On Friday 12 August, the first two draft documents for the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference were released to states parties: the draft report of Main Committee 1 and the draft subsidiary body 1 report, both of which are dedicated to discussing and agreeing on action on nuclear disarmament.
The 191 states parties to the NPT are meeting now for a four-week conference at the UN in New York to review progress on implementing the 1970 pact aiming to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament for the five nuclear-armed states that have joined it. At the end of the conference, states aim to adopt a consensus document with an assessment of implementation over the past seven years and commitments to take forward implementation for the next review cycle.
The last time states succeeded in adopting a consensus outcome document and action plan for this treaty was in 2010 (available here) although the commitments agreed to remain largely unimplemented and some countries claim they are no longer valid.
Main Committee 1 is chaired by Ambassador Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid of Malaysia, and is tasked with reviewing the states parties implementation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in regards to nuclear disarmament, while Subsidiary Body 1 is chaired by Ambassador Lachezara Stoeva of Bulgaria and deals with the forward-looking actions on nuclear disarmament and security assurances.
The negotiations of these documents will be ongoing and states parties are expected to adopt a final document by 26 August.
Draft report of Subsidiary Body 1
The draft report of Subsidiary Body 1, available here, sets out a list of 29 actions on nuclear disarmament and security assurances that states parties should agree to. Some of them are new and welcome additions, and some reiterate previous but important language from the 2010 outcome document, but some key factors are still missing.
The draft re-iterates previous important commitments on nuclear reductions, including an undertaking by all nuclear-weapon states to pursue reductions of all types of nuclear weapons and that the US and Russia commit to follow on measures to reduce their nuclear arsenals , specifically by negotiating a follow on agreement of New START before it’s expiration in 2026.
Importantly, the preambular section recognises the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and affirms that awareness of these consequences must underpin all approaches and efforts towards nuclear disarmament. It also reaffirms that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, commits to ensuring that nuclear weapons will never be used again under any circumstances, and reaffirms all existing NPT commitments and agreements.
Notably, the draft includes a commitment by nuclear-weapon states AND their allies to take steps to reduce and eliminate the role of nuclear weapons in national and collective security doctrines. This is the first time the NPT would explicitly recognize the responsibility that nuclear-allied states have for nuclear disarmament and that their reliance on nuclear weapons will need to change in order to implement the NPT.
The report lists a number of new actions aimed at reducing nuclear risks, like reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons systems and creating a multilateral arms control framework dialogue. Importantly, acknowledges that “the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination”, and frames the risk-reduction measures as interim steps pending elimination.
New also in this draft is the references to the role of women, youth and survivors. States commit to take concrete measures to raise awareness on nuclear disarmament including by interacting with and directly sharing the experiences of the survivors and the communities affected by nuclear weapons use and testing. But states must do much more than interact with such communities. The TPNW has built a framework for providing meaningful assistance, through its provisions on victim assistance, environmental remediation, and international cooperation and assistance. Meaningful progress would require more, such as underscoring the importance of these efforts on victim assistance and environmental remediation, and interacting positively with the TPNW framework on these matters.
The draft report also suggests that all nuclear-weapon states commit not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT under any circumstances.
While the draft commitment of nuclear weapon states to not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT is useful and positive, particularly in light of Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in connection with its illegal invasion of Ukraine, it fails to recognize that a nuclear war between nuclear armed states would still cause catastrophic humanitarian consequences for states far away from nuclear war. The consequences of a nuclear weapons war would not be limited to the area of the detonation, but the impact would spread across borders, regions and remain for generations, it would impact human health, environment, refugee flows, food security and cause catastrophic disruption to the global community. Non-nuclear weapon states cannot simply be protected by an assurance from a nuclear armed state.
One of the most significant problems with this document is that aside from the New START deadline of 2026, the actions contain no concrete timelines and are in many cases not measurable. This has been the fundamental problem with previous Review Conference outcomes, especially those in 2000 and 2010: the actions agreed were reasonable, but without timelines and benchmarks for their implementation, they have simply been ignored. Without specific timelines and measurable actions, it is unlikely that the international community can, for example, trust that Russia will make meaningful progress on commitments like “take all necessary measures to reduce the risks that nuclear weapons could be used as a result of miscalculation, misperception or by accident.”
Other important textual references missing in the report are a reference to the important new body of work under the TPNW: victim assistance, environmental remediation, and international cooperation and assistance and to international humanitarian law, given that states reaffirmed the need to comply with all applicable law, including international humanitarian law, in 2010.
Draft report of Main Committee 1
The draft report of Main Committee 1, available here, is a review of the implementation of disarmament-related commitments since the last review cycle.
What’s new from 2010
The MC1 draft does include some very positive and refreshing language. First, paragraph 23 importantly recognizes “the importance for States parties that are part of military alliances that include nuclear-weapon States to report, as a significant transparency and confidence building measure, on steps taken to reduce and eliminate the role of nuclear weapons in national and collective security doctrines”. This is a significant development and will make sure that states that hosts nuclear weapons and participate in nuclear weapons exercises start to contribute to nuclear disarmament efforts themselves, and not just deflect attention to the nuclear armed states. The MC1 draft also contains strong references to the concern over the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and notes the conferences held on this topic. Finally, while it falls short of welcoming it, the draft acknowledges the adoption and entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as well as the outcome document and action plan of its first meeting of states parties.
The draft report of MC1 unfortunately fails to respond to the most urgent crisis of the moment, by condemning any and all nuclear threats. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine under the threat to use nuclear weapons has undermined the NPT, and the fact that this document doesn’t condemn such nuclear threats, but merely welcomes that nuclear-weapon states “reaffirm the importance of addressing nuclear threats”, is deeply concerning. In stark contrast, the outcome document of the first Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW in June, issued an unprecedented strong condemnation of nuclear threats “under any circumstances”. The failure to clearly condemn nuclear threats in this draft gives the impression that, apart from those NPT states parties that are also TPNW states parties, NPT states parties are unconcerned about Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons.
The draft document also provides an inaccurate reflection of civil society engagement at the NPT. The draft welcomes “the increased and positive interaction with civil society during the review cycle and greater engagement with non-governmental organizations in the context of the review process of the Treaty”. But this is simply not true.
Not only was the previously- scheduled conference in January planned to go ahead without any civil society participation, during this month we have seen civil society denied access to main hall of delegates during the entire first week of the general debate, not allowed to speak during main committee meetings, and not allowed even to listen to the discussions in the subsidiary bodies. Civil society does not even have the right to receive the draft outcome documents at issue, the very drafts that claim that the process is so inclusive. NGOs instead must rely on friendly journalists, diplomats and civil servants to pass on copies in order to know what is being negotiated. There has not been any informal open civil society consultations. Given how remarkably inclusive the TPNW’s MSP was, the NPT will need to seriously improve its access before it is able to make such a claim.
The initial draft reports from the Main Committee I and Subsidiary Body I present some new recommendations on disarmament, reiterate past consensus language, and introduce concepts from the humanitarian initiative and TPNW process (such as working with affected communities) into the NPT fora for the first time.
However, they still fall short, failing to adequately address the increased risk of nuclear weapons use due to Russian nuclear threats, lack of concrete timelines and benchmarks, and lack of sufficient inclusion of civil society throughout the process. The NPT must adapt to the new norms set by the TPNW, for example, allowing civil society the right to attend all meetings, to be able to make statements throughout the conference to have timely access to draft documents.
The global security environment remains perilous, but there is no sense of urgency in these documents that is equal to the problem. To the contrary, there are almost no deadlines to complete new commitments or any articulation of plans to fulfill past commitment. By contrast, the June 2022 Vienna Declaration includes a clear condemnation of nuclear threats, and the June 2022 Vienna Action Plan, creates a strong set of commitments, with deadlines, and builds a structure for intersessional work, with state focal points, for states to meet their new commitments.
Despite its challenges, these draft reports have evolved from what was adopted in 2010, due in large part to the success of the TPNW. Various concepts in this draft, particularly on topics such as victim assistance, environmental remediation, gender inclusivity, have been advanced through the humanitarian disarmament initiative, that led to the TPNW, and are addressed by the TPNW and its first MSP. It is clear that the energetic, dynamic, and inclusive work of the TPNW has a positive impact on the NPT, and is helping NPT states parties bring the NPT into modern times.
As these drafts are further negotiated, there will be intense pressure from nuclear-armed states and their allies to water down the progressive concepts, and to return to the status quo. All states must press to maintain, and to strengthen, the draft report to meet the urgency of the moment.