This week, the PAX no nukes team is in New York for the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting. There is a degree of tension, as arms control agreements outside these UN meeting rooms are falling apart and a new nuclear arms races is emerging.
This first week of discussion brought a new repackaging of the discussion on what to do. A presentation early in the week illustrated a ‘new’ stepping stone approach to nuclear disarmament. This builds on the previous practical steps, building blocks, action plans and other assorted listicles meant to lead to a nuclear weapon free world. What states need to do to get rid of nuclear weapons hasn’t been really been the issue in the nearly five decades since the NPT came into effect, rather, finding the momentum to overcome the status quo inertia remains the challenge.
To try and overcome the lack of progress, the United States continues to promote its new concept to ‘create the environment for nuclear disarmament’. The idea is to set up a long term working group (to extend beyond the 2020 NPT Review Conference), to discuss ideas and concepts around how to “open new avenues for real progress on disarmament”. The working group participation will be limited, and there will be sub-groups with various mandates that will report back at the 2020 Review Conference. It is clear that the US does not anticipate making any significant progress towards its Article VI obligations, nor in regards to fulfilling it’s 2010 NPT commitments in the coming period, and this is a way to effectively prolong any censure or backlash from the majority of states that want to see demonstrable progress on the fifty year old agenda that was refined a decade ago.
The Netherlands, for its part, is contributing already to the American initiative. As described in the US working paper, the Dutch hosted “an academic colloquium on nuclear disarmament, hosted by the Dutch Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, which led to fruitful discussions among academics, civil society, and diplomats on their ideas relating to the substantive concepts underlying the current and potential future international security environment.”. (Note: there was some controversy on whether the event was actually open to civil society).
Generally, there is strong support in the room for the early entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. A majority of those states that referenced the new nuclear weapon treaty in their statements did so as an instrument complementary to the NPT, and an articulation of all Members responsibility to fulfil their Article 6 obligations (to negotiate nuclear disarmament).
There is a push by the nuclear endorsing states, those that do not possess their own but include nuclear weapons in their security strategies, to roll back some of the agreements from 2010. Notably, in a statement delivered by Belgium on behalf of nuclear endorsing states, instead of calling for a reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in security strategies and doctrines (as agreed by everyone in 2010), they only suggested “inclusive dialogue on nuclear doctrines”. This is an abdication of their responsibility and a painful admission that they haven’t done their homework in the last decade but rather have increased the role of nuclear weapons in their own policies.
Procedurally, the agenda for the Review Conference was adopted, and the bureau members (including the Netherlands) are in place. There is still a delay in naming the chair for the Review, but it is likely that will be sorted before the end of the session.
A set of recommendations for next year will be produced for discussion, and the bulk of the remainder of the meeting will be taken to see if they can get agreement on what to suggest for next year. There is already a working paper of recommendations building on the previous two preparatory meetings, put together by the Dutch and Polish. It contains some good ideas- to do some reform of the way that the meeting cycles are conducted, and to build on transparency and verification discussions. However, it the language in it does not adequately reflect a significant concern raised during this cycle – that women are under represented in these discussions about weapons that disproportionally impact their bodies. The recommendations also sort of forgot that there’s been nearly five decades of agreement (not to mention a glossary of terms) about what it means to implement the disarmament obligations of the treaty- and suggest that new dialogue on what that means should start again. It is unfortunate that the paper also avoids what everyone knows- that any use, at any time, of any type of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences on people and the environment. Luckily, there’s still time for delegations to make improvements.
During the meeting, ICAN delivered a statement to the diplomats – watch it here: