By Jamshed Baruah
NEW YORK (IDN) – Deeply concerned about the erosion of the disarmament and arms control framework that reaped significant post-cold-war-era gains, the United Nations is keen to ensure the continued viability of the landmark Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
With an eye on the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty’s entry into force and the twenty-fifth celebration of its indefinite extension, the 15-nation Security Council – chaired by Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas – convened a high-level meeting at the UN Headquarters on April 2, 2019.
According to the Council President for the month of April, Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent representative, the members of the Security Council – charged with ensuring international peace and security – reaffirmed their commitment to advance the goals of the NPT as the “cornerstone of the nuclear non‑proliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.
They concurred that the 2020 NPT Review Conference provided an opportunity for the NPT States parties to “unambiguously reaffirm” their commitment to the Treaty, to commemorate its historic achievements and, by further advancing its goals, strengthen the nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation regime. They expressed their “readiness to work together and join efforts to achieve a successful outcome at the 2020 NPT Review Conference.”.
A close look at discussions in the Council reveals that a “successful outcome” of deliberations in 2020 is far from certain. “The NPT has proven remarkably durable. However, that durability should not be taken for granted,” at a time when the acquisition of arms is prioritized over the pursuit of diplomacy, United Nations Under‑Secretary‑General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the Security Council in all frankness.
“The disarmament success of the post-cold war era has come to a halt,” she said, and the security landscape is being replaced with dangerous rhetoric about the utility of nuclear weapons and an increased reliance on these weapons in security doctrines. “The prospect of the use of nuclear weapons is higher than it has been in generations,” warned Nakamitsu.
However, she added that whatever new arms control and disarmament approaches in the twenty-first century might look like, one thing is clear: the NPT will still be at the centre of our collective security mechanism and it will have to stay “fit for purpose” across its three pillars — disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The 2020 Review Conference is a “golden opportunity” to make headway on all of these goals, and to make sure this linchpin of international security remains fit for purpose through the next 25 or even 50 years.
Calling a spade a spade, Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas said in the ensuing discussion that, “for all the successes we have achieved in recent decades, we mustn’t fool ourselves”. He pointed out that dismantling nuclear arsenals has come to a standstill and prospects of actual nuclear “re-armament” have been raised by the impending loss of the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The 1987 Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russian Federation) to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. The Treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification.
While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not a party to the NPT, it is entrusted with key verification responsibilities deriving from the Treaty. Presenting a glimpse of achievements, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said non-proliferation safeguards are being implemented in 182 countries, including 179 which are States parties to the NPT. However, key challenges include a steady increase in the amount of nuclear material and the number of nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, coupled with continuing pressure on the Agency’s regular budget.
Topping its agenda are the nuclear programmes of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Iran continues to fully implement its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and it must continue to do so, said Amano. Meanwhile, the Agency continues to monitor the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme and evaluate all safeguards-relevant information available to it. The IAEA could respond within weeks to any request to send inspectors back to Pyongyang.
In a broader sense, the Agency helps to improve the health and prosperity of millions of people by making nuclear science and technology available across many sectors, Amano continued. Nuclear power can also help address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplies and curbing greenhouse‑gas emissions. “Helping countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, using relevant nuclear technology, is an important part of our work,” Amano added.
In the ensuing discussion, non-permanent Council members such as Côte d’Ivoire and the Dominican Republic reported benefits reaped from nuclear technologies. Others highlighted concerns, from terrorists acquiring atomic bombs to the disarmament machinery’s languishing impasse that continues to hobble negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty and delay the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.
Some members spotlighted a crumbling security landscape exacerbated by concerns such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme and the suspension of disarmament agreements.
Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vassily A. Nebenzia, said that attempts are being made to undermine universally recognized norms which have worsened an already complicated situation. The 2020 Review Conference should not be used to settle political scores, he said.
While Russia has reduced its nuclear arsenal by more than 85 per cent, his Government remains greatly concerned about global security, given the unfettered deployment of United States anti-missile systems, its placement of military weapons in outer space and its attempts to decrease the defence capabilities of other countries through unilateral sanctions. This hardly creates an environment favourable to reducing the nuclear weapons stockpile, he said.
Andrea Lee Thompson, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, said reaching a consensus at the 2020 Review Conference is possible if parties avoid using divisions to hold the review process hostage. “We cannot overlook the fact that the actions of those who are expanding their nuclear stockpiles have contributed to a deterioration of the global security environment,” she said, adding that the United States will seek a positive outcome from the 2020 review process.
China’s permanent representative to the UN, Ma Zhaoxu, said the NPT review process has reached a critical state. Unilateralism and double standards in non-proliferation continue to exist. The international community must uphold the concept of a shared future, strengthen unity and cooperation, and steer the 2020 review process towards a unified outcome. He urged Russia and United States to return to talks on their relevant weapons agreements. The international community must continue to support and uphold multilateralism.
The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that given tensions and growing energy needs worldwide, preserving the NPT is more central than ever before. To do so, Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister Abah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah said, multilateralism and the principles of the United Nations Charter remain essential tools.
Many members underlined the need to maintain the strategic balance between the NPT’s three pillars of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in ways that seek to maximize their benefits for all States parties.
Poland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jacek Czaputowicz regretted that of the three pillars disarmament has produced the least results, adding that efforts remain a “work in progress, at best”. To change that, delegates from non-nuclear-weapon States said the instrument is complemented by the legally binding NPT.
Representatives of Indonesia and South Africa made an impassioned plea also for facilitating the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017.
Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi said the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee to avoid a global catastrophe. Expressing strong support for all three pillars – disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy – she raised concerns that the disarmament provision is the least implemented. When non‑nuclear-weapon States give up their rights to such weapons, possessor States must disarm their arsenals.
“With great powers, come great responsibilities,” she said, urging nuclear‑weapon States to set a positive example. In 2020, parties must make every effort, including political will and flexibility, to avoid a repeat of the failure to produce an outcome at the 2015 Review Conference.
Also the entry into force of the TPNW will help advance the aim of totally eliminating atomic bombs, as enshrined in Article 6 of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. “The human species’ survival is dependent on our collective courage to eliminate nuclear weapons once and for all,” she said.
South Africa’s permanent representative to the UN, Jerry Matthews Matjila, said that his Government remains disheartened at the apparent lack of urgency and seriousness with which nuclear disarmament has been approached in the Non-Proliferation Treaty context.
“This state of affairs places the Treaty, as well as its review process, under increasing pressure and falls far short of expectations,” he said. Measurable progress – particularly on nuclear disarmament – must therefore be a major determinant in achieving and in sustaining international peace and security.
Matjila said, South Africa had clearly demonstrated its commitment towards nuclear disarmament when it deposited its instrument of ratification on the TPNW on February 25, 2019, joining 21 other States that have ratified the instrument. He encouraged States that have not yet done so to follow suit.
South Africa remains a shining example of a country that went from developing its own nuclear arsenal to dismantling it and being an outspoken advocate against these weapons of mass destruction. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 April 2019]
Photo: German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas chairs the Security Council meeting on Non-proliferation and supporting the Non-proliferation Treaty ahead of the 2020 Review Conference. 02 April 2019. United Nations, New York. Photo # 802676. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.
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