Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: the Need for a New Agenda

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2002 Volume 23 Issue 4

After a conspicuous silence in 2001, the New Agenda Coalition returned in force to the First Committee of the 57th UN General Assembly in October, submitting two resolutions: the omnibus New Agenda resolution calling for a nuclear-weapon-free world, and a second single-issue resolution calling for reductions of tactical nuclear weapons.

In 1998, Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden submitted the first “New Agenda Resolution” to the UN First Committee. Calling themselves the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), they demonstrated a commitment to the speedy elimination of nuclear weapons and received wide support. The NAC submitted the resolution again in 1999 and 2000, when it received overwhelming support with 154 in favour, 3 against, and 8 abstentions.

The 2002 resolution was sponsored by Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Fiji, Ireland, Mexico, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sweden, Tuvalu, and Ukraine. It is a strong call for nuclear abolition that calls states to task for the limited progress that has been made towards this end. The Preamble expresses deep concern about the slow pace of implementing the NPT and stresses that any presumption of the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons is contrary to the spirit of the non-proliferation regime. In addressing the current political situation, it notes: “the emerging approaches to the broader role of nuclear weapons as part of security strategies could lead to the development of new types, and rationalizations for the use, of nuclear weapons.”

The Operative Paragraphs highlight several measures requiring additional support for the successful implementation of the NPT, stressing the continued risk to humanity posed by nuclear weapons. The statement recognizes the need for transparency and accountability in the disarmament process, noting the need for regular progress reports to the NPT conferences. It stresses the requirement of further reductions of both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons, and particularly the need for irreversibility in these cuts. The threat of proliferation is addressed and the resolution calls on states that have not yet done so, including those who are not yet parties to the NPT, to complete safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Resolution acknowledges the role of the Conference on Disarmament in negotiating disarmament treaties, noting the need for treaties on the control of fissile material, the weaponization of space and an ad hoc committee to deal with nuclear disarmament.

The text does not stray far from previous New Agenda resolutions in addressing current political developments in an assessment of progress towards the full implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and, ultimately, the elimination of nuclear weapons. Still, in a vote of 118 in favour, 7 opposed, and 38 abstentions, Canada was the only NATO country to vote for the resolution. France, India, Israel, Monaco, Pakistan, the UK, and the US opposed the resolution, while Russia joined the NATO states and US allies in abstaining. China was the only nuclear weapons state to vote in favour.

Although the message of the 2002 New Agenda Resolution is consistent with the resolution adopted with almost universal support in 2000, the voting outcome was dramatically different. In 2000, China, the US, and the UK supported the resolution; France and Russia abstained; and India, Israel, and Pakistan opposed. All the NATO states with the exception of France supported the 2000 resolution.

The nuclear weapons states argued that the New Agenda Resolution did not adequately reflect new developments and efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals, namely the recent Moscow Treaty on strategic arms reductions signed by the US and Russia. Some states felt that the timeline put forth in the resolution was unrealistic and supported balanced and gradual steps to abolish nuclear weapons. The US was highly critical of what it perceived to be an alarmist tone, and argued that it was more important to focus on practical measures than a ‘pre-mature’, multilateral, legally binding treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.

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