Canada took the floor early in yesterday’s opening session of the 2009 PrepCom,[i] opting for what has to be regarded as a rather low-key approach. Details will come in subsequent statements on particular issues or themes, but two things stand out from Canada’s overview statement.[ii]

The first is that Canada did not join the many other states that spoke with some enthusiasm about the changed political environment in support of disarmament and that reiterated the commitment to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

Canada did say it “… is particularly encouraged by the renewed momentum of disarmament talks between Russia and the US,” and noted that “we are entering a promising new era for arms control and disarmament – one in which diplomacy and multilateral cooperation are the tools with which we can build a secure and prosperous world.”

But there was no reference to the elimination of nuclear weapons – a theme, as is by now well known, that is repeated by a broad range of security professionals and political leaders (from Henry Kissinger to Gordon Brown to Barak Obama). The NPT was characterized as “…the only legally binding global instrument to promote nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament” (emphasis added). To characterize the NPT as simply “promoting,” rather than “requiring,” the elimination of nuclear weapons seems rather strikingly out of step with the current mood and expectation – not to mention at odds with the World Court view that the NPT requires total nuclear disarmament.

To be fair, there are many more words to come from Canada and all delegations and I’ve been assured that a more direct commitment to total disarmament will be forthcoming. Even so, the failure to make the point in the overview statement is disappointing.

The UK, for example, talked about new opportunities to deliver on the NPT’s ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons, while Canada chose to “emphasize the need for meaningful and balanced progress on each of the three pillars” – that is, disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Russia challenged states to build an international environment “conducive to full renunciation of nuclear weapons,” and spoke of the “noble idea of freeing the world from nuclear threat.”

China called for the “complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons for the establishment of a world free of nuclear weapons.” The IAEA representative spoke of “achieving a world free of nuclear weapons” and Sweden, speaking for the New Agenda Coalition, said the “total elimination of nuclear weapons” is the only guarantee against their use.

A second striking feature of Canada’s opening statement was the conspicuous silence, or so it seemed, on the 13 disarmament steps unanimously agreed to in 2000. The statement included an important reference to the failure to implement the decisions of the 1995 Review Conference, but the omission of any reference to the important agreements reached in the 2000 Review Conference seems to imply a downgrading of the 13 steps.[iii]

Again, there is more to come, but it would have been welcome to have a clear statement affirming, as many other delegations did, that the 13 steps represent an ongoing commitment.

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[i] The current and final session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 4-15 May 2009, at UN Headquarters in New York.

[iii] In 2000 NPT state unanimously agreed on the following steps:

1. The importance and urgency of signatures and ratifications, without delay and without conditions and in accordance with constitutional processes, to achieve the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

2. A moratorium on nuclear-weapon-test explosions or any other nuclear explosions pending entry into force of that Treaty.

3. The necessity of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons….

4. The necessity of establishing in the CD an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament.

5. The principle of irreversibility to apply to nuclear disarmament, nuclear and other related arms control and reduction measures.

6. An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.

7. The early entry into force and full implementation of START II and the conclusion of START III as soon as possible while preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons, in accordance with its provisions.

8. The completion and implementation of the Trilateral Initiative between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

9. Further efforts by the nuclear-weapon States to:

- reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally

- Increased transparency

- reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons

- reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems

- diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies

- the engagement of all the nuclear-weapon States in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.

10. Excess fissile materials under IAEA control.

11. General and Complete Disarmament -- Reaffirmation that the ultimate objective of the efforts of States in the disarmament process is general and complete disarmament under effective international control.

12. Regular reports, within the framework of the NPT strengthened review process, by all States parties on the implementation of Article VI and paragraph 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament", and recalling the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice of 8 July 1996.

13. The further development of the verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

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