By Tariq Rauf
VIENNA, 5 May 2017: A moderate tone has replaced the acrimony of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference as the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2020 review wrapped up its first week.
Non-nuclear-weapon states calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapon – the ban treaty whose negotiations resume at the United Nations in New York next month – delivered non-confrontational statements as the PrepCom continued dealing with disarmament issues.
The nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Great Britain, the Russian Federation and the United States), and their NATO and other allies also avoided invective and provocation.
On the fourth day of the PrepCom, Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast (Netherlands), installed a “traffic light” on the lectern to encourage delegates to respect the time limit of five minutes for national statements and eight for group statements – such as from the European Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the New Agenda Coalition, the Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.The traffic light turns yellow from green at three minutes and to red at five or eight minutes. Still, the chair had to intervene several times to remind speakers that the light had turned red but a good precedent has been set for this and future sessions of the PrepCom.
In all some 30 states gave statements on nuclear disarmament and seven on the “special issue: nuclear disarmament and negative security assurances” under the nuclear disarmament cluster. After spending four days at the PrepCom, delegates seemed eager to get away for the weekend and the afternoon session concluded well before the normal closing time 0f 18:00.The meeting is attended by 120 countries.
Kazakhstan reminded the conference it had stated a number of times in various international settings that possession of nuclear weapons generated a threat of their proliferation as well as their accidental or deliberate use. It said the existence of weapons of mass destruction was immoral and contradicted international humanitarian law. Kazakhstan cited the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences from Soviet nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan – and from other nuclear test sites around the globe – that proved that the consequences of any use of nuclear weapons was uncontrollable in time and space. Hence, Kazakhstan, as one of the countries which had voluntarily relinquished the Soviet nuclear weapons on its territory after the collapse of the USSR and resulting independence of Kazakhstan and had permanently shut down the nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, remained a staunch supporter of the global process of nuclear disarmament.
Kazakhstan proposed the following steps to achieve nuclear disarmament:
- maintain existing moratoria against nuclear tests and actively seek the earliest ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty;
- halt any production or modernization of nuclear weapons and make declaration of all types and status of such weapons as obligatory for the nuclear-weapon states;
- declare a moratorium on the production of weapon-usable nuclear fissile materials with the final objective of achieving the total elimination of all weapon grade nuclear materials, and for all states possessing and producing such nuclear materials to provide relevant data;
- reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines of nuclear-weapon states;
- intensify multilateral efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space;
- commence meaningful work on a nuclear weapon ban treaty – in this regard, Kazakhstan noted the adoption of its resolution on the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World by the United Nations General Assembly.
Austria said that the humanitarian initiative on the impact of nuclear weapons had delivered powerful new arguments about the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, and that there could be no 100 percent guarantee that nuclear deterrence would work. In all cases. As a consequence the populations of nuclear-weapon states faced the heightened danger of a possible use of nuclear weapons against their countries and faced greater dangers. Austria declared that it wanted to achieve greater security for all peoples through the humanitarian approach and that there was broad support for a nuclear-weapon-free world. It said some states had advanced the argument that nuclear weapons were indispensable for security reasons and nuclear disarmament had to take into account the overall security situation. Austria cautioned that the “forceful proclamation of alleged security benefits of nuclear weapons” was a powerful driver for further proliferation as more and more countries would seek such weapons. It said that Article VI of the NPT on nuclear disarmament did not tie the obligation for nuclear disarmament negotiations “in good faith” to any conditions whatsoever.
The United States pointed out that at the height of the Cold War, there were more than 60,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled worldwide. Before the NPT was signed in 1968, US President John Kennedy had warned that as many as 25 countries might possess nuclear weapons by the end of the 1970s. But in large part because of the NPT such proliferation did not occur. The US noted that all but one of the NPT nuclear-weapon states [China] had taken extraordinary steps to reduce their total stockpiles of nuclear weapons. It stated that the United States had reduced its total stockpile of active and inactive nuclear warheads by over 85 percent from its cold war peak of 31,255 nuclear weapons in 1967, to 4,018 as of 2016; many categories of nuclear weapons had been removed from the stockpile altogether. As the February 2018 implementation deadline of the New START Treaty approached, Russia and the US continued to work towards reducing their deployed nuclear weapons to 1.550 on each side, which will cap US and Russian nuclear forces at their lowest level since the 1950s.
The US added that it also had made significant reductions in its military stocks of nuclear material; out of the 95.4 metric tonnes of plutonium in the US plutonium stockpile most recently reported in 2009, it had declared 61.5 metric tonnes excess to defence needs, and out of 686 metric tonnes in its stockpile of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) most recently reported in 2004, the US had removed 374 metric tonnes from weapon programmes. The US noted that more than 153 metric tonnes of HEU removed from the stockpile has been downblended for use as civil nuclear reactor fuel to generate electricity, and that additionally, under the 1993 US-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, 500 metric tonnes, the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads of Russian weapon-origin HEU was downblended to LEU and used in US nuclear power plants for over twenty years.
The US pointed out that unfortunately, despite this extraordinary progress in reducing nuclear risks since the end of the Cold War, the international security environment had deteriorated substantively in recent years with several countries expanding their nuclear arsenals or developing new nuclear weapon capabilities, and some nuclear-armed States [North Korea and Russia] had taken provocative actions that threatened the security of their neighbours. The US said that in this unstable international security environment, the Trump Administration was undertaking a review of US policies that address broad questions of the interplay between US strategic policy and arms control and disarmament matters.
Speaking on the “special issue: nuclear disarmament and negative security assurances” under the nuclear disarmament cluster, China stated that it had all along bee committed not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstance, nor to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones. It said China always called upon other nuclear-weapon states to undertake such commitments and conclude an international legally binding instrument at an early date, and that China had an open attitude and was willing to positively consider any proposal or measure which would contribute to the progress on security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-weapon states should support the efforts of non-nuclear-weapon states to establish nuclear-weapon-free-zones and undertake corresponding obligations in a legally binding manner.
Statements will continue on Monday, 8th May, on the “special issue: nuclear disarmament and negative security assurances” under the nuclear disarmament cluster. It is expected that the chair may circulate a preliminary version of his report on the PrepCom on Wednesday, to be finalized over the next two days with the input of states attending the meeting.
The NPT opened for signature in 1968; it is the most widely adhered to multilaterally negotiated arms control treaty with 193 member states – only India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and South Sudan remain outside the treaty.
(Tariq Rauf, a director of Atomic Reporters, was alternate head of the IAEA NPT Delegation 2002-2013. All views expressed are his own)