Adoption of “Israeli nuclear capabilities”

The resolution “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” was adopted at the General Conference today, in a tense and occasionally fractious atmosphere, riddled with curt exchanges over procedural issues and points of order. The crux of the resolution is that it “calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards”.  This follows hot on the heels of “Application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East” which was adopted with little resistance last night and proposes a similar idea. However “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” differs from last night’s resolution significantly in that it makes explicit reference to Israel and “concern about Israeli nuclear capabilities”, and that it was presented for adoption in the draft submitted earlier this week without editing. For these reasons, it was adopted with considerably more difficulty than last night, facing a close call in a no-action motion vote called by Canada, and having cleared that hurdle, passing with a majority of 49 to 45 with 16 abstentions.

This has somewhat soured the buoyant mood for the US and the EU after last night’s hard-won consensus. Naturally, they are loathe to “single-out” Israel, and the US argued on the floor that the previous night’s resolution was sufficient as it was better to stick to “compromise and dialogue rather than confrontation”. The US representative also argued that it would not be productive to once again be “held captive by the rancour” of debates in the Middle East on this issue. The defeat of the no-action motion may have come as a surprise for many, as Sweden asked for a short recess in which the EU could coordinate before the vote on the resolution. This not being permitted after a vote (the procedural matter sticking at 43 – 43 and no abstentions), the EU delegations only got the opportunity to informally coordinate in an aisle of the auditorium during a statement delivered by Israel.  While the adoption of the resolution may be met with disappointment by the US and Sweden who were pleased to have helped forge a consensus the previous night, those who voted in favour broke into applause after the results were announced, and the Arab States and NAM could be seen congratulating each other.

With a margin as tight as 8 votes in the no-motion vote and 4 in the resolution vote, it is clear that this resolution does not signal a sea change, but rather, suggests a numbers game. What differentiates the defeated no-motion action of this year from the successful one of last year is the presence of a handful of no-motion-defeating  African countries (Angola, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Senegal) who were absent for the vote last year, alongside Ethiopia who abstained last year, and Bahrain and Tajikistan. This may be connected to increased lobbying by the Arab States in comparison to previous years.  While Lebanon stated its confidence in the resolution passing, prior to the vote, due to a more weakly-worded and focussed text than in previous years, this may not explain why the resolution was adopted because the text still contains explicit references to Israel. This is also suggested by the fact that no States who supported the no-motion last year were convinced enough to switch their vote to defeat it this year. While the adoption of the resolution may not exactly be making history, it nevertheless constitutes part of a successful Conference for the Arab States, especially considering that the “Application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East” and “Israeli nuclear capabilities” initiatives have experienced a difficult few years.