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„40 years of NPT: What is at stake?“ - Beitrag von Staatsminister Erler, 28.04.3008

28.04.2008 - Rede

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the NPT. Over the past 40 years the Non-Proliferation Treaty has become one of the most valuable instruments of cooperative security, it has played a key role in safeguarding international peace and continues to do so.

With 188 States Parties the Non-Proliferation Treaty has virtually universal support, more than any comparable document apart from the Charter of the United Nations. It is important to be conscious of these facts and recall that this was not always the case. In the early 60s President John F. Kennedy feared the number of nuclear-weapon states might rise to 15 or 20 by the mid-70s. This nightmare was prevented by the conclusion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty - a successful and realistic response to the nuclear challenge.

We must be aware, however, that the Non-Proliferation Treaty strikes a difficult balance. Unlike other conventions banning weapons of mass destruction, it does not prohibit nuclear weapons as such but only their proliferation. At the same time it commits the five recognized nuclear-weapon states at the time of the Treaty's entry into force to pursue negotiations on ending the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. The indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 brought also further clarification of the obligation of States Parties to pursue nuclear disarmament, namely a commitment on the part of the nuclear-weapon states to the determined pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons. A commitment, which was translated at the NPT Review Conference in 2000 by a catalogue of 13 practical steps for nuclear disarmament, presenting still the benchmark for implementation.

So what is at stake for the NPT?

The objective is clear: The NPT has to remain the realistic response to the nuclear challenge and it has to continue to be successful in the fight against proliferation.

However, we have to be conscious of the fact that our security situation has changed over the last two decades –changes that have been truly radical:

  • The threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, which dominated strategic thinking during the Cold War, seems to have disappeared. I say “seems to have disappeared” because the weapons which could bring about widespread annihilation are still in existence!
  • 9/11 confronted us with the new threats to our security in a very forceful manner. Since then international terrorism has emerged as a quite new threat which feeds on the existence and the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Regional conflicts like in the Middle East have gained a supraregional, in some cases even a global dimension. Proliferation has become a growing risk to international peace and security and it requires greater attention.
  • And, above all, following the end of the East-West confrontation, we have witnessed the renewed outbreak of old conflicts we thought were long since settled and the emergence of new armed regional conflicts. And we're all aware that the risks posed by unresolved regional conflicts with potentially global repercussions have not been banished. Indeed, there is evidence that their virulence has increased.

The international community has to tackle these new challenges and dangers together. We can only deal with them effectively if we work together. Today more than ever, our maxim must be: security is indivisible. We have to make best use of our common instruments, we have to preserve and we have to strengthen them against the background of these new challenges, - and the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation system must clearly occupy a very promiment place in this endeavor.

The European Union reacted to the new challenges after 9/11 with the “EU strategy against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”. It was adopted by the European Council on 12 December 2003 and represents a comprehensive and coherent basis for joint action by the EU. The emphasis is on strengthening multilateral treaties: by developing the verification and implementation instruments, by beefing up the export control regime, as well as by stepping up international cooperation. In the same spirit the EU and Germany are actively contributing to strengthening the non-proliferation norms and verification intstruments of the Treaty by making the Additional Protocoll the standard for verifcation or by adressing the effects of a possible withdrawal from the Treaty, to pick out just two of them.

However, the authority of the multilateral treaty system will be undermined if the binding effect of the treaties is weakened due to a lack of political commitment to their preservation and to their enhancement or, worse, if treaty obligations and rights are interpreted unilaterally in favour of certain groups of states. The unsatisfactory outcome of the 2005 NPT Review Conference and the failure to agree on common language on disarmament and non-proliferation in the final document of the UN summit that same year were thus worrying developments. The start of the new review cycle in Vienna last year at the first Preparatory Commission can so far only give grounds for cautious optimism, because, despite an impressive commitment to the Treaty itself, differing implementation priorities seem to persist.

Once again it has been demonstrated that the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be more than a mere instrument for combating proliferation. Rather, this Treaty is based on a bargain which must be honoured if it is to celebrate also its next 40 years in good health: the non-nuclear weapons states agreed not to possess or acquire nuclear weapons in return for a promise by the nuclear weapons states to disarm. It is therefore crucial that, as in the cases of Iran and North Korea, we not only work with the utmost determination towards ensuring that the Treaty's non-proliferation commitment is upheld. Rather, we need a new momentum in nuclear disarmament. Yet any advances achieved in the implementation of the disarmament obligation are not about “all or nothing”, for there is no realistic alternative to gradual progress. Forward movement in nuclear disarmament is, however, essential if we are to succeed in the fight against proliferation.

The agenda to which the German Government is committed already exists:

The 13 Practical Steps outlined in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference I already mentioned contain the measures which continue to be necessary for further disarmament progress in the nuclear field. This includes, first and foremost, the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the speedy opening of negotiations on banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes (Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, FMCT). Moreover, progress in the nuclear disarmament of the two largest nuclear-weapon states, Russia and the US, is of special importance.

The Second Session of the Preparatory Committee which started today must be made best use of for preparing the ground for a successful 2010 Review Conference. To this end, a balanced approach is necessary, which takes into consideration all three pillars of the Treaty: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses. It is of utmost importance to rekindle a sense of common purpose in the international community. The credibility of the NPT requires that all States Parties join forces and closely work together on the basis of a shared respect for the fundamental bargain underlying the treaty, i.e. the firm relationship that the treaty establishes between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

In order to bring about the required sense of common purpose, it seems of particular importance to develop a joint vision and to reassert the commitment to the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon free world. This vision was also conjured up in the influential Wall Street Journal op-eds that George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn published on 4 January 2007 and 15 January 2008. Realistically, this vision can only be realized through an incremental process, which will require patience and time. And as rightly pointed out in the 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair and urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible”.

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