5th June 2010 Nuclear Abolition Day

NIS researcher Steven Hendry discusses the upcoming Nuclear Abolition day, the basic ideas behind a Nuclear Weapons Convention and its possible place alongside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

One week on from the closing of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Review Conference (NPT) in New York, Anti-nuclear activists around the globe will gather on June 5th to call for a global nuclear weapons convention (NWC). Many activists had hoped that this years review would end with a commitment to building a NWC.  However, it didn't – hence the need for action.

From peace picnics at Aldermaston and a demonstration at Faslane to seminars in Tokyo and soccer games in Manzini City, Nuclear Abolition Day events , which will coincide with World Environment Day, will call on the worlds leaders to take the meaningful steps necessary to eradicate the threat of nuclear weapons and divert the much needed funds to tackling threats such as climate change.

What is a nuclear weapons convention?
A model NWC has been drafted by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (I-Can) contained in the publication Security and Survival: The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention .

The convention consists of a package of agreements between the parties of the convention for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. Prohibitions would be placed on the development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Similar conventions have been established for other categories of weaponry such as chemical and biological weapons.

The convention would set out practical steps for nuclear powers to follow in order to achieve the final goal of a nuclear free world. A NWC would provide guidance and support on issues surrounding security concerns, the technical difficulties associated with verification and monitoring and legal frameworks to settle disputes and punish non-compliance.

The process of establishment, coordination, execution and verification of the convention would be overseen by an international agency, the sole purpose of which would be to help facilitate the end goal of the convention. This sets it apart from the International Atomic Energy Agency who alongside their responsibilities for ensuring the safeguarding of nuclear materials also promotes civil nuclear energy.

Bridging the Gap
Those calling for a NWC seek to address the perceived imbalance between proliferation concerns and disarmament within the current NPT regime. Non nuclear weapons states, analysts and activists have pointed to the priority given to measures to curb the spread of nuclear weapons over moves towards disarmament as a serious challenge to the continued commitment of the non-nuclear possessing states to the goals of the NPT.     

The NPT has been somewhat strengthened by the ability of the parties to unanimously approve a final document, having failed to do so at the 2005 review, which sets out numerous measures to be undertaken to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons. However, there is also considerable frustration at the limited nature of these measures. One such frustration has been the inability of the non-nuclear countries to have the five possessor states – UK, USE, France, Russia and China – commit to a disarmament timetable, with the goal of achieving significant steps by 2025. The five states have however agreed to ‘expedite nuclear disarmament efforts, reduce the role of that atomic weapons play in their military policies and report on their efforts in four years time’.     

Movement towards a NWC by all nuclear powers would be a significant step in expediting disarmament efforts and give the five nuclear weapons states something tangible to report on in four years time. The establishment of a NWC could enhance and strengthen the NPT by adding important complimentary mechanisms for enhanced verification and monitoring and introducing provisions for conflict resolution and sanctions for non-compliance.

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