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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

Nuclear Disarmament on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century: Is This As Good As It Gets?
By Miguel Marin-Bosch

As the world meanders towards a much heralded new international order, a number of trends are appearing, some of them very disquieting. It is a time of mixed, often confused and confusing signals. Many encouraging processes of reconciliation within and between countries stand in sharp contrast to the increasing number of cases of civil strife and conflict. However, as the situation in Kosovo grimly testifies, such internal strife has the terrible potential to lead to conflict between nations.

As the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia also testify, the end of the Cold War has yet to give way to the kind of world envisaged in the United Nations Charter. Drafted at the end of World War II, and thus at the height of enlightened internationalism, its Preamble placed the human being at the centre of the world's concerns. With the onset of the Cold War, and over the succeeding forty years, the peoples of this planet were relegated to a secondary position. Security concerns of the nation State prevailed over the needs and aspirations of citizens. National security issues monopolized the attention of most Governments. Now, with the end of the Cold War and economic globalization, the nation State has lost much ground to other powerful actors, such as transnational corporations and other free market forces. But should the market rule supreme? Should Governments be so concerned with, and dependent on, the performance of stock markets?

We are told that we are living in an interdependent world, but recent history shows that some countries are more dependent than others. We are told that economic globalization is bound to be good for everyone, but we see that there are the globalizers and the globalized, and that extreme poverty is on the increase. As an ideology, globalization could result in a new form of totalitarianism.

We are told that environmental issues are of vital interest and yet little has been done since the Rio Conference. Those who pollute the most are among the slowest to adopt multilaterally agreed measures. We are told that internal conflicts should be resolved peacefully, but there are Governments that cannot or will not do so. We are told that conflict resolution and peace-building should be pursued, but ethnic conflicts continue to multiply and the perpetrators of genocide go unpunished.

We are told that non-nuclear threats to peace should be addressed, but many Governments continue to seek markets for their conventional weapons and others turn a blind eye to the efforts to ban anti-personnel landmines or to restrict the transfer of light weapons. These and other related issues and problems are important. But nuclear disarmament and the search for a nuclear-weapon-free world must remain atop of the multilateral agenda.

At the end of the nineties, the situation regarding nuclear disarmament is much less encouraging than ten years ago. Although there have been important advances in the strategic arms reduction (START) process and a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is now in place (though not in force), the prospects are not good.

The unconditional extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995 was what the five permanent members of the Security Council (P-5) wanted and secured in order to continue being the nuclear haves in a world of, overwhelmingly, nuclear have-nots. The individual positions of the P-5, however, are certainly not identical.

Take the United Kingdom White Paper, the Strategic Defence Review (SDR), of July 1998. It contains some encouraging proposals and reflects a certain amount of non-governmental organization (NGO) input. That is how things should be; but how 'strategic' can the review claim to have been when it accepted at the outset both that Britain needed to retain the Trident nuclear system, and that nuclear 'deterrence' remained crucial both to British security and the security of the NATO Alliance. The British Labour Party's stance on nuclear issues has long been ambiguous. From a forthright espousal of unilateral disarmament for much of the 1980s, it has moved closer to the Tories' unquestioning faith that it is absolutely right for Britain to retain weapons which it would be absolutely wrong for other nations to obtain. It would seem that calls for vigorous nuclear disarmament were actually hindering Labour's electoral prospects; that is most depressing.

The United States Government has recently restated that it would continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for the foreseeable future. For its part, Russia has adopted NATO's first-use policy, not least in response to NATO expansion. The war in the Balkans - allied to a host of other negative factors, such as the United States' determination to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty - is hardly likely to persuade Russia that the time is right to return to the enlightened nuclear disarmament agenda of the Gorbachev era.

In all of the P-5, there are moves to seek some adjustments to nuclear posture, reflecting a desire for smaller, more efficient weapons systems. But the basic attitude towards nuclear weapons has not changed. All five States continue to ignore their treaty obligations to pursue and conclude negotiations aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons. They completely disregard the International Court of Justice's 1996 Advisory Opinion, which unequivocally stresses the importance of honouring those obligations.

Take their approach to Israel. They opt for a double-standard on non-proliferation and ignore the question. Or take their reaction to the Indian and Pakistani tests. It is simply one of repeating the same old refrain of "Do as I say, not as I do." They refuse to accept the new situation in the Subcontinent and think that they can wish away the nuclear weapons of those two States. At their behest, the Security Council called on India and Pakistan to join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon States. That is no way to deal with this deplorable development. Finally, take their attitude to the CTBT. The United States, for example, urges India and Pakistan to sign a treaty that the US Congress has no current plans to ratify.

As the NPT prepares for its 2000 Review Conference - a preparation thus far marked by dissent, acrimony and stalemate - it is hard to repress fundamental concerns for the future of the treaty, and with it the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Some States are trying to address, rather than repress, those fundamental concerns. The nuclear-weapon States, however, are not among them.

Ambassador Miguel Marin-Bosch is the Consul-General of Mexico in Barcelona, and former representative to the Conference on Disarmament. His opinions are not necessarily those of his Government. This text is an updated and revised version of his remarks at the final plenary session of the 48th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs ("The Long Roads to Peace"), held at the Hacienda Jurica, Queretaro, Mexico, from 29 September to 4 October 1998.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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