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Delegates from 29 Nations Attend MPI Framework Forum Roundtable

miguel berger of germany  
Ambassador Miguel Berger

The Middle Powers Initiative organized, with the support of the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, a roundtable on “Creating the Conditions and Building the Framework for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World” on October 10, 2012. Representatives from 29 countries, plus UN officials and NGOs, attended this preparatory meeting for the Framework Forum that will be held in Berlin, February 2013.

In opening remarks, Ambassador Miguel Berger, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, said that as a member of NATO, Germany considers nuclear weapons “a core component of NATOs’ overall capabilities for deterrence and defence” but is also seeking “to create the conditions and considering options for further reductions” in nuclear weapons. In addition, as a member of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, “we want to make rapid progress on many fronts in the disarmament field,” he said, including the fissile materials cut-off treaty, reducing the role of nuclear weapons, and “further quantitative reductions.”

rocheIn his opening remarks, the Hon. Douglas Roche, O.C., the Chairman of MPI, explained the background and goals of the Framework Forum. The Forum takes its name from the statement in the Final Document of the 2010 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which says the parties affirm “that all states need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” he explained. The objective of the Forum is to “provide an ongoing, informal setting where the legal, technical, political, and institutional requisites for a nuclear weapons-free world can be identified and developed to build political momentum towards the commencement of formal negotiations for a legal ban on nuclear weapons,” Senator Roche said.

Panelists criticized the misuse of conditions that – while sometimes legitimate – are also used to delay progress in nuclear disarmament. The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, expressed this concern, noting the distinction between “standards” and “conditions.” As to the former, she said there is a generally-agreed set of standards forangela kane disarmament agreements – verification, irreversibility, transparency, universality, and bindingness in law. “These, however, are not conditions that must first be satisfied before disarmament is possible,” she said, “They are simply a list of criteria that a quality disarmament agreement must reliably satisfy. They offer benchmarks for negotiating and implementing such agreements.” On the other hand, “there are several problems with the alternative approach of insisting on preconditions,” she added. "Insisting on such preconditions for disarmament is viewed by other observers as little more than a thinly veiled formula for postponing disarmament indefinitely," Ms. Kane said.

Dr. John Burroughs, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, was the featured speaker, outlining his paper from which the event took its name. “The proliferation of conditions by the Permanent Five is at bottom a defense of an unconscionable status quo,” he said. “While the P5 have identified issues that need to be addressed within a disarmament process, resolution of those issues is not a prerequisite for undertaking a comprehensive approach.” He went on to say, “We need to distinguish necessary or at least desirable characteristics of a nuclear weapons-free world, for example that the ban be verifiable, irreversible, and enforceable, from prerequisites for commencing negotiations.”

john burroughs with angela kaneIn the view of the Middle Powers Initiative, Dr. Burroughs stated, “the fundamental conditions already exist for a comprehensive approach, involving at least a preparatory process, to the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The world is now experiencing a period of relative cooperation among the major military powers coupled with increasing assertion of a role in global governance by major countries of the South and by the Non-Aligned Movement. And, at both popular and governmental levels, there is a deepening awareness of the inherent incompatibility of reliance on nuclear weapons with states’ responsibilities to protect their populations against atrocities and to comply with international humanitarian law, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and human rights law.”

Although most attention has been given to the relative merits of a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of instruments, Dr. Burroughs suggested a third option: a framework agreement on nuclear disarmament. Such an agreement, he said, “could set forth the obligation of non-use of nuclear weapons and a schedule for their elimination, and provide for further negotiations on matters that could not be settled at the outset.” A framework agreement could result in the early codification of the obligation of non-use. “By contributing to the stigmatization of nuclear weapons, that might lessen some of the alleged strategic dilemmas arising from reductions of nuclear arsenals,” Dr. Burroughs said, “A framework agreement could also definitively set the disarmament process in motion even though there are issues still to be worked out.”

Dr. W. Pal Singh Sidhu, Visiting Fellow in Disarmament, Emerging Security Challenges Programme, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, served as respondent at the session. He said he agreed that preconditions are “unacceptable,” but, he added, “Going forward we have to be aware of how to sustain the necessary conditions for a nuclear weapon free world.” Dr. Sidhu said the international community has to be aware of two conditions “which are likely to remain even in a NWF world: it will not necessarily be a more peaceful world; and it will not be a world without weapons.” We need to examine “how do we manage so a nuclear weapons-free world remains as peaceful as possible, especially among major powers, and how do we manage conflicts,” he added.

The October 10 roundtable was the second Framework Forum event (the first being in Vienna in May) leading up to the Berlin Framework Forum to be held in February 2013, which will also be called “Creating the Conditions and Building the Framework for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World.” This roundtable was sponsored by the Governments of Austria and Germany.

In the discussion that followed, one participant also expressed concern that an emphasis on conditions would slow the disarmament process, agreeing with Dr. Burroughs that the fundamental conditions for nuclear disarmament already exist. Another participant noted that traditional security concept are increasingly precarious, thus a credible route to implementing the NPT commitments is essential. It was also suggested that the insistence on conditions is an obstacle to progress on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

The 29 countries attending the roundtable were: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, the Holy See, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and the United States.

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