present safety and security and facilitate negotiations on de-alerting and reduction and elimination of nuclear capabilities. The early participation of all states possessing nuclear weapons should be a high priority.

Unilateral actions, jointly coordinated actions, and bilateral and plurilateral cooperation and negotiations are all important. But there must also be successful multilateral forums and instruments. Most states are aware of the pressing need for the creation of a forum or forums that explicitly have under consideration the institutional framework for a nuclear weapon free world and how to achieve it.

There are several proposals for an ad hoc committee or working group in the Conference on Disarmament, including two originating from NATO member states. What these proposals have in common is that they recognize the validity of multilateral disarmament talks, if not outright negotiations. Consideration of the verification requirements for the elimination of nuclear arsenals could be one task of such a group.

There also have been proposals for intersessional working groups within the NPT, including a proposal for a working group to address a nuclear weapons convention.

And, both the New Agenda resolution and the Durban Final Document of the 1998 Non-Aligned Movement conference, in different forms, call for the convening of a conference concerning nuclear disarmament.

The various proposals just mentioned concern multilateral forums that could be employed if there was the requisite political will, especially on the part of the nuclear weapon states. The main item on the actually existing agenda for multilateral negotiations is a fissile materials treaty. These negotiations are critical because they address the key ingredients of nuclear arsenals. Progress is stalled, however, on the link between banning future production of such material and dealing with existing stocks. Both NGOs and governments need to think creatively about possible solutions that would break the impasse and also meet the criterion of effectively contributing to the achievement of "nuclear disarmament in all its aspects".

One approach would be a fissile materials framework agreement, modeled on such agreements as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. These agreements recorded commitments and goals, and established a process for further review and negotiation that led to agreements on implementing protocols. One advantage of a framework agreement is that it can be finalized within a reasonable period of time, leaving questions of detailed targets and implementation to further negotiation.

Thus a fissile materials framework agreement could include:

  • a commitment to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons usable fissile materials and their permanent irreversible disposition under safeguards
  • the establishment of formal negotiating machinery for realizing this commitment through a series of phased and interlinked stages, each involving negotiated targets on fissile material stockpile reductions, in relation to reductions and elimination of nuclear weapons arsenals and research and production infrastructures
  • the establishment of a process for achieving transparency and accounting regarding existing stocks
  • initial limits on fissile materials stocks
  • targets for a first round of reductions
  • a process for public review, reporting, and implementation assessment

There are other possibilities as well that draw upon existing negotiating forums and instruments. Serious consideration of one such possibility, an NPT amendment conference, is supported by some NGOs. An amendment could make the obligation not to possess nuclear weapons apply to all states parties, and a protocol or annex to the NPT could specify the necessary regulatory framework. States now outside the NPT could commit to joining the new abolition regime.

Under Article VIII, the amendment could not be adopted without the consent of the nuclear weapon states. If those states have the requisite political will to abolish nuclear weapons, an amendment conference may be the logical way to proceed. Absent such political will, the conference would at least serve to create a forum in which states could deliberate upon the framework of a nuclear weapon free world. If necessary, it could be a recurring process. An amendment conference need not destabilize the NPT. Seeking to make the non-possession norm universal does not imply that states do not value the existing partial non-possession norm. No one thought that if the Partial Test Ban Treaty amendment conference failed itself to produce a comprehensive test ban, states would therefore withdraw from the PTBT.

To summarize and conclude: every action, negotiation, instrument, and forum should be measured by whether it contributes to the achievement of "nuclear disarmament in all its aspects". This presentation should at least have served to underscore that fresh thinking, unconstrained by ideas deformed by the Cold War, is required to meet that criterion.

CONVENOR: John Burroughs, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
211 E 43 rd Street, Suite 1204 New York, New York 10017
tel: (212) 818-1861, fax. (212) 818-1857 email: lcnp@aol.com


53/77 W (4 December 1998).
53/77 Y (4 December 1998)
Circulated within the UN as A/C.1/52/7.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, Security and Survival: The Case for A Nuclear Weapons Convention.
There are five proposals:

  • The South African proposal for an ad hoc committee to "deliberate upon practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to identify if and when one or more such steps should be the subject of negotiations in the Conference."
  • The "NATO 5" (Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Germany) proposal for an ad hoc working group "to study ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views within the Conference on endeavors towards nuclear disarmament."

    The Egyptian proposal for an ad hoc committee to "commence negotiations on a phased program of nuclear disarmament with the objective of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons."

  • The Canadian proposal for an ad hoc committee for the substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues "with a view to identifying if and when one or more such issues might be negotiated multilaterally."
  • The G-21 proposal for an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament "to start negotiations on a phased program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapon convention."

See also the New Agenda resolution, para. 13:

      Calls upon the Conference on Disarmament to establish an appropriate subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament and, to that end, to pursue as a matter of priority its intensive consultations on appropriate methods and approaches with a view to reaching a decision without delay.

NPT/CONF.2000/PC.I/11 (Marshall Islands), para. 13.

Final Document of the Twelfth Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries, Held at Durban, South Africa, From 29 August to 3 September 1998, A/53/667, S/1998/1071 (13 November 1998), Annex, para. 113:

      [The Heads of State or Government] called for an international conference, preferably in 1999, with the objective of arriving at an agreement, before the end of this millennium on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified framework of time to eliminate all nuclear weapons, to prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.

New Agenda resolution, para. 14:

      Considers that an international conference on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, which would effectively complement efforts being undertaken in other settings, could facilitate the consolidation of a new agenda for a nuclear-weapon-free world.

This is an idea developed by Zia Mian of Princeton University and this discussion draws on his work.

See Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, ADiplomatic Judo: Using the NPT to Make the Nuclear-Weapons States Negotiate the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons,@ Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 36, April 1999, available at www.gn.apc.org/acronym.