The Great Debate UK

Breaking the deadlock on nuclear disarmament


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

Nuclear disarmament has been rather knocked out of the foreign affairs headlines over recent weeks by more immediate concerns over potential pandemics, the Indian election and the endgame of the long running conflict in Sri Lanka. But last week while the world’s media were looking elsewhere the international arms control and disarmament community took a remarkable step to break what has been called the “Decade of Deadlock”.

For more than ten years, interminable wrangling over arcane procedural points has prevented agreement over even the agenda for the major Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which takes place in New York every 5 years. Hardly surprising then that the last Review Conference in 2000 2005 ended in stalemate. Many feared that the next one in 2010 would suffer the same fate.

However diplomats meeting in New York at the preparatory meeting (known as a PrepCom) which concluded on Friday surprised many by rapidly agreeing the agenda and procedural issues for next year’s conference. It seems they had at last heeded the calls for action by senior world leaders, both past (see the numerous op-eds by Messrs Gorbachev, Shultz, Kissinger, Rifkind and others) and present (Presidents Obama, Medvedev, Sarkozy) and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call to see the nuclear debate as intrinsically linked to the other momentous challenges we face in today’s world and that these challenges are best addressed together.