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Report 2 from NPT

While the delegates and non-government organisations at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference are grappling with issues that concern the very future of our planet, the US media were obsessing about a failed car bomb in Times Square.

The opening day of the conference proper gave some notion of the kind of spat we can expect. Both Iran’s president Ahmadinejad and US Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton addressed the conference within hours of each other. The right wing media are only interested in reporting the conference from the viewpoint of the ‘new nuclear threat’ presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. But for virtually all the Non Government Organisations (NGOs) attending the conference and the great majority of delegates from non-nuclear states the issues are seen very differently. For them the issue is how we can get a commitment from the original five nuclear weapons states - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - to begin a comprehensive process leading to a global ban on nuclear weapons. This, along with the negotiation of nuclear free zones in the Middle East and North East Asia, would address the security concerns of all states in these areas and it would draw into the process non signatories to the NPT such as Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea. Multilateral reductions in conventional force levels may also be an essential part of the process so that nuclear threats are not replaced by conventional ones.


The Egyptian delegation, which heads the Non-Aligned Movement at this conference, is determined that the demand for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone will be issues on which it will bargain hard. So far the United States and Britain have refused to support a Nuclear Weapons Convention preferring to talk of a step by step approach while trying to get ratification of existing agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ad the recent START agreement by the US senate. Unfortunately this could mean a glacial rate of progress which could get blown off course by a future change of US President.

Hopes for a successful outcome to the conference have certainly been raised by the election of President Obama, his commitment to the goal of nuclear disarmament in the Prague Speech of April 2009, the signing of the new START treaty on strategic weapons reductions with the United States and Russia, the publication of the US Nuclear Posture Review and the recent Nuclear Security Summit. All of these represent small but positive steps forward. And they represent a definite change in culture following eight years of George W Bush.

On the other hand there are real problems and threats in current aspects of US policy. The expansion of NATO, the establishment of new US bases encircling Russia and China, the rapid expansion of missile defence and the new investment in the development of Prompt Global Strike raises the real possibility of the United States could be establishing a conventional first strike capability. Together with the ongoing increase in US defence spending during a time of unprecedented economic crisis, it indicates that the US strategy of global military domination with or without nuclear weapons has not changed. The peace movement must develop campaigns to publicise and oppose these developments while pushing hard to get Obama to carry out his promises on nuclear disarmament.

The British Government claims that it has substantially reduced Britain’s nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War. But this amounts to little more than housekeeping - getting rid of obsolete and vulnerable weapons such as free fall bombs and extra warheads, but not reducing the operational effectiveness of its strategic Trident weapons system, and not reducing the number of warheads carried on any submarine on patrol at any one time.

And here is the central contradiction in the UK case. While talking the language of nuclear disarmament it has committed itself to going ahead with the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, binding us into possession of these weapons for next 50 years. What kind of message is that to nuclear and non-nuclear states alike? And what a missed opportunity for the government of Gordon Brown.


Cancelling the Trident replacement programme would have huge international significance and would give a huge boost to the peace movement across the world. For the first of the original five nuclear weapons states to unilaterally say that nuclear weapons do not deter, do not defend and put us all at greater risk, would put pressure on other nuclear weapons states to take their own unilateral steps. Halting Trident replacement remains the best way we can support the campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. The last NPT Review Conference in 2005 ended in disarray with no final agreement. We cannot allow this to happen again.


Alan Mackinnon