The independent resource on global security

11. Nuclear disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation


Overview, Tytti Erästö, Shannon N. Kile and Petr Topychkanov [PDF]

I. Russian–United States nuclear arms control and disarmament, Petr Topychkanov and Ian Davis [PDF]

II. North Korean–United States nuclear diplomacy, Shannon N. Kile [PDF]

III. Implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tytti Erästö [PDF]

IV. Multilateral nuclear arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and initiatives, Tytti Erästö and Shannon N. Kile [PDF]

Russian–US nuclear arms control

The prospects for sustaining the achievements made in Russian–US nuclear arms control appear to be increasingly remote. During 2019, the long-running dispute between the United States and Russia over a seminal cold war-era arms control treaty, the 1987 Soviet–US Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty), culminated with the collapse of the treaty. The USA alleged that Russia had developed and deployed a mobile ground-launched cruise missile that had a flight range prohibited under the treaty—an allegation that Russia consistently dismissed as baseless. In August 2019 the USA confirmed its withdrawal from the INF Treaty in the light of Russia’s failure to address US compliance concerns. The decision marked the effective demise of the treaty, which could result in the deployment of new nuclear weapons in Europe.


Russia and the USA also failed to make progress towards extending the sole remaining nuclear arms control agreement between them—the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START). The two countries achieved the final New START force reduction limits by the specified deadline in 2018. However, the treaty will lapse if there is no agreement between them to extend it by February 2021. The impasse over New START came against the background of tensions between Russia and the USA over missile defences and advanced weapon delivery systems as well as significant improvements in Chinese strategic capabilities.


North Korean–US nuclear dialogue

In 2019 tensions persisted between the USA and North Korea over the latter’s ongoing programmes to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems. The two countries remained locked in a diplomatic stalemate over the commitments made by their respective leaders during a summit meeting the previous year to work towards establishing peaceful relations and achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. A second summit meeting between the leaders held in February 2019 ended with no concrete results. In addition, while North Korea continued to adhere to its self-declared moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, during the year it conducted multiple flight tests of shorter-range ballistic missiles, including several new types of system. 


Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

In 2019 there continued to be controversy over the implementation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an eight-party agreement designed to limit Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and to build international confidence about the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. During the year, Iran announced that it would incrementally scale back its compliance with the limits set out by the agreement in response to the re-imposition of US sanctions (following the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018). Iran appealed to the other JCPOA participants to provide guarantees that at least some degree of sanctions relief—one of Iran’s principal benefits under the JCPOA—could be provided despite the extraterritorial impact of the US sanctions. Against the background of growing political tensions, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran continued to facilitate inspection and monitoring activities by the agency pursuant to the JCPOA. 


Multilateral arms control and disarmament

In the framework of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT), the third and final session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT Review Conference was convened in New York in April and May 2019. Given persistent divisions among NPT members on several issues, the Preparatory Committee was unable to agree on joint recommendations for the 2020 NPT Review Conference. 


There were also continued multilateral diplomatic efforts to promote the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which is the first treaty establishing a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, including their development, deployment, possession, use and threat of use. In December the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all states that had not yet done so to ‘sign, ratify, accept, approve or accede to the Treaty at the earliest possible date’.


In September 2019 the 11th biannual Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was convened in New York. The conference took place against the backdrop of US allegations that Russia was violating its commitments under the CTBT. In November a Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction held its first session at the UN in New York. Calls to establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East date back to 1974. 

Dr Tytti Erästö, Shannon N. Kile, Dr Petr Topychkanov and Dr Ian Davis