Disarmament and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Acceptance of the P5-oriented ‘disarmament’ outcome presented today at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York would be a blow for the credibility of disarmament internationally. In a process that involved no formal consultation with civil society and whose end game has been characterised by predictable anti-democratic back room deals, the nuclear-armed states have worked hard to impose their will on the rest of the world.
The text contains no meaningful disarmament commitments for the nuclear-armed states or their allies. So what would agreement of this text communicate to the nuclear-armed states? Does it signal acquiescence with the lack of disarmament measures over the past five years and acceptance of the relentless modernisation of arsenals that has accompanied it?
This text would further confirm the nuclear-armed states’ grip over the NPT as a tool to legitimate their possession of nuclear weapons. Far from representing any genuine consensus, it would polarise the international community between those that wish to take action and those that are comfortable with the status quo.
Over the course of the past four weeks, the nuclear-armed states and their allies have undermined disarmament. Strong, principled countries that reject nuclear weapons came to the NPT saying they would not accept a mere roll over of the 2010 action plan. What they have been presented with now is worse than a rollover, it is a rollback of the 2010 outcome.
Whether it is agreed tomorrow or not, the only way to restore credibility to nuclear disarmament is for states to begin a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons. They should use the Humanitarian Pledge as the basis for this process and should commence their work by the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.
As we near the end of the Review Conference, 100 countries have endorsed this pledge to work for the “prohibition and elimination” of nuclear weapons, by filling what they have called “the legal gap”. This conference has further exposed that legal gap. Nuclear-armed states and their allies have argued vigorously that there is no such gap. It is a common refrain from such states: that existing law is adequate. It is only adequate if you value nuclear weapons.
If you do not value nuclear weapons, you should reject this text. Either political arm-twisting by the nuclear-armed states will result in this text being agreed or the majority will stick to their principles and not accept it. Either way, a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons remains the most feasible course of action for states committed to disarmament. The intransigence of the P5 at this conference has once more underlined that states must be ready to pursue such a treaty without the nuclear-armed states.
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