Canadian NPT Delegation Report to NGOs: Canada’s Program of Action – How is it faring?

Tasneem Jamal

Author
Ernie Regehr

Sixth NPT Review Conference

The disarmament portion of the NPT Review Conference is devoted both to reviewing the performance of States over the past five years in furthering the Treaty’s disarmament objectives (Article VI), and to setting out a disarmament action program for the next five years.  Canada came to the conference with a particular and concrete set of actions that it wanted to see the Conference adopt for priority attention over the next five years (actions which would then be the subject of a performance review at the 2005 NPT Review Conference). So the question now is, how receptive has the 2000 Review been to endorsing Canada’s disarmament agenda?

Actually, even though the Conference is now entering its fourth and final week, it’s still too early to tell. There is no shortage of issues on the table, including those advanced by Canada, nor is there a shortage of views, perspectives and positions on those same issues. The conference has just five days remaining to pull it all together – and the veterans of these NPT talking wars assure that it is ever thus. Nothing is decided until its all decided, and that happens late in the final week (or, rather, late in the final day of the final week).  Even so, it is possible to get at least a preliminary sense of where we now stand.

The Canadian action agenda that was put forward is not so much a Canadian agenda as it is Canada’s attempt to identify practical priorities largely drawn from a well-established international disarmament menu. Other States go through the same process, all with a view to helping the international community build a shared commitment around a program of action that responds
credibly to an urgent disarmament imperative and that (and here’s the rub) has a credible chance of winning consensus support. The disarmament program of action advocated by Canada has been put forward through the Speech of the Minister, the statement in Main Committee I (MC I) —  which is the Committee charged with managing the disarmament review and action program at the
Conference and bringing a report to the plenary — and in a working paper submitted to MC I.

Main Committee I has now completed its work, but unfortunately its work is far from complete.  The Committee and its sub-committee, Subsidiary Body 1 (SB1), did manage to produce reports, both of which focussed on a review of the past five years and set out elements of a program of action for the next five years. Both of these reports have been forwarded to the Conference
Plenary, but neither report enjoys consensus — in other words, these are reports that have not yet been approved by any body. Hence, there is still a considerable row left to hoe before an updated and agreed upon disarmament program of action can take root.

The indefinite extension of the NPT confirmed, as Amb. Westdal put it in his statement to MC I, the irreversible obligation on the states party to the Treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, and each disarmament program of action is designed to identify priority measures to be pursued in the next
five year period, toward that end of eliminating nuclear weapons. Canada has suggested priority attention in the period 2000-2005 be given to:

 -accelerated reductions to existing strategic nuclear arsenals,
 -changes to nuclear weapons doctrines that facilitate initiatives such as de-alerting,
 -reductions of tactical nuclear weapons,
 -achieving the entry into force of the CTBT,
 -a moratorium and ban on the production of fissile materials,
 -establishment of a nuclear disarmament mechanism within the Conference on Disarmament (CD)
   in Geneva,
 -preservation of the ABM Treaty, and
 -a CD mechanism on the non-weaponization of outer space.

It is really only the last item that has not found its way in one form or another into the SB1 report. China has voiced its long standing interest in a treaty to prevent the deployment of weapons in space, but given the equally long-standing resistance from other NWS, this item won’t make the
cut.

One item currently still in the SB1 report on disarmament action is the New Agenda Coalition’s formulation of the overall goal of nuclear elimination.  Canada made a point of speaking in support of the paragraph and its call for “an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and, in the forthcoming NPT review period 2000-2005, to engage in an accelerated process of negotiations and to take steps leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.”  Of course, the paragraph has not been adopted or approved, and its fate is far from certain, but if the conference is to reach consensus at all, some deft work will be needed to bridge the gulf between the position of the NWS and their joint commitment to “the ultimate goal of a complete elimination of nuclear weapons” and the widely supported, and more challenging, call to “accomplish” the elimination of
nuclear weapons in some foreseeable future. NGO observers in particular point out that the NWS “unequivocal commitment” is still just another promise to do something eventually, while an “undertaking” is an action designed to actually “accomplish” something.

China, it should be noted, has called on the NWS to “commit themselves to the goal of the complete prohibition and total elimination of nuclear weapons and to negotiate and conclude as soon as possible a convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons”.  China, however, links this call to “strategic stability” — implying that current strategic stability relies on nuclear weapons as opposed to strategic stability and security relying on the elimination of such weapons. The UK has indicated some tolerance for the paragraph, calling only for the reference to 2000-2005 to be removed, while France says the whole paragraph has to go. The US has not shown its full hand in the context of the present conference.

Canada’s call for an accelerated START process is reflected in the current Conference text in SB1, which calls for implementation of START III.  SB1 also reflects Canada’s call that the other three NWS should become directly engaged in the process in the near future.  The SB1 report currently calls for “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons,” reflecting Canada’s similar policy on reducing the political value of nuclear weapons. The SB1 document is interesting inasmuch as it
describes the diminished role of nuclear weapons as a means to enhancing strategic stability, which is a twist on the usual insistence of the NWS that all calls for nuclear reductions be linked to strategic stability in the opposite sense – assuming that strategic stability flows from nuclear weapons and that they can be reduced or eliminated only if that stability is not affected.

Canada linked its reference to doctrine, in the context of this Conference, to the pursuit of de-alerting, de-mating, transparency, and confidence-building measures, and SB1 makes reference to all of these, including a call to “de-alert and de-activate nuclear weapons systems.” The SB1 report also calls for the “removal of nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles,” and describes all of these measures as being for the purpose of enhancing stability and security. The showdown with the NWS will come later.

Measures to reduce and eliminate the threats posed by tactical nuclear weapons are also proposed by Canada, and the SB1report, not yet approved, says the further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons should lead to their total elimination, this time “in the context of strategic stability.” This implies that their elimination is not a requirement for stability, and that their reduction might have to be limited if strategic security were to be negatively affected. Russia is particularly sensitive on this point, arguing that post-Cold War developments, like their sharply reduced conventional military capacity and the eastward expansion of NATO, mean that their reliance on tactical nuclear weapons has in fact increased.

The need to bring the CTBT into force “at the earliest possibility,” as Canada’s statement puts it, is also reflected in the SB1 document. The related issue of sub-critical testing, which is not commented upon in the report, has been raised from several quarters. Russian diplomats told a somewhat sceptical NGO audience that sub-critical testing is not a problem because it cannot be used to design and develop new warheads. The non-aligned movement has argued at the conference that the spirit of the CTBT is to ban all weapons-related testing and wants the NWS to comply with the “spirit” of Treaty’s intent.

Canada’s call for the early conclusion in the CD of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, reflects a long-standing and long-stalled item on the global disarmament agenda. It is nevertheless still included in the SB1 report, which calls for a “verifiable treaty” toward that end. China is the primary obstacle, linking, in at least one intervention, a fissile materials production ban to a ban on ballistic missile defence.

So, that was the easy part. While the first three weeks were used to take a great deal of material on board, and, it must in fairness be added, to do some considerable sorting and filtering, the hard bargaining is yet to come.  Stay tuned.

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