Security Council Summit on Nuclear Weapons: What the Resolution Does Say and Does Not Say

For Immediate Release

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Contact: 

John Burroughs, Executive Director
Email johnburroughs@lcnp.org

Security Council Summit on Nuclear Weapons: What the Resolution Does Say and Does Not Say

Sesssion: September 24, 2009, 9-11 am

WASHINGTON - Tomorrow’s session will be the first ever meeting of the Security Council at the level of heads of state to be solely devoted to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. It presents a great opportunity to ensure that the 2010 Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference strengthens the
non-proliferation regime and to advance the achievement of a world free of
nuclear weapons called for by President Obama in his April 5, 2009 speech
in Prague and repeated in his speech today
(September 23) to the UN General Assembly.

The resolution likely to be adopted will go some way towards
accomplishing those objectives but will not be by any means transformational.
As tabled by the United States
last week, the resolution largely affirms the Obama agenda as announced in Prague. It demonstrates
the resolve of the Obama administration to press ahead, and is positive for
that reason, especially when joined with the decision to scrap Bush
administration plans for European missile defence systems to intercept ICBMs.
One important audience is the US
government. The resolution is saying: “We're serious about this, get on
board.”

Like the Prague
speech, the resolution generally endorses:

  • early entry into
    force of the CTBT
  • negotiation of a
    treaty to ban production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons
  • US-Russian talks on
    an agreement on strategic nuclear arms to replace START

Here and throughout, the resolution “calls,”
“welcomes,” etc. Unlike previous resolutions on non-proliferation (Iran, North Korea, non-state actors),
there are no mandatory decisions on substantive measures.

One point found in the Prague
speech is notably lacking in the resolution: reduction of the role of nuclear
weapons in security strategies. Nor are there innovations regarding arms
control/disarmament or the role of the Security Council in that regard. For
example, there is:

  • no initiation of a disarmament process involving states possessing
    nuclear arsenals
  • no establishment of a subsidiary body on non-proliferation and
    disarmament, or support for reform of the Council to make it more effective in
    responding to violations of non-proliferation and disarmament obligations
  • no step to fulfill the Council’s responsibility under the UN
    Charter to propose plans for disarmament

In contrast, there is detailed elaboration and development of
non-proliferation and anti-terrorism measures. For example, the resolution
calls for:

  • securing all weapons-usable fissile material in the world within four
    years – an Obama goal
  • conversion of research reactors to use of low enriched uranium,
    making weapons-usable material less accessible
  • adoption of multilateral measures on regulation of nuclear fuel
    production and supply by the IAEA Board of Governors

 

Lacking is any call for a halt to production of fissile materials for
nuclear weapons by all states possessing nuclear arsenals, pending negotiation
of a treaty. It appears that China
prevented its inclusion. A halt to production of fissile materials in South Asia would be significant because it would
essentially end the serious quantitative nuclear arms race there. India and Pakistan
are the only states known to be currently producing materials for weapons (Israel might be), but China may want to preserve the
option.

While not naming Iran
or North Korea,
the resolution makes quite clear that the Council will retain its role in
policing compliance with non-proliferation obligations.

In sum, while the resolution robustly asserts and develops the Security
Council’s role in preventing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by
additional states and by terrorists, its current significance lies mostly in
the signal that the Obama administration intends to pursue the existing arms
control agenda. To live up to Obama’s Prague commitment “to seek
the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the
resolution will need to pave the way for a more ambitious effort, not only to
contain the spread of nuclear weapons, but to end reliance on them by existing
nuclear powers and set in motion the process of their elimination.

Dr. John Burroughs,
Executive Director of the New-York based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy,
has been meeting with UN missions of Security Council members regarding the Summit and has reviewed
drafts of the resolution. He wrote a two-page paper this summer, Recommended UN Security Council Actions to Advance Nuclear Disarmament,
and authored “The
Role of the Security Council
” in Michael Spies and John Burroughs,
eds., Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative
Security
(2007). Burroughs is widely published, with articles or
op-eds in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, World Policy Journal, Harvard
International Review, Chicago Sun-Times, and Newsday, and has done many radio
and TV interviews across the country. He will be at the United Nations on
September 24, and can be reached at 917-439-4585.

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