Breaking the disarmament deadlock: challenges for 2010

December 23, 2009

JohnDuncanJohn Duncan is the UK Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament. He comments regularly via Twitter and on his own Blog. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Those involved in multilateral arms control and disarmament face a challenging year.

The international community will come together in May at the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York to agree the way forward, twelve months on from President Barack Obama’s landmark speech in Prague about his ambition of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons.

But a successful outcome at the NPT RevCon as it is known, is only part of the task ahead in achieving a breakout from the decade of deadlock that has frustrated progress in both the nuclear and conventional weapons multilateral agenda:

In Geneva the Conference on Disarmament must renew its effort to begin negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty -  a new treaty to ban the production of the basic material that goes into nuclear weapons and which, together with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty still awaiting ratification in the U.S. senate, is one of the two key practical steps needed to a draw line under the nuclear arms race. No new production and no testing will give confidence that we really are on the path towards a nuclear weapon free world.

Also in Geneva, the U.S.-Russian talks on reduction of existing nuclear arsenals, of which they hold over 90 percent of stocks are expected to come to a conclusion early in the year.

However, while the old Cold War nuclear powers reaffirmed their commitment to a process of nuclear disarmament at the recent U.N. Security Council Summit, others seem set on a different path. Pakistan alone blocks progress at the CD, while concern over North Korea and Iran has been much in the headlines and achieving progress in 2010 will be no small task.

On the conventional side, negotiation will begin in the summer on a new Arms Trade Treaty to achieve effective international regulation for the first time; to choke off the flow of weapons to criminals, insurgents and terrorists and to better ensure that when arms are sold they are used responsibly and not on the innocent. Another ambitious goal.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to break away from old ways of thinking. The rhetoric of division – North/South, East/West is increasingly meaningless in the globally interconnected and interdependent world we now live in.  And yet it is still common currency for too many diplomats in all camps.

This may be because many international institutions were established nearly two generations ago in a completely different era. But much too often the debate is about what “They” must do, when the real question is what do “We” want to achieve. Events in Copenhagen last week show just how difficult a task it can be to answer that question. Nonetheless the past year has seen a remarkable resurgence of political vision and leadership on Arms Control and Disarmament by world leaders past and present. The next twelve months will show whether the international diplomatic community can respond to the challenge.

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