Disarmament Insight

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Friday, 23 June 2017

Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Negotiations



UNIDIR side-event on 22 June 2017, Conference Room 1, at United Nations Headquarters during negotiations on a Nuclear Weapon Prohibition Treaty:  


Remarks by Tim Caughley introducing UNIDIR publication ‘Negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty: Nuts and Bolts of theBan’. The negotiation’s formal title is ‘United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination’.


The first of these two papers deals with a large number—but not all—of the draft articles in the Conference President’s first draft of a nuclear weapon prohibition treaty or convention.
I’m going to use ‘treaty’ and ‘convention’ interchangeably because, as legally-binding agreements or instruments under international law, treaties and conventions have equal legal effect despite views expressed to the contrary during the negotiations: point number one.
Point number two: Since that paper was written and placed on line at the beginning of this session on 15 June 2017, the negotiations in this room have come quite a long way. The paper remains relevant, though, because it focused on the issues rather more than on the wording of the draft treaty.
My third point is about the lens through which we viewed the President’s first draft of the treaty. This, I would describe, as ‘principle meets pragmatism’. Or, as better expressed by Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representativefor Disarmament Affairs at the opening of this session of the Conference on 15 June: ‘legally sound, technically accurate, and politically wise’.
This leads me to point number four. The prohibition convention is not intended to provide a comprehensive treatment of verified dismantlement and elimination of nuclear armaments as envisaged in the ‘Model Convention’ put forward in the Conference on Disarmament and United Nations originally 20 years ago by Costa Rica and Malaysia.
Three weeks in which to negotiate a comprehensive agreement would not be nearly enough. There have been occasions during the past few days when I have felt that ambitions voiced here would have been more appropriate to a comprehensive convention than to a mere prohibition. I make this point for two reasons:
- One, to take issue with a related point implicit in some interventions that a credible outcome to these negotiations cannot be achieved in three weeks. It can. A prohibition treaty can be both succinct and aspirational.
- This is related to the second reason. — As was foreshadowed in the President’s first draft—and as has become clearer during these negotiations—a prohibition treaty offers in part a framework of sorts for future developments.
These developments include, for example,
- the addition of protocols (another type of binding agreement) by which nuclear-armed states can join the prohibition convention (as discussed in the second paper of this UNIDIR publication); and
- decisions taken by States Parties at their regular meetings or Review Conferences.
In other words, the treaty can recognize and provide for second generation issues recognizing that as Ireland explained: ‘we cannot see into the future, we can only allow for it’. As UNIDIR notes in our paper, the level of ambition of the treaty needs to be tempered by this reality. Ideally though, matters that are to be left for further treatment will be described as clearly as possible in the final text for the future guidance of States Parties. Nonetheless, the mandate for meetings of States Parties should not be a straitjacket, but contain a reasonable degree of flexibility, a point stressed by Sweden among others.
This leads me to my fifth and sixth points.  Point number five is that the preamble will, of, course, provide fundamental context—the treaty’s so-called object and purpose—by way of direction for States Parties down the track. But to me, this does not mean that the Preamble should be the proverbial Christmas tree—all bells and whistles. It should on the contrary be short, succinct and to the point. The clearer it is, the better will be the foundation for dealing with second generation issues,
Relatedly, (point six) the treaty as a whole needs to be very clear about its relationship with other relevant agreements, principally the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the non-proliferation regime, Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaties, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its verification arm. The prohibition convention needs to sit comfortably as one among a number of elements leading ultimately to the elimination of nuclear weapons (as contemplated in the title to this conference and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution that established it).
Obviously the NPT, as such a widely subscribed treaty, deserves greatest care in such an act of alignment.  This is not only because of its near universal status, but also because of the sensitivity of nuclear weapons-possessing States not party to it to the manner in which the NPT is referenced, for instance, in United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.
In the final analysis, the effectiveness of the prohibition treaty will be measured by its success in eventually securing the commitment of all States not to possess or use nuclear weapons. The prohibition treaty truly needs to provide a framework under which all States are able to join sooner or later thereby preserving the post-dismantlement era as a nuclear weapon free one. And I’ll stop there.
Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

Friday, 12 May 2017

Nuclear Disarmament: Bridging the Gap (1)

This is one of two posts of remarks at a side-event organised during the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting by the HiroshimaPrefecture, UNIDIR and SIPRI on 2 May 2017 in Vienna. One post contains a summary of a paper by Ambassador Paul Meyer (retired) of Canada. The second summarises a paper written by Professor Nick Ritchie of York University, England. Full versions of the papers will appear on UNIDIR’s website.

Begins: In recent years, the debate on nuclear weapons has been dominated by differences over both the pace of disarmament and how to accelerate it. A humanitarian focus on the risks and consequences of a nuclear conflict or an accidental detonation has accentuated the need for taking nuclear disarmament forward. As we know, the means for doing so, however, are highly disputed including amongst the parties to the NPT.

Acutely aware of the humanitarian impacts and risks of nuclear detonations, the Hiroshima Prefecture has been active in canvassing ways to nurture a bridging of the longstanding divide between nuclear weapon-possessing states and non-nuclear weapon states. UNIDIR welcomes the opportunity to work with the Prefecture in this bridge-building role. The first paper of this collaboration between the Hiroshima Prefecture and UNIDIR offers two perspectives aimed at encouraging a greater understanding of points of view that will need to be taken into account if the common goal of the eventual elimination of nuclear armaments is to be achieved.

The first of the two papers was contributed by former Ambassador Paul Meyer of Canada. Ambassador Meyer’s paper notes the perilous nature of the current international security context and inherent proliferation risks in Asia and Europe. He observes also that the inability to convene the conference on the Middle East WMD-free zone that was promised at the 2010 NPTReview Conference has weakened the authority of the NPT, a key bulwark of non-proliferation. Avoiding a reversion to a second cold war or a breakdown in the global non-proliferation regime embodied in that Treaty (or both) will require some dedicated corrective action on the part of nuclear weapon states and non nuclear weapon states alike. This would require:
·       a critical assessment of the efficacy of nuclear deterrence;
·       a fuller consideration of providing extended deterrence without reliance on nuclear weapons; and
·       a determined politico-diplomatic strategy to reinvigorate the global machinery for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
His paper considers each of those elements in turn.

Meyer observes that nuclear weapons have been described as ‘the great equalizer’ in contemporary security affairs—that they can be seen as providing a comparatively small state (e.g., North Korea) with a defence against a militarily superior adversary by threatening a devastating blow that would outweigh the benefits that such an adversary could hope to achieve. He notes, however, some limits to the deterrence doctrine and suggests that the assumption that the mere possession of nuclear weapons provides an effective deterrent for the possessing state is not borne out historically.

Meyer writes that proponents of the abolition of nuclear weapons need to consider alternatives to nuclear deterrence in a world still marked by armed conflicts. He notes that the specific military objectives traditionally assigned to nuclear forces are increasingly vulnerable to a new generation of conventional weaponry.  Indisputably the road to a world without nuclear weapons will be a long and winding one. It will require the vision to identify a way forward despite the current strategic environment.

Meyer concludes that In the near term the restoration of basic solidarity within the NPT community is a pre-condition for advancing both the goal of transcending reliance on nuclear deterrence and progressing towards a world without nuclear weapons and towards also the non-proliferation imperative that the five nuclear weapon states and their allies prioritise.

In summary, this paper and the accompanying one by Professor Nick Ritchie serve the intended purpose of an initial summarising of perspectives that will need to be understood and recognised in any dialogue to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. The papers both recognise that there are other, competing viewpoints to accommodate. Understanding all positions is essential to accommodating them. Exchanging views on ways and means of reconciling various perspectives on nuclear disarmament will form the basis of further collaboration by UNIDIR and the Hiroshima Prefecture towards bridge building. It is our hope that in the meantime there will develop an increased realisation on all sides that talking to each other needs to replace talking at—or past—each other, that is, understanding the differences first, reconciling them where possible, and concentrating on identifying and building on common ground. Ends

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow
UNIDIR

Nuclear Disarmament: Bridging the Gap (2)

This is one of two posts of remarks at a side-event organised during the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting by the HiroshimaPrefecture, UNIDIR and SIPRI on 2 May 2017 in Vienna. One post contains a summary of a paper by Ambassador Paul Meyer (retired) of Canada. The second summarises a paper written by Professor Nick Ritchie of York University, England. Full versions of the papers will appear on UNIDIR’s website.

Begins: In recent years, the debate on nuclear weapons has been dominated by differences over both the pace of disarmament and how to accelerate it. A humanitarian focus on the risks and consequences of a nuclear conflict or an accidental detonation has accentuated the need for taking nuclear disarmament forward. As we know, the means for doing so, however, are highly disputed including amongst the parties to the NPT.

Acutely aware of the humanitarian impacts and risks of nuclear detonations, the Hiroshima Prefecture has been active in canvassing ways to nurture a bridging of the longstanding divide between nuclear weapon-possessing states and non-nuclear weapon states. UNIDIR welcomes the opportunity to work with the Prefecture in this bridge-building role. The first paper of this collaboration between the Hiroshima Prefecture and UNIDIR offers two perspectives aimed at encouraging a greater understanding of points of view that will need to be taken into account if the common goal of the eventual elimination of nuclear armaments is to be achieved.

The second paper was contributed by Professor Nick Ritchie of the University of York. His paper weighs questions about the effectiveness of a treaty prohibiting the possession and use of nuclear weapons (i.e., a ‘ban treaty”). Noting that most of the nuclear-armed nations are currently opposed to such a treaty, along with most of the United States’ nuclear allies, he observes that, ultimately, nuclear disarmament can occur only when the nuclear-possessors have dismantled and disposed of their nuclear weapons in a voluntary process. Nevertheless, actions take place not in a vacuum but in particular political and historical contexts and the chief purpose of the humanitarian initiative and a ban treaty, he sees, as being to change the global political context of nuclear weapons. By ‘political context’ Ritchie is referring to the prevailing set of norms, rules, practices and discourses that shape how we think about and act in relation to nuclear weapons. 

Ritchie views the primary changes sought by advocates of a ban treaty as being twofold:
(i) the ‘delegitimation’ and stigmatisation of nuclear weapons based on the risks of nuclear use and the unacceptable humanitarian effects of nuclear violence; and (ii) a shifting of the centre of power in nuclear disarmament diplomacy away from the agency of nuclear-armed states and their relationships with each other and towards the collective agency of non-nuclear-weapon states that foreswore the possession of nuclear arms under the NPT. This shift he attributes to frustration with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

In Ritchie’s view, the effect of a stigmatising move by a majority of states would neither be immediate nor direct. A direct effect would require the participation of one or more nuclear-armed states in the negotiation process leading to a strategic decision to disarm and begin a process of dismantling nuclear weapons and production complexes—not something that is currently in prospect. The effect of a ban treaty would therefore be indirect through changing the global context of nuclear weapons by establishing and legitimising a new political reality, and through challenging established ways of thinking about nuclear weapons and security and the relationships and practices that sustain them. He sees the intention of proponents of a ban treaty as being to increase the costs of trying to legitimise nuclear weapons in global politics in order to induce change in the policies and practices of the nuclear-armed. A ban’s impact would be felt as part of a broader set of ‘effective measures’ to develop a universal prohibition regime that will have to include robust verification of demilitarised nuclear programmes.

In summary, this paper and the accompanying one by Ambassador Paul Meyer serve the intended purpose of an initial summarising of perspectives that will need to be understood and recognised in any dialogue to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. The papers both recognise that there are other, competing viewpoints to accommodate. Understanding all positions is essential to accommodating them. Exchanging views on ways and means of reconciling various perspectives on nuclear disarmament will form the basis of further collaboration by UNIDIR and the Hiroshima Prefecture towards bridge building. It is our hope that in the meantime there will develop an increased realisation on all sides that talking to each other needs to replace talking at—or past—each other, that is, understanding the differences first, reconciling them where possible, and concentrating on identifying and building on common ground. Ends

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

UNIDIR

Friday, 7 April 2017

Understanding Nuclear Weapon Risks



UNIDIR has just published this collection of papers by experts on the nature and causes of nuclear risk. The same experts will be panellists in a risk symposium that will take place at the Palais des Nations on 10 April (see our previous blog).

UNIDIR's Director, Mr Jarmo Sareva, notes in the Foreword to the publication that irrespective of differences in how States perceive nuclear weapons, it is apparent that a closer understanding of the components of risk surrounding the safety and security of nuclear weapons is warranted—with a view to reducing the probability of nuclear detonation events.

Given the enormous lethality of nuclear arms and their potential for global disruption, all States share an interest in prevention, something the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross noted at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in December 2015.

In 2017, a facts-based discourse that engages the broader international community on reducing nuclear risks has never been more important. This publication and a symposium presenting its findings to multilateral policy practitioners on 10 April are intended to contribute to such dialogue.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR  


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Nuclear Weapon Risk Symposium

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Risks surrounding nuclear armaments—a concern of many UN General Assembly Resolutions over the years—have come under closer scrutiny lately. This can be attributed to increased attention to accidents and near misses involving nuclear weapons and new evidence of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations. The risk profile of the use and possession of nuclear weapons has also been influenced by heightened global instability.

Gauging the level of risk from these and other causes has been the focus of a UNIDIR project that will culminate in a public symposium at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday 10 April. Keynote addresses from Dr William Perry (former US Secretary for Defense) and Mr Yves Daccord (Director-General of the ICRC) will be followed by discussions involving a range of experts on nuclear risk.

The experts include
Mark Fitzpatrick (Risk and Nuclear Deterrence), with Marc Barnett
Hans M. Kristensen (The Quest For More Useable Nuclear Weapons)
Christine Parthemore (The Unique Risks of Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missiles)
Pavel Podvig (Risks of Nuclear Command and Control Accidents)
Patricia Lewis (Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons Systems), with Beyza Unal
Reza Lahidji (The Safety of Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Lessons from the Assessment of Nuclear Power Plant Risks)
Elena K. Sokova (Non-State Actors and Nuclear Weapons)

These experts have already contributed to a UNIDIR publication which, with an introduction and conclusions written by UNIDIR, is being published on www.unidir.org .

The objectives of this project have been two-fold:
1. to shed more light on the nature and cause of nuclear risk, and
2. to extend the conversation on risk as a vehicle for seeking common ground between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states. Given the magnitude and destructiveness of a nuclear detonation, all states have an interest in managing and reducing risks associated with nuclear armaments for as long as they continue to exist. In addition, there is value in cooperating in areas where risks have yet to fully reveal themselves—cyber, new technologies, increasing automation, etc. Creating a culture of transparency and exchange would serve as means towards more targeted actions in risk reduction while sidestepping current disagreements over the best means of advancing nuclear disarmament.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

Friday, 27 January 2017

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

In an earlier posting on this site, I suggested that the Conference on Disarmament move away from the complicated, multi-mandate annual programmes of work of the past 20 years. It was proposed that in order to get the CD going again, its focus should be substantially narrowed ideally to a single issue. And, the work programme should, as in the distant past, be no more than a schedule of activities for the year.
The current President of the Conference (Ambassador Vierita of Romania) appears to have a similar idea. His ‘initiative’ is to call for the setting up of a working group of the CD with the sole task of taking stock of the progress on all agenda items and possible new areas in order to identify the way ahead. He has invited support from CD members for this approach.
The objective of such a subsidiary body could equally be discharged by the plenary itself, the default mode ordained by article 19 of the CD’s rules of procedure. The President may feel, however, that the exercise of taking stock of progress is more efficiently conducted in the more informal atmosphere of a working group.—The necessary rebuilding of trust and confidence among members after years of bitter disputes over its priorities may be facilitated in such a group. And the initiative sensibly envisages that the chair of the group would be elected for the full session of the Conference rather than rotate monthly like the presidency.
The initiative is not described as a programme of work or a schedule of activities (as will be required under rule 28), although it envisages that the chair of the group would establish a timetable for 2017. Nor is it clear whether members of the public would be able to observe its sessions as they are entitled to do in the case of formal meetings of the CD. These are important details that the President will no doubt wish to clarify over the next week or so during which feedback from member states can be expected.
If the intention of the new proposal is to move away from the unsuccessful multi-mandated approach of the past two decades, it should be taken seriously. Its simplicity is to be welcomed, although in my view its additional idea of also setting up “Informal Thematic Working Groups” adds unnecessary complexity.—Such bodies may indeed prove useful but they can readily be established if and when a demonstrable need emerges and a climate of trust and confidence has been engendered.
At the least, this single-mandate focus could serve as an overdue test of whether members of the CD are serious about overcoming their longstanding deadlock. Passing this test will depend on whether the Conference is not only able to break old habits but also on whether it ensures that such a working group is not just business-as-usual under another procedural guise. In other words, if they pursue the President’s initiative, can members successfully debunk the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

CD Back to Basics

As the 2017 session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) is about to begin (on 23 January), here are 10 points which newcomers to the CD and others might wish to ponder:
1 The agenda of the CD covers some of the world’s most important security issues—nuclear disarmament; prohibiting the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons; preventing an arms race in outer space; agreeing on legally-effective means to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that nuclear weapons will not be used against them. These matters are also known as the four core issues of the CD.
2 The CD has made no concrete progress in dealing with these issues (or anything else) since 1996 when the negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were concluded.
3 The CD was established by the UN General Assembly as a negotiating body, not a deliberative (or ‘talk-shop’) forum. It has failed to fulfil its mandate for over 20 years. Its role as a standing body of the international disarmament community has thus atrophied. Disarmament negotiations have found new or alternative negotiating vehicles and institutions—UN General Assembly (Arms Trade Treaty; treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons) and treaty bodies (Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention; Cluster Munitions Convention).
4 In terms of the CD’s failings, the Conference is not under-resourced. It has a budget for 30 hours every week of fully serviced meetings with simultaneous interpretation into the 6 UN languages for 24 weeks a year.
5 And the Conference has ‘workable’ rules of procedures (RoP) that, although somewhat idiosyncratic, have adequately met the needs of the CD (and its predecessors) during successful negotiations of the past (for example, the NPT, ENMOD, Seabed Treaty, BTWC, CWC and the CTBT.)
6 The RoP are workable if the 65 states that are members of the Conference want to get down to work. There are, however, some constraints. As all CD decisions must be taken by consensus, the formal opposition of just one state can block a decision. And every year, work only begins if no state prevents agreement on the proposed schedule of activities for the annual session (the so-called ‘programme of work’). The more complicated the programme of work, the greater the likelihood that one or more states will oppose it. With three very short-lived exceptions (in 1998 (twice) and 2009), no programme of work has secured consensus since the decision in August 1993 on the mandate for the CTBT negotiations (CD/1212).
7 The draft work programmes that have failed to achieve agreement or implementation for two decades now have been unnecessarily complicated.  Rather than follow earlier CD practice of simply setting out a schedule of activities for the year ahead, for 20 years the programmes have also incorporated mandates for negotiating or otherwise dealing with all four of the core issues, to zero effect. Such mandates are indispensible, but there is nothing in the rules of procedure that requires them to be set out in the annual work programme.
8 This unfortunate current practice is not just complicated. It has the effect of holding work on any one of the four mandates hostage to each of the other three. A state that blocks consensus on the programme of work because of its opposition to one of the four mandates, prevents work taking place not only on any of the mandates but on the annual schedule of activities embodying the mandates.
9 This extraordinary state of affairs is not an accident. Some members regard it as a symptom of the tense global security environment, which is inhibiting progress on these kinds of issues. If this is so, then the CD should operate merely on an as-needs basis, re-convening only when there is a demonstrable new and promising development. Other states, however, believe that the Conference depends for its existence on being able to make a difference in times of global tension, the more so in the light of the relevance of the four core issues on its agenda. In relation to nuclear disarmament, for example, the words of the previous UN Secretary-General come to mind: “Some may claim that security conditions today are not ripe for the pursuit of further nuclear disarmament. I say this view has it completely backwards. The pursuit of arms control and disarmament is precisely how we can break the tension and reduce conflicts.” 
10 After 20 years of empty returns on its annual investment of 24 weeks, the CD’s integrity is dependent on it finally acknowledging either that its impasse is—and is likely to remain—chronic,  or that a new beginning is required. If the 2017 session is to arrest the CD’s decline, it should aim for a straightforward, business-like programme of work simply setting out a schedule of activities for the year. That schedule should foreshadow immediate negotiations on an individual core issue (or issues), or an emerging issue, to get the Conference going again. In short, rebuilding confidence and credibility from a less convoluted platform will require going back to the basics of the CD’s heyday. Otherwise, the sense that the Conference has become anachronistic - powerless to make a difference in addressing today’s international security challenges, may intensify.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

UNIDIR