Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Obama Administration Pushes UN Nonproliferation Resolution

Posted by K.E. White on September 15, 2009

Setting the stage for next May’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference, the Obama administration has circulated a UN resolution on nonproliferation. The draft resolution reaffirms the core tenants of the NPT, itself a marked departure from the last administration. The proposal thus reflects the administration’s desire to approach nuclear proliferation–especially in regard to North Korea and Iran–from a multinational perspective and recommit all nuclear-weapons states states to nuclear disarmament.

Symbolic and practical purposes lay within the proposals jargon. Symbolically it shows the United States acknowledging the interests of non-nuclear states and seeking their input in dealing with the thorny issue of nuclear proliferation. Practically the proposal ups the ante of the 2010 treaty conference and reflects the Obama administration’s push to enshrine a ‘norm’ against proliferation that applies to nuclear and non-nuclear states alike. This stands in contrast to the Bush administration that signaled its privilege for counter-proliferation–keeping weapons from ‘bad’ regimes–over the general goal of eliminating these weapons all-together, nonproliferation.

Strategic considerations related related to Iran’s nuclear activities rest behind the US proposal. Two sections in particular stand out (and can be read below). First, the proposal calls on NPT nuclear weapon states–America, Russia, Britain, France and China–to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament.” The Obama administration seems intent on ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to eventual disarmament, a key clause of the NPT. No doubt it hopes that such action would reinvigorate American credibility on nonproliferation, which then could be parlayed into isolating Iran.

The proposal also seeks to make the right of NPT members to develop civilian nuclear programs contingent on meeting their other NPT obligations–another clear message to Iran. By seeking to limit the scope of the NPT’s nuclear benefit clause, the United States seeks to stop countries from hiding illicit nuclear weapons production (read: Iran and North Korea) behind this NPT nuclear benefits clause.

Politico offers excellent coverage that includes the proposal’s text and expert commentary. From Politico:

Washington nonproliferation experts describe the draft U.S. resolution as important, including in signaling the Obama administration’s return to some international non-proliferation commitments that the Bush administration had walked back from. In particular, they note the proposal’s endorsing that world nuclear powers pledge to not attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons, as well as a passage that would make a nation’s “right” to pursue peaceful nuclear energy contingent upon being in compliance with other obligations spelled out in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“What Obama is doing here, is, as he said in Prague, recommitting the United States to action on disarmament,” the Arms Control Association’s executive director Daryl Kimball said Monday. “He is reiterating U.S. and P-5 support for some things that the Bush administration walked back from.” Among them: the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT), which bans the testing of nuclear weapons (and which the U.S. has signed but the Senate not ratified), and what are called “negative security assurances” – guarantees by nuclear weapons states not to attack non-nuclear weapons states with nukes, Kimball said.

“This resolution is a solid piece of work, the best one could expect from the UN resolution process,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Plougshares Fund, which advocates nonproliferation goals. “It’s significant in several aspects,” he added, naming in particular the draft’s reaffirming a pledge that nuclear states would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states – a U.S. position up until the Bush administration, he said. “This could be very important later on,” Cirincione said, in making the case that the sole purpose of having nuclear weapons is to deter other states from using them.

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