photo credit: ICAN | Jeenah Moon

NPT Review Conference starts in New York: What’s at stake

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World leaders are meeting at the United Nations in New York to begin their first review of the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) treaty since nuclear weapons became prohibited under international law in 2021. Pressure is high on all 191 NPT member states to condemn the recent threats to use nuclear weapons during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the increase and modernisation of nuclear arsenals by all nuclear-armed states, and the increased role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.

The NPT Review Conference takes place amid a rapidly deteriorating international security environment, with an increased risk of nuclear weapons use. ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine under cover of the threat to use nuclear weapons has fractured the NPT community, heightened the risks of nuclear weapons being used, and increased the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. At the same time, all five nuclear-armed NPT member states are violating their disarmament obligations under the treaty and increasing the risk of catastrophic nuclear war.” If any state were to use nuclear weapons, it would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would harm people all over the world.

Ahead of the conference, ICAN produced a legal analysis of the compliance of each nuclear-weapon state with the Treaty, which concluded that each state is in violation of their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. These violations include:

  • Increases in arsenal sizes (Russia, China), or raising the cap on the maximum number of warhead (UK)
  • Fuelling a new nuclear arms race by spending billions on nuclear weapons each year, including building new and more dangerous weapons systems (United States, Russia, China, France, UK).
  • Failing to pursue negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament (United States, Russia, China, France, UK).

These violations and the breakdown in international diplomacy over the Ukraine invasion are also enabling other states to move away from non-proliferation and disarmament. Three NPT non-nuclear-weapon states have recently moved in this direction:

  • Belarus has offered to host Russian nuclear weapons
  • Sweden and Finland have stated publicly that they now support these weapons of mass destruction as a crucial part of their security policy and would be willing to participate in using them as part of their NATO membership application.

These developments are extremely dangerous and undermine confidence in the NPT as a tool for enhancing global security. Fortunately, the majority of states in the world have fought back against these dangerous developments by negotiating, adopting and bringing into force the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In a big change since the last NPT review conference, nuclear weapons, like chemical and biological weapons, are now comprehensively prohibited by international law. In June 2022, parties to the TPNW issued the strongest multilateral statement ever against nuclear threats, and adopted and began to implement a 50-point action plan to take forward the objectives of the TPNW, thereby taking the lead on the implementation of the NPT.

“The NPT review conference must harness the energy and build on the achievements of the TPNW,” Fihn adds “At a time where tensions between nuclear-armed states are increasing, hiding behind vague affirmations and empty promises is not enough. It’s time for all states to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the pathway to save the NPT.”

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