Pushing for security
Two months before it convenes and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference is already the subject of heated debate, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky
In May Egypt will chair the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the UN headquarters in New York. The conference is expected to test promises made by the US, Russia and other nuclear countries to agree on a single document that guarantees all states are treated equally.
For Cairo it is an opportunity to renew calls for greater regional stability after President Hosni Mubarak issued a wakeup call to the world a decade ago demanding the Middle East become a region free of weapons of mass destruction.
The NPT, which has 189 signatories, forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons and obliges the five original nuclear-weapon holders, the US, Russia, UK, France and China, to disarm. Yet 40 years after the original NPT came into force the world still has more than 23,000 nuclear warheads, and increasing numbers of states determined to join the nuclear club.
"So long as one state has nuclear weapons others will want them. There are 23,000 warheads, 2000 of which can be launched within a decision window of just four to eight minutes by the American or the Russian president," co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non- proliferation and Disarmament Gareth Evans told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Evans was in Cairo to promote Eliminating Nuclear Threats, the commission's new strategic report. Along with other experts he took part in a seminar hosted by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies this week.
"The report is offering solutions for world leaders to put an end for the nuclear threats in three areas; nuclear disarmament, nuclear terrorism and the civil use of nuclear energy," he said.
The report views the NPT review conference as a "moment of accountability" for world leaders, arguing that it must achieve "a positive outcome, with member states reaching agreement on measures to strengthen the NPT regime, including improved safeguards, verification, compliance and enforcement; measures to strengthen the effectiveness of the IAEA, 'A New International Consensus for Action on Nuclear Disarmament' statement on disarmament issues; and measures to advance implementation of the Middle East and other existing and proposed Nuclear Weapon Free Zones".
In 2005 more than 28 states participated in an NPT review conference that failed to agree on a text to strengthen the treaty.
In the medium term the report envisages the elimination of 90 per cent of the world's nuclear arsenal by 2025.
"The report does not go far enough. I really do not buy the argument that for the sake of being realistic and practical we should give up our ambitions of setting a date to free the region and the world of any nuclear threat," former Egyptian ambassador to the US Nabil Fahmy said during the seminar.
One of the most controversial points in the report from an Egyptian perspective concerned its comments on the Arab reaction towards Israel's nuclear arsenal.
The report argues that, "the Israeli policy of ambiguity on its nuclear weapons programme" has been acceptable to Arab leaders "who have seen it as enabling them to avoid entering into very costly nuclear competition".
"I have no idea how they reached such an illogical conclusion. It flies in the face of the facts. We have been calling for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction for a long time," says Fahmy.
The report, he charges, attempts to argue that, "the Arabs will not react if Israel continues as a nuclear state".
Wael El-Assad, director of international relations at the Arab League, is pessimistic about the NPT review conference's prospects, particularly given the perceived weakness of President Barack Obama's administration vis-à-vis the US Congress.
"I disagree with the report that the next conference is a seminal moment for the NPT. 2015 will be the real test. Only then will we be able to assess whether the document that emerges from this year's review has actually been implemented in any meaningful way," he says.