Ambassador Duarte kindly sent the Russell Foundation
his thoughts on a notable date.
26 September 2015
International Day for the
Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Former UN High
Representative for Disarmament Affairs
Sculpture depicting St. George slaying the dragon. The dragon is created from fragments of Soviet SS-20 and United States Pershing nuclear missiles. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant
Debate on nuclear disarmament is starting again at
the United Nations in New York. A number of activities marked the International
Day of Peace on 21 September, and more are scheduled for the forthcoming
International Day for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, on Monday 26 September 2015.
High-level discussions at the 2016 Session of the
General Assembly will focus on the one of the most pressing global issues of
our time: how to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. A
proposal to establish an Open Ended Work Group to that effect, made in May at
the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons, met with general approval. Unfortunately, the draft Final Document of
the Review Conference, which endorsed it, was not adopted because of
disagreement on another issue. In early October 2015, the First Committee of
the General Assembly will likely take up the proposal again. The overwhelming
support given at the NPT Review Conference to the “Humanitarian Pledge” by
which 113 States committed to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate” nuclear
weapons provides a suitable basis for advancing work on the multilateral front.
For twenty years substantive work at the Conference
on Disarmament in Geneva has been stalemated. Non-nuclear weapon States have consistently argued for the start of negotiations on
concrete measures of nuclear disarmament but meet stubborn opposition from the
possessors of atomic weapons and some of their allies. They consider nuclear
disarmament “premature” and advocate a so-called “step by step” approach.
However, for the past seventy years that approach has been successful only in
promoting measures to contain proliferation; no nuclear weapon has ever been
dismantled as a result of a multilateral agreement. Despite bilateral
agreements and unilateral decisions on reductions and caps in arsenals, those
States seem intent on retaining their nuclear arsenals indefinitely and on keeping
open for as long as possible the option of utilizing them as they see fit.
The international community has long agreed that
non-proliferation and disarmament should proceed in parallel. The considerable
progress already achieved on the former issue must be met by similar progress
on the latter. It is high time that the international community as a whole
engaged in serious work to take forward nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Several civil society groups are actively promoting a ban on the use of nuclear
weapons, which is seen as a catalyst to effective measures of nuclear
disarmament. Among other constructive suggestions, a Convention on such a ban
would be a matter for the discussions at the Open Ended Working Group. The
participation of nuclear weapon States is essential. They should take this
opportunity to show that they are seriously engaged in finding meaningful
progress in averting the catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear
weapons, either by accident or design.
Labels: Geneva, Nuclear Weapons, nuclear weapons ban, Sergio Duarte, United Nations