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NPT News in Review, Vol. 16, No. 1

Please do not "CEND" us back to the Cold War
29 April 2019


Ray Acheson

Download the full edition in PDF

The nuclear-armed states have been busy since the last NPT Preparatory Committee. But not in a good way.

The US government has withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and announced its suspension of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. It also threatened to use nuclear weapons against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)—and while there has been some subsequent progress in relations between the two countries, both have also been testing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In addition, they and the other nuclear-armed countries have been actively investing billions of dollars into further developing or “modernising” their nuclear arsenals. They have also been continuing to conduct military preparations and exercises to use nuclear weapons.

The commitments that the NPT nuclear-armed states have made to nuclear disarmament over the past decades of meetings have languished, resigned to being words on paper. Now, it appears that some of the nuclear-armed countries are backing away from even these unimplemented commitments. In October 2018, the United States described the agreements made since 1995 as being from “a different time and a different security environment than we currently face.” The US ambassador told the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security that “to make progress we need to look forward, not backwards—we must not fixate on historical language that is out of date and out of step with the current prevailing security environment.”

Since about this time last year, the US government has been peddling the various versions of its concept known as “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament”. This approach pulls away from past NPT and other nuclear weapon governance agreements. It demands that the international community should focus on “the underlying security concerns that led to their [nuclear weapons’] production in the first place”—as if nuclear weapons were created by some higher being and bestowed upon certain chosen governments, rather than having been created by the United States first and foremost to incinerate civilians during World War II.

Implementation of the NPT, including article VI, has never been predicated on first establishing conditions or an environment deemed appropriate by the nuclear-armed states. The leap backwards from decades of agreed commitments is an affront to all of the efforts made over the years in the NPT, and to the United States’ own allies that support the step-by-step approach.

Amidst all this negativity, the one bright light has been the adoption on 7 July 2017 of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The vast majority of NPT states parties engaged constructively in the process to ban nuclear weapons—in part as a means of compliance with their article VI obligations. All NPT states parties should use this PrepCom as a chance to redirect from the last year. Whether or not all governments yet support the TPNW, it has created positive energy and momentum in favour of eliminating nuclear weapons. Cities around the world are urging national governments to join while banks, pension funds, and other financial institutions are pledging to divest from nuclear weapons. All governments that claim to support nuclear disarmament, regardless of whatever particular process they support towards that end, need to stand up to the nuclear-armed states who are right now being incredibly proactive in ensuring that they remain nuclear-armed forever. This is in violation of international law and upends all of the work that the international community has put in over the past 25 years and more to creating a safer world. Let’s not have this be the legacy of the NPT.

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