Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 4 August 2016

Security and Nuclear Disarmament

A foundation of global strategic stability is regarded by a number of states as a prerequisite for progress on nuclear disarmament. In today’s troubled world, efforts to achieve such progress are seen as misguided, if not futile.

An alternative view is that the continuing existence of high numbers of nuclear weapons is a factor that contributes to the unsettled security environment. This perspective draws on a range of concerns about possessors of nuclear weapons—stalled efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals, increased investment in modernising those arsenals, apparent readiness of leaders or aspiring leaders to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, and so on. Compounding this situation is the absence of trust between nuclear-weapon possessors and non-possessors and the abdication of responsibility by the Conference on Disarmament for negotiating on nuclear disarmament (and other) issues.

Proponents of these positions will be at loggerheads this month in the UN General Assembly-mandated Open-ended Working Group on taking nuclear disarmament forward (OEWG). The OEWG will conclude its work on 19 August and account for itself to the UNGA in October. Its respected chair Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi of Thailand has already circulated a draft report for the OEWG’s consideration.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Conference of Disarmament gears itself up for making its own report to the UNGA. By the way, it is curious that some of those states that see the current international security environment as being unfavourable for progress on nuclear disarmament remain hopeful that the CD can in the same security situation nonetheless overcome its 20-year deadlock over how to negotiate issues of comparable strategic complexity.

In any event, perhaps in proposing a new topic (see our previous post), Russia is trying to get the Conference to side-step this impasse and turn instead to an issue of common concern—i.e., terrorism (in Russia’s proposal, relating specifically to acts of chemical and biological terrorism).

Another comparatively neutral option for the CD is to re-examine its ‘working methods’. For example, the idea of extending the one-month term of the CD’s rotating presidency has been put forward. But this would be a non-issue if the CD were actually in negotiating mode. This is because the chair of those negotiations would effectively become the CD’s power-broker. The Conference president would then become largely symbolic for the duration of the negotiations. The term of the negotiating chair, unlike the CD president’s, need not be confined to a single month.

Whether or not events this August in the CD will shape that body’s future and to what extent the course of negotiations on nuclear disarmament will be forged in the OEWG remain to be seen. But one thing is certain: the outcomes and their security ramifications will both be aired fully in the UN General Assembly later this year.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

Monday, 4 July 2016

The CD – some stirrings?

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) has just concluded its second session.  It will resume on 2 August for its final 7 weeks for 2016.

The CD remains in the grip of its 20-year paralysis. There have, however, been several twitches of life this year. Draft programmes of work tabled by the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom have in different ways challenged the Conference to rethink the manner in which it might best approach its responsibilities as a negotiating forum. (The last time the CD exercised that role was in 1996 when developing a comprehensive testban.)

By way of an additional topic to the perennial four ‘core’ issues on which the CD has long been blocked, Russia proposed negotiations on elements of a treaty for the suppression of acts of chemical terrorism. This new topic hasn’t broken the log-jam but it has caused some soul-searching as to what the Conference might usefully take up if progress on the core issues remains elusive.

The United Kingdom took a more radical approach. Rather than repeating the CD’s stubborn, two-decades-long approach of trying to set up a working group for each of the four core issues, the UK proposed that there be just one such group. Its ostensible focus would be nuclear disarmament, one of the four core issues (the others being fissile material, negative security assurances and outer space).

Single-mandate proposals like the British one are a welcome echo of the good old days of the CD (pre-1996). So too, are work programmes that are cast in part at least as a schedule of activities. In more productive days, the work programme was no more than a schedule of activities, allowing real work – the development of a negotiating mandate – to get underway at the beginning of the annual session.

Whether the CD is seeing the possible beginnings of a return to better habits of the distant past is too early to say. Russia has yet to convince all CD members that its proposal is an appropriate topic for the Conference.  The UK has yet to convince all members that the proposed mandate is truly a negotiating one and not a duplication of the discussion mandate of the current UN General Assembly’s Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament. Time will tell.

One final point concerns the vexed issue of CD v. OEWG. Given the emergence of forums such as OEWGs and GGEs dealing with issues in parallel to those on the CD’s agenda, some debate has arisen about the Conference’s true role. This comes down to recognising the difference between “single” and “sole” negotiating body?

“Sole” has come to be used as though the CD were the only legitimate multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. However, UNSSOD1’s use of the words “a single negotiating body” was intended to mean something else. What the General Assembly had in mind was that the CD would be a standing body, a single - as opposed to the sole - forum.

That is, it would be a standing institution to which key disarmament issues could be brought and negotiated by key states as needs arose (assuming the necessary consensus). It was seen as more effective and efficient to support a single establishment and maintain a single repository of knowledge and expertise than to take up disarmament issues, one by one, in an ad hoc manner. Not an exclusive forum for disarmament negotiations, but a convenient, pre-existing, readily resourced one.

That point may seem esoteric, but in any event competition breeds innovation. In the CD’s case, the signs of some re-invention may slowly be emerging, if the Russian and UK proposals are anything to go by.

Tim Caughley

Resident Senior Fellow

Monday, 6 June 2016

Hiroshima in the news

These are comments made by UNIDIR Fellow, Tim Caughley, at a Public Meeting organised by UNITAR at the Hiroshima International Conference Centre, Japan, on 1 June 2016

Future perspectives for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The immediate future for multilateral nuclear disarmament is difficult to predict. There are only two certainties.  The first is that the global security environment will remain a complicating factor for making real progress on nuclear disarmament.  The second is that a new review cycle for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will begin in May 2017, building up to 2020 and the 50th anniversary of entry-into-force of the treaty that year. It can confidently be said that of the three pillars of the NPT all parties retain a strong interest in sustaining two of them, the proliferation and peaceful use pillars. However, efforts to agree effective measures for shoring up the shaky third pillar—on nuclear disarmament—are, for the meantime, taking place in a parallel forum, an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) established by the UN General Assembly. Those efforts are intensifying despite—or perhaps because of—the highly unsettled international security environment.

For the rest, the future can only be a matter of further speculation:
1. In the NPT review, what will be the attitude of nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to the sharpening focus on the nuclear disarmament pillar of the NPT in the OEWG?
2. And in the immediate future, what will be the outcome of the work of the OEWG when it meets again this August to agree its report and make recommendations to the 71st session of the UN General Assembly?
3.  Equally, what will be the outcomes of any initiatives in the General Assembly this October to reconvene the OEWG or any other new group or negotiation that may be set up by UNGA71?
4. For instance, will UNGA71 agree on a new process stemming from one or other of two proposals made during the OEWG’s May for negotiations on a prohibition of nuclear weapons. One proposal was tabled by the entire group of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). The other came from a cross-regional group (including 3 states from this region [i.e., Asia])?
5. Will states that do not support such a negotiation participate in it? The dynamic that might unfold could take this form: there could be pressure from nuclear-weapons states on their allies and friends not to participate.  On the other hand, there would be pressure from civil society on non-nuclear weapon states, including those that are allied to NWS, to attend and to press for a prohibition even if the NWS did not participate.

In any event, future perspectives are necessarily of a speculative nature at this stage.

Answers to pre-submitted questions covered the following points during the Hiroshima public meeting:

The latest meeting of the OEWG took place in May 2016. What is the significance of these sessions?
The significance lies in the fact that are taking place:
i) under UNGA rules of procedure (in which voting can occur if consensus is absent);
ii) in parallel to forums that have proved to be either blocked (Conference on Disarmament) or unproductive (NPT) and which both operate under the consensus rule for the taking of decisions.
As well as being able to take decisions by voting, the conduct of the meetings is more informal and flexible than the CD and the NPT. For instance, interactivity – i.e., an actual exchange of views or debate – is strongly encouraged.  Civil society participates actively.  The chair arranges experts to make presentations in order to stimulate debate.
How is the OEWG contributing to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation?
The OEWG is providing a forum in which all states are able to participate alongside intergovernmental organisations and civil society unlike the CD (65 members) and the NPT (which doesn’t include nuclear armed states, the DPRK, India, Israel and Pakistan).
What are the limitations and opportunities of these Open Ended Working Group meetings?
Limitations have resulted because the nuclear armed states have chosen not to participate, leaving the defence of nuclear weapons possession and the stationing of US nuclear weapons on the territories of some NATO allies to states under the nuclear ‘umbrella’. The opportunity for a direct expression of views from the weapon states themselves is an important missing ingredient.
Opportunities stem from the ability for civil society to be heard and to contribute to the debate.
How do milestones such as the visits to Hiroshima by the US President and US Secretary of State affect nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation? Do these visits help promote this issue?
The visits have various symbolic impacts, especially President Obama’s as the first serving US President to come to Hiroshima since the dropping of the atomic bomb. The visits affect nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by their recognition of the unique impacts of a nuclear weapon on civilians (as opposed to conventional bombing), an impact wreaked by a single weapon rather than hundreds of conventional ones, an impact which is indiscriminate and, because of radio-activity, goes on killing people and affecting the health of survivors long after the explosion. It is impossible to imagine that visitors would not be affected by their visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but with the aging of hibakusha (affected survivors) it will be left to all of us to honour their testimony and to press for a nuclear weapon free world.
What can be done to achieve a break-through for a world without nuclear weapons? What else could the people of Hiroshima do to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation?

A nuclear weapon detonation, especially an exchange of nuclear weapons between enemies, will not respect national boundaries. And the risks of a damaging accident are difficult to calculate but are greater than zero. Therefore, everyone has a stake in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. A break-through will require much wider public understanding that the health, safety and security of everyone is at stake. The hibakusha and other people of Hiroshima can continue with their moving efforts to remind us all of the horrific and lasting impacts of a nuclear weapon.
Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Nuclear Disarmament: Humanitarian Consequences: OEWG

Dr. John Borrie, UNIDIR’s Chief of Research, made a presentation on 26 February to the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) which is meeting in Geneva this year.

The presentation was entitled: 'Measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.

The text of the presentation can be found on the OEWG's website via this link.

The OEWG was established by the United Nations General Assembly for the purpose of ‘taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’. It opened in Geneva on 22 February. Its next session begins in Geneva on 2 May.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow