High-level panel discussion: “The NPT at Fifty: maintaining momentum towards the Review Conference”

May 11th, 2020

The Permanent Missions of Ireland and Costa Rica, with support from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), hosted a virtual meeting entitled “The NPT at Fifty: maintaining momentum towards the Review Conference”. More than 200 participants attended the online event, held to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The high-level panel highlighted the Treaty’s indispensable role in maintaining international peace and security, while also considering how States and civil society can ensure its efficacy and credibility going forward.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, opened the discussion by noting a nuclear-derived detection method for the virus that causes COVID-19. This innovation, she said, illustrated the value of peaceful nuclear activities facilitated by the Treaty. Ireland had played an active role in building and maintaining the international non-proliferation regime since its inception, and the country remained committed to achieving tangible progress across the Treaty’s three pillars, the Ambassador added. She concluded by pointing to the important role of civil society, especially women and youth, in achieving that task.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, expressed concern about negative developments related to nuclear weapons, stressing that the NPT provided a force for stability and a forum to generate progress in the current unstable strategic environment. She noted that the panel event also marked 25 years since the Treaty’s indefinite extension, when the States Parties reaffirmed important lessons from the cold war—namely, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and that the only way to eliminate the risk of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The next NPT Review Conference was originally scheduled to begin in April 2020, but States Parties postponed it in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Nakamitsu urged these States to use the additional time to work with one another and engage in the dialogue needed to forge consensus at the Conference. The pandemic demonstrates both the necessity for global unity, solidarity, cooperation and strong institutions as well as the need to put humanity at the centre of security—lessons that had to be translated into the NPT context, she concluded.

Panellists address the topic The NPT at Fifty: Maintaining Momentum Towards the Tenth Review Conference via Zoom.

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders, noted that even as the international community battled COVID-19, it urgently needed to address other crises such as the threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.

She highlighted The Elders’ “minimization agenda”, centered around four Ds—doctrine, de-alerting, deployment and decreased numbers. The agenda proposes steps towards nuclear disarmament including declarations of “no first use” by all nuclear-weapon States, taking most warheads off high alert status, substantially reducing operationally deployed nuclear warheads, and decreasing the total number of nuclear weapons to around 2,000, with the Russian Federation and the United States maintaining no more than 500 each.

In closing, Ms. Robinson underlined the role of civil society in nuclear disarmament and the power of scientists and the public to push for progress by their Governments.

Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-designate of the upcoming NPT Review Conference, expressed hope that the world will channel the unity, compassion, and sense of purpose in its fight against COVID-19 to also tackle the issue of nuclear weapons. The NPT, he stressed, resulted from tough negotiations, political will, flexibility, and a collective willingness to work for the common good. The Review Conference needs bridge-builders to close divides and aid in forging consensus, he added.

Speaking about the dates for the Conference, which is to take place as soon as the circumstances permit, but no later than April 2021, Ambassador Zlauvinen underscored that the currently proposed tentative dates of 4 – 29 January 2021were selected with purely practical considerations in mind and in cooperation with the United Nations Secretariat. The final decision on the dates will be made by the States Parties.

The President-designate concluded by reminding the audience that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is the ultimate goal of the NPT. To that end, he called on States Parties to strengthen the implementation of their obligations and commitments under the Treaty.

Following the panel, representatives of several States and non-governmental organizations made interventions. The participating States reaffirmed their support for the Treaty and its balanced implementation across all three pillars, and some called for further progress on the 1995 Resolution on the establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Speakers also noted that the financial and other resources spent on nuclear weapons would be better spent on overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and recovering from its impact.

Allison Pytlak, representing the Women’s League for International Peace and Freedom, drew attention to a joint statement in which  more than 80 civil society groups called for bold leadership by States to meet unfulfilled promises to reduce nuclear risks and advance progress on disarmament, and to realize their commitment to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”