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Nuclear Powers Not Disarming Quickly Enough For Rest of World

Delegates to the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. The five recognized nuclear weapons states have moved too slowly to eliminate their atomic arsenals as required under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, according to some governments (U.N. photo). Delegates to the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. The five recognized nuclear weapons states have moved too slowly to eliminate their atomic arsenals as required under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, according to some governments (U.N. photo).

The world's five acknowledged nuclear powers -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- are not moving as fast as the rest of the world would like in shrinking their atomic arsenals, as called for by the decades-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Reuters reported on Friday (see GSN, April 30).

Non-nuclear weapon possessor countries under the NPT accord are obligated to refrain from acquiring such arsenals in return for actions on the part of the five powers to gradually disarm. The nuclear powers, though, have come under criticism for not moving fast enough to meet their part of the bargain, even as they strenuously call for non-nuclear nations to fulfill their treaty obligations.

The next five-year review conference of the NPT accord is in 2015. Treaty members gathered in Vienna, Austria, last week to assess the status of the 1970 disarmament pact, which has 189 member nations. Non-signatories India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel are all known or assumed to have nuclear weapons programs.

The five powers insist they have made "unprecedented progress" toward nuclear disarmament. A collective statement released to the conference reiterated their "enduring commitment" to fulfilling their treaty obligations.

"There is quite a large distance between what the nuclear weapons states say and what the rest of us think," an unidentified envoy from a European Union nation told Reuters.

South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty, representing the seven-country New Agenda Coalition, told conference representatives: "Whereas the nonproliferation measures have been strengthened over the years, the nuclear disarmament side of the NPT bargain has yet to be realized."

The coalition, which includes Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, does not accept "any justification for the continued retention" of atomic arms, Minty said.

Egypt's representative to the meeting, Sameh AboulEnein, voiced his "deep concern at the continued lack of meaningful progress in the field of nuclear disarmament," and said the lack of arms control gains might jeopardize the integrity of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The nuclear powers noted that global arsenal levels are at significantly reduced levels than any other point in the last 50 years.

Much of that reduction has come as a result of bilateral arms control pacts by the United States and Russia. The most recent treaty, New START, mandates that the former Cold War rivals by 2018 reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,550 warheads apiece.

British representative to the conference Jo Adamson said her government had a "strong record" of meeting its arms control mandates and intended by the middle of the next decade to lower its warhead count to a maximum of 180.

The United States noted it has been reducing its nuclear stockpile for over 40 years and as of 2009 possessed only some 5,000 bombs.

However, the Non-Aligned Movement voiced worry that ongoing efforts by the five nuclear powers to update their arsenals "undermines the minimal reductions" spelled out by New START (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, May 4).

The five powers noted in their statement to the conference they had agreed to form a working group under the leadership of China that would be tasked with drafting a mutually agreed-upon glossary of definitions of specific atomic concepts.

"In this regard, enhancing our understanding of each other’s thinking about nuclear weapons is an important building block for strengthened and continuing P-5 engagement toward nuclear disarmament," the statement reads.

"We continued our previous discussions on the issues of transparency, mutual confidence, and verification, and considered proposals for a standard reporting form. We recognize the importance of establishing a firm foundation for mutual confidence and further disarmament efforts, and we will continue our discussions within the P-5 with a view to reporting to the 2014 PrepCom [Preparatory Committee], consistent with our commitments under Action 5 of the 2010 RevCon [Review Conference] final document," the powers said.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members also reaffirmed their worry about Iran's controversial atomic development program and North Korea's illegal work on uranium enrichment (Russian Foreign Ministry release I, May 3).

Russia said other nuclear weapon nations besides itself and the United States should scale back their arsenals, ITAR-Tass reported.

"The comprehensive liquidation of nuclear arms remains problematic as long as the process is limited to member countries of the nuclear five," Foreign Ministry Security and Disarmament Department Director Mikhail Ulyanov said (ITAR-Tass, May 4).

In an obvious aside to the United States, Ulyanov told conference attendees, "We have repeatedly called on the other countries possessing non-strategic weapons to follow the example of the Russian Federation and take them to their territories," according to a copy of his remarks.

The United States is widely understood to have some 200 tactical warheads deployed in five European NATO countries. The withdrawal of those non-strategic weapons has become a lingering demand by the Kremlin for any potential new bilateral negotiations with Washington on a new arms control accord that could encompass short-range nuclear weapons (Russian Foreign Ministry release II, May 5).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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