Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Conference on Disarmament and Negative Security Assurances

N  S  As

These insights were offered by UNIDIR as an abbreviated backgrounder to the current thematic debate in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a core issue on the CD’s agenda, Negative Security Assurances. Participants in that debate on 12 June will have heard the CD’s president, Ambassador Kahiluotu (Finland), draw on many of the following points.

Since the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) during the late 1960s, many of the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), especially those of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) who were not covered by any military alliance and were not in receipt of security guarantees under such alliance, expected that in return for agreeing to renounce nuclear weapons they should receive assurances that they would not be left vulnerable to attack by countries that still had them. That is, that they would receive legally binding “negative security assurances” (NSAs).
In 1978, the final document of the First Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to Disarmament asked nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to “pursue efforts to conclude, as appropriate, effective arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons”.
Since 1978 the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has included the topic of negative security assurances in its annual agenda.  In 1979 an ad hoc working group was established chaired by Egypt. In its first report to the Conference, the group noted that there was wide (though not universal) recognition of the urgent need to reach agreement on effective international arrangements for NSAs, such as an international convention.
The following year the working group agreed that the object of the arrangements should be to effectively assure NNWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. But there were divergent views on whether there should be a blanket or qualified extension of NSAs to NNWS, and on the exceptions associated with the right to self-defence.
Ad hoc groups were reconvened every year until 1994, and in 1995, the NWS circulated renewed pledges on NSAs to the UN General Assembly and Security Council. These unilateral declarations from 1995 led to the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 984 to the effect that NNWS parties to the NPT would receive assurances that “the Security Council, and above all its nuclear-weapon State permanent members, will act immediately in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations” to protect non-nuclear-weapon states against attacks or threats of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.
These unilateral commitments were a part of efforts to obtain the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review Conference. The NWS, however, were unable to find common language for a similar clause in the final outcome document of the Review Conference. Instead, the Conference adopted a recommendation that “further steps should be considered to assure non-nuclear-weapon States party to the [NPT] against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. These steps could take the form of an internationally legally binding instrument”.
Aside from Security Council resolutions, NSAs are also included in additional protocols of the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs). Although the NPT nuclear weapon states express their support of these the treaties, of the existing NWFZ treaties the Treaty of Tlatelolco is the only one which has had its protocols and ratified by all five NPT weapon states.
After several years of inability to continue work on NSAs, the CD reconvened the ad hoc committee on this topic in 1998. That body’s mandate was to negotiate “effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use on nuclear weapons”.  The committee began work on 19 May, holding 9 meetings in all. 
Incidentally, the mandates on Fissile Material and NSAs in 1998 were stand-alone ones, not intrinsically incorporated into a single programme of work. The committee has not since been reconvened, leaving NSAs to be addressed in thematic debates on this topic such as those now being conducted in the CD.
Despite the CD’s current longstanding deadlock over its programme of work and priorities, it is not thought that any state officially opposes the establishment of a working group on NSAs.  Recent iterations of a mandate on NSAs (including CD/1864 and CD/1933/Rev.1) envisage that a subsidiary body dealing with NSAs would “discuss substantively, without limitation, with a view to elaborating recommendations dealing with all aspects of this agenda item, not excluding those related to an internationally legally binding instrument”. This is a far cry from the negotiating mandate agreed by the CD in 1998.
A comparatively recent development of relevance to the debate on NSAs is that in the United States Nuclear Posture Review, released in April 2010, it was stated that the US is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing “negative security assurance” by declaring that it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations. This revised assurance is intended to underscore the security benefits of adhering to and fully complying with the NPT.

This is a guest post by Tim Caughley. Tim is a Resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR.