NPT Review Conference 2015
It's all over - no consensus on a final document, and a textbook illustration of how the NPT can never deliver on nuclear disarmament. Read our final wrap-up on the Wildfire>_ main news page. We hope you have enjoyed our coverage. Now, on to the ban treaty...
Welcome to Wildfire>_'s special section on the 2015 NPT Review Conference, being held at United Nations headquarters in New York from 27 April to 22 May. Here you will find all our news and updates, commentary on the efforts of various delegations, and copies of Wildfire>_ materials distributed at the meeting. You can also follow us on Twitter. If you have any queries, tips, or offers of financial support, please contact us at email@example.com.
For general information on the Review Conference, programme, documents, background, etc, we recommend Reaching Critical Will's excellent website. You should also read ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn's insightful article on what the review conference is really about.
Review of the third week
In the third week, delegations got down to the grubby business of working on the draft texts. Some of this was in public, some in the closed sessions of the subsidiary bodies. Again, we won't comment on the details (see Reaching Critical Will's excellent daily reports for these), but will look at the underlying currents, and the implications for the outcome of the conference and beyond.
The discussion of the drafts certainly revealed the cracks in the NPT community much more clearly than the general debate did. It was striking, for example, that there was no serious attempt to actually assess progress on the 2010 Action Plan. But most interesting was the way the discussion showed that the nuclear-weapon states have been backed into a corner by a combination of the humanitarian consequences initiative and their own repeated failure to act on their disarmament obligations. The oh-so-reasonable appeals from the P5 for compromise, patience and a focus on common ground were plausible enough back in 1995, but have become steadily more brittle over 20 years of inaction. And this week they shattered against the simple, unavoidable truth of the humanitarian imperative.
As the week progressed, non-nuclear-weapon states steadily pressed their case for clear acknowledgment of the unacceptable humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and consequently for specific commitments to genuine action on nuclear disarmament (this statement by South Africa was perhaps the highlight). In response, the nuclear-weapon states grew increasingly petulant, the UK on Friday even indulging in some rhetorical foot-stamping, saying that it would jolly well keep its nuclear weapons for as long as it jolly well needed them, so there! (How's that for an unequivocal undertaking to disarm?)
Needless to say, the emerging Main Committee I draft is a muddled hodgepodge of attempted compromises. These cannot hope to accommodate the starkly incompatible goals. So what to do? Reject the text, and have a "failed" review conference? As we have long argued, nuclear disarmament cannot be effectively pursued through the NPT. If you want disarmament, you have to do something else. So for nuclear disarmament, it makes no difference whether the review conference "succeeds" or "fails". But since it doesn't matter - since non-nuclear-weapon states will have to take matters into their own hands after the conference anyway - they might as well accept whatever flawed consensus outcome can be achieved. If nothing else, this will avoid five years of fatuous handwringing over "how to repair the NPT". And it will help make clear that a ban treaty (or other effective measures) are not in competition with, or a replacement for, the NPT.
This last point may be important. It seems there is once again a move afoot to try to characterize the ban treaty as undermining or damaging the NPT. The UK said last week that a ban treaty would amount to "a referendum on the NPT". Some recent academic commentaries (like this and this) also make the assumption - without explaining or examining it - that a ban treaty would undermine the NPT. This bilge needs to be flushed out into the harsh light of day, where it will be obvious that it is nonsense. A ban treaty can only strengthen the NPT (unless, of course, you view the NPT as a means to legitimise your indefinite possession of nuclear weapons - but you don't, right?).
Review of the second week
The second week ended with the circulation of initial draft texts from the main committees and subsidiary bodies. We won't bother you with a detailed examination of these - you can read the respective assessments by Reaching Critical Will and ICAN. Instead, we will look at some of the underlying developments and themes.
First is the continuing devotion to the same, tired, historically unsuccessful approach - even by advocates of change. A popular theme in statements by non-nuclear-weapon states was the notion that this review conference "cannot be business as usual". So far, of course, the conference has been business as usual, even to the extent of delegations saying that it cannot be business as usual (a standard feature of multilateral efforts on nuclear disarmament - regular readers might recall this celebrated analysis of EU statements to the Conference on Disarmament). Yes, there is the new attention to humanitarian impact, and the push for "effective measures", but it is difficult to envisage what might be achieved by including (inevitably watered-down and non-committal) references to these in a consensus final document - except to have something else to complain about at the 2020 conference.
And even modest, vague references will not be accepted without a fight. This brings us to the second theme of the week, which was that of "divisiveness". Here we had nuclear-weapon states and weasels implicitly or explicitly asserting that pursuing new approaches to nuclear disarmament would be "divisive" and would split the NPT community, damaging the regime. It is interesting that any action that would require nuclear-weapon states to do no more than deliver on their own promises is seen as "divisive". But then it's a common refrain of those seeking to preserve an arrangement that suits them, in many settings - see our 2014 piece on "who better to solve the world’s problems than the people who benefit from the status quo?". It is also interesting that the "divisive" objection is entirely circular: the P5 and weasels oppose certain measures as divisive, but the measures are only divisive because the P5 and weasels oppose them.
The third, and most entertaining, development of the week was the intriguing tendency of the weasels to try to (appear to) support the humanitarian impact initiative while pretending not to see, or simply denying, the implication of its conclusions. This led to some truly heroic rhetorical contortions, the highlights coming from Norway and the Netherlands (see our special feature). What a relief to learn that there is in fact no legal gap with respect to the elimination of nuclear weapons!
While it is amusing, this behaviour by the weasels reveals the nub of the whole problem: if you want to eliminate nuclear weapons, you have to want to eliminate them. Faced with the conclusions of the humanitarian impact conferences, either you accept that causing catastrophic humanitarian consequences is a legitimate means of pursuing national security, or you reject it. If you accept it, you should say so clearly (and withdraw from the NPT). If you reject it, why would you object to any effort to stigmatize and outlaw nuclear weapons? The greatest flaw of the NPT is that it has allowed states to have it both ways for decades: simultaneously to reject and to cling to nuclear weapons. Now, regardless of the outcome of this conference, it is time to choose.
Review of the first week
One week down, three to go. What have we learned? For Wildfire>_, the general debate, while not surprising, was nevertheless impressive for its unswerving, untiring devotion to the same old thing. Putting aside the tedious, moronic and expensively time-wasting tendency of delegations to describe the three pillars of the NPT (in case anyone had forgotten) and to promise to work "for a successful review conference", the vast majority of statements were remarkable only for the extraordinary faith they placed in doing the same things as last time. Yes, there was some griping about the slow pace of disarmament, and the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to implement the 2010 Action Plan, but most delegations seemed content just to urge the nuclear-weapon states to do better next time.
Which they will, right? Sorry for the sarcasm, but honestly, after 45 years of consistent, repeated failure of the P5 to fulfil their obligations, why on earth does anyone expect this to change? If the first week was anything, it was an extended tutorial on the Hoffmann Doctrine (see glossary). Let's all agree on some reasonable steps for making progress on nuclear disarmament, and then spend the next five years watching the P5 fail to take them. Then we can do it all again at the next review conference. Why risk radical new initiatives, when this approach works so well?
The general debate was also a chance to learn some interesting new things about the NPT, courtesy of the P5 and their weasel accomplices. For example, did you know that Article VI includes a condition - apparently only in the French text - stipulating that it is only to be implemented "when the strategic context allows"? And it also states that the "important security dimensions" of nuclear weapons must be taken into account in implementation, and furthermore that implementation is subject to the resolution of international tensions and general improvements in the global and regional security situations. Who knew? Presumably everyone accepts these additions, as nobody challenged them.
One thing that did distinguish this general debate from those of previous conferences was the presence of the humanitarian consequences issue. There were glimmers of hope here, and even some references to converting the humanitarian impact discussion into negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. And there were tantalizing signals of P5 vulnerability: why did the P5 joint statement use the term "severe consequences" instead of the "catastrophic humanitarian consequences" adopted by consensus at the 2010 conference? Again, however, this went unchallenged, and despite the huge and potentially decisive humanitarian constituency (160 states!), it is far from clear whether and how this force will be applied in a useful way in shaping the review conference outcome.
So overall we expect little as we move into the second week. Resigned to the NPT treadmill, Wildfire>_ has only one modest request: whenever you hear a delegation say "there are no shortcuts" or "we advocate a realistic approach", please walk across the room and smack them sharply on the head.
Special feature: Weasels run wild!
As the review conference started to get into its stride, on Wednesday of the second week two weasels suddenly lost the plot in a highly amusing fashion. In Main Committee I, the Netherlands gave one of the most ridiculous statements ever, while in Oslo the foreign minister of Norway unwittingly revealed all in a tangled answer to a parliamentary question. Read all about these wild weasel antics in our special feature.
The Wildfire>_ Guide to the NPT RevCon
Stocks of the Wildfire>_ Guide to the 2015 NPT Review Conference are sold out! Yes, the entire print run has been snapped up by eager delegates wanting to know the truth about this whole sorry enterprise. If you missed out, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @Wildfire_v. If there is sufficient demand, we will order another print run. In the meantime, please follow the online instalments below.
For those not in New York, or otherwise unable to get their hands on a copy, we are publishing the Guide online in daily instalments throughout the conference:
22 May: Closing remarks. Well, here we are at the end. What is the outcome? As far as nuclear disarmament is concerned, it doesn't matter. Nuclear disarmament will never be achieved through the NPT. So for those who really do want nuclear disarmament, what are you going to do about it? How long will you wait? Nobody is going do it for you.
21 May: A ban treaty as a transformative process. With two days to go, it is becoming ever clearer that, regardless of whether or not there is a consensus outcome document this time, the NPT cannot deliver on nuclear disarmament. So it's time to look more closely at how the pursuit of a treaty banning nuclear weapons would transform the political and diplomatic landscape, and re-energise the nuclear disarmament movement.
20 May: A treaty banning nuclear weapons. Everyone is talking about it, even the P5 delegations. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a ban treaty would involve and how it would work - and plenty of deliberate misrepresentation and scaremongering too. So here is a concise outline. There is nothing to fear.
19 May: Nuclear disarmament: you're doing it wrong. To celebrate Wildfire>_'s second birthday, today's instalment is an old favourite: six ways you are doing nuclear disarmament wrong, and helping the nuclear-armed states to keep their weapons. There are some useful pointers in here for navigating the final days of the review conference.
18 May: Obstacles to nuclear disarmament: the weasels. Part 4 of our series examining the real obstacles to nuclear disarmament, and how to overcome them. As we enter the final week, one group of states finds itself in a difficult position. The nuclear alliance states, or weasels, are non-nuclear-weapon states theoretically in favour of nuclear disarmament - but actually working against any change to the comfortable status quo.
15 May: Messages from Russia and China. Civil society often tends to focus on the "Western" members of the P5 - the US, UK and France - perhaps because they are more open and willing to engage. But Russia and China have things to say too, and we are pleased to give them an opportunity to publish these messages to non-nuclear-weapon states.
14 May: Obstacles to nuclear disarmament: the group system. Part 3 of our series examining the real obstacles to nuclear disarmament, and how to overcome them. As tactical manoeuvring intensifies in the main committees and subsidiary bodies, we examine how the regional group system (or "divide and fool") contributes to obstructing progress on disarmament. Read about it, then watch it happen before your very eyes at this conference. Once again, pursuing a ban treaty offers a way out.
13 May: Do as I say, not as I do. In honour of the publication by the Clingendael Institute of this comprehensive policy brief examining the implications for the Netherlands of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, today we feature some highlights of weasel hypocrisy and double standards with respect to transparency and the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.
12 May: A simple question. In view of the surreal discussion in Main Committee I yesterday, it is time to return to first principles. Should nuclear weapons be legal, or not? And if you think they should be legal, why are you in the NPT?
11 May: Obstacles to nuclear disarmament: the CD and the NPT. Part 2 of our series examining the real obstacles to nuclear disarmament, and how to overcome them. As we head into the third week, and with the first drafts of outcome text circulated, we look at the role of the Conference on Disarmament and the NPT itself - not just in failing to make headway on nuclear disarmament, but in actively obstructing progress.
8 May: A Message to Iran from Lord Robertson. To mark the UK general election, we are pleased to publish this message from Lord Robertson, former UK defence minister and secretary-general of NATO. The message was adapted, with minimal editing, from an astonishing opinion article Robertson published in Herald Scotland on 19 February. You may also be interested to know that Robertson is a prominent member of the Top Level Group, yet another prestigious outfit that claims to be in favour of nuclear disarmament, but isn't.
7 May: The NPDI. The NPDI: what is it? What is it for? Why are serious countries like Mexico and Nigeria involved in this inexplicable, pointless enterprise to build bridges to nowhere?
6 May: Obstacles to nuclear disarmament: Shrödinger's weapon. Part 1 of our series examining the real obstacles to nuclear disarmament, and how to overcome them. This one looks at ambiguity and ambivalence about nuclear disarmament, and the strange quantum-mechanical state in which nuclear weapons are simultaneously valued and reviled.
5 May: Ask the Disarmament Guru. Not sure what to do in the main committees and subsidiary bodies? Confused about where the review conference is heading and what it could achieve? Unclear why you are here, suffering through all this? Ask the Disarmament Guru! Enlightenment is at hand...
4 May: Working paper WP.69 by the P5. This working paper submitted by the P5 clears up a number of questions about their curious approach to the review conference, and to the NPT in general. We salute their refreshing honesty!
1 May: Magical Realism. In honour of the US performance at the NGO briefing yesterday, where we were told both that the US is "committed to a world free of nuclear weapons" and that the US is "not prepared to end reliance on nuclear weapons", and also of the black comedy of the P5 joint statement, today's instalment of our NPT guide deals with the magical aspects of the so-called "realistic" approach to nuclear disarmament.
30 April: A treaty banning nuclear weapons? Preposterous!. Sir Cuthbert Diddlesworth, Director of the Institute for Strategic Self-Interest and Special Pleading, explains in no uncertain terms why the proposal for a treaty banning nuclear weapons is dangerous, deluded nonsense.
29 April: Lost NPT article discovered. Given the P5 statements so far, especially that of France, which talk about waiting for the right conditions for nuclear disarmament, you will be interested in this article from Arms Control Today about the discovery of a missing article of the NPT that vindicates the P5 approach.
28 April: A Glossary of Nuclear Terms. Still waiting for the P5's famous glossary? As usual, Wildfire>_ is a step ahead. We hope our glossary will help you make sense of the general debate.
BONUS ITEM: Many delegates were intrigued to hear the foreign minister of the Netherlands say that his government supported the "Australian Pledge". We were delighted to hear support for the Australian Pledge, which was not widely known until we published our NPT guide.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's instalment!
Stop inciting proliferation
One of Wildfire>_'s priorities at the conference will be to stop nuclear-weapon states and weasels undermining the NPT by inciting proliferation by talking about the supposed security benefits of nuclear weapons.
We will be running a red card initiative, where national delegates and civil society representatives will be encouraged to hold up a red card whenever a speaker at the conference states or implies that nuclear weapons are valuable or legitimate (note that opposing a ban treaty is an indirect way of stating that nuclear weapons are legitimate).
Wildfire>_ agents will be distributing red cards, but you can of course bring your own.
The first day of the general debate had a couple of red card moments, the highlight being in the statement of the United Kingdom. The UK earned a red card for this gem:
"Our unilateral reductions have not always encouraged other states possessing nuclear weapons to follow our example, nor influenced those seeking a nuclear weapons capability to abandon their attempts. My Government will therefore retain a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes that necessary."
To see how this hypocritical drivel blatantly incites proliferation, just imagine it recast as something as a hypothetical official from, say, Iran might announce:
"Our unilateral decision to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons has not encouraged states possessing nuclear weapons to eliminate their arsenals, nor influenced those seeking a nuclear weapons capability to abandon their attempts. My Government will therefore acquire and retain a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes that necessary."
Red card! Why do non-nuclear-weapon states tolerate such a blatant double standard? Why do they allow the NPT to be damaged like this?
The quote from the UK is also a textbook example of Hoffmann's Last Theorem - see the Glossary for details.
Working paper watch
Here we review and discuss the best and worst (well, only the worst really) of the working papers submitted to the conference. If you have a favourite to bring to our attention, please email email@example.com.
WP.13 - NAM A six-page deluge of reiterations, urgings, calls and reaffirmations of previous reiterations, urgings, calls and reaffirmations on nuclear disarmament, which also manages to ignore the humanitarian consequences initiative completely. A total waste of space and time. The NAM at its very best.
WP.16 - NPDI The inexplicable NPDI grouping offers up a pointless rehash of the 2010 Action Plan, completely failing to consider, much less address, the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to implement the actions the first time around. Oh well, maybe these fine ideas will magically work this time - assuming they get adopted by the conference without being further watered down.
WP.17 - NPDI Another doozy from the clueless NPDI, this one deals with transparency by non-nuclear-weapon states. We know what you're thinking: at last, someone is proposing that nuclear weasel states should report on things like the nuclear weapons they host on their territories, or the steps they are taking to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their defence strategies. Well, no, sorry - this paper carefully avoids anything like that, and instead proposes a reporting format for intellectually-challenged officials to report inconsequential details of their 2010 action plan implementation.
WP.39 - Egypt Egypt throws off the shackles of the NAC to engage in some creative nuclear disarmament foot-shooting on its own. In amongst the usual calls for more of the same old stuff, we have this gem in para 9: "Realize the urgency of launching negotiations, in the Conference on Disarmament, on a Treaty banning nuclear weapons...". So, let's take a promising new initiative (a ban treaty) and take it to the CD (to die). Brilliant! Thanks for playing, Egypt.
WP.52 - Algeria Now this is an interesting one (it's only available in French for now, but Google translate does a decent job on it). In amongst all the usual stuff are two intriguing recommendations (on page 14): the conference should urge weasel states to identify, and report to the preparatory committees, the specific steps they will take to reduce the role and importance of nuclear weapons in their security and defence policies and doctrines; and the conference should urge all states parties to refrain from any statements suggesting nuclear weapons play a positive role in maintaining international security and stability. These are excellent proposals - apparently, Algeria has been listening to the Disarmament Guru.
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