In English

Guided by the blind


Tarja Cronberg, Finland (MEP, IPB Board member, member of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament)

The key power brokers in the global disarmament process are states that are already have nuclear weapons. Would it be better if states that do not possess nuclear weapons would take the lead in the process towards non-proliferation? Following the realisation that nuclear weapons proliferated excessively in the world, the states that had already built nuclear weapons assumed the role of ‘gatekeepers’ with an aim to limit other states’ access to military nuclear technology.

According to the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Russia, China, the US, France and Great Britain (the ‘Big Five’), are allowed to be in the possession of nuclear weapons. These states are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, and they decide on sanctions against countries potentially aspiring to access nuclear weapons, such as Iran and North Korea. Together with Germany these countries also form the exclusive P5+1 club of negotiators on Iran's nuclear programme.

The Big Five pledged to disarm in line with the goals of the NPT but in reality they maintain their right to possess nuclear weapons. In 2012, the UN General Assembly decided to establish a working group 'to find proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons'. Four countries voted against this course of action: the US, United Kingdom, France and Russia. The first three countries also declared - in advance - that they would not accept any actions the group may propose. The permanent five member states are also absent from the high profile inter-governmental conference, which the Norwegian government organised together with the United Nations and the International Red Cross in March.

There appears to be a consensus that the NPT treaty is both unjust and arbitrary. Legally, only the five countries that had detonated a nuclear bomb or device before 1967 are allowed to be in the possession of nuclear weapons. The world has changed and it is about time to review the premises of the treaty, equally because nuclear technology is increasingly easy to access and because some of the current conflicts are related to new countries aspiring to become nuclear weapon states. If the international community decides to continue to rely on the NPT, one should think of ways to make the NPT more credible and to establish the same rules for all.

What would happen if the leading actors on non-proliferation were non-nuclear weapon states, for example Japan, Norway, Mexico or Egypt, rather than the Big Five? One could also add to this list the countries that voluntarily relinquished their nuclear weapons or weapon programmes, such as Brazil, Sweden and South Africa. Would their impact on global nuclear disarmament be any different?

In my view, a way to approach this question would be to empower the states without nuclear weapons to take the lead in the international non-proliferation process. The nonnuclear
states should have the possibility to voice their views and opinions in the Security Council. When it comes to nuclear proliferation they could be the only ones to vote and they should also be involved in negotiations with Iran and North Korea.

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) formed by Australia, Japan, Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates and The New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden) are some of the concrete examples of ministerial-level cooperation by non-nuclear weapon states to advance disarmament and to take practical steps towards better implementation of the NPT treaty. Another initiative, the Middle Powers Initiative, has in turn found its place as a forum for international organizations campaigning to encourage and educate the leaders of the nuclear weapon states to
break free from their Cold War mindset.

The fact that these kinds of groups exist is a great sign of growing interest in nuclear disarmament. The problem is that as long as Big Five is not interested in their messages and not attending in their events there is not much they can do.

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