Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Update on effective measures for nuclear disarmament

A new posting in the series of comments on 'effective measures' for nuclear disarmament (envisaged in article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)) can be found on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI site.

Our intention is to stimulate discussion on a possible way forward for overcoming the current stand-off on multilateral nuclear disarmament.

A recipe - and a venue - for convening some form of exploratory talks needs to be found.  Could the recent Explanation of Vote in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly by the five NPT nuclear-weapons possessing states provide such an opening?

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

Thursday, 27 August 2015

“Comprehensive and Balanced”: Sink or Swim

The report (CD/2033) of the chair of the Conference of Disarmament’s informal working group on the vexed question of the CD’s programme of work is commendably concise. Perhaps too concise. One of its conclusions appears to run together a number of separate issues.

The text in question says this: “The focus on the core agenda items should remain as a priority in order to find a consensus formula for a comprehensive and balanced programme of work” (paragraph 6 (a)). Let’s break this down in terms of the CD’s rules of procedure:
- The four core issues will require—if negotiations on each of them are to be undertaken—negotiating mandates individually or collectively.
- But there is no requirement that those mandates be incorporated in the programme of work.
- Nor is there any requirement that the programme of work be “comprehensive and balanced”.  This is simply code for linking all four negotiating mandates together so that none is agreed until all are agreed (in the time-honoured way of multilateral diplomacy).

The Conference is making things very hard for itself in the following ways:
 Its programme of work need be no more than a schedule of activities.
- The negotiation of mandates can simply be listed as an item on that schedule, with an appropriate allocation of time.
- Lumping together the four core issues (dealing with nuclear disarmament, a fissile material ban, preventing an arms race in outer space, and multilaterally agreed negative security assurances) constitutes a hugely indigestible feast of work.  Even if negotiating mandates on those topics can be agreed, imagine the difficulty of finding consensus on the sequence in which they should be negotiated.  Negotiating them more or less simultaneously would be beyond the means of all but the largest delegations.

A short look at the history of the CD (repeated from earlier posts on this site) puts this mis-application of the rules of procedure in context:
The Rules of Procedure, as well as CD/1036 (a decision on the “Improved and Effective Functioning” of the Conference adopted on 21 August 1990), envisage a streamlined approach whereby the programme of work would be no more than a mere schedule of business rather than an overarching mandate or mandates for beginning to elaborate a treaty or a politically binding text on one or more of the core issues.

Decision CD/1036 led to the current rule on the work programme, rule 28, with its emphasis on establishing rather than adopting. This is not a matter of semantics. It means that having established through his or her consultations that no reasonable objection exists to the schedule of business (i.e., work programme) for the year, the Conference president would get work underway without a formal decision. In theory, the work programme, shorn of mandates, would be so simple as not to require a formal, consensus decision of the Conference.  It would be wiser, however, to establish formally by a decision of the CD that there was no objection to this course of action (i.e., consensus).

Returning to successful approaches prior to 1999 would involve the following:

1. In the opening days of the annual session, there would be an allocation of time to be spent on each of the 4 core issues and other substantive agenda items.  That schedule or timetable would also allocate space for the annual high-level segment and for agreeing the CD’s report to the UN General Assembly.  In addition, it would reserve time for discussion of the outcomes of its work especially on mandates.

2. In the course of its work on the core issues, the central matter for CD members to resolve would be: under rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure, is there a need to establish a subsidiary body in which engagement would be intensified? That is, does a basis exist for the negotiation of “a draft treaty or other draft texts”?  Note that a subsidiary body is generally regarded as being more appropriate for facilitating intense engagement than the comparatively stilted, formal option of conducting work in plenary, although under the Rules, plenary meetings are the default option.

3. As, when and if the questions arising under rule 23 are answered in the affirmative, members would immediately apportion time from the reserved allocation (see 1. above) for the negotiation of the necessary mandate(s).

4. Agreement on the negotiated mandates would require consensus. For so long as Members insist on linkages among the four core issues, agreement on mandates is most unlikely to be achieved individually.  The timetable would need to be flexible enough to deal with the reality that a package deal would thus need to be developed.

The key difference from the present situation is that work on the mandates would be taking place under an agreed, streamlined work programme within the rules constituting a schedule of activities shorn of negotiating mandates. With the work progamme blockage removed, the beginnings of a basis of trust might be regenerated. The focus would turn to determining whether a basis exists for developing a negotiating mandate, issue by issue, and hence for setting up subsidiary bodies and tackling issues of substance rather than procedure. The CD’s sense of purpose as a negotiating body would be restored.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the weight of a linked set of negotiating mandates will ultimately sink the Conference. There is a way, however, if there’s a will…

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

Thursday, 6 August 2015

70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the subject of a posting written on the joint site that UNIDIR  shares with ILPI, called 'Effective Measures'. Readers who may be interested in the latest posting are invited to go to 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Effective measures for nuclear disarmament—an update

Readers of our regular posts on 'effective measures' will be aware that our aim is to explore the obligation on states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to 

'pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ... nuclear disarmament'.  

The inability of the 5 year NPT Review Conference this May to achieve any agreed outcome has meant that the duty to conduct those negotiations amongst parties remains unfulfilled 45 years after the treaty entered into force.

This is an extract from the most recent posting on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI site entitled 'Where are we on effective measures, and where are we going?': -

"We have ... come to see the idea of a nuclear weapon ban treaty as one of the most promising potential avenues for effective measures for nuclear disarmament, although of course it is not without its risks and drawbacks. Over the coming months, we’ll reflect further on the pros and cons of such an approach, and we’ll be presenting our analysis later in 2015, both on [the Effective Measures] blog and in other products. How strong really are the arguments for such a treaty, and how serious are the counter-arguments against it given the range of realistic alternatives? For that matter, how realistic is such a treaty in the current international security environment—what would its value be? What could its legal architecture look like? And how would states get there?"

These are issue that we plan to tease out in depth after the northern summer break.

Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

NPT Review Conference: the problem pillar

In addition to recent postings here about various blockages in the path of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, you may wish to visit a site on which UNIDIR and ILPI are currently collaborating - a.k.a. effectivemeasures.

The purpose of that work is to offer insights into practical ways of facilitating nuclear disarmament.

The latest comment can be found at: http://unidir.ilpi.org/?p=339

Other postings in May of relevance to the recently-concluded NPT Review Conference are:





Separately, John Borrie of UNIDIR has continued to offer insights into the risks of accidents with nuclear weapons: see his latest personal remarks on:


Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Humanitarian Initiative unplugged

This posting is a summary of comments I made during an event on 6 May during the NPT Review Conference.  The meeting was organised by Austria, Mexico and Norway as hosts of three recent conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. My topic was “the key substantive findings that have emerged as a result of the humanitarian initiative”. The impacts and trends of the humanitarian initiative (HI) to date, from a UN perspective, largely fall under three headings, process, forensic and legal:
1          Process: In process terms the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna meetings individually, and in retrospect collectively, provided a fresh standpoint and perspective for addressing concerns about nuclear weapons to all states in a forum that was underpinned by the strongly expressed humanitarian considerations of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The NPT’s tasking in 2000 and 2010 of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to ‘immediately establish a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament’ had come to nothing.  The CD remains paralysed. Some nuclear weapon states declined to participate in the OEWG. To an extent the orthodox process vacuum was filled by the HI, although the initiative was pitched to the entire UN community and civil society, not just to the states parties of the NPT. All states have a stake in this initiative along with civil society and intergovernmental organisations—partners with states throughout the series of conferences.

As US NPT expert Lewis Dunn recently wrote, the goals of the participants in these conferences have varied. ‘Some want to highlight nuclear risks and encourage action to reduce them, others want to energize the NPT nuclear disarmament process, and still others want to delegitimize nuclear weapons and create support for a new international treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons and to abolish them.’ At this stage, however, the humanitarian initiative itself has been about accumulating evidence of the consequences of nuclear weapons. This brings us to the forensic angle of the initiative.

2          Forensic: i.e., the gathering and examining of information, evidence and research about the physical effects of nuclear weapons. And it should be noted in passing that the humanitarian impact conferences have spurred new facts-based research including the Chatham House reports on nuclear near misses ‘Too Close for Comfort’ and ‘The “Big Tent” in Disarmament, UNIDIR’s publication ‘An Illusion of Safety’ and the UNIDIR/ILPI series of 11 papers for the Vienna and NPT Review Conferences.
 - Highlights of evidence emerging from the three humanitarian impact conferences are these:

a) National borders: The impact of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of the cause, would not be constrained by national borders and could have regional and even global consequences. Certainly, considerable evidence was produced at all three meetings on the physical properties of nuclear detonations, their indiscriminate effects and the potential for the fallout from an exchange of weapons in a conflict to have widespread, long-term impacts.

b) Testing: Historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons was also demonstrated to have had in some areas devastating immediate and long-term effects—effects not hitherto given the recognition they deserve.

c) Health, development and environment: Beyond the immediate death and destruction caused by a detonation, evidence suggests that socio-economic development will be hampered, with the poor and vulnerable being the most severely affected, adverse effects for food security and considerable environmental damage inflicted. Reconstruction of infrastructure and regeneration of economic activities, trade, communications, health facilities, and schools would take several decades, causing profound social and political harm—the Chernobyl effect but magnified. The human health impacts would be widespread and affect women more acutely than men.

d) Risk: The risk of nuclear weapons use is seen as growing globally as a consequence of proliferation, the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to cyber-attacks and to human error, and potential access to nuclear weapons by non-state actors, in particular terrorist groups. Low probability yet high consequence events add up to tangible risk. Indeed, evidence of accidental use and near misses tabled at the conferences has given the element of risk a new dimension.

e) Preparedness and response: It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner.  This finding was tested within the UN humanitarian relief system, and largely substantiated, through a project conducted by UNIDIR in cooperation with UNOCHA and UNDP. An expectation for UN relief assistance would quickly manifest itself if the civil nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima are anything to go by, bearing in mind that a nuclear detonation would be even more devastating.

3          Legal: The 2010 NPT Review Conference not only expressed its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons but also reaffirmed the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law (IL), including international humanitarian law (IHL). From a UN perspective, there are four key legal points.

a) The first derives from the principles of the UN Charter and the purposes of the UN – the imperative of prevention as the only guarantee against the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. This element was highlighted at all three conferences, as was respect for the rule of law with particular reference to the Geneva Conventions.

b) Although not an agenda item as such in Oslo and Nayarit, doubt as to whether a nuclear weapon with its devastating and indiscriminate effects could be used in compliance with IHL was stimulated by evidence presented at those events (including references to the ICJ Advisory Opinion), and was specifically addressed in Vienna along with other norms relevant to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

c) There is the ‘gap’. Unlike the case of biological and chemical weapons, there is no comprehensive legal norm universally prohibiting possession, transfer, production and use of nuclear arms. (There is also a gap in the fulfilment of article VI of the NPT—the requirement for multilateral negotiation of effective measures for nuclear disarmament.)

d) International health regulations (IHR) of the WHO, which provide a framework for the coordination and management of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern, would cover events of a radiological origin.

As well as relevant legal considerations, the Vienna conference also drew attention to ethical and moral concerns. As is the case with torture, which defies humanity and is now unacceptable to all, the suffering caused by nuclear weapons use is not only a legal matter, it necessitates moral appraisal.

In one short sentence at the end of the UN Secretary-General’s message to the opening plenary of the NPT Review Conference, the Secretary-General encapsulated the significance of what has emerged from the humanitarian initiative. ‘The humanitarian movement’, he said, ‘has injected the moral imperative into a frozen debate’. This new, evidence-based initiative has revitalised a debate that has been paralysed in its repetitiveness and lack of focus or tangible results (an issue that was covered by the next panellist (Gaukhar Mukhazthanova)).

Tim Caughley