THE PRESENT DEVELOPMENT IN THE NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL
The reflection highlights the need to increase the international nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts, particularly in the wake of the security crisis development triggered by the war in Ukraine and Russian threats to use nuclear weapons. In this context, it examines the courses and results of two important conferences dealing with nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, that were organized this year. These conferences were the first Meeting of the States-Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in June and the 10th Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which took place in August at the UN Headquarters in New York. The conclusions contain some expected courses of action to reduce the risk of a nuclear war and a nuclear arms race.
THE FIRST MEETING OF THE STATES-PARTIES TO THE TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS (TPNW)
The first-ever Meeting of the States-Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) took place under the Austrian Presidency in Vienna on 21–23 June 2022. The meeting was preceded by a one-day conference on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, which was also held in Vienna.
The TPNW was approved at the 2017 UN Conference in New York by the votes of 122 nonnuclear-weapon states and entered into force in January 2021. It prohibits the development, testing, production, possession, procurement, stockpiling, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, including their deployment in non-nuclear-weapon states. It also provides for assistance to victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including the reduction of their negative environmental impacts. In relation to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the new treaty plays a complementary role and thus isnʼt in conflict with it. All nine nuclear-weapon states and most of their allies, including the Czech Republic, and partners did not support the creation of the TPNW, and their opposition to it still continues.
In addition to the states that have signed or ratified the TPNW, survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapon bombings, as well as nuclear tests victims from former nuclear testing polygons in the Pacific, Kazakhstan and elsewhere, also attended the meeting. Representatives of several NATO member countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, were presented as observers. The participation of these two countries is significant because US tactical nuclear weapons, in the form of gravity bombs, have been
forward-deployed on their territories, as well as those of three other Alliance countries, since the Cold War. The participants also included members of the parliaments of sixteen countries, including nine Alliance countries, and representatives of various international institutions, NGOs, etc. Many of the speakers condemned Russiaʼs activities in relation to Ukraine and expressed their determination to make progress in eliminating nuclear weapons, especially in the face of the growing risk of their possible use, which would have immeasurable humanitarian consequences.
In the course of the meeting, the participants agreed on several decisions on practical aspects of the implementation of the treaty obligations. For example, a Scientific Advisory Group was established to assess the scientific and technical challenges to the effective implementation of the treaty and provide advisory services to the states-parties. The participants also agreed to set a deadline for the mandatory destruction of nuclear weapons by nuclear-weapon states that accede to the treaty. This deadline is set at ten-years from now with the possibility of extending it by up to five years. Non-nuclear-weapon states that have nuclear weapons deployed on their territories are to get rid of them within ninety days. There was also approval of a programme of activities between the treatyʼs meetings, including the establishment of a coordination committee and various informal groups to address issues such as treaty universalization, the assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use, etc.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants adopted the so-called Vienna Declaration and the Vienna Plan of Action. The first document is primarily a political proclamation. It demands, among other things, “that all nuclear-weapon states should never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances“. Recall that in 2017, the US President Donald Trump threatened to use nuclear weapons against the North Korean regime following its nuclear and missile tests. In 2022 a similar threat was made several times by the Russian President Vladimir Putin. This occurred in particular on 24 February, when the invasion of Ukraine was launched, to prevent NATO military involvement on the Ukrainian side, and on 21 September in connection with the upcoming referenda in four occupied Ukrainian regions and their planned annexation to Russia.
The document also highlights the humanitarian roots of the Treaty and the moral, ethical and security imperatives that inspired and motivated its creation. It concludes by expressing the determination of the participants to continue in the given efforts until the final goal is achieved. The Action Plan contains fifty practical activities to support the achievement of the treatyʼs goal and the implementation of the commitments contained in the Declaration. The next meeting of the TPNWʼs states-parties should take place from 27 November to 1 December 2023 in New York.
THE 10TH NPT REVIEW CONFERENCE
THE CHARACTERISTICS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NPT
After several postponements due to the covid pandemic, the 10th Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 1–26 August 2022. The 1968 document entered into force in 1970 and has a near-universal membership with 191 states-parties today. The Review Conferences are held at five-yearly intervals. Their purpose is to assess the fulfilment of the previous periodʼs tasks and to negotiate and reach an agreement on the way forward, the main elements of which are contained in a consensually agreed final document.
The content of the NPT consists of the so-called three pillars: the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, nuclear non-proliferation and the vague commitment of the parties, in particular the nuclear-weapon states, to nuclear and general disarmament (Article VI). Through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards system, the NPT provides a multilateral framework for verifying the parties´ compliance with their non-proliferation
commitments and enables the international cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
The NPT legalizes the possession of nuclear weapons by the five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, the RF, France, the PRC and the UK), while strictly prohibiting any activities by other non-nuclear-weapon states that would lead to their acquiring such weapons. The remaining four nuclear-weapon states (India, Pakistan, Israel and the DPRK) are not among the NPTʼs states-parties. The NPT played an important role in negotiating the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and in declaring unilateral moratoriums on nuclear testing. It is of great importance for the creation of nuclear-weaponfree zones that enhance global and regional security.
THE COURSE AND OUTCOME OF THE NEGOTIATIONS
During the negotiations a number of states criticized Russiaʼs invasion of Ukraine and President Putinʼs threats to use nuclear weapons. In assessing nuclear security, this criticism focused on the threat to the safety of the operation of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant due to the fighting in its vicinity and its occupation by Russian forces, among other things. Numerous points of criticisms were also aimed at Russiaʼs failure to fulfil its security guarantees to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum of December 1994. The document was signed at that time by the three NPT depositary states (the USA, the RF and the UK) in the context of the inclusion of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the NPT, following the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from their territories to the Russian Federation, which became the successor state to the USSR in this respect after its collapse in 1991.
Russiaʼs aggression in Ukraine and the associated possibility of nuclear war has increased the pressure of non-nuclear-weapon states on nuclear-weapon states to accelerate the pace of nuclear disarmament. These related goals include mainly the strengthening of the security guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon countries against the use of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear-weapon states, limiting the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines, reducing the alert status of these weapons, and the adoption of a no-first-use commitment. Other issues discussed included the creation of a zone free of all mass destruction weapons in the Middle East region, efforts to make progress on the renewal of the so-called Iranian Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), the resolution of the crisis situation on the Korean Peninsula, the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and the accelerated entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In considering the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, several states, notably China and Indonesia, have pointed to the possible negative implications in terms of proliferation of the planned sale of several US nuclear submarines to Australia. The UK is also involved in the September 2021 trilateral agreement on this (AUKUS). The problem is that with this deal, the non-nuclear Australia will gain access to a militarily usable highly enriched uranium that is used to power those submarines.
The conference proceedings ended without a consensus adoption of the outcome document, which was similar to the fate of the preceding 9th Review Conference in 2015. While then the adoption of the final report was prevented by the US, Canada and the UK, which cited the unacceptability of the wording of the passage relating to the establishment of the zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, this time the approval was blocked by Russia. The main reason for its rejection of the document was the wording of certain passages related to the security situation at the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant. The next Review Conference will take place in 2026.
CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER ANTICIPATED DEVELOPMENTS
Russiaʼs aggression against Ukraine, and in particular the threat of the possibility of nuclear war, significantly influenced the discussions at both conferences. However, it did not silence the long-standing reservations of most non-nuclear-weapon states against all the nuclearweapon states for their unwillingness to fulfil their nuclear disarmament commitments. These include the practical implementation of the NPTʼs Article VI commitment and the consensually agreed action plans from some previous Review Conferences, namely those held in 2000 and 2010.
All five nuclear-weapon states, which, in January 2022 joinly endorsed the well-known 1984 declaration by the top leaders of the US and the then Soviet Union – Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev – on the futility of waging nuclear war, at the same time continue to express their rejection of the TPNW. They also persist in using the controversial concept of nuclear deterrence. They are supported in this policy by a number of alliance and partner states, but not by most of the non-nuclear-weapon countries. The opening statement by the EU representative in the general debate also paid no attention to the TPNW.
A positive feature of the proceedings of the 10th NPT Review Conference was the effort to include in the outcome document the gender-balanced participation of women in all activities related to the issues under discussion. The emphasis on the need to educate the younger generation on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as well as to empower civil society in the nuclear disarmament process was also welcome.
How far the outcomes of the two conferences will influence the increase in military spending in the world or reverse the trend of the threat of a nuclear arms race, and herald a desirable turn in the adverse security trend can hardly be guessed at yet. Thus, the failure of the NPTʼs 10th Review Conference, whose final report, moreover, contained no significant concrete tasks in relation to the nuclear disamament commitments of the nuclear-weapon states under Article VI, confirmed the long-term trend of the diminishing credibility of the treaty. The main reason for this is the imbalance in the approach to the implementation of the above-mentioned three pillars of the treaty, as a result of the unwillingness of the nuclear-weapon states to abandon the concept of nuclear deterrence, stop improving these weapons, and take effective measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war.
Although there has been no adoption of the final document of the 10th Review Conference of the NPT, most of the states-parties await with some hope the implementation of the provisions of the US-Russia joint arms control commitment in particular. This is so especially in the case of the commitment “to pursue negotiations in good faith on a successor framework to New START before its expiration in 2026, in order to achieve deeper, irreversible and verifiable reductions in their nuclear arsenalsˮ. In particular, the fulfilment of the commitment is threatened by the severely damaged relations between top US and Russian officials, complications with the continuation of inspections in the implementation of New START, and Russiaʼs demand to learn about the US ideas for a new arms control framework in advance. If no agreement is reached, it will be for the first time since 1972, when the first U.S.-Soviet arms control treaty limiting strategic nuclear weapons (SALT) was concluded, that the two countriesʼ massive nuclear arsenals will not be contractually limited. This would open the way to a nuclear arms race with very risky security implications.