Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Pillars: NPT Review Conference 27 April to 22 May 2015

With the Conference on Disarmament (CD) about to adjourn until 25 May, attention is turning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Review Conference.  Every five years the NPT undergoes a major review (preceded usually by three preparatory meetings). Each review cycle culminates in a lengthy conference at which a 190 nations assess progress in implementing the treaty and decide what more needs to be done during the forthcoming 5-year period.

This self-imposed discipline of looking both back and forward is a healthy one (which the CD might do well to emulate). Looking back, the NPT parties will be be able to reflect that, subject to a successful resolution of the P5+1 negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, there has been no further proliferation of nuclear weapons these past 5 years beyond the 9 states that already possess them. Plans by a number of possessing states to modernise their nuclear arsenals—so-called 'horizontal' proliferation—will, however, cast a shadow over the review.

If there's a shadow over the non-proliferation 'pillar' of the Treaty, for many states there will be a ray of sunshine on the nuclear disarmament pillar.  This is not, however, because of sustained reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals during the review period. It is because of the development since 2010 of a dynamic aimed at augmenting the unilateral and bilateral efforts of the nuclear weapon states with multilateral negotiations of further 'effective measures' for nuclear disarmament, as required by article VI of the NPT.

This development follows the so-called 'humanitarian initiative' which has highlighted the need for renewed urgency to eliminate nuclear arms. It has also served to expose the limitations of the method preferred by nuclear weapon states of proceeding 'step-by-step' towards that goal. Multilateral steps espoused by the nuclear weapon states, in fact, remain unfulfilled or are being blocked by some of those same states or are incapable of fulfilment for so long as the chronic paralysis of the CD continues.

Two postings on UNIDIR's joint website with ILPI deal in more depth with the mutually-reinforcing pillars on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament: see



Of course, the upcoming Review Conference has many more issues on its plate. These include taking stock of the 2010 Action Plan, implementation of which has been the subject of a recent report:

'The NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report' by Reaching Critical Will (RCW).

Of relevance, too, is:

'Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015' by Gareth Evans, Tanya Ogilvie-White and Ramesh Thakur, a 'report card' on the 2009 report of the International Commission on Nuclear No-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

The two publications offer different insights into the challenges facing the 2015 review of the NPT.  But each report concludes that the prospects are 'dim' (RCW) and 'grim' (ICNND).

Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

CD: Telling it how it is

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) is less remembered these days for its successes than for its paralysis and failings.  Key disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control agreements hammered out in the CD include the NPT, BTWC, CWC, and CTBT. But the negotiation of the last of these treaties was concluded as far back as 1996.

Since then the Conference has fallen on lean times.  Its only negotiations have almost without exception concerned the question of what it should do next.  Bickering over that issue remains inconclusive.  Worse than that, the approach that the CD has been taking since 2000 to find a workable solution is fundamentally mistaken: the Conference is pursuing an approach that is not only inconsistent with its rules of procedure but is also perpetuating inactivity.

This is not something to which the 65 member states of the CD are blind. Many realise that this prolonged period of deadlock jeopardises what remains of the integrity of the forum. In this regard, the credibility of the CD this morning suffered a serious setback.

During its annual Women’s Day message to the Conference, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) announced that ‘it was finally time to cease [its] engagement with this body’.  WILPF said it had reached this decision in part because the CD ‘operates in a vacuum … is disconnected from the outside world [and] … has lost perspective of the bigger picture of human suffering and global injustice’.

Tellingly, WILPF went on to say ‘[m]aintaining the structures that reinforce deadlock has become more important than fulfilling the objective for which [the CD] was created—negotiating disarmament treaties. We can no longer invest effort into such a body. Instead we will continue our work elsewhere. There is much work to be done’.

The CD’s virtually non-existent relationship with civil society is itself highly damaging to the fabric of the Conference.  Based on recent debates in the Conference, some members may shrug off the withdrawal of WILPF’s engagement.  But it is hard to deny the accuracy of the League's assertion to CD members that ‘some of you put process over progress’.

The discontinuation of its reporting on the CD by Reaching Critical Will, WILPF’s disarmament programme, will be widely missed in the disarmament community.  But WILPF did the Conference a favour this morning.  Not by the announcement that it was withdrawing engagement, but by telling the CD directly just how this body is seen. Let’s hope that for the sake of multilateralism it is a salutary lesson.

Tim Caughley

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

NPT - the nuclear disarmament pillar


Several recent postings on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI website may be of interest to those Disarmament Insight readers who are following the build up to the NPT Review Conference, and in particular the development of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament.

The new posts can be found on the "Effective Measures" site under these links: