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30 April 2014, Vol. 12, No.3

Reporting and responsibility
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will


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As the NPT approaches its 45th anniversary, concerns about its implementation are more prominent than ever. Despite familiar references to the “three pillars” throughout the general debate, disarmament has stood out as the most prominent theme. Or, better put, the lack of disarmament. Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving initiative focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, expectations are growing by the day for nuclear-armed states to make progress on nuclear disarmament.

The five NPT nuclear-armed states have now submitted their reports on implementation of action 5, 20, and 21 of the NPT action plan. The reports follow a fixed set of headings, but the content varies widely. While China quotes Sun Tzu, France mainly highlights accomplishments from before 2010. As noted in our 2014 NPT Action Plan monitoring report, few achievements on action 5 have been recorded since 2010. In its report, the United States announced its updated nuclear warhead numbers of 4,804, reflecting a reduction of 309 warheads since 2009. With that pace, we could expect to reach zero in 62 years.

It is clear to most at the PrepCom that the action plan and article VI are not being implemented adequately by the nuclear-armed states. Nor does that seem likely to change anytime soon. The United Kingdom, for example, argued that the action plan “was not a time-limited five year exercise” and should be rolled over to the next review cycle.

Fortunately, the implementation of the NPT and its 2010 action plan is not solely the responsibility of the nuclear-armed states. Action 1 highlights that the implementation of the treaty, including article VI is a collective responsibility of all states parties.

In light of this, the encouraging discussions around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons show that non-nuclear-armed states are making a significant contribution towards the implementation of article VI. In its national statement, Austria announced that the third conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons will be held on 8–9 December in Vienna. Alexander Kmentt of Austria noted that “the Vienna conference provides a productive forum to generate momentum for progress on nuclear disarmament. With this initiative, Austria wants to strengthen the NPT of which the humanitarian dimension is an integral and essential part.”

While one or two states—such as France—predictably criticized the conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons as “parallel processes” that could somehow undermine the NPT, such arguments continue to fall flat.

The NPT is a treaty, not a negotiating forum. Its article VI was never intended to deliver nuclear disarmament within the preparatory committees and review conferences. No matter what definition of article VI one adopts, multilateral nuclear disarmament was always going to be negotiated “outside” the NPT. 

Nuclear disarmament will not happen overnight. But all states parties to the NPT have committed to multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, and need to assume shared responsibility for this. It will take determined leadership to achieve this. The reports and statements continue to suggest that such leadership will not come from the nuclear-armed states themselves.

Leadership must therefore come from those states that have already rejected nuclear weapons, from those that have already concluded that the world is safer without them. It is time for non-nuclear-armed states to assume responsibility for implementing article VI and create the conditions for nuclear disarmament. It’s time to begin a process to outlaw nuclear weapons. 

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