“When states gather in New York in August for the delayed Review Conference, there is the possibility of movement in some areas.”
A conference to assess the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has opened this week. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) General Secretary Kate Hudson writes about why this treaty, and its Review Conferences, still matter.
It’s easy to be dismissive of the NPT and its processes: we see the disappointing headline results from its conferences and deplore the ways in which the nuclear weapons states hang on to their arsenals in spite of commitments to disarm going back decades. Many participant states have been so fed up that they went outside the NPT and negotiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to try and break the logjam.
But the NPT does remain an international disarmament forum with massive participation and as such, it’s important to see behind the main outcomes – or non-outcomes – and explore what else is going on. When states gather in New York in August for the delayed Review Conference, there is the possibility of movement in some areas.
Two are of particular interest to CND. Firstly the ongoing work to achieve a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ). First proposed at a NPT conference in 1990 by Egypt and Iran, it was taken up five years later by the UK, US and Russia, and reaffirmed in 2000 and 2005; finally in 2010, practical steps towards the zone were agreed. But the path hasn’t been a smooth one: two different perspectives are at odds. Israel wants a comprehensive peace agreement with all its neighbours before discussing the zone, and the other states in the region want the zone created first to aid peace and stability. In 2018, the UN First Committee took up the issue, asking the UN Secretary-General to convene a regional conference. Since then, two conferences have taken place with dialogue and trust building as central. States parties to the NPT are urged to support this process at the review conference and ensure that a commitment to the WMDFZ is in the conference’s final document.
Another area of particular importance is the AUKUS agreement and nuclear-powered submarines. This risks nuclear proliferation, as just one nuclear-powered submarine can require up to 20 nuclear weapons’ worth of highly enriched uranium. Currently it looks like Australia will use a loophole in the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, claiming that powering the vessels is not a military activity. This contradicts NPT aims to both suppress demand for nuclear weapons and to control the supply of material that could be used to produce them. States attending the NPT review conference are urged to close this loophole to stop this dangerous development.
There is work of value and importance in the detailed discussions at the NPT Review Conference. The frustration lies in the persistent blocking of potentially good outcomes by the nuclear weapons states. But I for one support continued efforts – through both treaties – to bring about change. Who knows where the last straw will be found?