By Gabriela Rosa Hernandez
States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet in August to discuss the future of arms control at a time when the international strategic environment is more unstable than at any time since the Cold War.
After multiple delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th NPT Review Conference, scheduled at UN headquarters from August 1-26, will seek to strengthen the landmark treaty amid Russia’s nuclear threats and its war against Ukraine.
The February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which renounced nuclear weapons on its territory in exchange for security guarantees, raised serious doubts about the intentions of Russia, one of the main nuclear-weapon states. which, along with the United Kingdom and the United States, pledged in 1994 to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has highlighted his country’s nuclear deterrent (see LAWJune 2022) to prevent NATO members from interfering as Russian forces wage a brutal military campaign, now largely focused on Donbass and southern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the challenges of arms control and non-proliferation are intensifying. In early June, the United Nations revealed that Iran had enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon if the uranium was further enriched to military grade. Efforts to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have stalled. China and North Korea are building up their nuclear arsenals, while Russia and the United States have halted bilateral talks over their own nuclear programs.
Given these divisions and competing agendas, it’s unclear exactly what the review conference might accomplish. While a consensus document would be ideal, some officials say it’s not the only metric to measure success. “The lack of consensus will not necessarily compromise the [nonproliferation] regime,” Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s high representative for disarmament affairs, said in a speech at the Arms Control Association’s 50th anniversary meeting on June 2. “What will jeopardize the NPT and the tangible benefits it provides is if states come to the review conference with a willingness to listen, negotiate and compromise.
Nakamitsu warned that a review conference wracked by divisive actions would jeopardize the treaty’s central role and “we don’t want that to happen”. She urged nuclear-weapon states to reaffirm their commitment to the norm against the use of nuclear weapons and to agree to nuclear risk reduction measures.
Many experts see the conference as an opportunity to strengthen the NPT. “A frontal assault on the key concepts of the NPT by the Russian Federation [during the war against Ukraine] makes everything harder, but it’s also an opportunity,” said Thomas Countryman, consultant to the US State Department delegation to the conference, who also spoke at the Arms Control Association meeting. .
“I think it reinforces what most nations should feel, which is that this is not just a review conference, one in a series, [but] this happens when the fundamental tenets of the treaty are undermined, and therefore there is more need than ever to come to the defense of the treaty, to reaffirm that it is not only relevant, but important and central to global rules – based on order and that we are determined to strengthen it in the face of all challenges,” Countryman said.