No Nukes? Not Now

Nuclear Spring in Sioux City
Nuclear Spring in Sioux City

It is no surprise the 2015 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference failed to reach consensus about next steps.

On Nov. 7, 2014 the U.S. State Department made a statement about the role of the NPT in a press release, “The United States is committed to seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. As we have said previously, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the focus of our efforts on disarmament, as well as on nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

The Arms Control Association highlighted the fact that the parties “could not overcome deep differences over the slow pace of action on nuclear disarmament.”

The U.S. and Russia have each embarked on a nuclear complex modernization process—the opposite direction from disarmament. Disarmament was talked about and around, but was never really on the table at the conference.

“The 2015 NPT Review Conference does not signal the end of the NPT, which remains vital to international security, but it reveals a lack of political will and creativity that undermines the treaty’s effectiveness. Without fresh thinking and renewed action on the 70-year old problem of nuclear weapons, the future of the NPT will be at risk and the possibility of nuclear weapons use will grow,” Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association warned.

Some found hope in the humanitarian campaign for abolition of nuclear weapons.

“Regardless of what has happened here today, the humanitarian pledge must be the basis for the negotiations of a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons”, said Beatrice Fihn, executive director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in an email. “It has been made clear that the nuclear weapon states are not interested in making any new commitments to disarmament, so now it is up to the rest of the world to start a process to prohibit nuclear weapons by the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Fihn released a statement titled, “The Real Outcome,” that includes the following.

As the 2015 NPT Review Conference ended, over 100 states had endorsed the humanitarian pledge, committing to work for a new legally binding instrument for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The pledge reflects a fundamental shift in the international discourse on nuclear disarmament over the past five years. It is the latest indication that a majority of governments are preparing for diplomatic action after the Review Conference.

The wide and growing international support for this historic pledge sends a signal that governments are ready to move forward on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, even if the nuclear weapon states are not ready to join.

But for the nuclear-armed states, none of this seemed to matter.

The idea that world opinion could force nuclear states to abolish nuclear weapons is hopeful, but unlikely.

The U.S. made it clear in words and deeds it has no interest in moving forward under a new treaty. Unless the U.S. accelerates its progress toward compliance with Article VI of the NPT, progress in all of the nuclear states is stymied. At present the majority of countries has not been able to press their case for abolition in the U.S., where it is most needed.

While the NPT is legally binding, the lack of political will makes enforcement of its terms unlikely. That may be the most significant outcome of the conference.