I am in New York this week to attend meetings and observe at the 2014 Preparatory Meetings for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The meetings began last week, covering issues of disarmament and nonproliferation in the first week, and started with peaceful uses (Cluster 3) statements on Monday. There are several takeaways that I thought I would try to gather here in a single post. Some of this will be expanded upon in other posts.
There were four distinct approaches: inherent rights, money, economic necessity, and aggressive assertion of rights. The first sought to emphasize the inalienable rights present within the NPT for each state to have nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The second generally presented an litany of money spent on promoting nuclear energy and security. The next reoccurring argument was that nuclear energy would play a significant role in meeting the economic development goals of developing states. The last followed the same line as the first, but stringently asserted their rights and levied charges against ‘states’ for impinging on those rights.
The trends on who support each of these approaches were fairly straight-forward. Brazil and some of the other non-align nations followed the first paradigm. The developed countries, particular the EU, Russia, and the US followed the approach of listing monies spent in promoting peaceful uses. Developing nations, in particular African states all made mention of the use of nuclear technology in meeting development goals, as well as nuclear technology as being a pathway to overcome poverty. Lastly, Iran lead the charge of the last approach, but had legitimacy strengthened by the statement by Indonesia at the end of session.
There seems to be agreement among the people I have spoken with that the nuclear disarmament will only occur once the nuclear weapon states no longer see nuclear weapons as valuable. However, that is the extent of the logic chain for most. My question is: What replaces it? If there is perceived intrinsic value of nuclear weapons, that value will have to either be diminished, which by most peoples’ argument won’t happen, or will have to be replaced. If nuclear weapons are seen as effective and valuable to those that possess them, then something will need to supplant that value in order to diminish the number of nuclear weapons to global zero. I am sure this is something that has been debated within the halls of government and the UN with great frequency, but it surprises me that most seem content to state the immovability of nuclear weapon value with no suggestions or idea for replacement.
The strategy that most non-nuclear weapon states appear to be taking now is to focus on highlighting the grievous impact civilians face at the hands of nuclear weapons, attempting to bolster the non-use norm with the idea that nuclear weapons are in fact not valuable as they are too devastating. This approach, in my opinion, has little value, as nuclear weapon states, in particular the US and the USSR, built their arsenals and strategies to inflict the most military damage possible, accepting over time that as most were located near civilian centers would inflict mass causalities.
Multilateral vs. Unilateral
The statements by the majority of states on the issue of fuel banks, or guaranteed nuclear fuel supply which would be useful in alleviating state concerns that nuclear fuel could be restricted for political reasons, promoted multilateral solutions. Two exceptions, for two distinct reasons, were noticeable. The US and Russia both elevated unilateral elements of fuel guarantees; the US via its down-blended, government provided program, and Russia as part of complete fuel cycle services. I thought this an interest divergence from other discussions on ensuring fuel supply. The US pushed its domestic fuel bank, while Russia made a 10 minute sales pitch for how it could do everything to meet a state’s nuclear fuel demand.
I have some other thoughts on distinguishing safety and security, as well as the translation of these words in some of the other working languages (or rather their absence in other languages), but will save these comments for next post.