30 April 2012, No. 1

A new review cycle, a new chance to ban nuclear weapons
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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Once again states parties, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are meeting in Vienna to start another review cycle of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Unlike in 2007, however, we are returning to this first preparatory committee with a final document and an action plan adopted by consensus from the last Review Conference.

Just two years ago, this document was considered a great achievement. But within days of the conclusion of the Review Conference, some states qualified their support for the process to establish a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East, while the UN Security Council imposed additional sanctions against Iran. In the two years since then, progress on implementing the action plan has been limited. In a new Reaching Critical Will publication, the 2010 NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report, we assessed the level of implementation of the action plan two years after its adoption. Our report concludes that while the actions related to nuclear energy and non-proliferation are moving forward (although some with limited progress), most of the 22 actions on nuclear disarmament are far from being achieved. In fact, only five out of 22 actions can be considered implemented two years after the plan’s adoption.

During the two years since the 2010 Review Conference, it has been clear that limited reductions and non-proliferation measures are not enough to fulfill obligations under article VI of the NPT. Especially when such reductions and measures are carried out alongside extensive nuclear weapon modernization programmes. A new study by Reaching Critical Will, Assuring destruction forever: nuclear weapon modernization around the world, highlights that all five nuclear weapon states under the NPT are committed to not only maintaining but also “improving” and “upgrading” their arsenals. As the publication notes, “allowing these states to retain their nuclear weapon capabilities, accepting their reliance on nuclear weapons as a form of security and defence, and remaining silent when they develop new weapons and facilities might be the greatest challenge to international peace and stability that the world is facing.”

While the 2010 NPT Final Document and its action plan were welcom steps forward, and markedthe best outcome that could be achieved at the time, they were never intended to be an end goal. States still have a long way to go to implement article VI of the NPT and the action plan is only a partial step in this direction. By 2015, not only does the action plan need be fully implemented, but states will also have to agree on further steps to achieve disarmament. It is therefore important that the three preparatory committees in this review cycle are not only used to report and applaud achievements from the past, but to prepare and draw up a road map for the next steps to be taken.

Such a road map is particularly important in the light some recent positive developments. In particular, the adoption of an historic resolution by the Council of Delegates of the world’s national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons in November 2011 is a significant achievement. The resolution pledged the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies’ determination to work towards this goal. Furthermore, on 17 April 2012, the Norwegian Foreign Minister announced that his government will host a meeting in Oslo in March 2013 on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

This increased momentum towards a ban on nuclear weapons much be taken seriously by states parties of the NPT. More than forty years after the Treaty’s entry into force, it is past time for the concrete achievement of nuclear disarmament. It is critical that any road map developed by NPT states parties complements these developments and that the idea of concluding a ban on nuclear weapons becomes central in the NPT review process. 

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