Tag Archives: NPT

Winning At Russian Roulette – A Student’s Thoughts on Nuclear Containment and the Future of Global Conflict

7 Jun

Editor’s Note:  The following is by Carly Millenson, who spent a year in the GAPW office working for Women in International Security.  Carly has written previously on what she sees as major security and other threats to her generation.  She is soon off to school at Princeton.  

Most games have many players, but only one winner. Russian roulette has several winners and only one very unlucky loser. When it comes to nuclear diplomacy, if someone pulls the trigger when the chamber is loaded, we all lose. So far we’ve been lucky, but like any smart gambler we’re best off quitting while we’re ahead. Already, the number of states armed with nuclear weapons has risen to eight or nine, depending who you ask. Other nations are working to develop nuclear capabilities, and still other are “the turn of a screw” away from acquiring nuclear weapons, should the need arise. As the number of states with nuclear capabilities grows, so too does the risk of a deadly accident occurring.

Tensions reaching a breaking point, a bluff gone wrong, a tragic misunderstanding – any of these scenarios could lead to the breakout of nuclear conflict on a regional or global scale. As the number of players increases, so too does the risk of a conflict or misunderstanding leading to the use of nuclear weapons. Of course, no one believes that nuclear conflict is beneficial for global security or stability. However, unfortunately conflicts between states frequently occur and when nations fight people die. Weapons intended as a warning can easily end up being deployed in such a tense situation. As the number of nuclear armed states grows, the possibility of nuclear weapons being used during a conflict becomes close to a near certainly according to The Dangers of A Nuclear Iran, an article in Foreign Affairs by field expert Eric S. Edelman. As an international community we have already accepted the use of guns and conventional bombs in warfare. Furthermore, despite strenuous condemnation of the use of such brutal tactics, chemical weapons were deployed in Syria and may exist elsewhere. Is nuclear warfare something that is almost destined to occur?

This question seems almost ridiculous. The answer – an emphatic no – has been instilled into international political culture since Cold War days. However, it merits analysis. Some believe that nuclear containment is a losing battle and that it is pointless fight against the rising tide. According to proponents of this viewpoint, we would do better to accept the fact that like machine guns and fighter planes, nuclear devices will not remain elite, little used weapons forever. Some even feel that by evening the playing field nuclear proliferation may prevent conflict. However, unlike conventional and perhaps even biological, or chemical arms, the effects of nuclear devices are incredibly long term, lasting long after the conflict that sparked their use has ended. Thus, once a weapon is deployed future generations will have to deal with the result of that fateful decision long after the rationale behind it is no longer applicable to the global situation. A large-scale nuclear conflict could wreak havoc on an unimaginable scale and even smaller nuclear conflicts or nuclear terrorism would take horrific toll and would forever destroy what remains of the accepted rules of combat. Perhaps it is inevitable that a nuclear conflict will occur, but if there is even a slim chance to prevent even some of this carnage, isn’t it our duty to seize that option?

Assuming that the use of nuclear weapons is not in any way acceptable, and urging that the international community do everything in its power to stand against such use; this in itself accomplishes nothing. The glaring unspoken question that seems to permeate current events today seems to be how much we care about containment? The problem with secret military bases is that they are secret, and thus intrinsically hard to effectively regulate. Sanctions, while certainly effective do not guarantee that promises to halt nuclear weapons construction are true. Thus, we return to the central question – are we willing to live with nuclear warfare and if not, how far will we go to protect future generations from the catastrophic effects of such a conflict? It’s a complicated matter, and one that the global community needs to resolve together. We can keep passing around the gun and hope for the best, or we can empty our own chamber while doing more to keep the gun from others.

Carly Millenson, Former Program Manager, Women in International Security, New York





Five Lost Weeks

9 May

Editors Note:   Our hope is to use this space for multiple pieces of commentary motivated by the largely unsuccessful end to both the 2014 Disarmament Commission and the NPT Preparatory Committee. Additional information on both the DC and NPT can be found on the Reaching Critical Will site. 

With applause emanating from most delegates to the NPT Preparatory Committee, five weeks of disarmament commitments from diplomatic missions, Secretariat officials and others was drawn to a close.  The Disarmament Commission. The NPT Review Committee.   Hundreds of government statements.  Many more hours of deliberations.   Millions of dollars in airfare, accommodations, interpreters and more.  The opportunity costs have been staggering, the opportunities themselves largely wasted.

Welcome to spring 2014, a time when some of us anticipated a slight breath of new momentum on disarmament, at least with fingers crossed, but even those modest expectations were effectively suppressed. The Marshall Islands lawsuit in the ICJ was the one glimmer of hope among the many dim flickers of disarmament possibility.

The mood inside the NPT room mirrored some familiar dynamics. On the one hand, diplomatic reverence for the NPT persists, a bit like holding on sentimentally to an automobile that once held promise but is not beginning to show signs of rust.  As Ambassador Roman-Morey wisely noted, we are dealing now with 2014 issues.  The vehicles we employed in 2010 might need a bit of upgrading now.

On the other hand, modifying agreed treaty text within a highly imbalanced and politicized security system allows powerful states to open up pathways to consolidate their own national interests at the expense of others.   And we know that once opened, those pathways are invariably exploited.

The NPT process appears to be caught in a trap of its own making.   A highly political treaty in its own right without independent mechanisms to ensure compliance, the NPT is known by its three pillars as well as its key “essentialist” notions. Foremost among these notions is the NPT’s insistence that the designation of “nuclear weapons states” is not directly tied to the actual possession of such weapons.   This creates needless wastes of energy trying to convince some current nuclear powers to adopt a treaty which, in essence, denies the existence of weapons that everyone knows they have. According to NPT logic, if France were tomorrow to rid themselves of their weapons they would remain a “nuclear weapons state,” while Pakistan, the DPRK, etc. will forever be non-nuclear weapons states regardless of how large their arsenals become. Israel would as well, of course, which makes some modicum of sense, albeit cynical, since they do not acknowledge the existence of weapons that are widely known to exist.  Apparently, there are neither clear points of entry, nor clearly marked exit signs, within the NPT.

The Middle East WMD-Free Zone, a pillar of the 2005 Review Conference, remains a large unfulfilled promise, taking on the character of ‘suggested behavior’ rather than a fundamental, treaty-related commitment.   This is not what was intended in 2005 and is not what is needed now.  After all, we have collectively solved tougher technical and political challenges over the past nine years than getting this conference up and running.

From the outside, the NPT (and its non-outcomes) looks like nothing more than standard UN disarmament politics, disconnected from the public security longings that help inspire state connectivity to the UN in the first place.

In our experience, the good will on the floor of disarmament negotiations is surprisingly sincere, but it also masks deep levels of distrust that play out in multiple policy venues beyond the reach of weapons.  It also hides a diplomatic rotating door that leaves large gaps in institutional memory that new diplomats can only attempt to fill.

Diplomats do their best but then, with few exceptions, they quickly rotate home or to new posts overseas.   For their part, many NGOs parachute in to share their preferences and then go home as well, learning little about how UN headquarters functions including the ways in which their presence is manipulated by states to articulate plausible (but not necessarily successful) outcomes.

Still five weeks of policy attention in a dangerous world should yield more than commitments to revisit commitments.    It is getting harder and harder for those of us who have pretentions to being answerable to global constituents to explain how governments seemingly hold local security needs and aspirations in such little regard.

These constituents can’t experience for themselves the uneven power dynamics and hidden deals that characterize so much of the UN’s disarmament machinery.  They can’t fathom what it takes to create consensus from 194 state positions, all mediated by often extraordinary diplomats who can’t make many more binding policy commitments than the NGOs can.   They can’t grasp why the politics of states, over and over, take blanket precedence over the security needs of communities.

Diplomats will never get this time back again.   The global community, for its part, might never fully regain the confidence that states are truly promoting the community’s best security interests. We’ll have to wait until 2015, it seems, for a full cost accounting of the trust deficits that have only widened during these five long weeks.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations

13 May

The forthcoming Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), which will convene in Geneva for fifteen working days this year, has its first session from 14-24 May (with follow-up sessions 27-28 June and 19-30 August). The OEWG is a result of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 tabled at the 2012 session of the First Committee by Austria, Mexico, and Norway entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations.” This initiative was one of the more concrete results from the sixty-eighth session of the First Committee as it offered a tangible method of seeking to break the impasse currently paralyzing much of the UN disarmament machinery, including and most importantly, the so-called single, multilateral negotiating body for disarmament—the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The resolution called for the established of an OEWG (open to the participation of all member states as opposed to the limited membership of the CD) to “develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” as well as for the submission of a report to the next session of the General Assembly reflecting the discussions held and proposals made whereby a record of the work of the OEWG would be available to impact future discourse. The OEWG will be chaired by Costa Rican Ambassador Manuel Dengo.

While the mandate of the OEWG has never been entirely clear, it is assumed that the group will take up substantive issues rather than procedural ones. Ambassador Dengo wrote in his letter to member states which included a draft program of work for 14-24 May session, “The main purpose of the May session will be to promote better knowledge and understanding of the different aspects of nuclear disarmament and the challenges faced by multilateral nuclear disarmament.” As noted in Ambassador Dengo’s memo, the OEWG will operate in an interactive manner consisting of thematic panels with a more general exchange of views held at the conclusion of each panel. The centrality of interaction among member states, experts, civil society representatives, international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders is a most welcome aspect of the process. Discussions on disarmament, even when they are labeled “debates,” rarely feature such interactivity. Themes to be covered by the OEWG include: multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments; nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs); transparency, confidence-building measures and verification; the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons; and the roles and responsibilities of nuclear weapon possessing states and non-nuclear weapon states.

While this thematic discussion is important, it would seem counterintuitive to discuss substantive proposals for taking forward nuclear disarmament negotiations without specifically addressing the procedural questions around the stalemate that continues to plague the CD (the de-facto reason why the OEWG has been established in the first place). Separation of the substantive from the procedural will not provide the necessary comprehensive approach to breaking the negotiating paralysis in the field of disarmament.

The current position of the nuclear non-Proliferation (NPT) nuclear weapon states (NWS), also known as the permanent 5 (P5), is that they will not participate in the OEWG, which is an unfortunate development. The P5 has generally opposed all initiatives and proposals that are perceived as “alternative” processes labeling them “distractions” from the measured, “step-by-step” approach they see as necessary to achieve nuclear disarmament. France, Russia, the UK, and the US all voted against the October 2012 resolution with China abstaining. During explanations of vote (EOV), the delegations of France, the UK, and the US offered a joint statement noting that the proposed OEWG seeks to “circumvent” established mechanisms such as the CD and the UN Disarmament Commission and does not clearly fit into the NPT framework and corresponding 2010 Action Plan. The same type of reasoning was offered with regards to the recent humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons conference held in Oslo in March 2012 that the P5 states jointly decided to boycott.

This reasoning is weak at best and hypocritical and contradictory at worst. The P5 themselves have started a so-called “alternative” and parallel process in the form of the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) that began in Washington, DC in 2010, which was followed-up with another NSS in Seoul in 2012. Moreover, the argument that the work of the OEWG does not “fit into the NPT framework” is disingenuous. As is noted often and with an increasing sense of urgency and frustration by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) at NPT meetings, Article VI obligates the NWS to pursue good faith negotiations for the unequivocal and complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Establishing a body, not to mention one without a negotiating mandate, to discuss a range of themes related to Article VI obligations clearly fits within a larger framework of engagement and in no way threatens the (seemingly faltering) NPT regime.

The more pressing threat to the NPT regime is burgeoning frustration (embodied in the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the 2013 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session) over the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East pursuant to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 NPT Action Plan. The Egyptian delegation ominously stated in its final remarks to the 2013 NPT PrepCom before withdrawing, “We cannot continue to attend meetings and agree on outcomes that do not get implemented, yet to be expected to abide by the concessions we gave for this outcome,” referring to the indefinite extension of the NPT in exchange for the promise of the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. It would seem that this growing fissure in the NPT framework, the so-called “cornerstone” of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, is of much greater concern than the establishment of an OEWG, which is essentially an opportunity to discuss and brainstorm proposals without obligating any state to commit to binding agreements over already existing agreements (even those whose validity is now being seriously questioned).

The threats to the NPT regime, the increasing isolation of the P5 during the Oslo humanitarian consequences conference, the recent NPT PrepCom, and the forthcoming OEWG session, have all further opened up conversation among NNWS and civil society over the role these states should play in “taking forward” multilateral negotiations. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and others in civil society have advocated for NNWS to take the lead in establishing the necessary framework to obtain a world without nuclear weapons rather than continuously wait for the P5 to meet their Article VI obligations. ICAN has advocated for a “Ban Treaty” building on momentum spearheaded by the NNWS through the humanitarian consequences initiative that would hopefully change the global, political, and legal landscape surrounding the continued existence of nuclear weapons by negotiating and concluding a ban on the use, possession, stockpiling, trade, and manufacture of such weapons. Such a ban could be a simple treaty composed of general obligations with room for additional protocols to which the NWS could eventually sign, but would not necessarily have to negotiate. This course of action has been perceived as an approach different from a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), which envisages framing obligations not only to prohibit the development, testing, production, stockpiling transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons, but also to ensure their elimination through disarmament obligations and a verification regime (such as the obligations and verification mechanism in the Chemical Weapons Convention). A NWC, therefore, would necessitate the participation of the nuclear weapon possessors.

Whether there is a question of sequencing or whether a “Ban Treaty” could serve as a precursor to a NWC is not necessarily of the question of highest importance, but rather it is how to achieve nuclear abolition as comprehensively and quickly as possible. Perhaps a ban negotiated by the NNWS would inspire the P5 to negotiate an agreement among themselves to eliminate their arsenals in a reasonable period of time. Nevertheless, the call to NNWS to take a more prominent and active role in pursuing the goal of nuclear disarmament is essential to future progress towards this objective. Maintenance of the status quo is simply no longer an option given the stalemate across the UN disarmament machinery and the obstinacy on the part of the P5 with regards to any new proposals or initiatives seeking to address disarmament. Clearly they fear losing “veto power” derived from the consensus rule and the inherent imbalance in the NPT that ultimately privileges the NWS and their “step by step” process.

As the OEWG begins it work, there is some hope that the proposals gleaned from the discussions will provide the necessary injection of momentum to take forward disarmament negotiations that will genuinely make progress in nuclear disarmament, although it would seem that this will have to be done without the nuclear possessor states, which include the P5 as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan (those outside of the NPT regime). “Nobody should assume that any regime structured on a have/have-not principle can be sustained forever,” argued Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, at the Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament, and Non-Proliferation on 6 May 2013. It is time for an honest appraisal of strategies through the OEWG for nuclear disarmament that do not perpetuate a regime that maintains the status quo.


–Katherine Prizeman

2013 NPT PrepCom Opens in Geneva

26 Apr

The second session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) opened in Geneva this past week under the leadership of Chairman Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania. This PrepCom represents the approximate mid-way point between the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference, at which the 64-point NPT Action Plan was adopted, and the next RevCon by which time the 2010 Action Plan is to be fully implemented. There is increasing anxiety with each passing year as states parties hope to build on the consensus 2010 outcome document and take concrete steps towards the full realization of the ‘grand bargain’ of the NPT, commitment from non-nuclear weapon states to not pursue nuclear weapons and the pledge by of the 5 nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament.

The most salient issues regarding the NPT regime came to light during the general debate including the lack of progress in implementing the disarmament-related obligations in the Action Plan as well as the failure to convene a conference for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East during the 2012 calendar year as was mandated in the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. The 1995 Middle East resolution was an essential and integral part of the package of decisions affirmed without a vote that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT. Other issues more tangential to the Action Plan were also raised such as the recent provocations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the recently held March 2013 conference in Oslo on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The P5 and disarmament obligations

As expected, much of the discussion of the first week focused on the obligations and special responsibilities of the NPT nuclear weapons states (NWS), also known as the ‘P5’, and the progress these states have thus far made (or not made) in anticipation of the 2014 PrepCom and 2015 RevCon during which they will have to report specifically on their disarmament-related progress. Criticism of the NWS and their lack of attention on the disarmament pillar of the NPT are well-known and levels of frustration regarding the lack of movement on multilateral nuclear disarmament are high. The delegation of Ireland noted in its statement during the ‘disarmament’ cluster, that the “persistent underachievement in progressing the global disarmament agenda is no longer acceptable.” This frustration was manifest during last year’s session of the General Assembly’s First Committee with the adoption of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations” thus establishing an open-ended working group (OEWG) that will meet in May, June, and August of this year in Geneva for a total of fifteen days. The exact mandate of the OEWG is not yet entirely clear, but Ambassador Manuel Dengo from Costa Rica, chair of the OEWG, has made clear that the discussions will be substantive in nature, rather than focusing on procedural issues. The sessions will most likely feature panels are will not have any negotiating mandate.

The non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), particularly the NPT states parties of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), have harshly condemned the P5 for disproportionately focusing on proliferation risks and not enough on disarmament. While the ‘P5’ has initiated a parallel process of meetings to address the disarmament-related obligations committed to in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, including the obligations related to reporting, transparency and confidence-building measures, the output from this group has been assessed as mostly underwhelming. The fourth P5 conference was held last week in Geneva under the aegis of the Russian Federation. Subsidiary working groups have been formed, for example a working group led by China on a glossary of terms. Likewise, France has taken the lead on discussions on a common approach to reporting on relevant activities across the three pillars of the Action Plan at the 2014 PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

The issues of transparency and reporting are of particular concern to the NPT states parties, especially the NNWS that are keen to receive more detailed information on existing stockpiles and, therefore, reduction of such stockpiles as mandated in Article VI of the NPT. Public declarations highlighting both strategic and non-strategic stockpiles are seen as an essential step in confidence-building and next steps in the disarmament process. The ten-country, cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), which focuses on practical non-proliferation and disarmament steps with a view towards implementing the Action Plan, proposed a standard reporting form during the 2012 PrepCom. There has yet to be a decision among the P5 on the form that reporting will take at next year’s PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

Nevertheless, it is still unclear if any P5 activities have contributed to building confidence among the NWS or how they will contribute to increasing levels of confidence among the non-nuclear weapon states. The hope is that these meetings will help to prepare the NWS to more comprehensively report to the upcoming PrepCom and subsequent RevCon in order to facilitate the path to global zero “in good faith,” as required in Article VI of the NPT.

The Middle East

The failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East during the 2012, or even prior to this NPT PrepCom continues to be a major source of concern, particularly for the Arab states. The NAM called upon the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution (the UK, US, and Russia) to convene the conference as soon as possible in order to avoid “an attack on the credibility of the NPT.” During this week’s discussion, the US and Russia both addressed this issue, although from quite different perspectives. The Russian delegation was clear in its opening statement that it did not perceive the failure to convene the conference as a responsibility of the states of the region and called such an allegation “inappropriate.” Moreover, the delegation stated that Russia never in fact agreed to the postponement, but rather “would have admitted the possibility” for postponement only with explicit agreement of all states of the region and commitment to new, specific dates. The delegation also noted that “No collective decision concerning this matter had been taken by the co-sponsors.” The US delegation, however, continues to reiterate that the postponement was a joint decision that was taken as the conditions in the region are not yet “right” for the conference and it is up to all the states of the region, including Israel, to adopt a common agenda before convening the conference. The UK has not yet made such explicit statements regarding the postponement, but called for the convening of the conference “as soon as possible in 2013.”

The fear, of course, is that the more prolonged the process before beginning discussions on a WMDFZ in the Middle East, the weaker the NPT regime will become. It is a serious and valid concern that the NPT regime could be “held hostage” by those states angered by the postponement, specifically the Arab Group, who believe that such a failure to fulfill a binding commitment represents reason enough not to fulfill other NPT obligations, particularly concerning non-proliferation. Such inflammatory actions would only further increase insecurity and decrease the NPT’s legitimacy.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

Delivered by the South African delegation, 77 states signed onto a statement delivered at the conclusion of the general debate underscoring the grave humanitarian consequences associated with the use of nuclear weapons. This is an initiative that was borne out of the 34-country statement delivered during last year’s session of the UNGA First Committee by the Swiss delegation. This initiative was followed-up with an international conference hosted by Norway in Oslo in March 2013 during which representatives of 127 member states were present as well as UN secretariat officials, civil society, and other humanitarian response technical experts detailing the environmental, health, and developmental impact of nuclear weapon explosions. . The humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament has been reinvigorated and has provided for a renewed enthusiasm for pursuing the larger objective of abolition. Several delegations, including Egypt, lamented the lack of participation by the P5 in Oslo and called upon the NWS to participate in the follow-up meeting in Mexico that is expected to take place in early 2014.

The presentations by non-governmental organizations to the delegates of the PrepCom also focused, in part, on the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation. The conclusion drawn by the humanitarian response community, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), has been quite clear—that there is simply no way for the international community, let alone an individual governments, to adequately respond to such a crisis. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to prevent the use of such weapons, which can only be guaranteed through their elimination.

Moving Forward

The continued stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, the failure of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to enter-into-force, and the inability to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) were once again highlighted by many of the delegations during this week’s discussions. Furthermore, the issues of nuclear security and safety and the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines and policies were also addressed by a broad range of delegations in formal sessions as well as during side events. While all these issues are surely important components of the drive towards global zero, perhaps the most crucial challenge to the NPT regime will be moving away from the still-lingering belief that nuclear “deterrence” represents security and that the nuclear ‘haves’ occupy a privileged position in relation to the ‘have nots.’ Nuclear disarmament diplomacy depends on realizing the ‘grand bargain’ and maintaining the balance that is provided for in the NPT. Ultimately, as noted by the US delegation in its opening statement, disarmament is not an obligation limited to the five NPT NWS. Rather, the existence of nuclear weapons is an issue that must be addressed by all member states as global security depends on their abolition.


–Katherine Prizeman

The Twin Problems of the Middle East WMDFZ and Modernization: The Current Precariousness of the NPT regime

4 Feb

As the new review cycle of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) continues this year and the second Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for the 2015 Review Conference is scheduled to be held in April 2013 in Geneva, the sustainability and robustness of the NPT regime remain uncertain. This is the result of the inability to convene a NPT-mandated conference for the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East as well as the continued pursuit of extensive nuclear modernization programs in all the nuclear possessor states.

Concern around the NPT was inevitably heightened when the NPT-mandated Conference on a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDFZ) for the Middle East was “postponed” in December 2012. The so-called “co-conveners” of the Conference, the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia could not reach agreement on a postponement decision and issued separate statements with the US noting the lack of agreement among the regional states on “conditions for a conference,” the Russian government called for the Conference to be held under the same conditions no later than April 2013 (before the next NPT Prep Com), and the UK issued a statement that called for continued consultations and urged the conference to be convened in 2013.

The Action Plan adopted at the conclusion of the 2010 NPT Review Conference called for the convening of a WMDFZ conference in 2012 in fulfillment of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. The inability to do so undoubtedly has not only damaged the credibility of the NPT regime, but has brought into question future implementation and adherence to cornerstone Treaty provisions among many states parties. In particular, the Arab states, most notably Egypt, have placed much emphasis on this Middle East conference tying it closely to its investment in the NPT writ large. In 1995, Egypt threatened to withhold support for the NPT’s indefinite extension should the United States not support the Resolution on the Middle East, including the paragraph about the need to establish a WMDFZ. It is a serious and valid concern that the NPT regime could be “held hostage” by those states, specifically the Arab Group, who believe that such a failure to fulfill a binding commitment represents reason enough not to fulfill other obligations furthering hindering progress made on the twin pillars of the NPT (in addition to the third pillar regarding ‘peaceful’ uses of nuclear energy)—non-proliferation and disarmament. It is also possible that states parties may interpret these failures as a reason to leave the NPT framework altogether and join those states outside of the regime (India, Pakistan, Israel, and the DPRK) that are not subject to its obligations. These alarming trends would only further increase insecurity and decrease the NPT’s legitimacy.

Moreover, the issue of modernization has not been adequately addressed in the context of the NPT itself. While many delegations called for an end to modernization of nuclear weapons at the 2012 NPT Prep Com, modernization programs continue in China, France,  India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. While it might still be an open question as to whether modernization results in ‘new’ weapons, the continued investment in nuclear weapon arsenals must clearly be understood as incompatible with obligations to non-proliferation and disarmament. By improving and expanding the capabilities of nuclear warheads, even if the number of warheads itself remains the same, the nuclear weapon possessor are engaging in a form of proliferation. Moreover, the disarmament obligations found in Article VI are surely not being met with the appropriate seriousness and resources (both financial and political) where modernization programs are under way. Reaching Critical Will notes in its study “Assuring Destruction Forever” (April 2012) that committing billions of dollars to nuclear arsenal modernization not only drains a large portion of the world’s resources, it sets precedents for pursuing the global nuclear weapon industry indefinitely. As Beatrice Fihn of Reaching Critical Will has rightly stated, “Commitment to nuclear disarmament is not just about quantitative reductions, it must also include a cessation of qualitative improvements, as ‘leaner but meaner’ weapons do little to change the continued reliance by a few states on nuclear weapons to provide security.”

There is much to be done to reinsert confidence and robustness back into the NPT framework. The 2013 NPT Prep Com in Geneva must begin to rebuild the momentum that was first gained with the adoption of the consensus Action Plan from the 2010 Review Conference. The success of this Prep Com will depend, in large part, on whether or not the Conference for a Middle East (WMDFZ) will be convened prior to the start of the Prep Com in April. If not, the stakes of the Prep Com will only be higher and the political difficulties only increased. Patience will wear thin and some states may seek alternate pathways, including pathways outside of the NPT, to achieve security assurances. This would be a dangerous precedent if it were realized.

Likewise, delegations must continue to hammer the point home that modernization of existing nuclear arsenals is incompatible with NPT obligations. The vast majority of states parties to the NPT do not possess nuclear weapons nor are they pursuing such capabilities. It is time for these delegations, representing the overwhelming majority of the global community, to speak strongly against the inherent hypocrisy of committing to disarmament, but engaging in expansive modernization programs. Rather than modernizing the weapons, nuclear weapon possessors should be pursuing the means to safely, verifiably, and transparently reduce the number of warheads in their stockpiles.

Without significant movement on these two threats to the NPT regime, the likelihood of achieving substantial progress towards the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons will be seriously lowered.


—-Katherine Prizeman

Highlighting the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

3 Jan

The debate around nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament has taken many forms over the last several decades as the shifting security circumstances of the post-Cold War era have demanded a change in the discourse surrounding these indiscriminate and massively destructive weapons. Although the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to remind all of humanity of the catastrophic and holocaustic consequences of the use of these weapons, continual references to the necessity of a nuclear “deterrent” as well as the claims of some states so-called prerequisite of first “creating the conditions” for nuclear disarmament often eclipse the focus on the disastrous nature of these weapons and ultimately the need to eliminate them at the earliest possible moment. It is incontestable that nuclear weapons have the capacity to threaten the survival of humanity and their mere existence ensures that this risk remains. The notion that a “limited nuclear exchange,” in itself a contraction in terms (as noted by several delegations during the 2010 NPT preparatory committee), is a valid argument for sustaining a nuclear “deterrent” is wholly inadequate.

Each year, delegations to the First Committee of the General Assembly continue to call for nuclear disarmament and, even more bluntly, a “world without nuclear weapons” through plenary statements and annual resolutions. The Non-Aligned Movement sponsored a new resolution during the 2012 session calling for a High-Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament to underscore its importance on the global security agenda. Furthermore, President Obama’s commitment to such a goal in April 2009 in a speech in Prague is continuously referenced as a bold and paramount change in the commitment to global nuclear disarmament. Nevertheless, as nearly four years have passed since President Obama made this commitment, little tangible progress has been made in the disarming of these weapons by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and proliferation risks remain, not the least of which in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Action Plan adopted at the 2010 Review Conference represents concrete steps that must be taken to achieve nuclear disarmament, in particular full implementation of Article VI. Nevertheless, agreeing to steps is not the same as taking them.

The discussion often missing from the many times abstract discussion of these weapons is that of the tangible, humanitarian consequences that would ensue if these weapons were indeed used by any of the possessor states. These consequences include those of a medical, environmental, and humanitarian nature. One of the most important takeaways from the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT was the joint statement delivered on behalf of sixteen delegations (Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Holy See, Egypt, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland) on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament in May 2012 at the UN in Vienna.

At this session, the government of Norway also announced that it would host an international conference on this topic in Oslo in March 2013. The discussion around these consequences has grown over the last few months leading up to the Oslo conference among governments as well as civil society. Civil society will also engage in a forum in Oslo prior to the government sessions to discuss the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons.

Research on the humanitarian dimension has also grown over the years. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already concluded that international organizations providing emergency relief following a nuclear explosion would be unable to adequately fulfill their mandates and other studies have shown that the radiation by a single nuclear weapon affects populations, resources, infrastructure, and agriculture over a vast area constituting a serious threat to many generations to come. Indeed, some would argue that the ability of States and civil society to address successfully the current, security-related challenges facing the majority of the global community, including poverty eradication, health accessibility, climate change, terrorism, and other aspects of transnational crime, is limited at best . Others have noted that the financial demands of maintaining nuclear arsenals directly drain resources from other social and economic programs for development. As 2015 draws nearer and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda is revised and reformulated, the spending on maintaining and even modernizing nuclear arsenals seems even more irresponsible. Clearly, a nuclear detonation on top of existing humanitarian obligations would cause unthinkable problems.

Moreover, inherent in the discussion of the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons is that of the applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) (see more here in an article by John Burroughs, Charles Moxley and Jonathan Granoff). Many international lawyers, civil society advocates, and government officials have rightly asked the question—can the use of weapons with such horrific effects on humanity be compatible with IHL? When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its Nuclear Weapons advisory opinion in 1996, the court affirmed the applicability of IHL to these weapon systems. IHL applied to these devastating weapons is but another tool that must utilized to deconstruct the argument that possession of these weapons does not pose a threat to the survival of humanity and, even more, somehow contributes to peace and security. Even the threat to use such weapons arguably has its own set of IHL-related problems as it has been established by many that such weapons cannot be used compatibly with established law.

With the Oslo conference and the corresponding civil society forum, the global community has the opportunity to underscore the urgency of ridding the world of these weapons in a timely and responsible manner through a total, irreversible, and verifiable process. This event represents the latest opportunity to put the devastating humanitarian consequences of weapons of mass destruction at the forefront of discussions on steps to bring about nuclear disarmament.

—Katherine Prizeman

First Prep Com of New NPT Review Cycle Concludes in Vienna

15 May

From 30 April to 11 May, the first session of the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for the 2015 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met in Vienna, Austria. The Prep Com adopted a final report and a factual Chair’s summary as a working paper of the Committee (not a consensus document), under the authorship of Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia. Two welcome developments from this session of the Prep Com were the 16-country statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament as well as the increase in attention paid to addressing modernization of existing arsenals as a threat to the credibility of the NPT regime. Both of these initiatives were referenced in the Chair’s summary. Furthermore, the government of Norway announced that it would be host to a conference in 2013 on the humanitarian dimensions of nuclear weapons.

The Prep Com did not accomplish much in the way of advancing the disarmament agenda insofar as there was neither a thorough review of the implementation of the 2010 Action Plan nor adoption of strategies for moving forward commitments to nuclear disarmament. As has been the case in previous NPT review cycles, many member states, particularly the nuclear weapon states (NWS), chose to focus on non-proliferation rather than disarmament (article VI) obligations. Following general debate, the discussion was divided into three clusters– implementation of provisions relating to non-proliferation, disarmament, and international peace and security with discussion on specific issues of nuclear disarmament and security assurances (Cluster 1); implementation of provisions relating to non-proliferation, safeguards, and nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) with specific issue debate on regional issues including the 1995 resolution on the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East (Cluster 2); implementation of the provisions relating to the “inalienable right” of states parties to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (Cluster 3).

There are still many concerns about the  earnestness of commitments to nuclear disarmament through the full implementation of article VI of the NPT, particularly given the continued call by some member states,  including Russia and China, for first “creating the conditions” for nuclear disarmament by maintaining “strategic stability” and “undiminished security for all.” These calls for continued reliance on nuclear weapons stand in striking contrast to the increasingly unified call for nuclear abolition by the majority of states parties to the NPT. At parallel and civil society meetings, there were also calls for addressing NATO’s continued reliance on nuclear weapons as part of its security framework, especially in light of the Chicago Summit to take place 20-21 May and the release of the Defense and Deterrence Posture Review (D&DPR). In March 2011, NATO began a year-long round of consultations on a new D&DPR.  Many members of civil society noted the innate contradiction that exists between NPT obligations and the current NATO deterrence policies. Professor Erika Simpson of the University of Western Ontario suggested that it is not altogether surprising that horizontal proliferators are trying to acquire nuclear weapons when NATO members themselves rely on nuclear deterrence for their protection.

A frustrating and diversionary debate lives on as member states remain divided between those who wished to emphasize combating non-proliferation risks (i.e. Iran and DPRK) and those underscoring the lack of substantial movement on disarmament and the hypocrisy that surrounds these debates. Brazil’s representative underscored a “groundless addiction” to nuclear weapons noting that the international community has already banned two other categories of weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological). A joint P5 statement was “pleased to recall” that the group met in July 2011 “with a view to considering progress on  the commitments made” at the 2010 Review Conference, clearing indicating no urgency in reporting on, let alone adopting, concrete disarmament measures. The Australian delegation called for greater transparency from the NWS with regards to such joint meetings. Although this Prep Com did not see concrete reporting, the 2010 Action Plan “calls upon” the NWS to report to the 2014 Prep Com and the 2015 Review Conference on their undertakings related to Action 5, thereby placing a timeline (however weak) on progress towards nuclear disarmament. There were also many statements of concern regarding the nuclear programs of Iran and the DPRK, including a call by the UK that Iran implement “practical steps to build confidence around the world that Iran will implement its international obligations and does not intend to build a nuclear weapon.” The Iranian delegation, of course, defended its program as entirely peaceful and called the accusations “baseless allegations of non-compliance,” while also noting that Iran has been previously denied access to IAEA safety workshops. Other member states called for the DPRK to cease all tests and rejoin the NPT.

Also under discussion during the Prep Com was the status of implementation of the 1995 resolution on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. The facilitator of the 2012 Conference, Jaakko Laajava, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs of Finland, addressed the Prep Com, but could not offer many details as no date or agenda has been set, although it is expected that it will be held in Helsinki in December. Ambassador Laajava pledged to continue consultations in the region that will focus on the agenda, modalities, outcome of the conference, and follow-up mechanisms. Ambassador Laajava also noted that not all states in the region have confirmed their participation, even though universal participation by all states in the region is considered by many states to be a non-negotiable element for success of the conference. Moreover, several member states called for greater efforts on the part of the co-sponsors (US, UK, and Russia) to facilitate the conference. The US reiterated its familiar position that regional peace is a prerequisite for the establishment of a WMDFZ and stated that the agenda must be larger than singling out any “particular state.”

The third cluster, that which deals with peaceful uses, consisted of multiple assertions of the ‘right’ to produce ‘peaceful’ nuclear energy. An astonishingly small number of delegations acknowledged the Fukushima disaster or offered an honest assessment of its effect on the future of nuclear energy. The US delegation acknowledged that Fukushima “affected public perceptions of the safety of nuclear power,” but argued that “the basic factors that led to an increased interest in nuclear power before that incident have not changed.” The Japanese delegation asserted its commitment to improving safety standards of its nuclear power facilities. The Norwegian and New Zealand delegations stated that they have chosen not to pursue nuclear energy programs, although these states do not dispute the right to pursue such energy and emphasize that they have exercised their right by not pursuing nuclear power. The Austrian delegation was the stand-out among the group, rightly noting that nuclear power can never be 100 percent safe and is not a panacea for climate change or sustainable development given its safety, security, and proliferation risks.

Although it was just the first session of three prior to the 2015 Rev Con, each meeting of states parties to the NPT is critical to the health, sustainability, and, most importantly, full implementation of dual non-proliferation and disarmament obligations. As is often noted by member states and civil society alike, the NPT is the only binding, multilateral framework available for addressing the blight of nuclear weapons. It must not be allowed to become merely a forum for conversation, but rather a legal document to be rigorously implemented in its totality.


–Katherine Prizeman