At the 2014 Preparatory Committee of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Article 36 has published this briefing paper by Dr Nick Ritchie of the University of York.

Nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian initiative: making sense of the NPT in 2014.

Dr Nick Ritchie, University of York

A new initiative has emerged over the current NPT review cycle to think afresh about nuclear weapons in terms of unacceptable and unmanageable humanitarian consequences of a nuclear conflict; to think not in terms of abstract concepts of nuclear deterrence and strategic stability, but in terms of the catastrophic impact of nuclear violence on people’s lives and human societies. This initiative, led by states and civil society, has brought a strong reaction from the nuclear-armed states. They have collectively argued that it undermines the NPT when in fact the opposite is true: the initiative emerged in response to the disarmament malaise in the NPT and was framed as a means of revitalising debate and action on the NPT’s vital disarmament pillar. The initiative is also based on the NPT’s fundamental recognition of the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear conflict as the rationale for disarmament and non-proliferation. The nuclear-armed states, in contrast, argue that it is wilfully idealistic and distracts from a ‘step-by-step’ approach to nuclear disarmament. This points to two different images of the NPT, but in fact there are three in play. This briefing paper outlines these three images of the NPT and nuclear disarmament in order to contextualise the humanitarian initiative as we approach the next Review Conference in 2015.

This briefing summarises a longer article in the journal International Affairs published by Chatham House called ‘Waiting for Kant: Devaluing, and Delegitimising Nuclear Weapons’. Its title is drawn from Ambassador Antonio Guerreiro, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the Conference on Disarmament, who said in 2012: ‘The world has always been and will always be an unstable environment. Waiting for a Kantian universal and perpetual peace to commit to forswear atomic weapons simply runs counter to the ultimate objective of the NPT, which is the total and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons.’

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