The Non-Proliferation Treaty and the future of nuclear arms control

  • 26 Jun. 2017 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 20 Jul. 2017 14:23

NATO recently convened a high-level panel to discuss the challenges and perspectives for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and how NATO can contribute to strengthen arms control. Discussions emphasised the need for more dialogue and a better understanding of the origins and intentions of treaties and agreements.

The panel discussion on 26 June 2017 brought together NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, the European External Action Service Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Jacek Bylica, the Head of NATO’s WMD Non-Proliferation Centre Wolfgang Rudischhauser, the Head of NATO’s Arms Control and Coordination Section William Alberque, and Petr Topychkanov, Fellow at Carnegie Moscow Center’s Non-Proliferation Program.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The panel agreed that the NPT – with its balanced approach along the three pillars, Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy – is a landmark agreement that has been successful in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. However, they underlined the key challenges facing the global non-proliferation regime including: the nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations; the crisis over the Democratic People's Republic of Korea nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes and proliferation; the long-standing aspiration for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and related delivery systems in the Middle East; and frustration regarding limited support for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT may be undermined by any of these developments, despite its ongoing crucial importance in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. With regard to the nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations, the participants stressed that NATO Allies have to engage more effectively to ensure that the rights and responsibilities stated in the NPT are not undermined. The panel identified possible ways forward such as enhanced visibility, the promotion of the benefits of the treaty, and strengthened dialogue among participating states, as well as with different stakeholders, including advocates for nuclear weapons ban treaty movement.

William Alberque gave a presentation based on a paper published by the Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI) in February 2017 titled “The NPT and the Origins of NATO’s Nuclear Sharing Arrangements”. He argued that NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, which were already in place before the NPT was negotiated, have been recently falsely accused of non-compliance. On the basis of the historical negotiation record, these arrangements were well known and part of the acquis of the Treaty and were intended to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, especially to European countries and even NATO Allies.

Arms control regimes

Since the Ukraine crisis, arms control regimes are receiving increasing attention due to their contributions to security and peace. However, more attention needs to be paid to the issue of non-compliance, the need for modernisation, and the limited knowledge on the origins of arms control. These problems, according to the panellists, require a more in-depth analysis and debate at NATO and elsewhere.

Rose Gottemoeller called on all parties to strive to sustain existing arms control regimes such as the NPT, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), and the Open Skies Treaty. She stressed their relevance in ensuring predictability and stability as well as providing important transparency and verification tools and instruments. Continuous efforts to modernise and to strengthen these norms must therefore be undertaken.

In this regard, NATO has a role to play in enriching the debate on arms control and non-proliferation with solid information and analysis, and in raising awareness of confidence and security-building measures. NATO’s Archives provide Allies, parties and researchers from the public with critical information that can help enrich our common understanding of the origins, purposes and benefits of arms control and non-proliferation.

The debate furthermore highlighted the need to draw attention to emerging technologies to aid in verification and stressed the relevance of the debate on how to incorporate these technologies in existing or new treaties and agreements.