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 Full text 
Tuesday, 20 October 2020 - Brussels Provisional edition

Recommendation to the VPC/HR and to the Council in preparation of the 2020 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) review process, nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament options (debate)

  Sven Mikser, rapporteur. – Madam President, the NPT or the Treaty on the Non—Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons entered into force over 50 years ago, in March 1970. The Treaty consists of three mutually reinforcing pillars which deal respectively with the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament and the civilian use of nuclear energy. The Treaty has been joined by 191 nations, which is the overwhelming majority of the global community, including all five of the recognised nuclear weapons states. As such the Treaty represents the only binding commitment by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to work towards global nuclear disarmament.

At the 1995 Review Conference the Treaty’s duration was extended indefinitely. A review conference of the Treaty is held every five years, but regrettably every other one of those review conferences in this century has ended without a consensus regarding the final document. Therefore I believe that it is of critical importance that the 50—year anniversary review conference, already postponed once because of the COVID pandemic, be a success.

Our 27 Member States joined the NPT as individual nations, but I believe that in order to contribute to the success of the upcoming review conference, it is necessary that a strong consensus position be forged among the EU Member States. The recommendations to the Council that we are going to vote on at this week’s plenary session are aimed at helping the Member States to agree on such a position.

I would argue that regarding its central objectives, the NPT has been relatively successful during the past half century. The nightmare scenarios painted during and after the Cold War regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons to dozens of countries around the world have not materialised, and after the end of the Cold War the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States were brought down significantly from the peak numbers of warheads.

Yet significant problems and challenges remain as many of the objectives of the Treaty have yet to be fulfilled and some important stones in the nuclear disarmament and non—proliferation architecture are still missing. The CTBT, or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, negotiated in the 1990s is still awaiting ratification by a number of its Article 16 countries, and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty is still under discussion at the UN Conference on Disarmament, with not much tangible progress to show during the past several years.

Moreover, even though a vast majority of the global community of nations have joined the NPT, there are still some outliers, including countries that are known or believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons or are believed to have pursued nuclear weapons programmes in the past. It must be noted that, with the exception of the five nuclear weapon states, all other countries are only able to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. While the immediate accession of the remaining outliers is thus not likely, a question remains as to how to make sure that they would not contribute to global or regional proliferation of nuclear weapons materials and know-how.

There are additional clouds on the horizon. Over the past several years, we have seen gradual erosion of important arms control regimes that have for decades been a critical element of European security. Following the consistent violations by Russia, the US has left the INF, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, last year. The future of the JCPOA, the so-called Iran nuclear deal, remains uncertain. The US announcement that it would leave the Open Skies Treaty throws in doubt the future of an important transparency and confidence building instrument. As the New START Treaty is expected to expire next year it is inevitable that the growing level of tensions and mistrust do not contribute positively to the atmosphere of negotiating its successor. Yet when it comes to the future of nuclear disarmament, it is the two countries in possession of the bulk of global nuclear arsenals that bear the greatest responsibility.

Perhaps even more worrisome is the increasing reliance by some nuclear weapon states on those weapons in their military doctrines. With nuclear disarmament efforts having stalled significantly, a new delivery system is being designed and built, the danger of intentional or unintentional escalation involving the use or effective use of nuclear weapons is growing. All that is why the success of the NPT Review Conference is of utmost importance for global as well as European security.

But let me end with a word of caution. It is clear that our eventual goal must be a nuclear-free world and the elimination of nuclear weapons, but it is a goal that we must approach pragmatically, evaluating very carefully both the immediate and long-term security consequences and implications of each step along the way. A nuclear-free world cannot be negotiated and agreed upon without the participation of the five nuclear weapon states. No false parity must be created between the five nuclear weapon states and those actors that are pursuing nuclear weapons illegally.

While on the one hand every nuclear warhead less is a step towards a more secure world, it is also true that the world where the only remaining nuclear weapons are the illegal ones is not a safer place for us to live in. Therefore I strongly believe that while looking for all possible alternative avenues to reach our eventual goal, we should not choose the ones that risks bringing the time-tested NPT and its review process to a standstill.

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