A few years ago, a plucky contestant on Dancing with the Stars popularized a terrific phrase when asked about her daring routine late in the contest. It was time, she quipped, for her to “go big or go home.”
We’d like to see that can-do attitude manifested at the upcoming UN review conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty — the so-called NPT RevCon .
What would going big mean? A serious commitment by the nuclear powers to get busy negotiating the global elimination of nuclear weapons, as required by the treaty’s Article VI. The conference will convene April 27 and run through May 22.
Nearly all the world’s countries will be in attendance, and there is sure to be a buzz over the historic breakthrough agreement on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
Presumably the United States and its allies will seek to bask in their diplomatic achievement with Iran — though not too brazenly, as the deal is not yet finally sealed, and some in the U.S. Congress seem hell-bent to torpedo it. But with the U.S. and Russia brandishing their nuclear swords over Ukraine, it’s no time for anyone to rest on their laurels. There’s still so much unfinished business regarding the NPT, which became binding international law in 1970.
The treaty’s review conferences, held every five years, usually issue a final statement and plan of action adopted by consensus. The 2010 conference’s agreement included a promise to convene, by 2012, a conference to establish a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone. That would mean some awkward discussions about disarming Israel, the Middle East’s only actual nuclear power.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the UN — as were officially on the hook to make the conference happen. Despite diligent work by the Foreign Ministry of Finland, the facilitator for the Middle East confab, it has yet to occur.
Much of the world holds Washington accountable for this failing, but a credible commitment to convene the meeting as soon as possible would go a long way toward restoring trust, and it would reinforce the framework agreement with Iran. With the Middle East in terrible turmoil, ridding the region of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons needs to be an urgent priority. Perhaps the momentum of the Iran agreement, a rare bright spot in the region’s politics, can be sustained for this broader purpose.
Moreover, the assembled governments must commence negotiations on abolishing the scourge of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
The NPT calls on the nuclear states to do just that, as their part of the bargain with the vast majority of the world that’s foresworn nuclear arms. This provision is unfortunately often glossed over, but the NPT is not some “nuclear apartheid forever” treaty granting the nuclear powers the right to retain their hierarchy of nuclear terror in perpetuity while others wisely base their security on more peaceful, stable, and sustainable means.
Failure to get serious about nuclear abolition severely undercuts the nuclear haves’ credibility to selectively demand non-proliferation for the have-nots. It’s like preaching temperance from a bar stool.
Unfortunately, the United States has embarked on a fiscally and politically disastrous “modernization” program for its arsenal — a 30-year, $1-trillion campaign to upgrade all aspects of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, from research and development to missiles and warheads. Not surprisingly, every other nuclear state has followed suit and announced their own nuclear modernization plans.
So, contrary to President Obama’s 2009 pledge to pursue a nuclear-free world, we’ll see an escalation of the arms race unless peaceful pressure and smarter priorities prevail — such as food security, education, just development to alleviate global poverty, green energy investment, and arresting global climate change.
Thankfully, NPT RevCon isn’t just a bureaucratic gabfest. The voice of international civil society will be present inside the UN, in the form of accredited non-governmental representatives who will interact not just with each other, but also with governmental delegates.
Just prior to the review conference, thousands of concerned peace advocates from around the globe will gather for a forum called “Peace and Planet: Mobilization for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World” from April 24 to 26.
Peace and Planet will include an educational conference at Manhattan’s historic Cooper Union featuring speakers from at least a dozen countries and over 40 workshops bringing together peace, disarmament, and climate, along with racial, economic, and social justice. The conference will be followed by a rally, a march to the United Nations, and a peace festival where petitions with tens of millions of signatures calling for nuclear abolition will be delivered to UN and NPT RevCon officials.
In Prague six years ago, President Obama declared his commitment to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” That’s the only true peace and security for our planet, and it must be connected to commitments and actions for just, sustainable, and humane priorities.
Conventional wisdom is that the president is bogged down politically in Washington and globally. And that may be. But on the nuclear disarmament issue, this president is the most personally committed we’ve seen since John Kennedy. He needs to act on that commitment and show leadership in a much more concrete fashion, starting at the NPT RevCon.