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The nuclear weapons ban and the NPT via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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The May Preparatory Committee meeting (or “PrepCom”) clearly showed that NPT members who want faster, more concrete action on disarmament face challenges. With the nuclear-armed states modernizing their arsenals, and little traction on any of the previously agreed commitments and obligations related to disarmament, it’s unclear how the treaty’s membership can advance on key issues by 2020, the date of the next review conference.

PrepComs don’t produce binding documents, but participants do hope the chairperson summaries will reflect their goals. These summaries can provide useful guideposts when it comes time to negotiate the outcome documents of the review conferences themselves, which are politically binding and require implementation. This time, the summary produced by the chairman, Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast of the Netherlands, drew praise but also criticism. In particular, most supporters of the ban treaty were disappointed. The New Agenda Coalition (a group of six pro-ban countries) expressed concern that the ban treaty only earned two sentences in the 49th paragraph. Given that 132 states are participating in ban negotiations, and the broad support it received during the PrepCom deliberations, this reference struck many as insufficient.

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New methods, old goalsThe problem is not really, of course, that the ban treaty risks undermining the NPT. It does risk undermining the rationale the nuclear-armed states have relied on to maintain and expand their arsenals despite treaty commitments. The cornerstone fallacy of the NPT is that, as the Russian delegation asserted during the PrepCom (link in Russian), the presence of nuclear arsenals in five countries is completely legitimate.

This myth of legitimacy is undermined by the five “official” nuclear-armed states’ strong objections to North Korea’s nuclear program, and even more by their own failure to implement their legal obligations and political commitments. 

Read more at The nuclear weapons ban and the NPT

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