By Bernhard Schell
The upcoming Review Conference (postponed to August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is expected to be characterised by deep divisions among the nuclear-weapon states (NWS), and between them and the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), which are deeply disappointed with the lack of progress towards nuclear disarmament despite commitments laid down in the NPT and made at past NPT review conferences.
With this in view, a joint statement by the representatives of 16 States has renewed the “call on all nuclear-weapon states to show leadership, address and reduce nuclear risks and advance nuclear disarmament by taking meaningful steps to implement the commitments under the NPT”. They convened the third ministerial meeting of the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament and the NPT in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.
Jordan is the only Arab state in this group and has the opportunity to lead disarmament diplomacy in the Arab world and encourage the NWS to participate in a constructive process that will strengthen global security.
“Recalling our declaration – ‘Advancing Nuclear Disarmament, Securing Our Future’ – [adopted on February 25, 2020, in Berlin] we reaffirm the ‘stepping stones’ contained therein as 22 concrete proposals to make progress on the road towards a world free of nuclear weapons,” the statement adds.
Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that the world and the Middle East, in particular, are witnessing “enough crises, tensions and unrest” without the threat of nuclear weapons to add to it.
“We will continue to work on pushing nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation treaty. We envision a nuclear-free Middle East that has good relations with its neighbours,” said Safadi, who insisted that Arab countries have all “expressed their will to form friendly relations with Iran”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas nevertheless said that Iran “must soften its tone and not gamble away the chance of an effective non-proliferation treaty with its recent 20 per cent uranium enrichment”.
He said that Tehran “must show moderation and back down on the dangerous uranium enrichment decision”, adding that the new Joe Biden-led US leadership “might make 2021 the year in which a course is set for a nuclear-free world”.
Noting that the past couple of years with their technological leaps have “accelerated nuclear and nuclear arms production rather than slowed it down”, Maas said that the work of the 16 states in the meeting on January 6 is “multilateralism at its finest and a sign that nuclear order is on the right track forward”.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that the meeting, which was co-hosted by Sweden, is also “a way to involve women and the youth in the talk over disarmament”.
Linde highlighted Sweden’s “support for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] and the services that it provides for Palestinian refugees”.
Jordan Foreign Minister Safadi noted that the visits by the German and Swedish foreign ministers is “a chance to discuss their bilateral relations with the Kingdom and the effort and support they provide for Jordan’s hosting of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees”.
In remarks to The Jordan Times, Safadi said that while the meetings discuss nuclear non-proliferation with states, they also work on preventing the acquirement of nuclear weapons by non-state actors.
“We know that terrorist organisations feed on chaos and the absence of hope, so if we wish to eliminate the threat of a nuclear crisis, we must solve the region’s crises in a way that satisfies all the parties and puts an end to the chaos,” he said.
UN Secretary General António Guterres in a recorded video message applauded Stockholm Initiative’s efforts to overcome “dangerous trust deficit”.
The Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament was launched by Sweden, with 16 foreign ministers from non-nuclear-weapon states meeting in Stockholm in June 2019 to “discuss how nuclear disarmament diplomacy can be advanced” by using a constructive, innovative, and creative approach that is able to respond effectively to the challenge presented by nuclear weapons.
As Dina Saadallah, a Security analyst and a Geneva Centre for Security Policy alumna, points out, the main objectives of the meeting were to reaffirm the value of the NPT and increase the chances of a constructive NPT Review Conference.
Participants were aware of the challenges, yet also chose to draw attention to the undeniable successes of the NPT: those of reducing the size of nuclear arsenals globally through the START 1 treaty, lowering tensions by creating nuclear-weapon-free zones such as the Central Asian Zone and African Zone, and the signing of treaties to limit the proliferation of nuclear material such as the one that established the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Stockholm Initiative states that “together we must ensure the future of this landmark treaty” (i.e. the NPT).
According to the Initiative, a real and current danger exists of “a potential nuclear arms race” that would adversely impact the global security landscape. In early 2019 the US left the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Stockholm Declaration mentioned three other principal arms control concerns.
The first is the imminent expiry of the New START Treaty in February 2021, which is the last remaining limitation on the size of US and Russian nuclear weapon arsenals.
The second is the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): the US withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, causing a rift with the other parties, including its European allies, and a suspension of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear limits laid down for it in the JCPOA, which could trigger nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East. The third is the lack of progress on creating a WMDFZME, which has been on the agenda since 1974.
Meanwhile, a number of states have joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as a means of expressing their desire for a world free of nuclear weapons and their belief in the need for a legal instrument to formalise and implement this desire together with the NPT.
TPNW comes into force on January 22, 2021.
This has led the NWS to accuse these states of threatening consensus within the NPT process. Another source of frustration is the enduring stalemate in the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (WMDFZME).
WMDFZME was decided in the 1995 NPT Middle East resolution that created an inextricable link between the NPT’s indefinite extension and the creation of such a zone. The UN General Assembly opened a parallel track to the NPT on the WMDFZME, but thus far has held only one successful session in November 2019 (the second session has now been postponed to 2021). [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 January 2021]