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Saturday, Aug. 23, 2003

Pessimism dominates final day of disarmament conference

Staff writer

OSAKA -- A United Nations conference on disarmament ended Friday with most international delegates expressing pessimism about the future direction of arms control negotiations and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which ultimately seeks to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

During the four-day conference in Osaka, U.N. delegates, ambassadors, politicians, university researchers and think tank executives lashed out at U.S. President George W. Bush for taking a unilateral approach to dealing with WMD.

They also expressed concern that Bush administration policies have dealt severe blows to U.N. efforts, through the NPT, to create an legal framework for dealing with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

"We are moving in a direction that emphasizes national politics and political arrangements rather than international agreements. It will be a real challenge to make the nonproliferation treaty review conference of 2005 a success, and, in fact, the current political trends raise the possibility of total collapse," said John Simpson, director of the Mountbatten Center for International Studies at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

Traditionally, it has been disarmament of states instead of individual groups that has been the focus of U.N. arms control negotiations. But Benjamin Self, a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington D.C., expressed disappointment that the Osaka conference didn't focus more on the relatively new threat of terrorism.

"Much of the conference was spent discussing traditional ways that WMD proliferate, mainly, through state actors. But there is a greater need to think creatively about WMD and terrorism," he said.

If most of the international experts were pessimistic about the future of the NPT, Japanese representatives were divided. Yasushi Akashi, director of the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention, agreed that the NPT was in trouble.

But others, including Tsutomu Ishiguri, director of the U.N. Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, were more upbeat.

"While there was a lot of pessimism expressed about the future of disarmament," Ishiguri said, "there was no change in recognizing that the NPT serves as an indispensable base against the proliferation of WMD."

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The Japan Times

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