Right now, at the United Nation in New York, a Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) is taking place. These conferences are due to be held every 5 years but this one was delayed due to the Covid pandemic. The Conference has two main tasks – 1) to check on progress (if any) towards the key goals of the Treaty which are the prevention of new states getting nuclear weapons and progress towards disarmament on the part of states which have them (and particularly those states that are signatories to the Treaty), and 2) to elicit plans and commitments to progress these goals in the future.

That second goal – disarmament -is enshrined in Article V1 of the Treaty which says:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

The Conference is taking place at an extremely dangerous juncture in the nuclear era. The risk of catastrophic nuclear war is reckoned to be as serious now as it has ever been, due to the virtual collapse of arms control measures, the modernisation of weapon systems and the emergence of ever more unhinged leaders with access to doomsday arsenals. And there are the current threats and counter threats – Putin on the one hand and on the other the chilling words from the new NATO “Strategic Concept” – “The Alliance has the capability and resolve to impose costs on an adversary that would be unacceptable . .” If the nuclear weapon states were to be honest in New York they would admit that the direction of travel has been in the opposite direction from the aspiration of Article V1.

The UK is in clear breach of the NPT. It has increased the number of its nuclear warheads, is in process of building a modernised submarine-launched missile system and has continued to share nuclear weapon material and expertise with another state (the US), in blatant breach of Article II of the Treaty. The UK envoy to the Treaty is required to lie, prevaricate and obscure in order to present an appearance of compliance.

But there is some good news. Since the last NPT Review Conference the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has entered into force. The TPNW, which aims for the elimination of nuclear weapons has already been ratified by 66 countries, has been signed by 86 states and is regularly supported by 130 states when on the agenda at the UN General Assembly. One of the reasons for its adoption was the failure of the previous Review Conference. So there are now more and more UN states willing to call out the nuclear weapon states on their failures and to point out that the disarmament agenda is a matter for the world’s people instead of being controlled by the current nuclear elites.

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