Disarmament Insight


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:

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

CD: Nuclear Disarmament

Just a quick reminder to followers of this website that its usual contributors are currently contributing to another site 'Effective Measures', in joint cooperation with ILPI. 

The latest posting on the UNIDIR/ILPI website comments on recent efforts to get negotiations underway in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). 

The posting also offers a suggestion for an approach that would use the CD's rule requiring a programme of work in the manner originally intended by the Rules of Procedure (rule 28). 

And the posting explains briefly the shortcomings of the ambitious, multi-mandated approaches of recent years.

By the way, the UNIDIR/ILPI website contains a glossary of terms in common usage on matters relevant to nuclear disarmament and to the 'effective measures' which parties to the NPT are required by that treaty to negotiate. (Hence the title of that website.)

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow

(Photograph: poster displayed in a temporary exhibition on nuclear disarmament in the Palais des Nations, Geneva)

Monday, 12 January 2015

Effective Measures: New Blogsite

While this is the first posting on this site for several months, readers should be aware of postings on an additional site.  The new site stems from collaboration between UNIDIR and ILPI, the International Law and Policy Institute of Norway.

The joint UNIDIR/ILPI site - http://unidir.ilpi.org/ - is entitled ‘Effective Measures’.  This is a reference to the legally binding commitment under article VI of the NuclearNon-proliferation Treaty (NPT) that obliges all NPT parties to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …’.

The new site, thus, concentrates on nuclear disarmament.  Its principal objective is to offer analysis and thoughts on the development of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons.

To date there have been 5 postings on the UNIDIR/ILPI site. They can be accessed as follows:
UNIDIR’s Disarmament Insight blogsite will continue in existence – comments, views, critiques continue to be welcome.

Tim Caughley

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

“An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for United Nations humanitarian coordination and response”: Findings

As mentioned in a previous posting, UNIDIR has just published its latest study on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.     “An Illusion of Safety: Challenges of nuclear weapons detonations for United Nations humanitarian coordination and response” is now available on the Institute's website.
The study’s main findings are as follows:

1. The current level of awareness within the humanitarian system is generally low about the specificities of nuclear weapon detonation events or its ability to respond to them.

2. For the UN to offer or be called on to coordinate humanitarian assistance suggests an event is already beyond the capacity of the state or states affected to respond effectively to assist the victims. Moreover, as a rule it would depend upon an affected state requesting it, or on the existence of appropriate international decision-making if the government of that state had been incapacitated by the event.

3. The UN is unlikely to be able to offer much humanitarian assistance in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear weapon detonation, and it would take time for the humanitarian system to deploy.

4. At present there are a number of foreseeable challenges to the prompt and effective use of the humanitarian cluster system in the event of a nuclear weapon detonation.

5. Threat or fear of further nuclear weapon detonation events could vastly complicate decision-making about the nature and scale of humanitarian coordination and response, let alone its delivery.

6. Prevention is the best approach to the possibility of nuclear weapon detonation events. Those humanitarian actors in a position to do so, such as the UN, should plan for the likely challenges of “lower end” nuclear weapon detonations even if such a response is palliative. Such planning would, in reality, also reinforce the need for action to reduce the risk of nuclear detonations happening in the first place.

The study suggests that the humanitarian system consider the following:
1. Giving focused attention to the issue in the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC);
2. Assigning responsibility to a new or existing IASC task team, and inviting the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies (IACRNE) to participate in the task team’s work;
3. Studying and simulating varied nuclear weapon detonation scenarios with a view to humanitarian response preparedness;
4. Including representative nuclear detonation scenarios in future revisions of humanitarian procedures for large, complex, sudden-onset disasters; and
5. Reviewing current capacities and plans.
For their part, states and the UN Secretary-General could consider:
1. Prompting relevant humanitarian agencies and specialized agencies such as the IAEA, WHO, and CTBTO to clarify their mandates, policies, roles, and capabilities with a view to responding to nuclear weapon detonations;
2. Accounting for how inter-state decision-making processes could impinge on timely activation of humanitarian coordination and response efforts in the event of nuclear detonation; and
3. Examining how eliminating the risk of nuclear weapon use can be better pursued through practical measures. While nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their detonation does too, whether caused deliberately or inadvertently.

Humanitarianism marks the broader mission of the United Nations, and since its inception the Organization has taken a strong stand in favour of nuclear disarmament. The initiation of specific planning for how to respond to a nuclear weapon detonation would appear to be logical and consistent with both these aims. The development of necessary understandings about decision-making and a protocol for planning can be based on existing humanitarian coordination practices and need not require sizeable resources. The rapid mounting of a well-coordinated response will have an impact in reducing the level of human suffering, even if it may not assist those directly affected in the immediate aftermath.

John Borrie and Tim Caughley

An earlier UNIDIR publication, “Viewing Nuclear Weapons through a Humanitarian Lens” edited by Borrie and Caughley, can also be found on the Institute’s website.