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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
“Strengthening the Disarmament Pillar of the NPT”

Latest ACA Resources

Prepared remarks by Daryl Kimball for 10th NPT Review Conference Side Event by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, "Strengthening the Three Pillars of the NPT: Contribution to Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy," August 18, 2022

Since the beginnings of the NPT more than five decades ago, steady progress on disarmament, as expressed in Article VI and subsequent outcome documents at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 Review Conferences has been essential to the strength and viability of the treaty—and the prevention of nuclear conflict.

Although the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles have decreased significantly from peak Cold War levels, the 1996 CTBT has successfully halted nuclear weapon test explosions, several nuclear weapons free zones have been established, and the 2017 TPNW is now in force, the risks posed by the nuclear deterrence strategies and arsenals of the five NPT nuclear-armed states remain far too high.

There is no room for complacency. This is no ordinary NPT conference.

The nuclear weapons threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is accelerating. The risk that a regional military confrontation could escalate to a nuclear conflict is real and growing.

The danger of an all-out arms race and nuclear conflict has been exacerbated further by President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale attack on Ukraine and his threats of nuclear use against any states who might interfere militarily.

President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has, for now, also derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, and made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine follows more than a decade of worsening tensions between the world’s nine-nuclear armed states and neglect in key capitals for disarmament diplomacy.

The nuclear-armed states are now pouring tens of billions of dollars each year into programs to replace and upgrade their deadly arsenals. Russia is threatening to deploy exotic new strategic systems, including nuclear-armed torpedoes, and the United States has recently deployed new, lower-yield warheads on sea-based platforms. China is preparing to increase the quantity and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal. The United Kingdom announced last year it would raise the ceiling on its nuclear arsenal  

As Ireland and several other delegations have noted in the debate in Main Committee I, nuclear-armed states are going backwards in terms of doctrines, modernization, arsenal size, and transparency, and these trends are not consistent with the shared objective of a nuclear weapon free world.

For more than a decade, the U.S.-Russian dialogue on disarmament and risk reduction has stalled.

Today, key U.S.-Russian bilateral nuclear arms control agreements that have helped keep the peace are either gone or are in jeopardy.

The only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in early 2026. Complicating matters, U.S.-Russian officials have not been able to agree on how to resume inspections under New START since the Covid-19 pandemic led to their suspension in 2020.

Without new arrangements to supersede New START, there will not be any limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

In a very promising statement, however, President Biden said on Aug. 1; “… my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.”

Both sides recognize the danger but have not yet agreed to resume their dialogue.

This conference can and should give leaders in Washington and Moscow a gentle shove in the right direction by securing a commitment from them to immediately begin negotiating a follow-on agreement or agreements to supersede New START before 2026

Although China, France, and the U.K. have engaged in discussions on nuclear terms and doctrines through the P5 Process, they have stubbornly refused to seriously engage in talks on ideas and proposals, let alone real negotiations that might allow them to agree to cap or, even better, reduce their own deadly arsenals.

In sum: none of the NPT’s five nuclear-armed states can credibly claim they are meeting their NPT disarmament obligations and commitments.

Article VI-related obligations and commitments cannot be voided because there exists a challenging international security environment. In fact, the pursuit of disarmament is necessary to improve the international security environment.

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So, what can this august body of NPT states parties do to move us in the right direction?

To start, states parties at this conference must reaffirm the validity of the commitments agreed to at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 Review Conferences.

Most importantly, they can agree on a meaningful, forward-looking disarmament action plan with specific commitments, timeframes, and benchmarks.

The forward-looking document that is being developed in Subsidiary Body 1 on “Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances” contains several important components. At the same time, it needs to be improved and refined in a number of ways if it is going to be successful in strengthening the disarmament pillar of the treaty.

I would respectfully advise States-parties and the Conference president to be mindful of four broad areas for improvement in the August 17 SB.1 draft text on “Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances.”

1. Timeframes: First, the document needs to express more than broad goals and vague principles. To be effective and to hold states accountable, the document should more commit states to take specific, actionable, measurable disarmament steps within agreed timeframes.

As the Costa Rican delegation argued this past week, the persistent lack of firm deadlines in past Review Conference documents “has provided the nuclear-armed States with a pathway to disregard their disarmament commitments.”

As several other delegations have suggested, it should be clarified that the disarmament and risk reduction actions identified in the draft SB.1. outcome document are not open-ended commitments.

One way to do so would be to agree that:

“To avert the danger of nuclear war and to accelerate progress towards the collective goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the State Parties agree to undertake the following commitments within the next NPT review cycle:”

The only item on the list of disarmament and risk reduction initiatives or actions that sets forth a clear, specific, and unconditional action within a specific timeframe is the very useful and constructive commitment in para 4 which says:

“The Russian Federation and the United States commit to the negotiation in good faith of a successor framework to the “New START” Treaty before its expiration in 2026 in order to achieve deeper, verifiable, irreversible reductions in their nuclear arsenals.”

Given that the implementation of such an agreement or agreements may not begin until after New START expires in 2026, the document should add, that: “…until such time as such a new framework enters into force, the Russian Federation and the United States should not exceed the central limits of New START.”

The document identifies other potentially important commitments that are, unfortunately, undermined by caveats and conditions. For example, in paras 6 in which:

“The nuclear-weapon States and those non-nuclear weapon States that are part of nuclear alliances agree to take steps to diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons …” and for the nuclear-weapon States this should include the adoption of no-first use doctrines.”

If this were to be included in the final conference document it would be very constructive breakthrough, but only if nuclear weapon states also commit to put such doctrines into practice within a specific timeframe of some kind.

The United States, for instance, has claimed, off-and-on for more than a decade, that it seeks to move toward a “sole purpose” policy. After promising during the 2020 campaign to adopt a “sole purpose policy,” President Biden later backtracked on that pledge.

2. Strategic restraint and Article VI: Second, the NPT Review Conference must reaffirm that States Parties consider the deployment of new nuclear weapons capabilities and any increase in the overall size of a nation’s nuclear arsenal to be inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of Article VI of the Treaty.

Presently, paragraph the SB.1. draft of August 17 includes weak language that says: “The nuclear-weapon States acknowledge and take into account the grave concerns of non-nuclear weapon States regarding the modernization of nuclear forces and the development of new types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.”

Such language is, at best, meaningless, and at worst harmful to the interpretation of Article VI because it does not state that new types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems represent qualitative arms racing that can also lead to vertical nuclear proliferation.

If NPT states parties take Article VI seriously, they will reinforce the needs for “strategic restraint” by “acknowledging that “nuclear weapons modernization programs that result in the development of new types of nuclear weapons and/or more capable delivery systems and/or that lead to an increase in the number of nuclear weapons in a country’s arsenal are contrary to object and purpose of Article VI of the Treaty.”

3. Responding to the Risks Posed by Threats of Nuclear Use: Since the last Review Conference, two NPT states parties have issued dangerous threats of nuclear weapons use: the United States on August 8, 2017 under former President Donald Trump against the DPRK, and most recently on February 24 and April 27 of this year, by Russian President Vladimir Putin against any state that might interfere with Russia’s war against Ukraine.

In response, the first meeting of state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” issued a strong consensus political statement that declared that “…any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.”

The latest draft emerging from Main Committee I does not include a similar condemnation.

Para 27.c. of the draft SB.1. document does include a line that commits the NPT nuclear weapon states to refrain from certain kinds of nuclear threats but not others.

“To refrain from dangerous rhetoric and from directly and indirectly threatening the use of nuclear weapons for military coercion, intimidation and blackmail.”

The addition of the words “for military coercion, intimidation, and blackmail” are unhelpful, this language could be interpreted to legitimate threats of nuclear from states claiming they are “responsible” and are for “defensive” purposes, but nonetheless may be dangerous and intimidating and destabilizing, and illegal and contrary to the UN Charter.

For example, at this Review Conference Russia has defended President Putin’s nuclear “warnings” as a normal part of a nuclear deterrence strategy that is designed to defend Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S., UK, and France have issued a working paper that attempts characterizes Russia’s recent nuclear threats as “irresponsible” offensive nuclear threats that they say are designed to intimidate or coerce; they argue their deterrence policies involve “responsible” nuclear threats for “defensive” purposes of their own nations.

NPT states parties must be careful not to legitimize or justify dangerous deterrence-driven nuclear threats, which are unhelpful and counterproductive in any form.

Rather, we believe this conference must be clear that and demand that nuclear weapon states shall simply “refrain from dangerous rhetoric and from directly and indirectly threatening the use of nuclear weapons.”

4. New accountability mechanisms: Finally, this conference must grapple with need to hold states accountable for their actions, or inaction, regarding legally binding obligations and politically binding commitments made through consensus decisions at Review Conferences.

Some nuclear weapon states, such as the United States have raised questions about the validity of past NPT conference commitments. This is not helpful.

In an interview in June, U.S. Ambassador Adam Scheinman said that “only the terms of the treaty are legally binding on states-parties and that any commitment recorded at review conferences in a consensus document are political. They reflect what seems achievable or desirable at the time they were made.”

Joint commitments, goals and benchmarks need to be updated, surely, but to suggest that past commitments arrived at through consensus decision-making process can be discarded simply because they became inconvenient to achieve is highly counterproductive. 

The latest August 17 draft SB.1. document takes us in a partial step in the right direction.

The 8th preambular paragraph of the draft document reaffirms the validity of all existing commitments undertaken, including in the outcome documents adopted by the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT Review Conferences” and “stresses that these commitments are not conditional.”

However, the next para then adds a condition that might be interpreted by some states as an excuse to equivocate on their unequivocal disarmament undertaking: that “effective implementation [is pursued] in a way that promotes international stability, peace ,and security, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”

Also, paragraph 30 very importantly underscores “… the necessity of strengthening accountability through enhanced transparency and measurability of the implementation of nuclear disarmament obligations and commitments.”

A commitment by the nuclear weapon states to report on and engage in discussions on their actions toward the implementation of previous commitments at every NPT PrepCom and Revie Conference would indeed enable better monitoring of progress.

This modest and overdue adjustment to the NPT review process should not be controversial.

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Let me conclude by saying that given the growing deficit on disarmament and risk of nuclear war, history will likely judge the success or failure of this pivotal NPT meeting as to whether your delegations can reach agreement on a meaningful and updated disarmament action plan, and whether your governments make good on that plan in the months and years that follow.

I respectfully urge you to make every effort to do so and thank you for your efforts to date.