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From Aspiration to Reality:
MPI Geneva Consultation

Executive Summary

Former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala and Ambassador Jürg Lauber
chair the conference

The conference From Aspiration to Reality: Nuclear Disarmament After the 2010 NPT Review Conference, sponsored by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), was held in Geneva, Switzerland, September 14-15, 2010. The MPI Conference Chair, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, said the achievement of a Nuclear Weapons Convention “must be high on the agenda of all governments.”

Ambassador Peter Mauer, the Swiss State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said that insisting on “the inherently inhuman nature of nuclear weapons…will help prepare the ground” for outlawing them. He called on the nuclear weapon states to make “credible commitments” to complete nuclear disarmament, “What we need is real, irreversible progress. And such progress is credible only if states enter into legally binding commitments. It is time to outlaw nuclear weapons.”

Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, who presided over the 2010 Review Conference (RevCon) of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said the prospect of a nuclear weapons convention (NWC) has moved from the shadows to the center of nuclear disarmament discussions—mentioned not only in the 2010 NPT RevCon Final Document, but also in the Secretary-General’s 5-Point Plan. He also pointed to the inclusion of international humanitarian law in the Final Document and argued that this provides the basis and foundation for a NWC. “The time to act on a Nuclear Weapons Convention is now,” he said.

High Representative Sergio Duarte, who heads the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, told the conference that it is “baffling” how a NWC could be considered by some governments as “premature” when, in fact, “global nuclear disarmament was an agreed goal on the first resolution adopted by a the General Assembly in January, 1946.”

The opening panel delved into these issues. While the RevCon did not endorse or call for the opening of negotiations for a NWC, it was the first time the goal of a world without nuclear weapons was articulated in a Final Document. Speakers on the panel Activation of the Action Plan: Strategies to Advance the Nuclear Weapons Convention or Framework of Separate Instruments discussed ways to take advantage of this momentum. Part of shifting the debate includes looking beyond no-first-use and focusing on non-use and using disarmament negotiations to advance non-proliferation. The panelists offered a range of ideas including a focus on the non-nuclear weapon states, an “Ottawa Process” of like-minded states, and popular action.

  djr and marschik
MPI founding Chairman Douglas Roche, OC and Austria's Ambassador Alexander Marschik

The RevCon also broke ground in citing the need to consider international humanitarian law (IHL) in the debate over nuclear weapons. The panel, Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons and International Humanitarian Law, drew on that development to argue for a stigmatization and delegitimization as means to increase public and governmental abhorrence of nuclear weapons. The point was also made that no amount of technological advances or targeting improvement can mitigate the inherently discriminatory effects of nuclear weapons, which in turn calls into question the rationale for deterrence.

For the first time at an MPI Conference, a panel was dedicated to the views of the nuclear weapon states (NWS) that are parties to the NPT. Nuclear Weapon States: 2010 Review Conference: Fulfillment of previous and new commitments featured representatives from four of the five NWS (China, France, Russia and the United States). The US and Russia both highlighted the significance of the new bilateral reductions treaty (“New START”) but took differing views on the next steps. France argued that the greatest reductions result from bilateral and unilateral initiatives, while China stressed the need for multilateral action to negotiate a NWC. All four discussed the value in negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty.

Panels on the Middle East, featuring (L-R): Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff of Israel, Jonathan Granoff (panel Chair) and Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt.

The Conference included two panels dealing with the Middle East: Fulfilling the Middle East Decision, featuring Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt and Regional Security in the Middle East, featuring Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff of Israel. Ambassador Badr said the 2010 NPT RevCon provides a chart to navigate a nuclear weapons-free world and a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. This type of regional disarmament goes hand in hand with global disarmament, he said, and in the Middle East, a peace process is inextricably linked to a disarmament process. Ambassador Issacharoff emphasized that broad regional security is a vital aspect of nuclear disarmament in the Middle East. He said that from an Israeli perspective, a 2012 conference to discuss Israel’s adherence to the NPT is not currently the key regional security concern, arguing that building the architecture for sustainable regional security requires the inclusion of a diverse set of concerns.

The Conference also featured three working groups. Strengthening the Disarmament Institutions: From the CD to the First Committee examined the gridlock in the disarmament machinery, especially the Conference on Disarmament (CD), and proposed remedies based on both procedure and on political will. Steps for Non-Nuclear Weapon States to Lay the Groundwork for Nuclear Abolition, while acknowledging the opening for progress created by the US and by New START, elaborated on the steps NNWS could initiate to advance abolition, including revitalizing the work of the CD and promotion of nuclear weapon free zones. Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons: How to Strengthen the IHL Approach focused on how employing the humanitarian law argument in reference to nuclear weapons helps to put the issue in a positive, hopeful and human-centric framework.

Dinner keynote speaker, H.E. Dr. Peter Maurer, Secretary of State, Switzerland

The final panel - Where Do We Go From Here? – and the concluding remarks by the co-sponsors reflected the major trends during the conference, namely encouraged by the openings provided by the RevCon, but tempered by the knowledge that much more could have been accomplished. The half-empty/half-full glass was a common metaphor: the glass was “half full” because of the success of the RevCon, new START, a sharper focus on a NWC; “half empty” because the RevCon fell short in some regards, pessimism that the Middle East decision could be fully implemented, difficulty in advancing the initiative already on the table. Dr. Christian Schoenenberger of the Swiss Foreign Ministry said, “We go from here not with a feeling of emptiness but of overload.” Ambassador Dhanapala said, “We have to now translate the positive aspects of the NPT 2010 Review Conference and make them a reality as we move from the aspirational stage to the reality stage, but recognizing also … that the aspirations themselves form a part of the reality.”

Twenty-three nations participated in the conference: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States.


More Resources from Geneva

Conference Program

Briefing paper, The Humanitarian Imperative for Nuclear Disarmament

Photo Gallery

» Chairman Emeritus Douglas Roche
» Ambassador Jürg Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the Conference on Disarmament
» Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, President of the 2010 NPT Review Conference