1. On November 9th, the U.N. First Committee adopted the New Agenda Coalition resolution with 90 yes votes, 13 no’s and 37 abstentions. Last year’s First Committee vote was 97-19-32. The heart of the resolution is contained in Operative Paragraph 1: “Calls upon the Nuclear Weapon States to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament to which they are committed under Article VI of the NPT.”
2. Four NWS (the U.S., Russia, the U.K., and France) again voted no and China repeated its abstention. In 1998 NATO, which then had 16 states, voted 0-4-12. This year, with 19 members, Turkey and the Czech Republic moved from no to abstention, while Hungary and Poland voted no. Thus the NATO count was 0-5-14. Though some states (e.g. Azerbeijan, Benin) dropped to abstention from last year’s yes, the effect of this was offset by 14 NATO states together sending a message to the NWS that progress must be made.
3. The Explanations-of-vote contained revealing observations. The U.K. said the NAC resolution was incompatible with the maintenance of a credible minimum deterrence. France accused the NAC of having ulterior motives in challenging the right to self-defence. The U.S. said it had already given a “solemn undertaking” concerning Article VI of the NPT and why should it be asked to give more? Canada, which abstained, praised the resolution but added: “The nuclear-weapon states and their partners and alliances need to be engaged if the goals of the New Agenda resolution are to be achieved.” This was a tacit admission that the Western NWS (the NATO leaders) had tied Canada’s hands. Australia, which also abstained, said it did not want to challenge the sincerity of the NWS commitment to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.
4. It is disappointing that the leaders of the NATO countries could not bring themselves to vote that the Nuclear Weapon States make an “unequivocal undertaking” to engage without delay in negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. The present situation is truly alarming: the U.S. Senate has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the U.S. is preparing to deploy a missile defence system over the objections of Russia and China; India is preparing to deploy nuclear weapons in air, land, and sea; Pakistan, which has successfully tested nuclear weapons, is now ruled by the military; meaningful discussions at the Conference on Disarmament are deadlocked; the preparatory conferences for the 2000 Review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have failed; the Russian Duma has not ratified START II. The gains made in the past decade on reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are being wiped out. Immense dangers to the world lie ahead if the present negative trends are not reversed.
5. We have offered logic, law, and morality to government leaders as reasons for them to move forward on nuclear disarmament. We are tempted, at this moment, to despair that we will ever be heard. That is the wrong reaction. We are being heard as never before, and the proponents of the status quo are being forced to invent the most preposterous reasons to justify their slavish adherence to weapons that have justly been called “the ultimate evil.” We do not have the luxury of despair at this moment. We must continue, with all our growing might, to speak truth to power.
6. It is disturbing to be thwarted by a residual Cold War mentality driven by the military-industrial complex that infects the political decision-making process with fears of an unknown enemy. It is myopic for NATO government leadership to live in fear of U.S. government retribution for voting to advance nuclear disarmament. It is an abrogation of governments’ responsibility to humanity to stare silently into the abyss of more nuclear weapons.
7. But rage bounces off the shields of denial constructed by the powerful. It does little to berate government leaders. Those in governments and in civil society who have worked hard for the successful passage of the NAC resolution as a way out of looming catastrophe must be humble enough to recognize that there is still not a vibrant public opinion in our society against nuclear weapons. The public generally does not know enough about the present situation even to be in denial.
8. The time has come to inject renewed energy into the nuclear weapons debate. The sheer force of this energy must penetrate the consciences of decision-makers in the powerful states and thus transfer the nuclear abolition debate into a whole new field of action. We must rise up above the political, economic, social and cultural blockages to abolition and infuse the societal and political processes with a dynamic of action. The approach I am calling for must be based on our overpowering love for God’s planet and all humanity on it. In this call to witness, we will find new confidence in our ability to overcome the temporary denial by politicians and officials who do not understand the power of this transformation moment in history.
9. By coincidence, the NAC vote, in which the NWS are still showing their defiance, occurred on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Wall fell because enough people created a force for freedom that became unstoppable. The Wall of resistance to nuclear weapons abolition will also crumble when the non-nuclear allies of the U.S. demonstrate the courage that we must give them. Already there are signs, in the speculation that tactical nuclear weapons will be removed from seven NATO countries in Europe, that the NATO leadership is feeling this pressure.
10. Our first task now is to give our complete support to the leaders of the New Agenda Coalition, telling them we will not cease our active support of their efforts. Our second is to gather more strength among the public so that even the most skeptical of leaders will feel a new heat on this issue. Our third is to be a witness in our own communities, each in our own way, to our unflagging desire to leave a world for humanity that will indeed be nuclear-weapons-free.
* Senator Douglas Roche is Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative.