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Nuclear News from New York: Update from Week 2 of the 2022 NPT Review Conference

August 16, 2022

Nuclear News from New York: Update from Week 2 of the 2022 NPT Review Conference

By Dr. Anna Hood. 17th August, 2022.

We are officially halfway through the 10Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference – the Conference where NPT countries come together to review and strengthen the three pillars of theNPT: nuclear disarmament; the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The aim of the conference is to produce an outcome document (with which all countries agree) that summarises what has happened under each pillar since the last Review Conference and charts a way forward for the next five years.

While most of the first week of the Conference was taken up by countries issuing opening statements about their hopes for the conference, week two saw the Conference break into smaller meetings so states could start advocating more specifically for what they would like to see happen under each of the three pillars.

A number of tensions have arisen in the different meetings that have taken place across the week including:

·      There is grave concern about the fact that there is armed conflict taking place around the Zaporizhizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine and disagreement between Ukraine and Russia as to who is responsible for the armed attacks that are occurring;

·      Western countries have raised concerns about the nuclear actions of Iran and NorthKorea while a number of non-Western countries have argued that NATO’s nuclear sharing activities are in breach of the NPT;

·      China and several other countries have raised concerns about the prospect of the AUKUS partnership between Australia, the UK, and the US providing a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability to Australia.  This would include the transfer of highly-enriched uranium reactors for propulsion.  Nuclear naval propulsion is provided for by the NPT and the AUKUS partners have stressed that they will meet all of the legal and safeguards obligations and set the highest non-proliferation standards.  Those concerned about the agreement have raised concerns that the arrangement presents a nuclear proliferation risk and that it could destabilise the region, potentially leading to an arms race; and

·      Nuclear weapons states have stressed the importance of the conference pursuing risk reduction measures while states pushing for strong action on nuclear disarmament (including New Zealand) have repeatedly emphasised that risk reduction measures are no substitute for disarmament and that concrete commitments are needed to move toward a nuclear weapon free world.

While tensions like these make the prospect of all states reaching agreement on a final outcome document challenging, there is still hope that an agreement will be reached. Over the weekend, some initial draft texts have been issued in respect of the disarmament and peaceful uses pillars of the NPT. These texts (along with the one on non-proliferation when it appears) will provide the basis for negotiations this coming week.

The draft texts are relatively broad at this stage and contain some encouraging material as well as some areas where there is room for improvement. It is encouraging to see that the draft text about nuclear disarmament includes references to the unequivocal undertaking that the nuclear weapons states made in 2000 to accomplish nuclear disarmament, the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and the entry into force and first meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. New Zealand will be working to ensure that these references remain in future iterations of the text. Where there’s scope for some strengthening of the text is with respect to the need for concrete measures to ensure the accountability and measurability of efforts towards nuclear disarmament.

Given the different agendas and priorities of the states at the conference, it’s likely that the negotiations this week will be intense and contested. I’ll provide an update on how it all goes in a week’s time.

Anna Hood (civil society participant on the NZ delegation to the NPT Review Conference)

You can read Anna's first instalment from the NPT RevCon on our blog here.

You can read more about the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty on the United Nations website here.

For a deeper delve into analysis of the conference, check out the latest bulletin from Reaching Critical Will here.

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