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POLITICS: Security Council Called Hypocritical on Nukes

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2007 (IPS) - The political and moral authority of the five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to sit in judgment over nuclear non-proliferation is being challenged in a new report released Thursday.

By virtue of the U.N. charter, says the study, the Security Council has broad powers to enforce disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation requirements, including the imposition of economic sanctions and authorisation of military action.

But the five permanent member states (P-5), the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, all with huge nuclear arsenals, “are showing no operational signs of intending to eliminate” the deadly weapons.

“This means that UNSC decisions regarding compliance with nuclear non-proliferation requirements are automatically suspect in the eyes of much of the world,” says the study titled “Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis and Paths to Peace.”

The joint study was conducted by three public interest groups: the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) of New York, the Western States Legal Foundation of California and the New York-based Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Dr John Burroughs, executive director of LCNP, said the failure of the P-5 members to take seriously their nuclear disarmament obligations “have sapped their moral and political authority to address non-proliferation situations.”

This is especially so beginning with the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, and continuing on to the current confrontation with Iran, he added.

“It is also the case, however, that countries around the world want an effective political body at the top of the international political structure, to play a role in solving problems that undermine international peace and security,” Burroughs told IPS.

So there is still a lot of support for the Security Council, despite its defects, he argued. “The P-5 could do a lot to build the authority of the UNSC, by reforming the Council to make it more representative, accountable, and transparent.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Centre for Peace and Security Studies and an Adjunct Full Professor in the Security Studies Programme at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Georgetown University, said the UNSC has the legal authority to deal with nuclear weapons and proliferation issues.

Unfortunately, the P-5, who are also the five original nuclear powers, have failed to live up to their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), she added.

“This has severely undermined their credibility with respect to would-be nuclear powers,” Goldring told IPS.

In particular, she said, the pursuit of new nuclear weapons by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush virtually guarantees that other countries will choose similar paths.

Michael Spies, programme associate at the LCNP, argued that since the end of the Cold War, the United States’ hyper-militarism has increasingly allowed it to exercise its authority unilaterally through the Security Council, and also in other ways.

“If intimidation of other countries is the main mode of exerting influence, the conduct of the UNSC becomes more about the raw exercise of power, rather than the rule of law,” he told IPS.

In recent months, the Security Council has adopted resolutions enforcing its nuclear non- proliferation strategy against two member states: North Korea and Iran. But both countries have challenged the double standards of the five nuclear powers whose policy, they say, is based on the principle “do as we say, not as we do”.

Currently, the possession of nuclear weapons is prohibited by the NPT, and their use is at least generally prohibited by international law as set forth by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

As of now, 188 countries are members of the NPT, with four countries, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, outside the regime, but all with nuclear weapons.

The study points out that serious efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of the NPT are known to have occurred only in a handful of cases: Iraq, Libya, and North Korea.

The study says that since the Security Council is dominated by the five World War II victors, it is conspicuously not representative of today’s world. Further, the Council by design is a political body that acts on an ad hoc and sometimes inconsistent basis.

It argues that the Council should strive to develop less confrontational and more flexible techniques for authoritatively addressing compliance issues, avoiding when possible, any implication of resort to military action.

In the past, Iran violated safeguards reporting requirements and is pursuing a uranium enrichment capability that would enable it to fuel nuclear reactors or, if it so chose, to produce materials for nuclear weapons.

But, according to the study, the vast majority of states have complied with the obligation of non-acquisition.

However, if North Korea becomes a permanent nuclear weapon-possessing state, or if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, “their respective regions may experience additional proliferation,” the report warns.

Asked about the proposal for a world summit on disarmament, Jennifer Nordstrom, project manager of “Reaching Critical Will” of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told IPS such an international conference or even a U.N. special session on disarmament is feasible if heads of state become involved.

She said the proposed summit could be a package deal to the P-5 that would address both nuclear disarmament and other issues that are of particular concern to the P5, including nuclear proliferation and terrorist acquisition.

“A 2009 U.S. administration friendlier to multilateralism would also help,” Nordstrom added. Developing nations should work for this through like-minded, cross-regional groups because the old Cold War groupings may not suffice for this purpose, she added.

The study also points out that human security cannot be brought about through nuclear weapons and military might.

“It can only be ensured through the equitable distribution of adequate food, shelter, clean water and air, health care, education, and even the arts,” it says.

Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the California-based Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS the staggering disparity between military spending and spending on human needs will be addressed when ordinary citizens in every country identify with the basic human security requirements, instead of their governments’ distorted view of “national” security based on militarism.

“This process will be self-reinforcing: as resources are redirected to meet human needs, some of the root causes of conflict – poverty and injustice – will be reduced,” she added.

Goldring of Georgetown University said the study also proposes several dozen options for improving the current situation. Although few of these recommendations are new, together, they represent an extremely useful guide to moving away from doomsday.

“Unfortunately, in recent years it has been extremely difficult to gather the political capital necessary to implement these sorts of recommendations,” she noted.

She said that political change, especially in the United States, will be necessary “if we are to make significant progress on the ambitious and useful agenda the authors have constructed.”

That said, this group has also presented some proposals that can be implemented without U.S. cooperation.

Goldring pointed out that the authors have highlighted the insufficient levels of foundation support currently available for groups and individuals working on these issues.

Those who understand the dangers of continued possession and dispersal of nuclear weapons must support these efforts, she added.

Albert Einstein identified the costs of the current approach – a “drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” Goldring declared.

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