Lest there are a few of you out there who have flirted with the notion that the so-called “Nuclear Spring” would cause the rest of the world, particularly the non-nuclear weapon states, to hold hands and sing “kumbaya”, Colum Lynch’s report from Monday’s UN General Assembly debate on Disarmament and World Security provides a chilly does of reality.
“There is mistrust,” said Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Maged A. Abdelaziz, who is serving as chairman of the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement. Speaking before the General Assembly debate entitled “Disarmament and World Security,” the Egyptian envoy said the five major nuclear powers are seeking to impose new demands on non-nuclear powers while failing to fully live up to their own disarmament obligations, and permitting a special group of nations — India, Israel, and Pakistan — a free pass to produce nuclear weapons, without having to abide by the obligations of signatories to the NPT. “States outside the treaty are reaping the benefits of the treaty,” he said.
The Egyptian diplomat outlined the NAM’s opposition to a series of Western-backed initiatives, including a proposal to punish countries that withdraw from the NPT and a plan to establish a U.N. fuel bank to supply nuclear non-nuclear states. In addition, he said NAM had “serious concerns” about U.N. Security Council Resolution 1887, promoted last September by Obama, which strengthens the 15-nation body’s authority to confront states that fail to comply with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations. “We are not as non-nuclear states going to accept that each time there is progress in disarmament that we have to take more obligations on our side,” said Abdelaziz. [emphasis mine].
I suspect that those who actually believe that the NPT Review Conference will be a cakewalk for the U.S. meet in a very small room. But this does not mean that the Conference is doomed to failure. Nor is it to say that New START, the NPR, and the Nuclear Security Summit haven’t strengthened the U.S. case that it is revitalizing its commitment to its obligations under the NPT…
Rather, my sense is that Egypt and other NAM states are laying down a marker. They want to signal that while the actions taken by the U.S. and Russia in recent weeks are welcome, they do not equal disarmament, and as Daryl notes, they certainly do not render null and void the obligations the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states made at previous review conferences.
Three things in particular stood out to me about Ambassador Abdelaziz’s remarks. First, the issue of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East will once again be a point of contention.
Second, Abdelaziz’s reference to states outside the treaty reaping the benefits of the treaty suggests to me that the U.S.-India nuclear deal could be a much bigger issue at this review conference than some people think.
Finally, while stockpile reductions are important, non-nuclear weapon states certainly do not see them as a panacea. As Deepti Choubey pointed out in her excellent 2008 study on the attainability of new nuclear bargains,
The lesson from this exchange is that further stockpile reductions alone will not rehabilitate the U.S.’s reputation or provide it with enough leverage to gain more support for its nonproliferation agenda. “The United States would get more credit if it linked its actions to its commitments,” observed one UN official.
The world’s reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review is likely to be especially important in this regard. These reactions are still coming in. On Wednesday the Carnegie Endowment hosted an event on international perspectives on the NPR that I was unable to attend, but I look forward to scouring the transcripts to see what came out of the discussion.
In any event, it looks like Ambassador Susan Burk and her team are going to have their work cut out for them in New York come May.