Taking Steps Towards Nuclear Non-Proliferation

On the 28th of May, a month-long nuclear conference came to a close at the UN Headquarters in New York. Though its results have not made significant headlines, many delegates and officials are calling the outcome a “success.” Certainly the results of this year’s conference, which is called every five years to review the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), are miles-ahead of those of the 2005 conference, which was considered a substantial failure. At the 2005 conference, states to the treaty were unable to reach any substantive agreement, but this year, despite “intense negotiations and…heated controversy” (Meetings Coverage, DC/3243), the final agreement provided a much larger step towards securing a world free of nuclear weapons.

Among the successes is continued support for and implementation of the three pillars of the NPT, which are:

~preventing the spread of nuclear weapons;

~promotion of safe and secure use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes;

~nuclear disarmament.

Furthermore, the final agreement takes significant steps towards establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. This zone was first proposed in a 1995 resolution, and thanks to leadership from Egypt and negotiation from other member states, the Nuclear Conference endorses a 2012 conference concerning the establishment of this zone and encouraging the attendance of all Middle Eastern States. All and all, the participating states have taken significant steps towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons by 2025.

However, even though these outcomes are hopeful, the road to 2025 will not be easy. Even though the conference ended just two weeks ago, recent events have already reminded us that the nuclear situation in the world still remains sensitive. The UN Security Council recently passed one of its toughest rounds of sanctions against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans issued against 40 enterprises and a scientist involved in Iran’s nuclear programme. Yet, though these sanctions, heavily supported by the US, did win the votes of Russia and China, a considerable feat of and goal for the Obama administration, the sanctions needed to be weakened in order to achieve that goal. Furthermore, the sanctions were not unanimously passed, a major blow to the US’s efforts. Both Turkey and Brazil voted against the sanctions, and Lebanon abstained.

The tensions between the rest of the US and Turkey and Brazil played out before the sanctions were passed, when the diplomatic efforts of Turkey and Brazil regarding Iran’s nuclear programme were denounced by the US and many other Western countries as too weak.

Even within the May nuclear conference, there are plenty of signs that the fight for nuclear nonproliferation will be long and divided. Neither Iran nor the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) have shown any signs of curbing their nuclear aspirations, and Israel, Pakistan, and India remain unsigned to the treaty. Even in concern with the Middle East free zone, the US expressed its disappointment that Israel was named to the document as needing to sign on to the treaty and bring its nuclear programme under IAEA regulation and inspection.

However, in terms of international affairs, even a small step is a good step. When countries of varying backgrounds and agendas come together to decide on controversial and charged issues, cracks and fissures will inevitably appear, and there will always be disagreements. But no one can deny that at the 2010 conference, participating states showed a renewed and encouraging energy towards achieving a world free of the threat of nuclear war.

Audrey Williams, UNAiowa blogger

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