Disarmament Must Be Verifiable, Transparent, with Basis in International Law, Speakers Stress as DPI/NGO Conference Holds Round-Table Discussion

10 September 2009
NGO/678-PI/1906

Disarmament Must Be Verifiable, Transparent, with Basis in International Law, Speakers Stress as DPI/NGO Conference Holds Round-Table Discussion

10 September 2009
Meetings Coverage
NGO/678 PI/1906
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Disarmament Must Be Verifiable, Transparent, with Basis in International Law,

Speakers Stress as DPI/NGO Conference Holds Round-Table Discussion

(Received from a United Nations Information Officer.)

MEXICO CITY, 9 September ‑‑ To truly achieve complete global disarmament, the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons must be verifiable, transparent and anchored in international law and the rule of law, Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Vice-President of Programmes of the United States-based EastWest Institute, said as the sixty-second Annual DPI/NGO Conference continued in Mexico City on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking during a round-table discussion titled “Zero Nuclear Weapons, Zero Weapons of Mass Destruction:  Why, How, When?”, Mr. Sidhu said the United Nations Secretary-General’s five-point plan to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, introduced in October, was an important road map to follow.  Stakeholders in disarmament must also decide on what was meant by “zero” nuclear weapons and how to get there.

He stressed, however, that the process would not be easy, given fundamental differences of opinion between the global West or North, represented mainly by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the East or South, comprising Iran, China, India, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Israel.  Without common consensus, little progress would be made.

Reaching zero could be achieved through such instruments as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), he said.  That approach was very strongly reflected in international law but very weak in enforcement, while the multilateral approach ‑‑ working through the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly ‑‑ had played an important role in actually pushing disarmament treaties forward.

For example, the Government of India had initially blocked the CTBT’s adoption, but the treaty had been “resurrected” when the Government of Australia had introduced the matter as a resolution in the Assembly, he said.  The ad hoc non-treaty-based approach ‑‑ such as the Six-Party Talks on the nuclear weapons programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the European Union’s efforts to reach out to Iran, the proliferation security issue launched by the United States, and the United States-India nuclear deal ‑‑ were relatively weak in international law but very strong in terms of international implementation.

Alexander Pikayev, Director of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations, expressed concern over the fate of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) I signed by the United States and the Russian Federation, which was set to expire in December.  The leaders of the two nations had agreed in April to jumpstart talks on reducing warheads, but the looming deadline left them little time to devise the outline of a new nuclear treaty.  Although Washington’s Nuclear Posture Review should be completed by December, experience had shown that it was difficult for any United States Administration to translate noble declarations into real negotiations on reducing arms expenditures.

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director of the United States-based Western States Legal Fund, recalled that after the end of the cold war, nuclear weapons had diminished considerably and the world had expected a peace dividend.  However, scientists had lobbied successfully for nuclear weapons development, on the basis of the notion that they made countries and communities more secure.  But that was not true as human security could not be realized through military means or by the threat or actual use of nuclear weapons.  That message was particularly important in the United States, where corporate executives, military leaders and the mainstream media shaped public opinion while allowing very little independent thinking.

Reiterating that nuclear weapons really did not make people more secure, Ms. Cabasso said that in the United States, for example, unemployment was rising and people lacked the money to send their children to college.  Ordinary citizens felt they had more in common with people in Afghanistan than with their own Government ‑‑ which had seized upon the end of the cold war to continue its policy of managing the nuclear threat as the cornerstone of national security.  President Barack Obama had made noble statements about the nation’s moral obligation as the last standing super-Power to lead on global disarmament, while speaking at the same time of its need to keep its nuclear weapons in order to manage nuclear deterrence.

The wealthy everywhere were benefiting from nuclear weapons to the detriment of everyone else, when funds and efforts really should be channelled into addressing the global environmental and economic crises, she said, adding that existing nuclear weapons were far more dangerous than those that some nations or groups may seek to acquire.  However, they were no match for the global challenges posed by climate change, worsening poverty and new health concerns such as the H1N1 virus.  Non-nuclear-weapon States rightfully expected States parties to the NPT to honour their commitment made 40 years ago to eliminate nuclear weapons.  There was a real opportunity to rally behind the “2020 Vision” proposal to create a nuclear-weapons-free world by 2020, she said, expressing hope that millions of people would petition global leaders during next May’s NPT Review Conference to achieve that goal.

Olga Pellicer, Professor of International Studies at the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM), who moderated the round table, said recent developments in the field ‑‑ such as the upcoming Security Council Summit on Disarmament and talks between the United States and the Russian Federation on strategic arms reduction ‑‑ were reason for optimism.  At the same time, the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, rising military expenditures, nuclear testing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the fact that many States were poised to acquire nuclear arsenals were worrisome.

During the ensuing discussion, non-governmental organization representatives asked the panellists to elaborate on the question of transparency and how nations could agree on the language used in that regard.  They should also look at ways to strengthen the proposed nuclear weapons convention in terms of international law and implementation, among other issues.

In response, Mr. Sidhu said that when discussing global disarmament, one must start with the actual number of existing weapons.  But that data was not really available, and institutes focusing on disarmament issues, most of them based in the United States, had only “guestimates” at best.  There was no way of knowing how accurate they were.  Was that information so classified that weapons-holding countries could not share the actual figures or did they really not know how many weapons they possessed? he asked.

Pointing out that India and Pakistan were the only two countries in the world that had an agreement not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities, he said that since 1991, when that bilateral agreement had entered into force, the two countries exchanged a list of installations each year, including 1999 when they had actually been at war.  While facilities not on the list were often attacked, the two bitter rivals were exchanging lists of the most vital nuclear installations with each other, but not with their respective Parliaments.  While a greater degree of transparency was in fact possible, no one was giving countries like India and Pakistan credit for doing so, he said, adding that the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms was a good example of how to address that.

Also today, at Mexico City’s Diego Rivera Mural Museum, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the global 100-day “We Must Disarm” campaign, to culminate on 21 September, the International Day of Peace.  Surrounded by more than 120 young people and non-governmental organization representatives participating in the DPI/NGO Conference, Mr. Ban sent out the first tweet and called on everyone to join the campaign via Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or traditional media.  The Secretary-General also inaugurated, at the Mexican Museum of Popular Art, a sculpture based on the visual identity of the Conference.  Featuring a broken grenade with a leaf emerging from it ‑‑ a symbol of peace and development ‑‑ it was the creation of 50 university students from Mexico and elsewhere.

The DPI/NGO Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 10 September.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.