MPI calls for a global ban on nuclear weapons

The Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), a coalition of eight international disarmament organizations, is calling on governments to “begin collective preparatory work leading to the enactment of a universal, verifiable, irreversible and enforceable legal ban on nuclear weapons.” MPI Chair Richard Butler, founder Douglas Roche and Executive Committee Member Alyn Ware have embarked on a series of consultations with governments at the United Nations and in capitals around the world on a draft brief exploring the modalities for such preparatory work.

The brief is stimulated by the agreement at the 2010 NPT Review Conference that “All States need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons” noting “the Five-Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which proposes inter alia the consideration of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments.” The tour of capitals by the MPI team over the next month will take in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Delhi, London, Moscow, Oslo, Stockholm and Washington.

The MPI brief also notes the affirmation by the 2010 NPT Review Conference of the application of International Humanitarian Law to nuclear weapons. “Landmines and cluster munitions were banned by treaty once people realized the humanitarian consequences of their continued use,” said Senator Roche. “There is now a similar realization of the threat to humanity, not just if nuclear weapons are used but by the threat of use, their possession and their proliferation… This is a moment for enlightened leaders to start convening meetings to draw together those who want to build a global law banning all nuclear weapons.”

Conference on Disarmament begins 2011 session

This year’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva opened its session on January 25th with Ambassador Marius Grinius in the President’s Chair. He, like others before him, has his work cut out for him since the CD has yet again not been able to agree upon a programme of work. Following the UN Secretary-General’s speech on January 26th and a general debate, thematic discussions on core issues began. The first of these on February 1st covered nuclear disarmament as a topic. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of delegations participating in the discussion highlighted nuclear disarmament as their top priority in the CD. New START was welcomed but many states called for further reductions, particularly in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Ambassador Lauber of Switzerland noted that achievements in disarmament seem “rather modest compared to the overall scope of the problem” and argued that “efforts are random instead of systematic and coordinated.” He further argued, “disarmament steps are often results of budget cuts or consequence of technological changeover rather than the conception of a long-term plan to one day give up all these weapons.”

Several countries spoke favorably of a legally-binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons or a NWC, such as Pakistan, Argentina, Algeria, Chile, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, Egypt, Austria, and Switzerland. While the degree of commitment to such a process continues to vary, several delegations highlighted the UN Secretary-General’s five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament, which includes such a legally-binding agreement.

The Swiss delegation argued that nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral because they cause massive and indiscriminate destruction in terms of human lives, material resources, and for the environment, and that they are illegal with regard to international humanitarian law. Their indiscriminate effect “violates without exception all fundamental principles and rules of international humanitarian law.” Austria also highlighted the NPT outcome document’s reference to international humanitarian law.

Ambassador Marschik of Austria, who was the chair of the Subsidiary Body I on nuclear disarmament at the NPT Review Conference in 2010, noted that the NPT action plan called for negotiations and discussions of core issues at the CD. However, he asked if the CD really could deliver and shared concerns that this body is becoming obsolete. He argued that in a changing international environment, the institutions must adapt or perish.

A full report on discussions in the CD can be found at Reaching Critical Will. Also Reaching Critical Will’s Guide to the Conference on Disarmament 2011 can be found here.

A2000 letter to President Obama on de-alerting of nuclear arsenals

In November 2010 the A2000 Global Council sent a letter to President Obama expressing concern about the many thousands of nuclear weapons which remain on high-alert launch-ready status, and calling for a Presidential Decree abandoning the launch-on-warning policy and de-alerting all remaining launch-ready nuclear forces.   The letter was sent following the adoption of United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/65/71 which “calls upon the nuclear-weapon States to take measures to reduce the risk of an accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons and to also consider further reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons systems in ways that promote international stability and security.”