United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has challenged world leaders to “move beyond rhetoric” and break the years-long deadlock over how to tackle nuclear arms and their proliferation.
After the 2005 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended last week without substantive agreement, the Secretary-General said in an opinion piece in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune that a vital opportunity was missed to repair “cracks” in each of the 35-year-old accord’s pillars – non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
“Regrettably, there are times when multilateral forums tend merely to reflect, rather than mend, deep rifts over how to confront the threats we face,” he writes. Despite the NPT’s near universal ratification – with 188 States parties – the month-long review conference wrapped up last Friday at UN Headquarters in New York with little movement on substantive issues.
In his opening address to the conference, Mr. Annan warned that negotiations would stall if some delegates focused on some threats instead of addressing them all. A number of countries underscored proliferation as a grave danger, while others argued that existing nuclear arsenals imperil us. The spread of nuclear fuel-cycle technology posed an unacceptable proliferation threat to some, but others countered that access to peaceful uses of nuclear technology must not be compromised.
Despite the diplomatic stalemate, he says the conference’s failure to come to any agreement will not break the NPT-based regime. The vast majority of countries that are parties to the treaty recognize its enduring benefits. “But there are cracks in each of the treaty's pillars…and each of these cracks requires urgent repair,” Mr. Annan says.
He points out that since the review conference last met in 2000, North Korea has announced its withdrawal from the treaty and declared itself in possession of nuclear weapons. Libya has admitted that it worked for years on a clandestine nuclear weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also found undeclared uranium enrichment activity in Iran.
“Clearly, the NPT-based regime has not kept pace with the march of technology and globalization,” he writes, adding that whereas proliferation among countries was once considered the sole concern of the Treaty, revelations that the Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan and others were extensively trafficking in nuclear technology and know-how exposed the vulnerability of the non-proliferation regime to non-State actors.
“When multilateral forums falter, leaders must lead,” Mr. Annan says, noting that countries will have a unique opportunity to renew their efforts in September, when more than 170 Heads of State and Government convene in New York to take decisions on UN reform and adopt a wide-ranging agenda to advance development, security and human rights.
“I challenge them to break the deadlock on the most pressing challenges in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament,” Mr. Annan writes. “If they fail to do so, their peoples will ask how, in today's world, they could not find common ground in the cause of diminishing the existential threat of nuclear weapons…solutions are within are reach; we must grasp them.”