Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day Nine at the NPT

Today at the NPT PrepCom brought yet another morning of closed door discussions. The fate of the 2nd draft of chair's recommendations for 2010 hung in the balance. Upon resuming formal discussions in Conference Room 1, the Chair, Ambassador Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe, announced that consensus had not been reached on his Draft Recommendations version 2. At present the discussion is about how to proceed. Many delegations are urging the chair to move forward, to try to reach a consensus on a document. How this will turn out is anyone's guess.

Over lunchtime The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy hosted a roundtable discussion with Max Kampelman, Dr Patricia Lewis and Dr Randy Rydell, chaired by Dr Rebecca Johnson. The focus was on the prospects for outlawing the use of nuclear weapons. In her final comments, Dr Patricia Lewis said "It is ideas that start in our minds that make things happen. Nuclear weapons are man-made, and we can get rid of them." This gathering coincides with the launch of Dr Rebecca Johnson's new book - Unfinished Business: The Negotiation of the CTBT and the End of Nuclear Testing. The entire document is now available online via the UNIDIR site. Just click on the link above and you too can read her work!

Yours from an expectant NPT PrepCom
Ruth Mitchell

Day Eight at the NPT - A new day and a new draft set of recommendations

My apologies for the delay in blogging the events to Day 8 at the NPT. After an afternoon and a morning of no general discussions in the main conference room, we finally heard back from the delegates regarding the discussions held behind closed doors. After a working paper was tabled by Belgium, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Poland and Turkey the meeting was once again adjourned so that a revised version of the Chair's recommendations could be drafted. These were handed down at about 6pm, allowing delegates and NGO participants alike to spend their evening dissecting the new document. Notably for those of us from ICAN and IPPNW, the reference to a nuclear weapons convention was removed. For in-depth analysis of the difference between the first and second documents from the chair, see the Reaching Critical Will article by Ray Acheson

During the lunchtime break, one of the NGO events was a session on the Medical and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War. This was put on by IPPNW's US affiliate Physicians for Social Responsibility. I had the opportunity to chair this session and we began with introductory historical remarks by longtime medical activist and author Dr Vic Sidel. We then witnessed a dramatic presentation modeling the impact of both a regional nuclear conflict in South Asia, as well as a full blown war between the US and Russia. Steven Starr and Dr Ira Helfand worked together to present the data and the likely health impact of nuclear war. Much of the data including the brilliant images use are available on, a website Steven has been constructing. In the near future it is hoped that this site will be available in a variety of languages.

Yours from the UN

Ruth Mitchell

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day Seven at the NPT

After this morning's government briefing by the Canadian Ambassador, Marius Grinius, general discussions began on the Chair's draft recommendations for the 2010 RevCon. A number of countries raised points, some of them procedural and others more substantive. Many countries like Australia and Canada raised concerns about specific points but this was balanced with a recognition of the need for progress. Other countries had more significant concerns, such as the US who have an impending nuclear posture review and for whom it seems that the level of detail in the draft recommendations is premature. From about 12 noon today 

The lunchtime NGO session was on the Operational Status of Nuclear Weapon Systems, and the panel included Ambassadors from Chile, who chaired, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Many excellent points were raised, including the observation that Candidate Obama spoke of de-alerting, but President Obama has yet to do so. Up to date technical details and analysis were provided by John Hallam of People for Nuclear Disarmament, Steven Starr of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Geoffrey Forden, from MIT. Dr Forden's entire presentation has been made available online and is entitled Dangers Inherent to Nuclear Arsenals

Finally, today saw the beginning of simulated negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention. This excercise, run by the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation and the Technical University of Darmstadt, involves 30 students who take the roles of members of an enlarged Security Council, and it is very interesting to observe how it is proceeding. ICAN's very own Dimity Hawkins chaired this morning's session and the Chilean Ambassador is chairing this afternoon. 

Over the last few days the Swedish IPPNW (SLMK) delegates have been leaving, but reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Norwegians. And we look forward to more of our US based members from Physicians for Social Responsibility arriving over in the next day or two. 

Yours from the feverish simulated negotiations of a nuclear weapons convention
Ruth Mitchell

Day Six at the NPT - Clusters all done

Day Six, the second week of the NPT PrepCom, and the delegates are making progress. Yesterday brought the end of discussion on Cluster Three, which is about peaceful uses of nuclear energy. There was also discussion around "other provisions of the Treaty, including Article X". This is about provisions for withdrawing from the NPT. Some delegations have called for measures making withdrawal from the Treaty more difficult, in order to strengthen the NPT. Progress through the speaker's list was so brisk that the meeting was adjourned more than 1 1/2 hours early in the afternoon session.

On the NGO calendar, an event was organised by Soka Gakkai International, and co-sponsored by ICAN, which brought together some leading minds in the area of "Nuclear Abolition and Human Security". We heard from Kazuo Tase, Head of the Human Security Unit at the UN, Dr Patricia Lewis, Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, and Dr Kathleen Sullivan, Education Consultant to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. This stimulating session explored the links between nuclear abolition and human security. Human security is all about putting people first, which makes us more pragmatic and focuses our thinking on people-protection measures, as Patricia Lewis pointed out. We explored the idea of empowerment, and agreed that empowerment comes through participation and through listening as well as speaking and acting. Kathleen Sullivan led us through an exercise of speaking and listening which took us from thinking to feeling to action. During the general discussion I had a chance to share the work of the Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project, which I believe uses a human security framework to work for nuclear abolition. 

Today will bring general discussion around the chair's recommendations for the RevCon next year, and I will update you as to the direction these discussions take.

Yours in Peace
Ruth Mitchell

Friday, May 8, 2009

Day Five at the NPT - one week down, one week to go!

Well folks, the weekend is nearly here. Our morning NGO caucus meeting was a little longer this morning and included a strategy session. We set ourselves the task of making a short list of demands to focus on in the year before the Review Conference. We identified an overarching human security theme which unites all our demands. I will post these demands once we've had a chance to finesse the wording and discuss them further. This work will be continued in tomorrow's Abolition 2000 Annual General Meeting. 

In the official debate, today's big news today has been the release by the Chair of the PrepCom, Ambassador Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe, of his draft recommendations to the 2010 Review Conference. None of us have had a chance to digest these entirely but then neither have the official delegates.

Two weeks is a long time, and while your faithful blogger will be here for the duration, some people have had to leave to get back to their vital work elsewhere. IPPNW's Canadian affiliate, Physicians for Global Survival, have been well represented in the last few days by both the president, Michael Dworkin, and the executive director, Kim Kroeber, but both are now returning home, to host a wonderful PGS/ICAN event next Tuesday. If you are in the Ottawa area, RSVP quickly!

Listening to the debate in Conference Room 1 the temptation to stand up and say something is at times overwhelming. Don't worry, I haven't misbehaved yet. But what I'd really like to say is something like the words of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which brings focus to any debate about the things that divide us. In 1955, their words to us were "We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."

Yours from New York
Ruth Mitchell

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day Four at the NPT - Getting down to the nitty gritty

Day Four and temperature is rising. In Conference Room E, the room at the end of the building given to the NGOs for our many meetings, it is positively stifling. We can either open the doors and have some small amount of air to breathe, or we can close the doors and actually hear each other. And under these conditions we are trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. There are 77 NGOs who are accredited for this PrepCom, and there are many more individual members of civil society. This morning our very own Dimity Hawkins of ICAN Australia and John Loretz of the IPPNW Central Office co-chaired a session on the implementation of the Nuclear Weapons Convention which called on both the experience of Jayanatha Dhanapala, President of Pugwash, and Randy Rydell, of the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs. We also heard the perspective from parliamentarians working to promote disarmament.

In Conference Room 1, the lunchtime session brought us the words of Michael Douglas, the actor, who told us this is "Not a moment for hesitation, cynicism or doubt, it is a time to be bold." He joined with voices from Disarmament Affairs, past and present, asking us to seize on the moment of extraordinary hope presented by statements by Ban Ki Moon as well as both Russian and US Presidents. 

The official "debate" has now shifted to Cluster 1 discussions. Or rather, Cluster 1 read statements. There were exciting moments at the end of yesterday however, with Syria and Canada disagreeing about the right to nuclear energy. A series of rights-of-reply culminated with Canada emphasising that rights come with obligations.

Over the last 2 days there have been some meetings with official delegations. The group from SLMK, the Swedish affiliate of IPPNW, met last night with the Swedish delegation, and today I had the opportunity to join with the president and the executive director of Physicians for Global Survival, the Canadian affiliate of IPPNW, as well as three other dynamic and wonderful Canadians, in meeting with the Canadian delegation. This was an excellent meeting and reaffirmed the need for ongoing dialogue between members of civil society and the diplomats and civil servants who work on these issues on behalf of our governments. Much of what takes place in these meetings is off the record, as is the content of our morning briefings from members of government, such as this morning's briefing with the UK Ambassador. It means I can't tell you all that was said and not said, but I think it represents the real work of NGOs at these gatherings - the nitty gritty.

Tonight New York will truly take off with a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Reaching Critical Will, and the 94th birthday of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. 

On that festive thought I leave you with big hopes for Peace
Ruth Mitchell

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day Three at the NPT - supermodels, rockstars, and an agenda for 2010

Today at the United Nations in New York we heard compelling and sensible words calling for nuclear abolition. From Christie Brinkley, the supermodel. It was a great speech grounded in her reality of being a mother of three children, calling for those in positions of power to waste no time in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In the same session,  Henrik Salander, the new chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, and a former rock star, spoke about the role of Article IV forums in providing space for off the record policy debate, and emphasising the central role of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. He said that what had begun as a utopian dream is becoming a pragmatic reality, and that the document jump starts analysis and focuses our thinking. 

Many of us from the NGO community spent the morning in a very energising discussion about the work of ICAN around the world. We heard from those working on abolition in France, Japan, UK, US, Italy, Germany, and Australia.  The challenges of doing abolition work in different environments make our common commitment and our mutual cooperation all the more vital, and I think that everyone left with new ideas and a fresh sense of possibility.

The afternoon saw many parallel sessions, but I chose to attend one organised by IALANA with the participation of Dr Stefan Kordasch from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He was asked to comment on Germany's position on a Nuclear Weapons Convention. He stated that Germany does not think the world is ready for a NWC, prefering a step by step approach. It seems that we need to get a lot closer to zero before Germany will get involved in an NWC approach, although how we will get closer to zero without a convention remains to be seen.

Finally, the big news for today from the NPT: We have a draft agenda for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It's right here if you'd like to have a look:

If it looks really familiar to you, that is because it is the same agenda as that was used in 2000 with one very minor non-substantive update. Other decisions taken in the official session today were the date of the Review Conference, which will be from 3-28 May 2010, and the Chair, who will be the ambassador from the Philippines. Next year will be a big year in the NPT cycle, and so if you can be in New York in May, you should try to get here.

With great hopes for zero
from New York City
Ruth Mitchell