Saturday, September 26, 2009

UNSC Resolution 1887

September 24th the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1887. This was immediately hailed as "historic" by President Obama, who chaired the session. The resolution "expresses the Council’s grave concern about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the need for international action to prevent it. It reaffirms that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery are threats to international peace and security and shows agreement on a broad range of actions to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament and the threat of nuclear terrorism" (see 'Fact Sheet on the UN Security Council Summit on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament UNSC Resolution 1887').

Reactions ranged from those lauding President Obama for achieving a signal victory, to others accusing him of having demonstrated "weakness." President Sarkozy of France managed to strongly push for the resolution, even while "sticking it" to the President. An example of a laudatory reaction, "... Obama has consolidated global support behind the vision and the plan. He has laid the legal and diplomatic basis for enforcing tougher penalties for those that cheat on nuclear treaties. He has gotten all the nuclear nations to agree to new steps to get rid of the weapons they now hold in staggering numbers. It is remarkable progress..."

This blogger agrees that the resolution was a very positive step. However, he does not see it either as an amazing achievement, nor as a particularly huge or irrevocable step towards disarmament., and would caution against letting any of the apparent euphoria related to this resolution detract from the serious work yet remaining .. But what about the unanimous agreement? Well, that was both an artefact of the how the resolution was written - with sufficient ambiguity to allow states with differing viewpoints to agree on the formulation - as well as the fact that the document did not seriously bind the permanent members to change their existing actions or positions. A few examples to consider:

Section 4 "calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms;" Seems rather cut and dried, a strong push to bring all companies under the aegis of the NPT. Or is it? As soon as the resolution passed India immediately registered its objections to this, and was promptly reassured by the U.S. Additionally, barely a week earlier many of those who voted for 1887 (and presumably agreed with the need for all non-signatories to accede to the NPT) had voted against a resolution urging Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to place all their atomic sites under UN inspections... (note: the vote passed despite this...)

Section 5 "Calls upon the Parties to the NPT, pursuant to Article VI of the Treaty, to undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, and calls on all other States to join in this endeavour;" Although the nuclear powers agreed here to work towards "complete (nuclear) disarmament", who can doubt that this "long and arduous" journey will not be their major focus, and will most certainly be subordinated to the incomparably more important (ahem) issue of nonproliferation?

Section 7 "Calls upon all States to refrain from conducting a nuclear test explosion and to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date;" A long-standing goal of the nuclear "have nots," the "haves" here agree to achieve this "at an early date." However, there is no evidence of current moves towards achieving this goal any time soon. Both China and the United States have signed but not ratified the CTBT (U.S. - signed by President Clinton in 1996, rejected by the Senate in 1999). The language in 1887 appears to reflect President-elect Obama's commitment to taking the CTBT to the Senate for ratification "at the earliest practical date." At present, however, it is very unlikely that the Senate would ratify the CTBT, even if strongly supported by the President...

Section 9 "Recalls the statements by each of the five nuclear-weapon States, noted by resolution 984 (1995), in which they give security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon State Parties to the NPT, and affirms that such security assurances strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime;" Here, the nuclear "haves" would appear to have reconfirmed an assurance that they will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. Apparently fairly cut and dried. But how do we square this with the standard "we won't take any options off the table" formulation that has been brandished against various states, including but not limited to (non-nuclear) Iraq and Iran?

Section 19 "Encourages States to consider whether a recipient State has signed and ratified an additional protocol based on the model additional protocol in making nuclear export decisions;" Note the use of "encourages." By using this "softer" term (rather than, say, "requires") Russia can both agree to the resolution and still have the latitude to proceed with supporting Iran's reactor at Bushehr... Similarly, Section 8 which covers the negotiation of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material, "requests all Member States to cooperate in guiding the Conference to an early commencement of Substantive work" (note "requests.")

Bottom line: while an important step, the achievement of unanimity for Resolution 1887 is more due to its artful composition than to President Obama somehow having convinced by force of argument Russia, China, etc. to change or moderate their positions... The progress achieved here is real, but much, much more work remains to be done!

Unanimously voting for the resolution were the permanent members (U.S. Russia, China, U.K., France), along with Japan, Costa Rica, Croatia, Mexico, Austria, Vietnam, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Turkey, and Libya, represented by:

President Barack Obama, United States of America
President Óscar Arias Sánchez, Republic of Costa Rica
President Stjepan Mesic, Republic of Croatia
President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, Russian Federation
President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, United Mexican States
President Heinz Fischer, Republic of Austria
President Nguyen Minh Triet, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Republic of Uganda
President Hu Jintao, People’s Republic of China
President Nicolas Sarkozy, France
President Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Japan
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Republic of Turkey
Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Permanent Representative of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

The links:

UN Security Council adopts resolution on nuclear safeguards
White House Fact Sheet on UN Security Council Resolution 1887
Text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887
India strongly reacts to UNSC resolution on NPT.
U.S.: UN resolution on NPT not directed against India
Ouch! French President Sarkozy slams ‘naive’ Obama for living in 'virtual world’ on Iran
Obama's Nuclear Victory
Building a world without nukes
IAEA urges Israel to allow nuclear inspection

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