by Jonathan Frerichs
Pax Christi International Representative, UN in Geneva
Note: The 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference took place in Geneva from 23/4 through 4/5/18.
The NPT is the main legal instrument for exercising some controls over nuclear weapons and the civilian use of nuclear energy. About two-thirds of its 190 states parties showed up for part of this 2018 “PrepCom”, as did 65 civil society and international organisations.
Two themes provide a snap-shot of this first NPT meeting since the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
I. Persistent warnings that “today’s security environment” is bad and likely to get worse. Factors mentioned include complex regional conflicts, renewed big-power rivalries, proliferation of improved nuclear weapons, and asymmetric dangers posed by nuclear terrorism and cyber threats.
Some of the warnings even spoke of a “new” Cold War. A series of “hot” exchanges took place between the U.S. delegation and the delegations of Russia, Iran and Syria regarding the various crises in the Middle East.
While the U.S. and USSR made massive cuts in their nuclear arsenals at the end of the Cold War, honouring and extending existing commitments (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and New START) are in doubt today. It could happen that no major nuclear arms limitation treaties will be in force between the U.S. and Russia shortly after the Review Conference and the NPT’s 50th anniversary in 2020.
Instead of examining the linkages between current dangers and the big-power reliance on nuclear weapons which the NPT legitimises, much of the meeting was a peculiar mixture of crisis talk and business-as-usual.
II. Steps to reduce nuclear threats remain pending, while the stigma surrounding nuclear weapons continues to grow. The steps listed again and again at this PrepCom have been on the NPT agenda for more than 20 years. There are few if any indications of the political will to pursue or implement them at present.
Meanwhile, the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by 122 states last July is a demonstration of political will. One focus of that will is the NPT’s very own disarmament clause, Article VI. Brazil called the TPNW “the wind of change” because this new legal instrument makes the humanitarian and environmental impact of nuclear weapons the basis for multilateral action.
During the PrepCom, news came that the Pacific island nation of Palau is the 8th state to ratify the TPNW. Shortly after the meeting, Austria ratified it as well. Indeed, forthcoming ratifications and signatures were a frequent topic in conversations with governments during the meeting.
PrepComs do not make decisions; they prepare for the five-year NPT Review Conferences. It is not clear at this point whether the RevCon in 2020 will be able to decide anything of importance.
The most important step for us is to help bring the TPNW into force. Building support for the TPNW serves as a reality check for the NPT. The goal across the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon’s membership is to secure the necessary 50 ratifications in 2020, or before. Actions speak louder than words, perhaps especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.
For further information:
- Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons, 25 April 2018, Geneva – statement delivered at the PrepCom, co-signed by Pax Christi International, World Council of Churches, other organisations and related individuals
- NPT News in Review – articles, summaries of debate, reports from side events, published by Reaching Critical Will (WILPF)
- “In Korea and beyond: Creating conditions for a world free of nukes includes getting rid of them,” NPT News in Review, 6 May 2018 (J. Frerichs)