Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Effective measures for nuclear disarmament—an update

Readers of our regular posts on 'effective measures' will be aware that our aim is to explore the obligation on states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to 

'pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ... nuclear disarmament'.  

The inability of the 5 year NPT Review Conference this May to achieve any agreed outcome has meant that the duty to conduct those negotiations amongst parties remains unfulfilled 45 years after the treaty entered into force.

This is an extract from the most recent posting on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI site entitled 'Where are we on effective measures, and where are we going?': -

"We have ... come to see the idea of a nuclear weapon ban treaty as one of the most promising potential avenues for effective measures for nuclear disarmament, although of course it is not without its risks and drawbacks. Over the coming months, we’ll reflect further on the pros and cons of such an approach, and we’ll be presenting our analysis later in 2015, both on [the Effective Measures] blog and in other products. How strong really are the arguments for such a treaty, and how serious are the counter-arguments against it given the range of realistic alternatives? For that matter, how realistic is such a treaty in the current international security environment—what would its value be? What could its legal architecture look like? And how would states get there?"

These are issue that we plan to tease out in depth after the northern summer break.

Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

NPT Review Conference: the problem pillar

In addition to recent postings here about various blockages in the path of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, you may wish to visit a site on which UNIDIR and ILPI are currently collaborating - a.k.a. effectivemeasures.

The purpose of that work is to offer insights into practical ways of facilitating nuclear disarmament.

The latest comment can be found at: http://unidir.ilpi.org/?p=339

Other postings in May of relevance to the recently-concluded NPT Review Conference are:





Separately, John Borrie of UNIDIR has continued to offer insights into the risks of accidents with nuclear weapons: see his latest personal remarks on:


Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Humanitarian Initiative unplugged

This posting is a summary of comments I made during an event on 6 May during the NPT Review Conference.  The meeting was organised by Austria, Mexico and Norway as hosts of three recent conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. My topic was “the key substantive findings that have emerged as a result of the humanitarian initiative”. The impacts and trends of the humanitarian initiative (HI) to date, from a UN perspective, largely fall under three headings, process, forensic and legal:
1          Process: In process terms the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna meetings individually, and in retrospect collectively, provided a fresh standpoint and perspective for addressing concerns about nuclear weapons to all states in a forum that was underpinned by the strongly expressed humanitarian considerations of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The NPT’s tasking in 2000 and 2010 of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to ‘immediately establish a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament’ had come to nothing.  The CD remains paralysed. Some nuclear weapon states declined to participate in the OEWG. To an extent the orthodox process vacuum was filled by the HI, although the initiative was pitched to the entire UN community and civil society, not just to the states parties of the NPT. All states have a stake in this initiative along with civil society and intergovernmental organisations—partners with states throughout the series of conferences.

As US NPT expert Lewis Dunn recently wrote, the goals of the participants in these conferences have varied. ‘Some want to highlight nuclear risks and encourage action to reduce them, others want to energize the NPT nuclear disarmament process, and still others want to delegitimize nuclear weapons and create support for a new international treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons and to abolish them.’ At this stage, however, the humanitarian initiative itself has been about accumulating evidence of the consequences of nuclear weapons. This brings us to the forensic angle of the initiative.

2          Forensic: i.e., the gathering and examining of information, evidence and research about the physical effects of nuclear weapons. And it should be noted in passing that the humanitarian impact conferences have spurred new facts-based research including the Chatham House reports on nuclear near misses ‘Too Close for Comfort’ and ‘The “Big Tent” in Disarmament, UNIDIR’s publication ‘An Illusion of Safety’ and the UNIDIR/ILPI series of 11 papers for the Vienna and NPT Review Conferences.
 - Highlights of evidence emerging from the three humanitarian impact conferences are these:

a) National borders: The impact of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of the cause, would not be constrained by national borders and could have regional and even global consequences. Certainly, considerable evidence was produced at all three meetings on the physical properties of nuclear detonations, their indiscriminate effects and the potential for the fallout from an exchange of weapons in a conflict to have widespread, long-term impacts.

b) Testing: Historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons was also demonstrated to have had in some areas devastating immediate and long-term effects—effects not hitherto given the recognition they deserve.

c) Health, development and environment: Beyond the immediate death and destruction caused by a detonation, evidence suggests that socio-economic development will be hampered, with the poor and vulnerable being the most severely affected, adverse effects for food security and considerable environmental damage inflicted. Reconstruction of infrastructure and regeneration of economic activities, trade, communications, health facilities, and schools would take several decades, causing profound social and political harm—the Chernobyl effect but magnified. The human health impacts would be widespread and affect women more acutely than men.

d) Risk: The risk of nuclear weapons use is seen as growing globally as a consequence of proliferation, the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to cyber-attacks and to human error, and potential access to nuclear weapons by non-state actors, in particular terrorist groups. Low probability yet high consequence events add up to tangible risk. Indeed, evidence of accidental use and near misses tabled at the conferences has given the element of risk a new dimension.

e) Preparedness and response: It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner.  This finding was tested within the UN humanitarian relief system, and largely substantiated, through a project conducted by UNIDIR in cooperation with UNOCHA and UNDP. An expectation for UN relief assistance would quickly manifest itself if the civil nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima are anything to go by, bearing in mind that a nuclear detonation would be even more devastating.

3          Legal: The 2010 NPT Review Conference not only expressed its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons but also reaffirmed the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law (IL), including international humanitarian law (IHL). From a UN perspective, there are four key legal points.

a) The first derives from the principles of the UN Charter and the purposes of the UN – the imperative of prevention as the only guarantee against the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. This element was highlighted at all three conferences, as was respect for the rule of law with particular reference to the Geneva Conventions.

b) Although not an agenda item as such in Oslo and Nayarit, doubt as to whether a nuclear weapon with its devastating and indiscriminate effects could be used in compliance with IHL was stimulated by evidence presented at those events (including references to the ICJ Advisory Opinion), and was specifically addressed in Vienna along with other norms relevant to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

c) There is the ‘gap’. Unlike the case of biological and chemical weapons, there is no comprehensive legal norm universally prohibiting possession, transfer, production and use of nuclear arms. (There is also a gap in the fulfilment of article VI of the NPT—the requirement for multilateral negotiation of effective measures for nuclear disarmament.)

d) International health regulations (IHR) of the WHO, which provide a framework for the coordination and management of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern, would cover events of a radiological origin.

As well as relevant legal considerations, the Vienna conference also drew attention to ethical and moral concerns. As is the case with torture, which defies humanity and is now unacceptable to all, the suffering caused by nuclear weapons use is not only a legal matter, it necessitates moral appraisal.

In one short sentence at the end of the UN Secretary-General’s message to the opening plenary of the NPT Review Conference, the Secretary-General encapsulated the significance of what has emerged from the humanitarian initiative. ‘The humanitarian movement’, he said, ‘has injected the moral imperative into a frozen debate’. This new, evidence-based initiative has revitalised a debate that has been paralysed in its repetitiveness and lack of focus or tangible results (an issue that was covered by the next panellist (Gaukhar Mukhazthanova)).

Tim Caughley

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

NPT Review Conference: Nuclear Disarmament

UNIDIR and ILPI have produced five new briefing papers that analyse aspects of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, and the initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. These papers can be accessed by clicking on the images below. 

They will also be available in hard copy in New York. These papers are intended to assist readers in understanding the NPT's work over the next few weeks, and to help delegations in their efforts.

In addition to producing these papers, UNIDIR and ILPI will provide comments and analysis on our joint blog www.effectivemeasures.org throughout the Review Conference.

A range of initiatives is required to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world
By John Borrie, Tim Caughley and Nick Ritchie
Underlying the challenges for the next five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in April and May 2015, which include lack of progress both on nuclear disarmament and the convening of a Middle East regional conference on a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone, NPT members have quite diverse priorities. 
States have different roles to play to complete the nuclear disarmament puzzle
By Torbjørn Graff Hugo
A focus on building blocks invites an analysis of roles and responsibilities for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. 
Options for multilateral nuclear disarmament and implementation of NPT article VI
By Tim Caughley
Recent public concern about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has helped to sharpen the focus on measures by which the international community could progressively achieve the eventual elimination of these arms. 
Framing a political consensus on the unacceptability of nuclear weapons
By Nobuo Hayashi
The absence of a specific ban on nuclear weapons under today’s international law mirrors our moral ambivalence about them. 

Paper 2 will be a focus of our joint side event at UNHQ in New York on 8 May.    
Expectations are building for the need for nuclear disarmament progress
By Nick Ritchie
Decisive multilateral progress toward a nuclear-weapon-free world led by the nuclear-armed states has not been forthcoming since the end of the Cold War, as many once expected.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow UNIDIR 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Pillars: NPT Review Conference 27 April to 22 May 2015

With the Conference on Disarmament (CD) about to adjourn until 25 May, attention is turning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Review Conference.  Every five years the NPT undergoes a major review (preceded usually by three preparatory meetings). Each review cycle culminates in a lengthy conference at which a 190 nations assess progress in implementing the treaty and decide what more needs to be done during the forthcoming 5-year period.

This self-imposed discipline of looking both back and forward is a healthy one (which the CD might do well to emulate). Looking back, the NPT parties will be be able to reflect that, subject to a successful resolution of the P5+1 negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, there has been no further proliferation of nuclear weapons these past 5 years beyond the 9 states that already possess them. Plans by a number of possessing states to modernise their nuclear arsenals—so-called 'horizontal' proliferation—will, however, cast a shadow over the review.

If there's a shadow over the non-proliferation 'pillar' of the Treaty, for many states there will be a ray of sunshine on the nuclear disarmament pillar.  This is not, however, because of sustained reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals during the review period. It is because of the development since 2010 of a dynamic aimed at augmenting the unilateral and bilateral efforts of the nuclear weapon states with multilateral negotiations of further 'effective measures' for nuclear disarmament, as required by article VI of the NPT.

This development follows the so-called 'humanitarian initiative' which has highlighted the need for renewed urgency to eliminate nuclear arms. It has also served to expose the limitations of the method preferred by nuclear weapon states of proceeding 'step-by-step' towards that goal. Multilateral steps espoused by the nuclear weapon states, in fact, remain unfulfilled or are being blocked by some of those same states or are incapable of fulfilment for so long as the chronic paralysis of the CD continues.

Two postings on UNIDIR's joint website with ILPI deal in more depth with the mutually-reinforcing pillars on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament: see



Of course, the upcoming Review Conference has many more issues on its plate. These include taking stock of the 2010 Action Plan, implementation of which has been the subject of a recent report:

'The NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report' by Reaching Critical Will (RCW).

Of relevance, too, is:

'Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015' by Gareth Evans, Tanya Ogilvie-White and Ramesh Thakur, a 'report card' on the 2009 report of the International Commission on Nuclear No-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

The two publications offer different insights into the challenges facing the 2015 review of the NPT.  But each report concludes that the prospects are 'dim' (RCW) and 'grim' (ICNND).

Tim Caughley

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

CD: Telling it how it is

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) is less remembered these days for its successes than for its paralysis and failings.  Key disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control agreements hammered out in the CD include the NPT, BTWC, CWC, and CTBT. But the negotiation of the last of these treaties was concluded as far back as 1996.

Since then the Conference has fallen on lean times.  Its only negotiations have almost without exception concerned the question of what it should do next.  Bickering over that issue remains inconclusive.  Worse than that, the approach that the CD has been taking since 2000 to find a workable solution is fundamentally mistaken: the Conference is pursuing an approach that is not only inconsistent with its rules of procedure but is also perpetuating inactivity.

This is not something to which the 65 member states of the CD are blind. Many realise that this prolonged period of deadlock jeopardises what remains of the integrity of the forum. In this regard, the credibility of the CD this morning suffered a serious setback.

During its annual Women’s Day message to the Conference, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) announced that ‘it was finally time to cease [its] engagement with this body’.  WILPF said it had reached this decision in part because the CD ‘operates in a vacuum … is disconnected from the outside world [and] … has lost perspective of the bigger picture of human suffering and global injustice’.

Tellingly, WILPF went on to say ‘[m]aintaining the structures that reinforce deadlock has become more important than fulfilling the objective for which [the CD] was created—negotiating disarmament treaties. We can no longer invest effort into such a body. Instead we will continue our work elsewhere. There is much work to be done’.

The CD’s virtually non-existent relationship with civil society is itself highly damaging to the fabric of the Conference.  Based on recent debates in the Conference, some members may shrug off the withdrawal of WILPF’s engagement.  But it is hard to deny the accuracy of the League's assertion to CD members that ‘some of you put process over progress’.

The discontinuation of its reporting on the CD by Reaching Critical Will, WILPF’s disarmament programme, will be widely missed in the disarmament community.  But WILPF did the Conference a favour this morning.  Not by the announcement that it was withdrawing engagement, but by telling the CD directly just how this body is seen. Let’s hope that for the sake of multilateralism it is a salutary lesson.

Tim Caughley

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

NPT - the nuclear disarmament pillar


Several recent postings on the joint UNIDIR/ILPI website may be of interest to those Disarmament Insight readers who are following the build up to the NPT Review Conference, and in particular the development of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament.

The new posts can be found on the "Effective Measures" site under these links: