Obama at the Security Council: “International law is not an empty promise….”

by Peggy McGuinness

It’s a great day to be teaching the powers of the Security Council to my international law class!  President Obama presided this morning over the Security Council meeting on non-proliferation, securing a 15-0 vote for UNSC resolution 1887, which aims to bolster the nuclear non-proliferation regime through strengthening the NPT, enforcing existing resolutions on North Korea and Iran, and reaffirming the role of IAEA in promoting peaceful nuclear programs and enforcing compliance with the NPT.  Here are some excerpts from AP of his address to the Council:

The full video of Obama’s intervention can be seen here.  The full text of his remarks is here.

The quote of the day:  “International law is not an empty promise, and treaties will be enforced.”

Yes, this is a public speech with a lot of political rhetoric and an aspirational tone.  But with each address to international audiences, Obama is forwarding his new policy of reengagement with the UN and other multilateral institutions.  But it is not speech-making solely for the symbolic impact, but a way of putting the full force of his presidency behind new multilateral initiatives.  Yesterday’s speech before the GA laid out the broad outlines of this new approach, clearly demarcating the break from the Bush administration. (For one of the best analyses of the speech, read David Rothkopf’s take over at Foreign Policy.) Today we saw the president engaging in multilateral law making.  It is a rare occasion when heads of state meet at the Council; even rarer when they pass a resolution (unanimously) that forwards an agenda item that is central to international security.  Perhaps it is not compelling viewing, but, much as C-Span coverage of congressional committee meetings shows how law is made at home, this is the stuff of international law.

The White House Press release summarizing res. 1887 is after the jump. I’ll post the full text of the resolution shortly.
Excerpt from the White House fact sheet on Res. 1887:

The new measure, UNSC Resolution 1887, expresses the Council’s grave concern about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the need for international action to prevent it. It reaffirms that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery are threats to international peace and security and shows agreement on a broad range of actions to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament and the threat of nuclear terrorism. Broadly, the resolution supports:
· A revitalized commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, and calls for further progress on nuclear arms reductions, urging all states to work towards the establishment of effective measures of nuclear arms reduction and disarmament.
· A strengthened Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a Review Conference in 2010 that achieves realistic and achievable goals in all three pillars: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The resolution supports universality of the NPT, calls on all states to adhere to its terms and makes clear the Council’s intent to immediately address any notice of intent to withdraw from the Treaty. The resolution also notes the ongoing efforts in the NPT review to identify mechanisms for responding collectively to any notification of withdrawal.
· Better security for nuclear weapons materials to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials essential to make a bomb, including through the convening of a Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, locking down vulnerable nuclear weapons materials in four years, a goal originally proposed by President Obama, minimizing the civil use of highly enriched uranium to the extent feasible, and encouraging the sharing of best practices as a practical way to strengthen nuclear security and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the G-8 Global Partnership.
· The Security Council’s authority and vital role in addressing the threat to international peace and security posed by the spread of nuclear weapons and underscoring the Council’s intent to take action if nuclear weapons or related material are provided to terrorists.

  • Addressing the current major challenges to the nonproliferation regime, demanding full compliance with Security Council resolutions on Iran and North Korea and calling on the parties to find an early negotiated solution.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) essential role in preventing nuclear proliferation and ensuring access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under effective safeguards. This is particularly important to ensure that the growing interest in nuclear energy does not result in additional countries with nuclear weapons capabilities.
  • Encouraging efforts to ensure development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy in a framework that reduces proliferation risk and adheres to the highest standards for safeguards, security and safety and recognizing the inalienable right of parties to the NPT to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
  • National efforts to make it more difficult for proliferating states and non-state actors to access the international financial system as well as efforts to strengthen export controls on proliferation-related materials and stronger detection, deterrence and disruption of illicit trafficking in such materials.
  • Key nuclear agreements, including START follow-on agreement, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and its 2005 Amendment.

UNSC Resolution 1887 includes new provisions to deter withdrawal from the NPT and to ensure that nuclear energy is used in a framework that reduces proliferation dangers and adheres to high standards for security. The Council committed to address without delay any state’s notification of withdrawal from the NPT and affirmed that states will be held responsible for any violations of the NPT committed prior to their withdrawal from the Treaty.

The Council also endorsed important norms to reduce the likelihood that a peaceful nuclear program can be diverted to a weapons program, including support for stricter national export controls on sensitive nuclear technologies and having nuclear supplier states consider compliance with safeguards agreements when making decisions about nuclear exports and reserve the right to require that material and equipment provided prior to termination be returned if safeguards agreements are abrogated .

The Council also expressed strong support for ensuring the IAEA has the authority and resources necessary to carry out its mission to verify both the declared use of nuclear materials and facilities and the absence of undeclared activities and affirmed the Council’s resolve to support the IAEA’s efforts to verify whether states are in compliance with their safeguards obligations.

The resolution calls upon states to conclude safeguards agreements and an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, so that the IAEA will be in a position to carry out all of the inspections necessary to ensure that materials and technology from peaceful nuclear uses are not used to support a weapons program. The Council also endorsed IAEA work on multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle, including assurances of fuel supply to make it easier for countries to choose not to develop enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

These steps are important in helping address situations where a country uses access to the civilian nuclear benefits of the NPT to cloak a nascent nuclear weapons program and then withdraws from the NPT once it has acquired sufficient technical expertise for its weapons program.

The resolution strengthens implementation for resolution 1540 which requires governments to establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery. Full implementation of resolution 1540 by all UN member states will require additional financial and political support. The Council reaffirmed the need to give added impetus to the implementation of resolution 1540 by highlighting the options for improving the funding of the 1540 Committee’s activities, including through a voluntary trust fund, and reinforcing the Council’s commitment to ensure effective and sustainable support for the 1540 Committee’s activities.

The Security Council meeting was attended by:

President Barack Obama, United States of America
President Óscar Arias Sánchez, Republic of Costa Rica
President Stjepan Mesic, Republic of Croatia
President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, Russian Federation
President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, United Mexican States
President Heinz Fischer, Republic of Austria
President Nguyen Minh Triet, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Republic of Uganda
President Hu Jintao, People’s Republic of China
President Nicolas Sarkozy, France
President Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Japan
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Republic of Turkey
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General
Director General Mohamed Elbaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency
Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Permanent Representative of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriyaobject>


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