The International Dimension of Disarmament

by Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.,
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative
For Diplomat and International Canada magazine, May - June 2000, p.7

The end of the Cold War provided an unprecedented opportunity to end the nuclear weapon era. This opportunity is now at risk of being lost in the clutter of obstacles thrown up by the Nuclear Weapon States, whose leaders continue to rely on nuclear postures. Yet a bridge to a nuclear weapon-free world can still - and must - be built. The ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II) by the Russian Duma opens up promising possibilities for further nuclear arms control. However, Russian ratification, contingent on U.S. adherence to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, was well timed to shift attention toward the U.S. at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference for the proposed deployment of a national missile defence (NMD) system over America.

The Russians have warned that deployment of such a system would expunge the ABM Treaty, which forbids the deployment of defensive systems in order to maintain a strategic balance between the Super Powers, and force Russia into an expensive, unwanted arms race. This damage to the bilateral arms reduction process will undermine further the non-proliferation regime and could diminish international confidence in arms control treaties in general. Even if there is a bilateral START/NMD compromise, the deployment of NMD will inevitably impede deep strategic force reductions.

Two important bodies, one governmental, the other non-governmental, are addressing this complex and dangerous situation.

The governmental initiative is led by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) in which the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden offered a bridge toward a world free of nuclear weapons. They have launched a Joint Declaration called "Towards A Nuclear Weapon-Free World: The Need For A New Agenda." The NAC criticized both the Nuclear Weapon States and the three nuclear-capable states of India, Israel and Pakistan, and called on them all to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for eliminating their nuclear arsenals.

The second movement is found in the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), a coalition established by a network of eight international citizen organizations. MPI grew out of an initiative by the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. It is a carefully focused campaign to encourage and educate the leaders of the Nuclear Weapon States to commit themselves to immediate steps toward reducing nuclear dangers and commencing meaningful negotiations toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In an effort to strengthen support for the NAC's 1998 U.N. Resolution (53/77Y), MPI sent delegations to the capitals of key NATO and other U.S.-allied states to help change planned "No" votes to abstentions and to encourage nations under pressure from the NATO Nuclear Weapon States to stand their ground. MPI continued to work with citizen organizations and has sent more delegations to broaden and deepen support for NAC's work.

As part of the work of the Middle Powers Initiative, the Atlanta Consultation (January 26 - 27, 2000) co-sponsored by MPI and the Carter Center brought international experts to speak to the consultation, which included six senior U.S. Government officials. MPI was able to present the case for action to save the international disarmament regime in a non-confrontational atmosphere. Out of the consultation came proposals to the Nuclear Weapon States to acknowledge that the Non-Proliferation Treaty cannot endure if a few states insist that nuclear weapons provide them with unique security benefits while denying these alleged benefits to others, and to reaffirm bilateral commitments to the ABM Treaty.

The consultation also affirmed that the strength in the international dimension of MPI working with NAC is starting to have an important effect in lifting up national efforts to create a combined government-diplomatic-expert-civil society effort to achieve meaningful progress in nuclear disarmament.

MPI does not supplant the important work being done by national governments and NGOs; it greatly strengthens this work by showing that such local players within countries are not alone but are part of a worldwide movement.

The lesson of the 1990's, in the long struggle to achieve nuclear disarmament, is that international coalitions of like-minded governments, NGOs and experts are needed to affect a break-through in the national self-interest thinking which has long prevailed among Nuclear Weapon States.

By using diplomatic and political access to governments, MPI has brought to many national governments the growing weight of world public opinion supporting nuclear disarmament.