Getting Non-proliferation and Disarmament Back on Track

Stockholm (Ekonamik) – On the second day of the CTBT Science & Technology 2019 conference held from June 24 to June 28 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, Lord Desmond Browne of Ladyton, a former UK Secretary of State for Defence and a member of the CTBT Group of Eminent Persons, gave a keynote introduction to a panel discussion on “Getting the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Architecture Back on Track”.

(Related: CTBT Science & Technology 2019: A Bulwark Never Failing)

The risks of proliferation and nuclear terrorism continue to increase, Lord Browne emphasised, while the international community has become more divided than ever. While the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (signed in 2017) was one response to the divisions and frustrations of member states on the perceived lack of progress in non-proliferation and disarmament, the stability of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime (of which the CTBT is part) and its role as a central and credible forum for dialogue and progress on non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is under threat. Lord Browne identified four priorities: 1) to end the decline of arms control, 2) to act collectively to address new threats, 3) to enhance dialogue and transparency among states, and 4) to expand and diversify the non-proliferation and disarmament community.

First, the likely collapse of the INF treaty, U.S.-Russia tensions undermining the possibility of extending the New START treaty in 2021, and the recent U.S. Nuclear Posture Review that seemingly expands the role of nuclear weapons, all suggest a “return to an unregulated nuclear arms competition the likes of which has not been seen since the early days of the Cold War”. There is an immediate need to re-establish dialogue with Russia and to rebuild U.S.-Russia-NATO relations (the U.S. and Russia possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons between them), and lines of communication must be kept open regardless of the level of tension. “Dialogue is not a war to be averred but a constant diplomatic necessity and all the more so in times of impending crisis,” Lord Browne said. “Because of the nuclear risks this situation poses U.S. and Russian leaders should also make a new declaration reconfirming the common view that a nuclear war can never be won and must therefore never be fought.”

Second, solely relying on traditional arms control “is one pathway to a nuclear mistake.” The emergence of cyber and other technology threats to strategic warning systems and the entire infrastructure of command and control requires efforts to better understand the risks to stability, and to incorporate civil society and private industry in order to expand vocabulary, dialogue and understanding. “At present there remain no constraints on and little government dialogue on this plethora of non-nuclear technologies,” Lord Browne said, requiring inquiry beyond traditional arms control measures.

Third, in the current environment, challenges can only be addressed collectively, meaning transparent dialogue among all states, not just between the U.S. and Russia. Better transparency in the P5 process among the five recognised nuclear weapons states under the NPT can help to clarify misperceptions and predict nuclear use policies, critical for long-term disarmament, while a set of shared principles on nuclear deterrence, no first use postures and reduced nuclear use should be developed.

Fourth, inclusivity and diversity is a key element of strengthening the NPT regime, helping to increase the scope of vocabulary, the creativity of discussions, and the effectiveness of efforts. “We live in an increasingly complex world with rapid changes in science and technology and a constantly shifting security environment,” Lord Browne said. “Moreover, all around us communities are waking up and challenging the fact that too few people continue to dominate too many important areas of our lives. We will therefore remain limited in influence, credibility and effectiveness unless we expand the voices, backgrounds and experiences represented in our efforts and debate.” Lord Browne suggested that scientists and politicians need to increasingly invite each other into their respective fields of expertise in order to develop a more common and accessible vocabulary, that broad geographical representation should be ensured to protect against deeply entrenched perspectives that drive polarisation, and that gender parity needs to become an integral part of leadership.

Image: (c) CTBTO

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