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The nuclear powers isolated from the international community

Updated: Feb 7

Two major international conferences devoted to nuclear weapons were held in June 2022 in Vienna and in August 2022 in New York and ended with completely opposite results. The Meeting of the States parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), in the absence of the nuclear powers and most of their allies, adopted a substantial action plan. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference came close to adopting a near-empty outcome document, ultimately rejected by Russia over the situation around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. A new proof that it is indeed the nuclear powers that prevent any progress towards nuclear disarmament in favour of which they nevertheless committed themselves more than half a century ago.

Marc Finaud

Senior Advisor, Gravity 4.0

Image: First Conference of States Parties to the TIAN, June 21, 2022 – Credits: UNIS Vienna.

The Vienna Meeting: a model of international democracy

TIAN, adopted by 122 States at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, entered into force on January 21, 2021 and has, to date, been signed by 86 countries, 66 of which have ratified it. The first Meeting of its States Parties provided for by the treaty was held from June 21 to 23, 2022 in Vienna. While the whole process leading to the treaty had been boycotted by the nuclear powers and their allies, it is interesting to note that several NATO countries, while refusing to sign it, participated as observers in the Meeting: the Germany, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands (which host American nuclear bombs on their soil), as well as Australia (under American nuclear umbrella) and Finland and Sweden, candidates for membership of the NATO. So many reasons to describe the NATO front as "cracked".

In a climate of dialogue widely open to contributions from civil society, including ICAN, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, the participants adopted a report containing a solemn declaration and a substantial action plan. The following points can be noted:

  1. Bearing in mind the case of Russian aggression in Ukraine, they said they were "alarmed and dismayed by the threats of the use of nuclear weapons and by the increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric" and condemned "unequivocally all nuclear threats, whether explicit or implicit and under any circumstances. »

  2. Indeed, “far from preserving peace and security, nuclear weapons are used as instruments of politics, linked to coercion, intimidation and the exacerbation of tensions. This highlights, today more than ever, the fallacy of nuclear deterrence doctrines, which are based and supported on the threat of the actual use of nuclear weapons and, therefore, on the risks of destruction of innumerable lives, societies, nations, and catastrophic global consequences." »

  3. Participants therefore “regretted ” and expressed “deep concern that (…) none of the nuclear-weapon States and their allies under the nuclear umbrella are taking serious steps to reduce their dependence on nuclear weapons ”and that the nuclear powers“ spend considerable sums to maintain, modernise, upgrade or expand their nuclear arsenals and give greater prominence and a greater role to nuclear weapons in security doctrines . »

  4. In their Action Plan, the participants agreed to implement 50 measures, in particular with a view to:

  • to act in favour of the universality of the TPNW, with particular emphasis on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons,

  • to work towards the establishment of the authority provided for in the treaty to verify compliance with it, and to continue to advance the verification of nuclear disarmament,

  • to consult with civil society and countries that have carried out nuclear tests or used nuclear weapons with a view to providing assistance to victims and restoring the environment as provided for in the treaty,

  • support the work of the Scientific Advisory Group provided for by the treaty and promote scientific expertise on nuclear disarmament,

  • to promote synergy between the TPNW and the other treaties relating to nuclear weapons (NPT, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty),

  • to promote gender equality in the implementation of the treaty.

All in all, a non-negligible result, largely due to the mobilisation of the majority of States in the world and of civil society in order to demonstrate to the proponents of nuclear deterrence the risks they pose to all of humanity. Admittedly, it will be objected, the latter were absent and could not prevent the adoption of this ambitious programme. But, precisely, if they had sincerely wanted to influence this process, they could have participated in it. What happens when they are present, as in the context of the NPT?

The NPT Review Conference: the reign of the veto of the nuclear powers

The NPT, which came into force in 1970, provided for a review conference every five years to review its implementation. In recent years, the conference of 2000 and that of 2021 had adopted substantial final documents containing a reminder of the obligations of the treaty in its three "pillars" (non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy). and new advances. However, most of these commitments, like Article VI of the NPT on disarmament, had remained a dead letter. In 2015, the United States vetoed the draft outcome document because it opposed a conference on the Middle East Weapons-Free-Zone of Mass Destruction, which was rejected by Israel, a non-party to the NPT. The 2022 Conference, postponed twice since 2020 due to the pandemic.

Should we conclude that, if Russia had joined the consensus, the Conference would have advanced the cause of disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear risk reduction? Opinions are divided and it all depends on the yardstick against which this progress would have been compared. One fact is undeniable: the various drafts of the final document, initially proposed by the chairmen of the Conference committees, were, during the negotiations, emptied of several advances which appeared there, suppressed at the initiative of the nuclear powers.

It goes like this:

  • the recommendation to these States to adopt the nuclear doctrine of the non-use first in order to reduce the risk of recourse to nuclear weapons. This proposal, resulting from a Working Document presented by several NGOs including IDN, supported by the Secretary General of the UN, notably came up against the activism of the French delegation.

  • of the idea, contained in an open letter from thousands of personalities, to set itself the goal of completing nuclear disarmament no later than 2045 , for the 100th anniversary of the creation of the UN. Again, the nuclear powers, including France, opposed any mention of a date.

  • reference to the Declaration and Plan of Action of the Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW . The "weaponised" states and some NATO members have dismissed it and only conceded to "recognise" the existence of this treaty.

If, however, we compare the final "quasi-document" of 2022 to the one that was almost adopted in 2015 , we have to note some progress, mainly due to the perseverance of the representatives of civil society at the Review Conference, who were finally dismissed during the final negotiations. Thus, the most recent draft includes the following provisions which were absent in 2015:

  • the “deep concern” that the risk of recourse to nuclear weapons is higher than during the cold war,

  • the "urgency" of reducing nuclear arsenals and the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines,

  • the "need" for "weapons" states to follow up with concrete actions their declaration that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must therefore not be waged",

  • satisfaction with the "increased attention" given to victim assistance and environmental restoration as a result of the damage caused by nuclear weapons and nuclear tests,

  • "concern" at the threat or use of force in violation of the Charter of the United Nations against the territorial integrity of any State,

  • the “recognition” of the nuclear risk reduction measures adopted by certain States,

  • the "concern" of the "non-equipped" States in the face of the modernisation of nuclear arsenals,

  • the call on the "weaponised" States to show more transparency on their arsenals and their doctrines.

All in all, even if these provisions had been adopted, the most important thing would have been that they were applied, contrary to previous commitments. The next NPT review cycle will begin in 2023 and culminate with a new Review Conference in 2026. The work done this year will, however, be useful as it will provide a solid basis for future negotiations and societal action. civil society, stimulated by the progress made possible thanks to the TIAN. It is already clear that the nuclear powers and their allies who cling to nuclear deterrence cannot indefinitely ignore the determination of the States and NGOs for which this policy, far from ensuring the safety of its supporters, constitutes an existential threat to the whole world.

(The article was originally published as"Les puissances nucléaires isolées face à la communauté internationale", IDN, 9 September 2022)

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