UN nuclear talks stalled by Bush policies

UNITED NATIONS — The UN opened its review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) amid an unprecedented level of antinuclear activity by more than 1,700 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Yet, the conference has stalled mainly due to the U.S. refusal to adhere to commitments it made in 1995 and 2000.

The NPT took effect in 1970, and over the years all but three countries — Israel, Pakistan and India — signed the pact. Its ultimate goal is the elimination of all nuclear weapons based on three equal premises: First, the nuclear weapons states — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain — must not threaten other nations and must work to disarm. Second, the non-nuclear weapons states must not attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. Third, the treaty guarantees that every nation is allowed to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Stephen Rademaker, assistant secretary of state for arms control, who addressed the conference on the first day, said the U.S. has fulfilled its commitments to disarmament. He then spoke mainly on nonproliferation, singling out North Korea and accusing Iran of attempting to create nuclear weapons.

Chris Cooper, a spokesperson for Abolition Now, a sponsor of New York City’s antinuclear rally May 1, challenged Rademaker’s claim about U.S. disarmament moves.

“I’m not sure that cutting the number of nuclear weapons, but making those remaining more usable and tactical, is in the spirit or the letter of the law,” Cooper said.

The next day, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, Iran’s foreign minister, criticized the nuclear power states for not moving forward on the 13 steps for disarmament laid out at the 2000 NPT review. He also spoke against national missile defense systems “which would instigate arms races in space,” and called for an international law banning the use of nuclear weapons, much like biological and chemical weapons are prohibited now.

Critics say the Bush administration’s policy to include first-strike use of nuclear weapons and funding to develop smaller, “more usable” nuclear weapons will only undermine the entire treaty by causing smaller, developing states, like North Korea, which recently withdrew from the treaty, to feel threatened and thus see a need to develop nuclear weapons for defense.

Wenceslao Carrera Doral, head of the Cuban delegation, said U.S. and NATO strategic doctrines now place even greater emphasis on the right to use force or the threat of force in international relations. These doctrines are of “concern for all humanity, particularly for poor and nonaligned countries,” he said.

Archbishop Celistino Migliore, representing the Vatican, said, “Compliance with [the NPT’s] disarmament provisions is also required: nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” Although the 21st century opened with an act of terrorism on 9/11, that “must not be allowed to undermine the precepts of international humanitarian law,” Migliore said.

New Zealand’s minister for disarmament and arms control, Marian Hobbs, represented the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), consisting of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden and New Zealand. The coalition formed in 1998 as a group of “middle powers,” mostly U.S. allies, working at the international level for better implementation of the NPT’s Article VI, which states that the five nuclear powers must move to eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.

Hobbs spoke about new nuclear weapons free zones in all of Latin America, Africa, Mongolia, Australia and much of Oceania. She said she hoped for a future nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Former Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, told the World that his organization is working with the NAC and others to move toward disarmament.

“The problem isn’t only Iran and North Korea — the problem is also the existence of 34,000 nuclear weapons held by the nuclear weapons states,” Roache said.

Many developing nations are concerned that the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy is being restricted in the name of stopping proliferation. The head of Brazil’s delegation, Ambassador Ronaldo Sardenberg, said, “Brazil is fully committed to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In addition to electrical power generation, Brazil’s nuclear activities extend to wide-ranging applications in medicine, agriculture, industry and environmental protection. [The NPT] does not qualify, restrict or reinterpret such a right.”