By J. C. Suresh*
TORONTO (IDN) – Pakistan is standing like a rock in the surf resisting growing international pressure to endorse a global treaty that would ban production of fissile material used as fuel for nuclear weapons. Reiterating its adamant opposition, Pakistan has warned that it would boycott any process to negotiate a U.S.-backed treaty outside the deadlocked UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), the sole negotiating forum for multilateral disarmament.
Stung by U.S. refusal to enter into similar nuclear deals as signed with neighbouring rival India, Pakistan is accusing Western nuclear powers of practising discrimination, and appears far from inclined towards lending an attentive ear to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon either, who is keen to break the persistent stalemate in the CD.
Ban has suggested at a General Assembly meeting in New York the appointment of a panel of eminent persons, the creation of an ad hoc committee of the General Assembly or a United Nations conference to help break the deadlock.
Addressing the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on July 27, 2011 which coincided with the 23rd UN Conference on Disarmament Issues in Matsumoto, central Japan, Ban said: “We meet in the midst of a growing crisis of confidence.”
The General Assembly followed up on a high-level meeting of the Conference on Disarmament and Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations in 2010. “For too long the United Nations multilateral disarmament machinery, in particular the Conference on Disarmament, has failed us,” Ban said.
Set up in 1979 as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community, the CD predominantly focuses on ending the nuclear arms race and promoting nuclear disarmament, prevention of nuclear war, and prevention of an arms race in outer space, among other things.
“If differences persist, we could consider the appointment of a high-level panel of eminent persons, as I have suggested. Alternatively, States could conduct negotiations in an ad hoc committee of the General Assembly or a UN conference,” the UN Secretary-General said.
He stressed that the international community must never abandon multilateralism, saying that in addressing disarmament, the goal is not to advance the preferences of the few, but the common interests of all.
“If the CD remains deadlocked, the General Assembly has a responsibility to step in. [. . .] The CD should not be held perpetually hostage by one or two members. Concerns should be addressed through negotiations. The world expects progress. Let us defer no longer. Let us put an end to this long cycle of stagnation,” he added.
U.S. BACKS BAN
Ban is backed by the United States. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said in a U.S. State Department release on July 27: “At a time when significant progress has been registered in other areas of arms control and disarmament, it is all the more disappointing that a single state has prevented the CD from again taking its place on the disarmament stage and undertaking negotiations to reach that long overdue objective.”
Gottemoeller added: “The preference of the United States is to negotiate the FMCT within the Conference on Disarmament. We welcomed the initiative of Australia and Japan to organize serious technical FMCT discussions on the margins of the Conference on Disarmament this year. The activity proved to be productive, substantive and collegial. But this does not obscure the central fact that the CD remains blocked and we are no closer to FMCT negotiations today than we were two years ago.”
Planning is under way for the five permanent UN Security Council member nations and “other relevant partners” to further discuss the matter before the UN General Assembly convenes in September, she pointed out.
Gottemoeller said “a panel of ’eminent persons,’ the CD itself, or some others” might further assess potential reforms to the Conference on Disarmament, as well as suggest possible changes to the UN Disarmament Commission in New York.
Potential considerations, she said, could include “how to provide for continuity on an agreed CD work from year to year, such as automatic rollover of an agreed program of work”; “how to protect national security interests while preventing abuse of the consensus rule”; and “whether expansion of the CD would improve CD efficiency, and how to reflect universal disarmament goals in deliberative and negotiating bodies, while maintaining their efficacy and assuring that states’ security concerns are respected and protected”.
“NOTE OF CAUTION”
Responding to the UN Secretary-General and the U.S., Acting Pakistani Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar struck a “note of caution” against taking negotiations for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) outside the 65-member Conference, asserting that “Pakistan will not join any such process nor would it consider accession to the outcome of any such process”.
In a statement consistent with the view Pakistan has maintained over the previous two years, Tarar argued: “These policies, by sacrificing international non-proliferation goals at the altar of power and profit, have accentuated the asymmetry in fissile material stocks in our region.”
Regrettably, those policies continued and had found no opposition amongst the members of Nuclear Supplier Group, which, he said, comprised of some of the most ardent supporters of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and strongest critics of “lack of progress in the CD”.
Tarar said while major powers debated options for reforming the CD or even abandoning what they regarded as a dysfunctional body and blamed the rules of procedure, which, by requiring consensus on all decisions, effectively gave all states a veto power that allowed any of them to halt progress, the real reason for the conference’s dysfunction was the lack of political will by some nuclear states to negotiate in a fair and balanced way.
“The problems faced by the Conference on Disarmament are not of an organisational or procedural nature,” he said, adding that there was a clear pattern of negotiating only in the interests of the most powerful states.
The conference, he said, “cannot negotiate through cherry-picking issues that some states consider ripe,” pointing to what he described as “a clear pattern of negotiating only those agreements that do not undermine or compromise the security interest of powerful states”. He cited as examples, the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The same could be said of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), Tarar said. Now, after having developed “huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, as well as stocks of fissile material”, which could be converted quickly into nuclear warheads, those major powers are ready to conclude a treaty that will only ban future production of fissile material, since they no longer need more of it. “This approach,” the Pakistani diplomat stressed, was “cost free” for them as it would not undermine or compromise their security.
For those reasons, Pakistan was compelled to “take a stand” against nuclear selectivity and discrimination. “No country can be expected to compromise on its fundamental security interests for an instrument that is cost-free for all other concerned countries,” he said, recommending several steps that must be taken in order to create an “honest and objective approach” to revitalising the disarmament machinery.
Those included, among other, consideration of several critical issues by the conference in an equal and balanced manner, with nuclear disarmament at the top of that agenda, and elaboration on a legally binding instrument on negative security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states, Tarar said.
If endorsed, the FMCT would strengthen nuclear non-proliferation norms by adding a binding international commitment to existing constraints on nuclear weapons-usable fissile material. It would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It would not apply to plutonium and HEU for non-explosive purposes. It would also not apply to non-fissile materials, like tritium, and it would not address existing stockpiles.
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