March 5, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) coming in to effect. Delayed due to COVID 19, the 10th review of NPT is being held from 1 Aug 2022 to 26th August 2022 at the UN.
This half century point of NPT stands testimony to the need felt for it even today by all its 191 signatories including the P5. The fear expressed by John F Kennedy that by 21st Century, a couple of dozen countries will possess nuclear arms, has come partially true with only India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea (and Iran not far from it) being added to the list of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). These four are notsignatories to NPT.
The next gain has been that no nuclear arms been used in any war since NPT came into force.
Another feather in its cap has been in devising a strict inspection regime under the “Additional Protocol” of the Treaty in which its inspectors have the right to visit and inspect suspected sites in a nation, even if such sites are kept secret by the erring nation.
In nuclear disarmament, NPT has made reduction in nuclear arsenal of USA and USSR/ Russia by nearly 90 percent from Cold War levels.
NPT also helped to create a stable strategic framework in which arms limitations and reductions talks could be progressed with.
Examples from history of durability and such wide acceptance of a global security treaty such as NPT, are hard to find. Such has been the desire for peace and stability that in 1995 review, this Treaty was given an indefinite extension.
First fifty-two years of NPT has been a remarkable success.However, in comparison to 1970, the global geo political and geo strategic situation has changed and 2022 poses new challenges to NPT.
US and Russia have renegaded from treaties which they now feel are detrimental to their national interests. Anti-BallisticMissiles Treaty, Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Open Skies Treaty, have been the prominent casualties.Outer Space Treaty is under threat with increasing militarisation of Space. New START is the only arms control treaty in vogue, expiring in February 2026.
Arms control provided security and stability. War in Ukraine and the use of energy and food grains as weapons, the ongoing geo political struggle over Taiwan, South China Sea and Indo Pacific and emergence of new security alliances like QUAD and AUKUS are disturbing the world order.
The futility of Arms control treaty without the inclusion of China is well understood. A pressing need is also felt to reign in missile technology in the full spectrum of warfare including hypersonic and Space. A growing need is also felt to curb use of path breaking emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, in realms of warfare and in Cyberspace. Arms control treaties without curbing these willprove ineffective.
NWS are modernising their nuclear arsenals and their delivery systems. Every NWS is banking on “deterrence” asdiplomacy, which in today’s changed geo political environment, is courting disaster. Deterrence did not preventUSSR and China to clash in 1969, India and Pakistan in 1999 and in 2019 and India – China in 2020.
US withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of action(JCPOA), the nuclear deal to prevent Iran from going nuclear, has emboldened Iran to rebuild its enrichment program. In May 2022 the UN stated that Iran has enough refined uraniumwhich it can enrich to weapons grade, in a short time. The JCPOA talks have resumed but are currently in a limbo as agreement between US and Iran is proving elusive.
Saudi Arabia has expressed its fears of Iran going nuclear and has expressed its intention to attain nuclear arsenal if Iran does so, as has Turkiye.
In North East Asia, North Korea continues to expand its missiles and nuclear program despite attempts by leading nations to dissuade it. This has made Pacific nations, US,South Korea and Japan restive, more so after Ukraine War commenced. This is in the backdrop of ebbing confidence in US ability to provide security, against the backdrop of its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and its inability to directly confront Russia in the ongoing Ukraine war.
Growing polarisation within NPT members with Non-NuclearWeapons States (NNWS) getting increasingly disillusioned by the P5, namely US and Russia, in their failure reduce nuclear arsenal to minimal levels and on their ongoing modernisation program including adding of tactical nuclear weapons to their arsenal, are threatening NPT.
NNWS nations, in response, have inked the Treaty for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons but this is strongly contested by the NWS and their allies.
Fifty-two years on, this review should attempt to analyse whether the aims of NPT have been achieved, namely reduction of nuclear arsenal with P5 with the view to finally achieve complete disarmament. Also, whether NPT has been able to curb spread of nuclear weapons. Further, whether it has been able to proliferate nuclear as a source of energy to the nuclear have nots and lastly in which aspects it is falling short in today’s geo political scenario.
Even before Ukraine war, NPT faced serious challenges, political and strategic in nature. In political spectrum is the slow pace of disarmament. A far cry from the complete disarmament envisaged. In changed global security situation,this review may well be practical to concede that total disarmament in an unachievable aim. NPT members can also do well to understand that nuclear deterrence will not deter conventional war but that NPT needs to be armed to levy penal restrictions on NWS which threaten nuclear war prior to launching a conventional one. Lastly, though NPT is categoric in spelling out that NWS will not threaten NNWSbut Russian invasion under the nuclear threat umbrella runs contrary to the spirit of NPT and can be seen as its failure to NNWS state. This may motivate NNWS states to abandon NPT and go nuclear.
On the strategic front, NPT nations must take every step to prevent new nations like Iran to go nuclear, to prevent nations such as North Korea to continue its nuclear build up and thirdly to restrict the nine nuclear states to increase and modernise their nuclear arsenal, their delivery and Command and Control system. If it fails, more nations may then be tempted to leave NPT and acquire nuclear arms.
The Russian aggression on Ukraine needs a bit more deliberation here in the context of NPT. It has set a very dangerous precedent, abrogating the longstanding Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance which offered guarantee and security assurances, which NWS offer to NNWS in NPT.
NPT in actuals is a grand bargain between NWS and NNWS, aimed at preserving world peace and stability and in preventing proliferation of nuclear arms. As a signatory to NPT, Russia, as a major NWS, has sent out a very negative message, which greatly undermines the NPT.
The nuclear brinkmanship it displayed, aimed at coercing Ukraine to submission and to negate NATO’s involvement. This, at a time when the differences between the NWS and NNWS is widening, due to slow implementation of disarmament by NWS, further weakens NPT.
The lack of uproar all around the world, on this Russian brinkmanship is difficult to comprehend as is inaction of NNWS in voluntarily terminating ties with Russia. Itindicates that this nuclear bullying finds resonance within NNWS and may be an inspiration for some NNWS to go nuclear.
Amongst many negatives the Russian nuclear brinkmanship has generated, most alarming is the increase in Defence budgets of European nations. This increase in an already brittle environment for peace should ring alarm bells around the world, which has witnessed two Wars emanating from European soils and engulfing the whole world.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has derailed Arms control talks between US and Russia in which the world was hoping thatChina too would participate, especially after it became party to the joint statement issued by NWS states on 3rd January 2022, stating “we affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented.”
In the review, if the Ukraine war inhibits the P5 from leadingthe review conference, countries like Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Turkiye, must seize the moment and provide leadership to this 10th review of NPT. This review must put forward the following agenda: –
• Call on P5 to reassure the world of their 03 Jan 2022 commitment.
• Demand on US, Russia and China to initiate dialogue on Arms control.
• Call for talks to curb use of emerging technologies in military applications and to de militarise Space.
• Call on the P5 and the other four non signatory nuclear nations to immediately stop expansion and modernisation of the nuclear arsenal and to accelerate their nuclear disarmament.
• Ink an agreement on immediate suspension of intermediate-range nuclear weapons and new short-range tactical nuclear weapons.
• Call on all states to respect the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It should also make computer simulation to test the efficacy of the weapon deployable nuclear weapons, illegal.
• Make this review forum to reaffirm their understanding that any use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophe and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
• Obtain a commitment from NWS against nuclear bullying a NNWS.
• Lay down rules and a system to penalise an NWS if it resorts to nuclear coercion of a NNWS.
• Call for an end to Cyber warfare and take a commitment from all states that they will not launch cyber-attack on Nuclear Command and Control system of enemy nation.
• Call upon India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to join NPT..
• Lastly, obtain a legally binding security guarantee fromNWS, to prevent unprovoked attack against a NNWS.
This nearly one-month long conference must not be allowed to meander into a routine, insipid review conference. Ukraine war and Russia’s nuclear coercion is a clarion call to all, to join hands and ink a comprehensive action plan to mitigate nuclear risk and to accelerate disarmament process.
If all of the above is discussed and joint consensus is aimed at, most likely the joint consensus and joint declaration will prove elusive but that should not dissuade discussions on these major security issues threatening the very existence of the life on earth, which is already facing existential challenges from climate change.