Current Affairs

UN Resolution 1887: A Step Forward

The US-drafted UN Resolution 1887 on non-proliferation and disarmament passed unanimously today at the Security Council meeting chaired by President Obama. In attendance were the heads-of-state for fourteen nations, the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a high level diplomat from Libya as well as some celebrity observers.  The passage of this resolution demonstrates great political will to address the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation, a new era of American engagement, and a belief in multilateral institutions such as the UN to get things done.  This meeting also demonstrates a follow through by President Obama and his administration about his vision in Prague this spring of a nuclear weapons free world.

Many international agreements and treaties are strengthened by the passing of this resolution (the press release revealing progress in more detail can be read in its entirety here).  Importantly, the White House claims greater security through this resolution by underlining:

A strengthened Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a Review Conference in 2010 that achieves realistic and achievable goals in all three pillars: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. . ..

Better security for nuclear weapons materials to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials essential to make a bomb. . .

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) essential role in preventing nuclear proliferation and ensuring access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under effective safeguards.

An accompanying statement released today from the White House by George Shultz, Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, and William Perry lends greater gravitas to this week’s events:

The Summit in the UN Security Council brings much-needed global focus to the risks posed by the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material.  By convening heads of state, the meeting can help build the necessary political will around the urgent steps required to reduce nuclear dangers.

The four of us have come together in a nonpartisan effort, deeply committed to building support for a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world.  We remain committed to working toward this vision and advancing the steps essential to achieve this goal.  We welcome the leadership of the U.S. administration in this effort.

The gathering of this amount of political will toward nuclear disarmament is cause for celebration, especially if it continues and is met with substantial (not merely symbolic) actions.

Among the parade of good news, there is some reason for concern about turning the rhetoric into action.  An interesting analysis of the new resolution can be found over at Nuke Strategy Wonk:

There are two interesting passages on nuclear disarmament. The first calls upon all states to abide by Article VI of the NPT, i.e. the disarmament article. It then goes on, which was not really in the first draft, of calling upon all states to cooperate at the 2010 NPT Rev Con so that “achievable and realistic goals” on non-proliferation and disarmament are set.

We should note usage of “calls upon” and “achievable and realistic”.

Consider the first. The draft resolution goes on to speak about the “current challenges” to the NPT regime and demands that the parties concerned, i.e. Iran and North Korea but especially Iran, abide by the relevant UN resolutions. In itself that is not earth shattering. That is a re-affirmation of current UN resolutions, but the contrast is nonetheless interesting.

Where US obligations are impacted the draft resolution uses calls upon, but when it comes to Iran and North Korea we see usage of demands.

I submit this is important because the Reliable Replacement Warhead lives on. According to a good report by Global Security Newswire it seems that the Obama Nuclear Posture Review will head down the RRW path by simply replacing “reliable” with “effective”.

This last part about RRW and the Nuclear Posture Review may prove prescient considering ideological rifts in nuclear policy between Sec. Gates and VP Biden.

Everything considered, the meetings at the U.N. have been important in helping to build international support for a nuclear weapons free world.  And, it is beginning to look like America will start to uphold its end of the bargain by ratifying important treaties, thereby lending them much greater clout.

In parallel meetings at the U.N., Secretary of State Hilliary will deliver a statement about efforts the U.S. is making to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.