War­ring over dis­ar­ma­ment in the UN

Mint Asia ST - - Views Theirview - W.P.S. Sidhu


most peo­ple the UN is the venue of an an­nual kabuki the­atre where world lead­ers come to make sonorous speeches and snipe at each other to score points with pop­u­la­tions back home. While these the­atrics, played out ev­ery Septem­ber from the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly (UNGA), make for high en­ter­tain­ment, they do very lit­tle to ei­ther ad­vance na­tional in­ter­ests or mul­ti­lat­eral goals.

How­ever, just weeks af­ter the cur­tains come down on the UNGA drama, diplo­mats from all mem­ber­states gather in the less glam­orous bow­els of the UN to de­lib­er­ate on dis­ar­ma­ment and in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity, pro­mote na­tional in­ter­ests, and, if pos­si­ble, do some global good. The de­lib­er­a­tions of the First Com­mit­tee have tended to be busi­ness-like and the en­voys have sought to bridge dif­fer­ences and seek com­mon ground, if pos­si­ble. Un­til now.

Ac­cord­ing to Reach­ing Crit­i­cal Will, a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that closely mon­i­tors dis­ar­ma­ment devel­op­ments, the First Com­mit­tee has been “par­tic­u­larly frac­tious this year, in­flu­enced by events in the con­fer­ence room but also by events in other con­fer­ence rooms, and of course, in the real world”. These events in­clude ten­sions over North Korea be­tween the US and China, dif­fer­ences over the Iran nu­clear deal, and the Rus­sian veto in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil block­ing the ex­ten­sion of the Joint In­ves­tiga­tive Mech­a­nism man­dated to probe al­leged chem­i­cal weapons use in Syria. Per­haps, the big­gest fac­tor be­hind this year’s undiplo­matic dust-up is the re­cently con­cluded Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons (TPNW).

Adopted in July, the TPNW com­mits state par­ties not to “de­velop, test, pro­duce, man­u­fac­ture, oth­er­wise ac­quire, pos­sess or stock­pile nu­clear weapons or other nu­clear ex­plo­sive de­vices” and for­bids them to “use or threaten to use nu­clear weapons or other nu­clear ex­plo­sive de­vices”. This sin­gle treaty has ex­ac­er­bated rifts not only be­tween the nu­clear-armed states and the non-nu­clear armed states but also mem­bers of the Treaty on the Non-pro­lif­er­a­tion of Nu­clear Weapons (NPT), the Non-aligned Move­ment (NAM), and in some cases, be­tween nu­clear-armed states and their al­lies, which are pro­tected by these weapons.

At the crux of this bit­ter con­test are two com­pet­ing path­ways to­wards a world free of nu­clear weapons. The first, led by the NPT nu­clear weapon states and their al­lies, pre­fer a “stepby-step” ap­proach un­der the aegis of the NPT regime. This group also seeks to break the “dead­lock of two decades in the Con­fer­ence of Dis­ar­ma­ment”, which has ren­dered the fo­rum co­matose. They see the TPNW as a dan­ger to this tra­di­tional (but in­ef­fec­tual) ap­proach and refuse to rec­og­nize it. Sec­ond, the pro­po­nents of TPNW—ALL NPT states nei­ther pos­sess­ing nor pro­tected by nu­clear weapons—frus­trated with the lack of progress, seek a more “com­pre­hen­sive, in­clu­sive, in­ter­ac­tive and con­struc­tive” road to mul­ti­lat­eral nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment. They ar­gue that while the NPT and the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment are cru­cial, they are not suf­fi­cient and that the new treaty “is an es­sen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to­wards nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment”. This ac­ri­mo­nious war over dis­ar­ma­ment is be­ing fought through the votes for var­i­ous res­o­lu­tions in the First Com­mit­tee. For in­stance, the res­o­lu­tion on tak­ing for­ward mul­ti­lat­eral nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­posed by as many as 40 of TPNW’S staunch­est cham­pi­ons and sup­ported by an­other 77 coun­tries was op­posed by 39 states—eight nu­clear armed states (North Korea ab­stained) and 31 states living un­der the nu­clear um­brella pro­vided by the US. This de­spite the fact that the TPNW res­o­lu­tion sought to ac­com­mo­date the con­cerns of the op­po­si­tion by mak­ing pointed ref­er­ences to the step-by-step ap­proach and the NPT.

Per­haps the clear­est sign of dis­unity in the pro­ceed­ings was ev­i­dent, iron­i­cally, in the vot­ing on the res­o­lu­tion on united ac­tion with re­newed de­ter­mi­na­tion to­wards the to­tal elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear weapons. Pro­posed by Ja­pan, the res­o­lu­tion was sup­ported by 45 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US and the UK. This res­o­lu­tion made no ref­er­ence to the TPNW and, worse, was per­ceived to be pro­mot­ing nu­clear de­ter­rence over nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment. The res­o­lu­tion also ap­pears to have wa­tered down many of the com­mit­ments made dur­ing pre­vi­ous NPT re­view con­fer­ences. Un­sur­pris­ingly then, the res­o­lu­tion in­vited an un­prece­dented num­ber of votes on in­di­vid­ual para­graphs and ex­pla­na­tion of votes by nearly 30 coun­tries. While the res­o­lu­tion was com­fort­ably adopted by a vote of 144 for and four against (in­clud­ing China and Rus­sia), the large num­ber of ab­sten­tions—27, in­clud­ing In­dia, Is­rael and Pak­istan—high­lighted the grow­ing di­vi­sions.

Re­spond to this col­umn at views@livemint.com

At the crux of the dis­ar­ma­ment con­test in the UN are two com­pet­ing path­ways to­wards a world free of nu­clear weapons

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