NPT RevCon: Objectives for the Conference Outcome


As the NPT Review Conference enters its fourth and final week, states parties are busy negotiating the textual details of the possible outcome. This is the stage of the conference where delegations are increasingly forced to concentrate on their most important objectives, and to let their smaller concerns go by the wayside in the interest of achieving consensus. So what are our most important objectives for the conference outcome? How could this conference make a genuine contribution to progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons?

The minimum

There is lots we would like to have, but this is the minimum we would really need in order for the conference outcome to constitute a credible and effective response to the increasing risks of use of nuclear weapons, growing nuclear arsenals, and recent threats to use nuclear weapons:

1. The outcome must include timelines and measurable benchmarks for the implementation of any agreed commitments on nuclear disarmament.

Commitments such as reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles or diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies and doctrines are important and welcome - but have been made at previous review conferences. Bitter experience has shown that without assessment and accountability measures, these commitments will simply be ignored. And a requirement just to report regularly to NPT meetings on progress will not be sufficient unless it is linked to specific timelines and benchmarks.

2. The conference must condemn all threats to use nuclear weapons, implicit or explicit, and regardless of the circumstances, the formulation of the threat, or the target of the threat.

It is not acceptable to restrict this condemnation to only certain kinds of nuclear threats, e.g. those made “for military coercion, intimidation and blackmail”, as this both introduces a requirement for subjective interpretation that makes the condemnation essentially meaningless, and implies that some threats to use nuclear weapons are justified and acceptable. Attempting to make distinctions between different kinds of nuclear threats ignores the fact that due to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, a nuclear threat against one state amounts to a nuclear threat against all states.

The condemnation of nuclear threats could be along the same lines as the Vienna Declaration issued by the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW in June: “We are alarmed and dismayed by threats to use nuclear weapons and increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric. We stress that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

Other formulations could be acceptable, as long as they apply to any and all threats to use nuclear weapons.

3. The outcome must recognise the risks and catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons as the basis and motivation for nuclear disarmament. 

This is crucial, as it demonstrates that nuclear weapons affect all countries, and that therefore nuclear disarmament is the concern and responsibility of all countries, not just the nuclear-armed states. Nuclear weapons are a global problem, like climate change and pandemic disease, and thus require a global solution. In this connection, the conference outcome must also recognise the TPNW, since that treaty provides a legal framework for all states to participate in the implementation of Article VI of the NPT.

The signs are not good

Although negotiations continue, and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, the draft documents circulated so far by the Chair of the Main Committee I (which deals with nuclear disarmament) are not encouraging. While they contain promising language on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, there are no timelines or benchmarks for the various proposed commitments. And although nuclear threats are mentioned, there is no condemnation, and the impact is further undermined by an attempt to distinguish between different types of nuclear threats.