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NATO fails to reduce nuclear risks at Vilnius Summit


The leaders of NATO countries, meeting in Vilnius at a time of unprecedented nuclear risk, took no action to reduce nuclear dangers and, on the contrary, issued a communique continuing to support the use of nuclear weapons. The alliance pointed to the risks posed by Russia’s nuclear weapons while hailing its own nuclear deterrent and nuclear sharing arrangements. It also criticised the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the only area of progress on nuclear disarmament in decades, demonstrating its concern about the Treaty’s power to stigmatise and eliminate nuclear weapons. 

The communique, released at the end of the first day of the Summit, condemned Russian deployment of weapons in Belarus and Russia’s “irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and coercive nuclear signalling,” while reiterating the alliance’s willingness to use nuclear weapons itself, and it’s “resolve to impose costs on an adversary that would be unacceptable”.  

On nuclear sharing

NATO presented its justification for  the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, despite democratic and legal challenges to the practice. It also criticised Russia for the same concept- to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. The communique is more explicit on nuclear sharing than previous statements,  stating  that“NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies on the United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe.”  But it ignores concerns raised by parliamentarians and citizens in NATO countries. The communique repeated NATO’s position that “NATO's nuclear burden-sharing arrangements have always been fully consistent with the NPT,”despite the repeated challenges by other NPT members to this assertion.  

Nuclear sharing, or stationing nuclear weapons in another country, is explicitly prohibited under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which all countries should join as a matter of urgency to prevent further deployment of nuclear weapons in additional countries. 

On the TPNW

The communique dedicated several sentences to rebuking the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the only treaty to adopt an action plan on disarmament in over a decade. NATO’s attention to this  treaty demonstrates the alliance's fear about its ability to undermine the possession, threat of use and stationing of nuclear weapons and challenge the practice of nuclear deterrence that all members currently engage in. The reality is that there is no inconsistency between the two treaties (NATO and the TPNW) - only between the practice of nuclear deterrence and joining the TPNW.

The communique claimed that the treaty is “in opposition to and is inconsistent and incompatible with the Alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy.” Yet throughout the history of NATO, members of the alliance have taken different approaches to weapons and strategy issues, and- as the communique itself outlines: Every nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements.  There is no legal impediment to NATO members joining the TPNW. In fact several NATO countries are engaging with the constructive work underway in the TPNW, including by observing the first Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW in 2022, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. 

The NATO Summit in Vilnius could have been an opportunity for member states to demonstrate their commitment to bolstering peace and security by reducing the unacceptably high level of nuclear risk. As nuclear-armed states, states that host US nuclear weapons and states that accept the use of nuclear weapons on their behalf, they have the power to agree to end these dangerous practices. Instead, they chose to issue a communique with language on nuclear weapons that was hypocritical and empty. Fortunately, member states to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will meet at the end of November to take real action to address nuclear dangers and advance towards disarmament.