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June, 2009

1.President Obama's Cairo speech: Reaching out to the Islamic world

On June 4, US President Barack Obama gave a groundbreaking speech at Cairo University where he pledged to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

US President Barack Obama in Cairo

Obama acknowledged Islam’s historical contribution to civilisation – in fields of maths, writing, poetry, architecture and religious tolerance. He also acknowledged sources of tension and conflict arising due to oppression from the West and from extremism from the Muslim world. He noted that “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.  And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.”

On the nuclear weapons issue, Obama highlighted the tensions between the US and Iran, but said that “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward…it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point.  This is not simply about America’s interests.  It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Obama indicated a connection between preventing proliferation and implementing disarmament obligations. “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.  And that’s why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.”

Click here for the full speech.

2. North Korea nuclear test – UN and parliamentary reactions

On Monday 25 May the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced that it had conducted a second nuclear weapons explosive test, their first one being on 9 October 2006. The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) verified a seismic event originating on 25 May from the same location as the 2006 nuclear test and registering at a slightly higher yield (See CTBTO verification of North Korean nuclear test).

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking with President of Finland Tarja Halonen. Credit: Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Addressing Finland’s parliament on 26 May, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the DPRK’s nuclear test would jeopardize continuing global efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and pose serious implications to peace and security on the regional and global level (See DPR Korea’s nuclear test threatens global disarmament efforts, UN Wire, 27 May).

Japan’s lower house adopted a resolution on 26 May condemning North Korea’s test. The resolution was particularly strong as a result of rocky relations between Japan and neighbouring North Korea for reasons such as Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945 and Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese citizens following the Korean War (See Japan parliament condemns North Korea nuclear test).

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith opened a discussion in parliament by condemning the North Korean test. In response, several parliamentarians spoke out against the Korean test and also against nuclear weapons – with some also condemning nuclear energy. Australian Greens nuclear spokesman Scott Ludlam said “ North Korea accessed nuclear technology as a non-nuclear weapon state, as it is encouraged to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The North Korean test is further evidence that nations couldn’t be trusted to separate their civilian and military nuclear programs.”

In a statement from the White House on 25 May, US President Obama commented that “North Korea’s actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea’s own prior commitments.” President Obama announced that “We will work with our friends and our allies to stand up to this behavior.” However, he did not point the finger solely at North Korea for failing to live up to non-proliferation obligations. Instead, he reaffirmed that “we will redouble our efforts toward a more robust international nonproliferation regime that all countries have responsibilities to meet. ”

In a statement to the Conference on Disarmament on 29 May, North Korea attempted to justify its nuclear test by saying that “ In order to defend its people and its territory and ensure unhindered economic development, the DPRK had to possess nuclear weapons as a means for deterrence… particularly in the face of continuing hostile policies and sanctions imposed by some countries against the DPRK .”

Despite the differences of opinion over the nuclear test, all the countries at the Conference on Disarmament, in a historic move, agreed to start work on a nuclear disarmament program that had previously been stalled for over 12 years (See Conference on Disarmament adopts work program after 12 years of inaction below).

3. Joint Parliamentary Statement on North Korean nuclear tests

In October 2006 following the first nuclear test by North Korea, PNND founder Senator Douglas Roche invited parliamentarians to join him in a parliamentary letter condemning the North Korean nuclear test and nuclear testing by any country, calling for the ratification and entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, encouraging the resumption of Six Party talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and also supporting the idea of a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ). The letter was then sent to the leaders of the Six Parties (China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States) and to the members of the UN Security Council.


Given the failure of the Six Party talks to prevent the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, there is growing support for the idea of a NWFZ, which might be able to resolve some outstanding issues and would be more amenable to the North Korean regime, while obtaining the same desired result. The Democratic Party of Japan has recently released a model treaty for the North East Asian NWFZ.

NWFZ proponents point out that such a zone, like other NWFZs, would include legally binding security assurances from the Nuclear Weapon States not to use nuclear weapons against the countries within the zone. The major reason that North Korea claims that it withdrew from the NPT and tested nuclear weapons was because it could not secure guarantees that it would not be attacked.

In addition, a NWFZ could provide more of face-saving approach – something seemingly important for personality-driven leadership as in North Korea.

The Six Party approach would require denuclearisation of North Korea, but without any requirements on South Korea or Japan to reduce their reliance on extended nuclear deterrence. A NWFZ, on the other hand, would place some limits on extended nuclear deterrence in the region, thus requiring all three States (North Korea, South Korea and Japan), as well as the Nuclear Weapons States, to accept restraints. As such, proponents believe is less discriminatory, and more likely be acceptable to North Korea, than calls for them to agree to unilateral restraints.

The 2006 Joint Parliamentary Letter on the Korean nuclear test has been revised and re-opened for endorsement by parliamentarians, prior to being sent to the leaders and other representatives of the relevant countries, and also to the members of the UN Security Council. For more information contact pnnd@gsinstitute.org

4. Conference on Disarmament adopts work program after 12 years of inaction

The Conference on Disarmament

On 29 May the Conference on Disarmament, in a historic move, adopted a work program after nearly 13 years of inaction. The CD was established as the world’s primary multilateral negotiating body for disarmament. The CD (in its various forms) has negotiated major arms control and disarmament agreements as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, seabed treaties, Biological Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention and Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, since the negotiation of the CTBT in 1996, the CD has been blocked from any negotiations or even formal deliberations on disarmament proposals.

The adoption of a work program is a major breakthrough that could lead to the near-term negotiation of a treaty on fissile materials, and the achievement of binding assurances that nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear weapon States. It also signals the commencement of deliberations on preventing an arms race in outer space and on achieving nuclear disarmament.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy of Algeria, outgoing President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that he had had a long career but today’s event was one of the high points of it and that it had been worth living for just that moment. “The decision the members had taken today was one that would reinforce multilateralism. Today, they had not only saved the Conference on Disarmament from a possible demise but they had also set up what partnership could achieve when they could break the artificial barriers that sometimes separated the North and South today as East and West had been separated in the past. If the twenty-first century was about anything, then it was about saving the planet through multilateralism.” (See CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT ADOPTS PROGRAMME OF WORK AFTER TWELVE YEARS OF STALEMATE).

US President Obama welcomed the move saying that “There is no greater security challenge in the world today than turning the tide on nuclear proliferation, and pursuing the goal of a nuclear-free world.” A verified cut-off treaty was an essential element of Obama’s vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. Obama said that “The treaty would help to cap nuclear arsenals, strengthen the consensus underlying the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and deny terrorists access to nuclear materials. Today’s decision ends more than a decade of inactivity in the Conference on Disarmament, and signals a commitment to work together on this fundamental global challenge.” (See Obama welcomes decision to begin negotiation on FMCT)

North Korea in supporting the work program, noted that “ it is our constant policy to achieve total and complete nuclear disarmament… It is from this constructive spirit and from the constant position for the total elimination of nuclear weapons forced by those countries which possess most of the weapons that the DPRK decided to support the Draft Decision CD/1863, in order to start substantial work without delay.” (See statement of Mr. An Myong Hun representing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)

PNND, along with the government of Costa Rica and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, in November 208 hosted a seminar in Geneva focusing on possibilities for the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to utilise the UN Secretary-General’s five-point plan and the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention to achieve progress towards a nuclear weapons free world. With the agreement on a work program including an item on nuclear disarmament, there are greater possibilities for such progress especially if parliamentarians continue to encourage their governments to support key initiatives at the CD.

5. Good signs from the 2009 Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting

From 4-15 May the States parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met at the United Nations in New York to prepare for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. This was the first multilateral intergovernmental forum for non-proliferation and disarmament since Barack Obama was elected to the US Presidency.

President Obama sent an inspiring message to the opening day of the meeting—unusual for a Head of State at a PrepCom—thus setting the scene for a speedy adoption of the agenda for 2010 – something that was expected to be delayed as in previous years by political difficulties.

Following this positive start to the meeting, on 8 May the Chair Ambassador Boniface G. Chidyausiku released a paper entitled Draft Recommendations to the Review Conference for discussion and potential adoption by the end of the conference on 15 May.

The paper included recommendations on key steps such as:

  • Entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty;
  • Commencing negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament of a fissile materials treaty;
  • Expanding transparency with respect to nuclear weapons holdings;
  • Ensuring disarmament steps are irreversible;
  • Reducing the operational readiness to use nuclear weapons;
  • Further diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies;
  • Refraining from modernisation or improvement of nuclear weapons systems;
  • Establishment of additional Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones.

The paper also recommended that States Parties “Examine, inter alia, ways and means to commence negotiations, in accordance with Article VI, on a convention or framework of agreements to achieve global nuclear disarmament, and to engage non-Parties to the Treaty.”

Special PNND panel event at the NPT PrepCom, (L-R): Bill Kidd, MSP Scotland; Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator; Bill Siksay, MP Canada; Hideo Hiraoka, MP Japan; Hiro Umebayashi, PNND Japan

These recommendations reflect the many statements and working papers submitted to the NPT Prep Coms in 2007, 2008 and 2009 as well as the recommendations in the UN Secretary-General’s five point plan released in October 2008, the many statements of political leaders and former leaders, the recent Inter-Parliamentary Union resolution and European Parliament report/resolution, and the many civil society initiatives.

Whilst it was not possible to reach consensus on the draft recommendations, they provide substance for the 2010 conference which will have four weeks to come up with final decisions.

PNND members played an active role in supporting the NPT Prep Com by promoting the adoption of key resolutions prior to the meeting (especially at the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament), organising a special panel at the NPT Prep Com, and by making a number of presentations at key NPT events and to the Chair of the NPT Prep Com. This included presentation of the Parliamentary Declaration Supporting a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Ambassador Chidyausiku replied in a letter to PNND expressing hope that the 2010 Review Conference would agree to the NWC proposal leading to its subsequent implementation.

6. NATO Parliamentary Assembly considers nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament

The 2009 Spring Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly held in Oslo from May 22-25 considered a Draft report on Weapons of Mass Destruction submitted to the Science and Technology Committee by the Michael Mates (UK) rapportuer for the topic. The committee heard from a number of experts on the issue including Bill Potter from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway, in addressing the Plenary, also spoke about reviewing NATO’s nuclear doctrine and the responsibility of NATO to play a role in achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Jens Stoltenberg,
Norwegian Prime Minister

The draft report discussed a range of non-proliferation and disarmament issues and initiatives including the CTBT, a proposal for a fissile materials treaty, restrictions on fuel cycle technologies, strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear weapons reduction agreements between the US and Russia and the proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Whilst the report mentioned the proposal for a NWFZ outside of NATO jurisdiction, i.e. the Middle East, it did not comment on proposals for NWFZs related to NATO jurisdiction such as the proposed European NWFZ and the proposed Arctic NWFZ. Nor does the report mention the current deployment of nuclear weapons in NATO countries and the continued adherence of NATO to nuclear deterrence. This is in spite of these issues being raised by delegates in sessions of the NATO PA and in side events such as the PNND event NATO and the Future Role of Nuclear Weapons held in May 2009 at the Berlin NATO PA.

NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegations are invited to comment on the draft report. Such comments will be taken into consideration for redrafting of a final report for adoption at the Autumn Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

7. US nuclear policy in transition

US nuclear policy under President Obama appears to be undergoing a transition away from robust doctrines of nuclear weapons threat and use, and towards a stronger policy supporting nuclear disarmament.

In his April 5 Prague speech Obama noted “ The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” he reasserted “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” and noted that “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”

President Obama’s response to the North Korean nuclear weapons test reinforces the norm against nuclear weapons as a necessary provider of national security. Obama commented that “ North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons, ” and that with respect to non-proliferation all countries have responsibilities to meet,” a nod to a universal non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament norm. This was consistent with the message President Obama sent on May 5 to the Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in New York in which he affirmed the core agreement of the NPT “countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them.

US Strategic Commander General Kevin Chilton

On the other hand, US Department of Defence appears to be at odds with this move towards a non-nuclear security. The US Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, for example, requires the maintenance of nuclear weapons on a high level of readiness to use, retains the option to threaten or use nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations, reinforces the will and determination of the US to use nuclear weapons if necessary, and asserts that ” no customary or conventional international law prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict.”

No mention is made in the US Doctrine of the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion which affirmed that “ threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law,” and that “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”.

Rather than scaling back from a provocative nuclear posture, US military planners appear ready to be envisaging new scenarios for which a nuclear weapons threat could be invoked. On May 8, the Commander of US Strategic Command General Kevin Chilton reported that the US military “retains all options” with regard to a potential cyber threat to the US. Such language infers the possible threat or use of nuclear weapons. (See official: No options ‘off the table’ for US response to cyber attacks, Stars and Stripes, May 8).

The US Secretary of Defense is currently overseeing a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) as mandated by Senate Resolution 1547 (2008). It remains to be seen whether the NPR will reflect the President’s public statements and the emerging norm against nuclear weapons, or will maintain the Defense Department’s reliance on nuclear forces.

8. Senator McCain supports a nuclear weapons-free world

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

On June 3, to mark the unveiling of a statue in Washington of former US President Ronald Reagan, Senator John McCain invoked Reagan’s dream of a nuclear-weapons-free world, and called on the United States to “show the kind of leadership the world expects from us, in the tradition of American presidents who worked to reduce the nuclear threat to mankind.”

Senator McCain, speaking in the US Senate, said that nuclear weapons “represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man.  We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind.  We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used.”

Senator McCain suggested that a nuclear weapons-free world is “a distant and difficult goal.” However, he noted a number of issues in which action and decisions needed to be taken now – such as on negotiating a fissile materials treaty, further stockpile reductions and ratification of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty.”

Click here for the full speech.

























1. President Obama's Cairo speech

2. North Korea nuclear test- UN and parliamentary reactions

3. Joint Parliamentary Statement on Korean Nuclear Tests

4. Conference on Disarmament adopts work program after 12 years of inaction

5. Good signs from the 2009 Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting

6. NATO Parliamentary Assembly considers nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament

7. US nuclear policy in transition

8. Senator McCain supports a nuclear weapons-free world