Rebecca Johnson on Disarmament and the NPT

I was just reading a new piece by Rebecca Johnson, whom I very much respect, reflecting on the recently concluded final NPT Preparatory Committee meeting before next year’s NPT Review Conference. Rebecca is probably the most knowledgeable person I know on NPT diplomacy issues. I think in this new piece she shares some very important and instructive insight about the relationship between nuclear disarmament and the NPT.  It’s not a long piece and I encourage you to read it.  I’ll excerpt here a few paragraphs from the end that I found to be particularly profound and insightful, about the situation in which pro-disarmament civil society finds itself, while viewing and trying to influence the dance of the elephants that is NPT diplomacy:

In view of the importance and attention given to the NPT by so many of our governments, civil society is stuck in a double bind.  Having tried to make the regime work better and deliver progress on disarmament, we’re stuck with almost annual meetings and five-yearly review conferences that absorb considerable resources without achieving much in the real world. There’s a large ‘business-as-usual’ industry attached to the NPT in many of the nuclear-armed and alliance states, co-opting and trapping too many academics and NGOs in the non-proliferation narrative dominated by the P5. This is fuelled by funders that have downgraded peace and disarmament, and increasingly make the NPT and US-Russian arms reductions their priorities for grants.  Ignoring the NPT, or carping from the sidelines, isn’t the answer either –  since that just renders civil society invisible as far as most governments are concerned.

The run up to the 2015 NPT Review Conference provides us with unprecedented opportunities, as well as challenges. It may look like a game played by governments and NGOs, but the humanitarian stakes are deadly serious. Austria’s ambassador Alexander Kmentt chose this PrepCom to invite all governments and relevant civil society to participate in the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, which will be held in Vienna on 8-9 December. The next year will see the NPT circus create a great deal of sound and fury, but probably not much else. If the Chair’s recommendations from this PrepCom are the most the P5 will accept, what will happen?

The many NGOs that have become partners in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons recognise that to carry the governments we need, we have to connect humanitarian initiatives for a globally applicable treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons with the existing partially applicable NPT regime. As before, it will be a juggling act for civil society to be informed enough to exercise influence without becoming co-opted, irrelevant, or sunk under the NPT’s flawed premises and vested interests. This will be a major challenge in the coming year.

Governments are fond of calling the NPT the cornerstone of non-proliferation. Cornerstones need to be built on, or they end up as stumbling blocks half hidden in weeds. So let’s use the NPT cornerstone to construct more secure walls, and fix in place a higher, broader roof for the world without nuclear weapons that people all over the world want.

In 2015 we cannot let the NPT carry on being a stumbling block used by nuclear-armed states to break disarmament’s legs!


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