Members' Research Service By / July 14, 2022

Tenth NPT review conference: Nuclear weapons threat at an all-time high

Global nuclear disarmament – in other words, a world free of nuclear weapons – is one of the United Nations’ most long-standing objectives.

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Written by Beatrix Immenkamp.

Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to humanity. Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the context of its war on Ukraine has been a stark reminder that this threat is real. At present, nine states are known to have military nuclear programmes. Over recent years, tensions among nuclear-armed states have increased, leading to ‘outright strategic rivalry and competition’ among several of them. Moreover, experts are concerned that the ‘fabric of international institutions, treaties, and norms that has historically contributed to predictable and more stable relationships among nuclear-armed States is deteriorating’. Experts also point to technological developments that heighten uncertainties and unpredictability in the strategic relationships among nuclear-armed states. In January 2021, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the doomsday clock to 100 seconds to midnight and warned that the world is ‘sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape’.

In 1968, the five states that possessed nuclear weapons at the time signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), intended to lead to the eventual abolition of all nuclear weapons and control their proliferation. However, rather than fulfilling the pledge to disarm that they made when they signed the NPT, nuclear weapon states are investing massive sums in more modern nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Moreover, an additional four states have acquired nuclear weapons since the NPT came into force in 1970, and a fifth, Iran, is getting dangerously close to building its own nuclear bomb. The Tenth NPT Review Conference, scheduled to take place in New York from 1‑26 August 2022, will review progress on the implementation of the treaty. The conference is taking place at a time of fundamental divides between NPT member states over key aspects of the treaty. Moreover, Russia’s invasion of a non-nuclear weapon state and its reckless nuclear rhetoric pose particular challenges for the disarmament and non-proliferation objectives of the NPT. The EU remains fully committed to the NPT as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and recently called on all parties to work towards a positive and substantive outcome of the conference.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Tenth NPT review conference: Nuclear weapons threat at an all-time high‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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