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2014 NPT PrepCom: Day 5

The NPT PrepCom continued on its fifth day with statements by another 33 states in the morning and in the afternoon in the resumed ‘Cluster 1’ discussions on nuclear disarmament. In the second part of the afternoon session, ‘Cluster 1’ continued with its focused discussion on nuclear disarmament and security assurances, with statements made by 8 delegations.


Statement by the Swiss representative, on behalf of the De-alerting Group

Switzerland (speaking on behalf of Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and Nigeria) made a statement on the issue of de-alerting, or decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems. The De-alerting Group remains deeply concerned that today almost 2000 nuclear warheads remain deployed and ready for use within a matter of minutes. Such alert levels multiply the risks posed by nuclear weapons and increase the probability of an inadvertent, erroneous, unauthorized or precipitate launch. They represent an unacceptable danger to humanity as even a small percentage of these warheads, if used, could kill millions of people.

The is concerned that in the nearly 15 years since de-alerting has been highlighted as a practical step, reducing operational readiness has been largely ignored by the relevant nuclear-weapon states. The Group welcomed the reports submitted by the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) under the 2010 Action Plan which addressed the issue of de-alerting. However, they conclude from these reports that there has been no meaningful progress in reducing alert levels since 2010, and that high alert levels continue to play an important role in the doctrines of certain countries.

The Group welcomed measures taken following the end of the cold war that lowered the operational readiness of specific categories of nuclear weapons. This showed that de-alerting is possible and feasible. On that basis, the De-alerting Group called on the NWS to intensify unilateral, bilateral and multilateral efforts to lower levels of alert of all nuclear weapons. The Group expressed its resolve to see progress in this area and its consciousness of the risks to humanity posed by current nuclear alert postures has been reinforced by the better understanding of the humanitarian consequences of the detonation of any nuclear weapon. Concrete action to reduce nuclear alert levels is well overdue.


Statement by the Austrian representative

Austria also expressed concern at the high alert level of nuclear weapons. It noted that while further unilateral and bilateral reductions would be welcome, they are in no way a replacement for transparent, verifiable and irreversible multilateral nuclear disarmament. Austria recalled the obligation, reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1996, of all states to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects and under strict and effective international control. It noted with regret that the reporting by the NWS during this cycle has offered no perspectives on how such negotiations could be facilitated.

In this context, Austria particularly regretted that the NWS chose to deliberately stay away from the work conducted by the Open-ended Working Group in 2013, which looked at how to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. This working group produced a substantive consensus report that not only reflects the constructive discussions on how a world without nuclear weapons could be achieved, but also elaborates on the elements required as well as supporting factors for achieving and maintaining a world without nuclear weapons.

Austria also noted that the high level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament that took place on 26 September 2013 was an important opportunity to raise the awareness and increase the urgency of nuclear disarmament at the highest political level.


Statement by the Swiss representative

Switzerland, speaking in its national capacity, recalled the joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that bears particular importance. Supported by 125 states, this statement recognized that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances, and that the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.

Switzerland hoped that while the practice of non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945 will last indefinitely, the broader risks associated with nuclear weapons and current doctrines should be considered. One such risk stems from the estimated 1940 warheads (globally) that are ready to be launched within minutes. Such high alert levels are rooted in cold war-thinking and increase the risk of nuclear launches due to accidents, unauthorized actions or misperceptions. The number of disturbingly close calls in which nuclear weapons were nearly used due to miscalculation or error also demonstrates that the current situation bears higher risks than commonly understood. Furthermore, nuclear command networks have become exposed to cyber-attacks. Everything indicates that this is a new serious challenge.


Statement by the French representative

France informed that next week it would sign the Protocol to the Treaty of Semipalatinsk on the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in Central Asia, together with the other NWS, after two years of discussions. France recalled that in September 2012, the NWS signed parallel declarations with Mongolia on its nuclear-weapon-free status. It indicated its readiness to sign the Protocol to the Bangkok Treaty on the NWFZ in Southeast Asia as soon as possible.

France described its nuclear disarmament record and noted that it has completely dismantled the ground-to-ground component of its nuclear deterrent and reduced the submarine and air components by one third. In total, France has unilaterally reduced its arsenal by half over the last 20 years or so. It now has fewer than 300 nuclear warheads. It does not hold any non-deployed weapons. All of its weapons are operational and deployed.

France has reduced alert levels twice. These alert level reductions concerned both force response times and the number of weapon systems. It no longer has any targeted weapons. It no longer has any weapons on high-alert status. France was the first state to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), along with the United Kingdom, and to dismantle its nuclear test site. It unilaterally dismantled the facilities for the production of fissile material for weapon purposes, at a cost which already amounts to €6 billion. France stopped producing plutonium for weapon use in 1992 and took a similar decision in 1996 regarding highly-enriched uranium. This is an irreversible step. France has never participated in a nuclear arms race of any kind. It applies the principle of strict sufficiency, i.e. it maintains its arsenal at the lowest possible level compatible with the strategic context. The French nuclear deterrent is strictly defensive. Since it may only be used in extreme circumstances of self-defence, the French deterrence does not violate international law in any way.


Statement by the British representative

The UK noted that its record on unilateral nuclear disarmament is strong. It has steadily reduced the size of its nuclear forces by well over 50 per cent since the cold war peak, and all of the UK’s air-delivered nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from service and dismantled. The previously announced reductions in UK nuclear forces to no more than 120 operationally available warheads and a total stockpile of no more than 180 nuclear warheads are continuing and will be completed by the mid- 2020s.

The UK now has just one delivery system provided by four fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and has begun cut the maximum number of warheads onboard each deployed submarine from 48 to 40, while reducing the number of operationally available Trident missiles on each submarine to 8. These changes have already been completed on at least one of the vessels. The UK has undertaken ground-breaking research into the challenges of verifying the dismantlement of nuclear warheads through the UK–Norway Initiative (UKNI), the first such project jointly with a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS). The UK is also into the second decade of an active partnership with the United States on monitoring and verification research.


Statement by the US representative

The USA informed that changes in its nuclear posture have taken place against the backdrop of dramatic and ongoing reductions in its nuclear arsenal. It noted that when the NPT entered into force in 1970, the USA had a nuclear stockpile of over 26 000 nuclear weapons. The US nuclear stockpile now has been reduced to 4804 warheads, which reflects an 85 per cent decrease from its cold war peak. During this period, the USA reduced its non-strategic nuclear warheads by 90 per cent. To lend a better sense of the scale of this ongoing activity in the post-cold war period, between 1994 and 2013 the USA dismantled 9952 nuclear warheads.


Other statements

The Russian Federation took issue with those Western states which had criticized Russian actions regarding Ukraine and Crimea, and the violation in their view by Russia of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity and provided security assurances. The Russian Federation rejected allegations that it was in violation of the undertakings of the Budapest Memorandum. Both the UK and the USA took exception to this assertion by the Russian Federation. As the Ukrainian delegation was not in the room, there was no response from Ukraine. 

Iran recalled the decision by the UN General Assembly to declare 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Iran also acknowledged the important decision made by the General Assembly this year to convene, no later than 2018, a UN high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament to review the progress made in this regard.

Egypt stated that the time has come for the NWS to change course if the NPT is to continue to embrace the vision of nuclear disarmament and the balance required between the three pillars of the Treaty. Their efforts cannot be solely dedicated to their own arsenals but also to existing arsenals in states non-members of the Treaty, in particular in the Middle East, as clearly envisioned in the 1995 Resolution of the Middle East.


Assessment and looking ahead

The statements showed yet again the divergences in views between many of the NNWS and the NWS on the pace and extent of nuclear disarmament. Initiatives such as the humanitarian consequences and de-alerting are now putting pressure on the nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament, and the level of frustration is running high among the non-nuclear weapon states.

On Monday 4 May the Preparatory Committee will discuss the peaceful uses of nuclear energy under Cluster 3 issues. It is expected that at the end of the day the Chairman will circulate to states parties a draft of the recommendations from the Preparatory Committee to the 2015 NPT Review Conference, on which the Chair will seek consensus for adoption following consideration of the document.