Non-Proliferation Treaty and the UN Nuclear Weapons Ban

Non-Proliferation Treaty and the UN Nuclear Weapons Ban

On 7th July 2017, 122 nations passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) through a United Nations mandate. All Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and the states under their protection boycotted the debate except for The Netherlands: they attended all the negotiations and then voted against the treaty.

By Caitlin Irvine

With 189 state parties, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is widely viewed as one of the most successful international treaties [1]. It is often seen as the international community acknowledging that working together in the name of peace is better for the common good. However, the NPT is not without its problems. On 7th July 2017 – 72 years after nuclear weapons were first used – 122 nations passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) through a United Nations mandate. The treaty negotiations exemplify the issues surrounding  the NPT; all Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and the states under their protection boycotted the debate [2]. The Netherlands is the only exceptions to this, as they attended the negotiations and then voted against the treaty.

The 1968 NPT is characterised by its two-tier structure. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China are all classified as NWS. These countries have agreed to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament [3]. The NWS seem to be investing overwhelmingly in the modernisation of their arsenals rather than in their elimination, and this raises questions on NWS’ commitment to Article VI of the NPT – stating that all signatories must strive towards nuclear disarmament. The other 184 remaining countries agreed to never to acquire nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Israel are all understood to have nuclear weapons capabilities but are not party to the NPT.

This differentiation has perpetuated a two-class construct. Many question whether the NWS countries actually support the reduction and eventual elimination of their nuclear arsenals. For example, in 2010, global spending on nuclear weapons was more than twice the official development assistance provided to Africa and equal to the gross domestic product of Bangladesh, a nation of some 160 million people [4]. According to a projection by the Arms Control Association, when adjusted for inflation, the 30-year cost of the US’s nuclear modernisation programme would approach $1.7 trillion [5]. Subsequently, for many advocates of nuclear disarmament, the UN General Assembly was a preferable negotiating forum [6]. The UN General Assembly reaches decision by a majority vote of member states rather than consensus so it provided an arena where the majority – the non-nuclear weapons states – could politically outmanoeuvre the NWS.

Despite the cost of nuclear weapons programmes, the US, the UK, and France issued a joint statement after the TPNW was signed stating that they would not sign, ratify, or become party to, arguing that it was incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence and disregarded the realities of the international security environment. According to these NWS, their nuclear policy had “been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years” [7]. The implementation of this new treaty, and the NWS blatant disregard of it, has called the future of the NPT into question as well as the overarching commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.

Additionally, recent events have resulted in the assurances of NWS being labelled as unreliable, particularly in regards to the Russian invasion of Crimea and their technological investment in nuclear arsenals. In exchange for adherence to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state, Ukraine received commitments from the US, the UK, and Russia with respect to its territorial integrity and security protection under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. However, from a non-nuclear states point of view, the actions of Russia and the non-intervention of other powers undermines the conceptual idea of the NPT. These events also give weight to the discourse that states are only internationally powerful if you have nuclear weapons.

Due to the institutional deficit in the NPT, these failures of state action are corrosive to the Treaty’s authority. The NPT is devoid of institutional support- apart from the five-year review conferences, there is no executive council or any oversight body to provide ongoing stewardship for the Treaty. It lacks a provision for an annual meeting of states parties – or indeed any gathering – empowered to take substantive decisions. The NPT must enforce compliance of all treaty provisions without a  working party as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) mandate is concerned only with non-proliferation, only one part of the NPT.

References:

[1] Mackby, J (2010) ‘Critical Questions: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’, Centre for Strategic and International Studies [online] accessed on 15th September 2018 at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/nuclear-non-proliferation-treaty

[2] UNODA, ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ , United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs [online] accessed on 15th September 2018 at: https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Wright, T (2011) ‘Nuclear weapons spending: a theft of public resources’, ICAN [online] accessed on 15th September 2018 at: http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ICAN-DisarmamentDevelopment.pdf

[5] Reif, K (2018) ‘U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs’, the Arms Control Association [online] accessed on 15th September 2018 at: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USNuclearModernization

[6] The Nuclear Threat Ininitative, ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’, NTI [online] accessed on 15th September at:  https://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/treaty-on-the-prohibition-of-nuclear-weapons/

[7] The United States Mission to the United Nations, ‘Joint Press Statement from the Permanent Representatives to the United Nations of the United States, United Kingdom, and France Following the Adoption of a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons’, The United States Mission to the United Nations [online] accessed on 15th September 2018 at: https://usun.state.gov/remarks/7892

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