NPT News in Review, Vol. 14, No. 5

Editorial: Transparency and diversity
11 May 2017

Ray Acheson

Download full edition in PDF

States parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have been discussing how to improve the review process for the Treaty’s implementation for decades. The process does need some practical adjustments—shorter meetings, smoother appointments of chairs and facilitators, more interactive dialogue, better engagement with civil society, etc. But above all, as several delegations noted during the discussion on “strengthening the review process” on Wednesday, the best way to do this is to implement the Treaty’s provisions and subsequent commitments in full.

“The NPT is not a charter for the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons,” the Irish delegation reiterates in its working paper on gender, development, and nuclear weapons. This should be the mantra of all NPT meetings and the guideline for all actions and decisions related to its implementation and processes—including when it comes to transparency and reporting.

During Wednesday’s debate, Canada, Japan, and others critiqued the lack of a formalized or institutionalized transparency mechanism for nuclear-armed states, with Japan arguing that a strengthened review process “should be achieved by enhancing accountability” of the nuclear-armed states.

Transparency is instrumental for accountability, and NPT states parties are severely lacking in both. The nuclear-armed states failed to agree on a standard reporting form, as they committed to do in 2010; they also failed to report on any of the issues they were mandated to by that Review Conference. However, certain non-nuclear-armed states—those that include nuclear weapons in their security doctrines or that station nuclear weapons on their territories—have also failed in regards to transparency.

For far too long, these states have been largely unaccountable to the broader NPT membership. They have engaged in behaviour that they themselves would never tolerate of others. As a first step, they should become more transparent about their practices. Those that station nuclear weapons on their territories should end their opaque policy of neither confirming nor denying this. These “host” states should provide details of the location, the number, the status, and the type of these weapons, as well as the vehicles that would be used to deliver them. If they expect the nuclear-armed states parties to be more open about their arsenals, what justification can there be for withholding such information themselves?

The NPT states parties that permit the transit of nuclear weapons through their territory, including their territorial waters, should inform the membership when, how often, along which routes, and at what risk to their own citizens—and to the citizens of the world. These are fundamental questions—reasonable questions—that should not go unanswered. Enhanced transparency is a responsibility for all states parties, especially those that continue to claim protection from these immoral, illegitimate weapons.

The draft outcome document of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, which was not adopted in the end, called upon all states concerned “to continue to review their military and security concepts, doctrines and policies over the course of the next review cycle, with a view to reducing further the role and significance of nuclear weapons therein.” It was useful that this applied not just to nuclear-armed states but was inclusive of all states that include nuclear weapons in their doctrines.

The draft outcome also encouraged nuclear-armed states to include very specific details in their reporting to the 2020 review cycle, including the number, type, and status of nuclear warheads; the number and type of delivery vehicles; the measures taken to reduce the role and significance of nuclear weapons in military and security concepts, doctrines, and policies; the measures taken to reduce the risk of unintended, unauthorised, or accidental use of nuclear weapons; the measures taken to reduce the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems; the number and type of weapons and delivery systems dismantled and reduced; and the amount of fissile material for military purposes.

These are important steps that should be pursued in this review cycle, amongst others. Nearly five decades after the NPT was negotiated, we must be asking not only whether the nuclear-armed states parties are doing enough to fulfil their obligations, but also whether every non-nuclear-armed state party is doing enough.

This relates directly to another crucial issue for the NPT: gender diversity. States are not doing enough to ensure that women and others are meaningfully participating in the NPT process, or the broader disarmament sphere. Women are seriously unrepresented in nuclear disarmament; as a result, the discourse around and approach to nuclear weapons remains gendered, lending to ongoing stalemate in the field.

“Achieving gender equity in this and other NPT discussions is not just good policy but also has the potential to enhance the capability and effectiveness of NPT processes and their outcomes,” explained the Australian delegation on Wednesday. “Research has shown that more diverse teams are more effective, innovative, take more sustainable decisions and are more effective in resolving impasses.”

Furthermore, it is crucial that women are “equally engaged in discussions on weapons which affect them so disproportionately,” as the Irish delegation argues in its working paper. The Irish have called on states to assist and sponsor women participants in nuclear disarmament forums and for this review cycle to make a “conscious and genuine commitment to improving women’s engagement and participation in the work of the NPT.”

The issues of transparency and diversity are arguably related. Not that women or others are necessarily more transparent than men, but that a diversity of genders—and nationalities and ethnicities—can contribute to building a diversity of culture, which is beneficial to any process.

The US delegation argued that what the NPT process needs is to “rebuild” a “culture of consensus,” in order to “focus on our common interests”. While it’s always good to remember what we have in common and to recognize the common goods the Treaty provides, what the NPT needs is not more consensus but more diversity: space for different views and perspectives that are not overpowered or silenced by hegemonic cultures or actors. We need more transparency, more diversity, and more actions to fulfill the commitments that states have made over the past 47 years.

[PDF] ()