Tag Archives: nukes

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





Opening of the 2013 Substantive Session of the UN Disarmament Commission: Time for Progress

4 Apr

As the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) opens its annual substantive session, a body which enjoys universal membership and is often referred to as the UN’s “disarmament think tank,” there is much anxiety around its ability to garner a consensus outcome before the end of its three-week program of work. This is the middle session of the triennial discussion cycle, which will conclude next year in 2014. The 2013 session has adopted two agenda items for its program of work—“Recommendations for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” and “Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons,” respectively. Although the UNDC has previously reached consensus to adopt guidelines or recommendations on 16 occasions since its re-establishment in 1979, it has not been able to achieve such consensus since 1999 when it adopted Guidelines for Nuclear Weapon Free Zones. Thus, last year’s session marked the 13th consecutive year that the UNDC closed without adoption of any recommendations.

The UNDC, a deliberate body that is tasked to put forth guidelines, standards, and recommendations to be presented to the UN General Assembly First Committee, is the oldest component of the UN disarmament machinery and is intended to play an important role in the early stage of development of new global norms for disarmament. In theory, such deliberative and consensus recommendations have the potential to serve as the basis for future multilateral negotiations, namely negotiations in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. The delegation of China noted in its general debate remarks, “…the UNDC has played an important role in setting a priority agenda for multilateral disarmament negotiations.” However, this once-relevant role has been increasingly diminished and undermined with each passing year without adoption of any substantive recommendations.

This year’s session is chaired by Ambassador Christopher Grima of Malta who offered opening remarks to the UNDC underscoring that meaningful progress on the disarmament agenda is urgently needed in a time when the multilateral disarmament machinery continues to yield very little. Serious obstacles remain in the way of the entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the 2010 NPT Action Plan is far from fully implemented, nuclear weapon system modernization programs are under way in all the nuclear weapon states, proliferation risks remain high, and the recent postponement of the conference on the establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East has injected new levels of distrust into the NPT regime. With this backdrop, Ambassador Grima noted, “…with each failed attempt to reach consensus the risk of this body becoming irrelevant draws even closer.”

Several delegations offered remarks during the general exchange of views focused on the first agenda item, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC), the Africa Group, the Arab Group, and the European Union all offered regional and cross-regional perspectives on the UNDC’s work going forward and reiterated concerns over the status of the UN disarmament machinery. The delegation of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of NAM, underscored the lack of progress by nuclear weapon states to accomplish total elimination of such weapons and also regretted the recent failure to convene the conference on the Middle East NWFZ. Likewise, the representative of Cuba spoke on behalf of CELAC and underscored the importance of addressing all three pillars of the NPT—disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. CELAC as well as the Africa Group called for convening of a high-level conference “to identify ways and means of eliminating nuclear weapons and prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.” In addition, the Arab Group and the NAM statements also welcomed the forthcoming High-level meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament scheduled for 26 September 2013. Furthermore, the delegation of Iran called for adoption of a specific principle under agenda item 1 noted as follows: “There is no legal, political or security reason to justify the possession of nuclear weapons by any country and their total elimination is the only absolute guarantee against the threat posed by such weapons.”

In terms of the deadlock that has plagued the UNDC, many delegations called for greater political will to achieve consensus in this forum, including the delegations of India, Malaysia, Moldova, Pakistan, and the Republic of Korea. In contrast, other delegations offered specific proposals related to the UNDC’s working methods, many of which would be welcome contributions to making the UNDC more useful, relevant, and productive. The Swiss delegation offered recommendations for improving the Commission’s working methods including focusing each session on just one agenda item, opening the UNDC’s full deliberations to Secretariat staff members, academia, and civil society, as well as submitting a report to the General Assembly on the Commission’s exchanges regardless of whether or not consensus recommendations are reached. Other recommendations included the Egyptian proposals for developing a portal that contains all former proposals and working papers that were discussed in earlier sessions as well as convening side events to elaborate on fresh ideas and test new conclusions. The delegation of Norway noted that working methods could be examined more carefully through production of a Chair’s Summary at the conclusion of the UNDC’s session.

It is more important than ever to use this session of the UNDC as a point of departure from the “status quo,” avoiding generic statements in support of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation or commitment to existing UN instruments. Now is the time to urgently strive to break the deadlocks that seem almost endemic to most parts of the UN disarmament machinery. Indeed, a lack of political will may be, in part, causing this stalemate, but opening up the working methods to new, innovative, and more interactive exchanges is a key strategy in overcoming stalemate.

It is imperative that the UNDC fulfill its role in providing the UNGA First Committee with recommendations so that the First Committee’s work also becomes more effective. In many ways, the UN disarmament machinery is only as strong as its weakest link, but none need be weak at all. As the UNDC begins its issue-specific deliberations in the working groups, it is essential to bear in mind what High Representative Kane warned at the opening of the session—the UNDC will be judged less by words and more by the quality of its outcomes.


–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

Looking Forward to the 1st NPT Prep Com and Back on the 2010 Outcome Document

12 Apr

For two weeks this May, states parties of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather to begin the next review cycle as the first Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) is to be held in Vienna.  This Prep Com comes just two years after the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference when states adopted a 64-point Action Plan as part of the outcome document of the conference. The two additional elements of the outcome dealt with the 1995 resolution on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East and a call for the complete and full abandonment of all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programmes by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). One of the most practical successes of the document was the call for a 2012 conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East, which is scheduled to be held in Helsinki in December. The Secretary-General has appointed a facilitator of this process, as called for in the 2010 document. Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jaakko Laajava, will serve in this capacity and has already begun rounds of consultations in the region (most recently with Foreign Ministry officials in Israel). Any zone in the Middle East will be sustainable only when all participating states have complementary roles and responsibilities that contribute to a more secure region that will render weapons of mass destruction ultimately irrelevant. (See previous post on “Following through on Middle East WMD-Free Zone” from 18 January).

Much of the forthcoming NPT Prep Com in Vienna will be focused on organizational work– election of officers, dates and venues for further sessions, methods of work, etc– but there will inevitably be substantive discussions on consideration of principles, objectives and ways to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, including specific matters of substance also related to the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 Final Document, including the recommendations for follow-on actions adopted at the Review Conference (64-point Action Plan). These discussions will culminate (hopefully) in the adoption of a final report and recommendations to the 2015 Review Conference. Working papers (although non-binding) are also expected on varying topics related to the Treaty’s implementation. The Prep Com will be chaired by Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia.

States parties will inevitably focus on certain aspects of the 2010 outcome document, in particular certain action points that have explicitly called for further efforts on nuclear disarmament and related mechanisms and reporting tools. In general, the outcome document was hailed as a great success by many governments and media outlets insofar as states parties were able to adopt, without calls for amendments, a forward-looking action plan that addresses nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear energy, as well as the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. This outcome represented a stark contrast the 2005 Review Conference that ended without a consensus document and largely labeled a failure. As noted by many disarmament advocates, the 2010 document does not provide concrete, meaningful commitments on the parts of the nuclear weapons states (NWS) to disarm nor does it necessarily assign substantial measures to deal with non-proliferation challenges. Many disarmament and non-proliferation advocates have stated that the document very much maintains the status quo, while encouraging the spread of nuclear energy and extolling its “virtues.” (See Reaching Critical Will’s NPT News in Review from 2010).

  • Garnering much attention is Action 5, which commit the NWS to “accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament, contained in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference…”  Furthermore, Action 3 resolves the NWS to implement the “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals…” Perhaps most importantly, the NWS are called upon 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. Action 5 also promises that the 2015 Review Conference will “take stock and consider the next steps for the full implementation of Action VI.” Action VI states that each party to the NPT is obliged to pursue negotiations on measures for the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to pursue a treaty on general and complete disarmament under effective international control. This provision gives hope to the 2015 Review Conference insofar as the groundwork will perhaps be laid for development of a road map towards full nuclear disarmament.
  • Action 20 calls upon all states parties to submit regular reports on implementation of the Action Plan as well as Article VI and the 13 Practical Steps agreed to in the 2010 Final Document. Action 21 calls upon the NWS, in particular and as a confidence-building measure, to agree to a standard reporting form and regular reporting intervals for providing “voluntary” information on implementation and also invites the Secretary-General to establish a public repository of this information. Such calls for regular reporting is indicative of the growing interest by many states, in particular, of course, from the non-nuclear weapon states, to create concrete benchmarks to evaluate implementation of the Action Plan. Nonetheless, the provision of “voluntary” inevitably weakens hopes for regularity and uniformity in reporting.

The road ahead for the NPT is a tough one– member states must now move from celebration of the 2010 outcome to the difficulties of implementing it in the 2015 review cycle. There remains widespread discontent over the disconnect between nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament with  many states concerned that there is still great focus on the former and not enough on the latter. The Action Plan does indeed call on the Conference on Disarmament to establish a subsidiary group to negotiate this topic (Action 6), although with the caveat that it must be done in the “context of an agreed, comprehensive and balanced programme of work.” Such a programme of work remains elusive and, thus, so does nuclear disarmament. 

The Action Plan can function as a yardstick against which to measure the three pillars of the NPT– nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This next review cycle will undoubtedly be characterizes by discussion over a focused framework of evaluation of this Action Plan and, ultimately, the full implementation of the NPT’s articles. It cannot be ignored that the NPT represents the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament in a multilateral treaty and, with its indefinite extension, remains the cornerstone of work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Therefore, the next review cycle represents another step on the ladder towards this goal and must not be wasted.

–Katherine Prizeman

GA High-level Meetings for September

23 Aug

1. High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (19–20 September 2011) 

2. High-level Meeting of the General Assembly addressing desertification, land degradation, and drought in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction (September 20)

3. High-level Meeting to Commemorate 10th anniversary of Durban Declaration and Program of Action (September 22)

4. Conference on the Facilitation of the Entry-into-Force of the CTBT (September 23)