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POLITICS: Obama to Bolster Nuclear Disarmament at U.N.

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2009 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama presides over a meeting of world leaders in the Security Council on Sep. 24, he will provide a high profile political platform for two of the most sensitive issues at the United Nations: nuclear non- proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

“This is the time for the Security Council to plan together a route to international security in a nuclear weapons-free world,” Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, told IPS.

“We cannot threaten each other with annihilation on Monday and work together sufficiently to meet our shared threats on Tuesday, not knowing whether we will be friends or foes on Wednesday,” he added.

Frida Berrigan, senior associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, says President Obama, in his historic Apr. 2009 speech in Prague, acknowledged the need for U.S. leadership and initiative on nuclear disarmament.

As the only nation to use nuclear weapons, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act, Obama said, in the Czech capital.

“We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it, we can start it,” Berrigan added.

Obama’s decision to chair a special meeting of the Security Council “is part of that commitment to lead efforts towards nuclear disarmament,” Berrigan told IPS.

Obama is expected to make his maiden appearance at the U.N. when he addresses the global summit on climate change on Sep. 22.

The next day he will address the opening of the high level segment of the 64th sessions of the General Assembly, in the company of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar el Qaddafi (who will also be visiting the U.N. for the first time).

The special session of the Security Council, which is to be chaired by Obama on Sep. 24, will also be attended by political leaders from the 14 other members states – including the other four permanent members of the Council, namely China, Britain, France and Russia.

The 10 non-permanent members in the Security Council, whose heads of state have been invited to participate, include Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya, Vietnam, Austria, Mexico, Japan, Turkey and Uganda.

A similar session of the Security Council – on the maintenance of international peace and security – was held in Jan. 1992 presided over by then British Prime Minister John Major.

But that meeting “came out with a self-serving statement making proliferation of nuclear weapons a breach of international peace and security and therefore justifying Security Council action, thus absolving the five permanent members – all nuclear weapon states – of any blame for nuclear weapon possession,” Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. Under-Secretary- General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission chaired by Hans Blix – on a suggestion by Dhanapala – had proposed a Global Summit on proliferation, disarmament and possible terrorist uses of WMD.

Dhanapala, one of the world’s foremost authorities on nuclear disarmament and currently president of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, said the Security Council – as presently constituted – has a serious legitimacy deficit.

He said a credible Summit could only take place with the involvement of the 192-member General Assembly, and also the participation of those nuclear weapon states outside the Security Council.

“As importantly, the voices of civil society must be heard and so the Security Council must break with past practice and invite Nobel Peace Prize Laureates like Pugwash and others like Dr. Hans Blix to make presentations,” he added.

Granoff of the Global Security Institute said the upcoming special session will take place after several days of intense discussion regarding protecting the climate and finding new levels of cooperation to address a shared economic environment.

“In a world where bridges of cooperation must be built to address our shared environmental and economic interdependence, what place do the walls of fear and threat of nuclear weapons play?” he asked.

He said any progress on climate, sustainable development, and economic well being will come undone by the use of nuclear weapons.

“The threat of use will always be there as long as the weapons exist,” said Granoff, who is also co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nuclear Non- Proliferation.

Steps need to be taken to lessen the threat on the road to elimination, he said.

These include entry into force of the test ban, strengthening verification of cuts and making them irreversible, and quickly coming down to sufficiently low numbers – to affirm that their only value is to prevent them from being used.

“We must build a security system based on the principle of zero nuclear weapons,” Granoff stressed.

That means promptly affirming that the first use of a nuclear weapon is crime against humanity and that even any retaliatory use would have to be aimed in such a manner as to not violate international humanitarian law – thus never be aimed at a city.

This small window of qualified legitimacy to make sure they are not used cannot be leveraged into a doctrine that justifies keeping the weapons, but must be a mere step toward achieving the goal of elimination, said Granoff.

Berrigan of the New America Foundation said she expects President Obama to champion the modest cuts that the U.S. and Russia have agreed upon so far; call for greater cooperation from other Security Council members; reach out in qualified ways to Iran and North Korea; and elaborate on how the work towards nuclear disarmament is not just sensible and overdue, but also contributes to U.S. national security.

“All of this work is worthy of the spotlight, but will need a lot of follow-up in order to be meaningful in its own right,” Berrigan said.

Everything cannot be achieved in a single meeting, but even in the realm of symbolism, this is an important shift towards engagement and away from the former Bush Administration’s disdainful treatment of the U.N., said Berrigan, who is also a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus.

Peter Weiss, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), told IPS: “Here’s what I think Obama will do: announce the U.S. support of the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START); ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and negotiation of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).”

“And here’s what I think he should do, in addition: Announce that, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May next year, the U.S. will propose an international conference for the purpose of beginning serious work on a convention outlawing the possession of nuclear weapons and criminalising their use.”

Without this second step, Weiss said, the first series of steps will not bring about the nuclear weapons free world which Obama spoke about in Prague.

Granoff said that at the closing session of the 1992 Security Council meeting then U.K. Prime Minister Major included in his statement elements pertinent today: “The members of the Council underline the need for all Member States to fulfil their obligations in relation to arms control and disarmament.”

Since then, he said, the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament pursuant to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the mandate of the unanimous decision of the International Court of Justice remain substantially unfulfilled.

“It is time that the legal mechanisms of the U.N. Charter be followed in this regard,” Granoff stressed.

Amongst them, he pointed out, is Article 26 which would task the U.N. Military Staff Committee to submit plans for nuclear disarmament to the Members States. That Section – which requires “maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments – must now be invoked and include nuclear disarmament in its mandate.

This Military Staff Committee is described in Article 47 as including Chiefs of Staff of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

“It is high time that these military leaders be charged with fulfilling their disarmament duties,” he added.

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