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DISARMAMENT: Norway Seeks a New Push

OSLO, Apr 16 2009 (IPS) - Norway’s foreign affairs minister Jonas Gahr Støre has called for giving new priority to nuclear disarmament that has been assigned to oblivion since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall not only brought to an end the division of Berlin but also paved the way for unification of Germany and the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

“Good governance and human rights took priority over disarmament because the nuclear threat was perceived as having disappeared,” the minister told IPS.

“With the new U.S. Administration there is a momentum to move the disarmament process forward,” Støre said. “It is not often you see a U.S. President calling for steps to reach a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The world is at a crossroads now, he said. On the one hand nuclear disarmament needs are pressing because the non-proliferation challenges are compelling. On the other hand opportunities and possibilities are perhaps greater than they have been for a decade, Støre said.

Earlier, speaking at the opening of an exhibition on nuclear abolition Apr. 15 in Oslo’s city hall, Støre said his country would exert all its influence to move nuclear disarmament to centre stage.

Together with Germany, Norway raised this at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit earlier this month in Strasbourg (France) and Kehl (Germany), Støre told IPS. The NATO declaration of Apr. 4 emphasises that “arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation” will continue to make an important contribution to peace, security, and stability.

NATO allies reaffirmed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) remains important and that they will contribute constructively to achieving a successful outcome of the 2010 NPT review conference.

Opening the exhibition titled ‘From a culture of violence to a culture of peace: transforming the human spirit’, Norway’s former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said: “We must never forget that the NPT does not give the five nuclear weapon states (Britain, France, Russia, the U.S. and China) the right to retain their special status indefinitely.”

Bondevik said a five-state summit for nuclear disarmament with the participation of the UN Secretary-General should be convened regularly to draw up a roadmap of specific measures to fulfil their disarmament obligations.

“Non-proliferation and disarmament must only be steps towards the only meaningful goal – a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Bondevik was prime minister 1997 to 2000, and from 2001 to 2005, making him the Nordic country’s longest serving non-Socialist prime minister since World War II. In January 2006 he founded the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights that he has been heading since.

Bondevik said it was promising that there were signals of new talks between the U.S. and Russia – which between them account for 95 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal – on a new legally binding agreement to replace START 1 (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) that expires in December this year.

Bondevik’s remarks were in line with those of Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Tokyo-based Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International (SGI) that has members in 192 countries and territories.

SGI, which organised the exhibition together with five leading Norwegian civil society organisations, considers the NPT review conference next year crucial to nuclear disarmament as a first step towards nuclear abolition.

The exhibition that is open until Apr. 22 is supported by No to Nuclear Weapons (NTA), Norwegian Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons (NLA) affiliated with the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the Norwegian Pugwash Committee, the Norwegian Atlantic Community (NAC) and the United Association of Norway.

SGI vice-president Hiromasa Ikeda said the exhibition was intended to “set out the broad vision of a culture of peace, predicated on the concept of human security, and to encourage people to take action towards its realisation.”

“The current shift towards nuclear abolition in the international political arena, where such a vision has so far been seen as unrealistic, provides a vital opportunity,” SGI office of peace affairs executive director Hirotsugu Terasaki told IPS.

Good faith efforts on the part of the nuclear weapon states are essential if confidence in the NPT is to be restored, former Norwegian prime minister Bondevik told IPS. “Only then will it be possible to win the trust of countries outside the NPT regime and obtain commitments on freezing and dismantling nuclear weapons development programmes.”

The current financial crisis may facilitate the disarmament process, said Steffen Kongstad, director-general at Norway’s foreign affairs ministry.

“The public may start questioning the spending of billions of dollars to maintain a fleet of weapons which is envisioned never to be used,” Kongstad told a seminar accompanying the exhibition.

“The mere existence of these weapons represents in itself severe security challenges. One cannot distinguish between good or bad nuclear weapons,” he said.

Kongstad cautioned against complacency despite some helpful signs from the U.S. and Russia. “We know that the nuclear lobby is still strong in key countries. We must also recognise that there are other actors than the U.S. in the game.”

Political pressure from voters, the civil society and academics is essential in order to achieve tangible results, he said. This worked with the Mine Ban Convention in 1997 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions last year.

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