Hopeful Horizons for Nonproliferation?

In the wake of L41 and with the next NPT PrepCom coming up this May, many are hoping that we are seeing the start of a shift in the nonproliferation attitude. Many hope that norms are being shifted in the direction that we thought the nonproliferation regime was headed in after the 2008 Prague speech and the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

I will admit, that I still clutch tightly to my pessimistic tendencies and have a less starry-eyed opinion of recent events in the UN.

For those that don’t know, L41 is a UN First Committee resolution which received a majority vote on 14 October 2016. The resolution titled ‘General and Complete Disarmament: taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’ was also referred to more commonly as ‘the ban treaty resolution.’

Resolution L41 Spark Notes:

  • Pages 1-3: A list of all the past agreements to disarm and seemingly fruitful negotiations. Condemnation of nuclear weapons. Hearty calls to disarm.
  • Page 4: Highly encourages progress. Action Items (the point of the resolution): 8-15
    • What was actually agreed on: to have a conference this year on talking about creating a nuclear weapons ban treaty

Although I saw the headline a lot in the news after the vote, no… the UN did not vote to ban nuclear weapons.

Now my initial low-key opposition to the proposed resolution was not from any kind of long-term desire for the US to keep our nuclear weapons or even a belief that a nuclear weapons ban was a bad idea. In the abstract sense, it would be a very positive step towards global safety and stability. But I simply disagree with the idea that it would be beneficial to try and force the proposition now. I don’t believe we are in a political climate in which it would prove to be productive and will more than likely serve to hurt nonproliferation efforts.

Many refer to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime, I among them. But recent years has seen frustrations within the NPT member states reaching criticality. Non-nuclear weapon states (NNWSs) agreed to forego nuclear weapon development contingent on the nuclear weapon states (NWSs) agreeing to work towards disarmament. With each new NPT Review Conference and Preparatory Commission, NNWSs highlight the continued failure of NWSs to make substantial progress in their obligations. With each new multilateral agreement, the obligations and commitments grow but the political sticking points that seem to impede disarmament progress appear to remain the same. This is what I fear from L41, I foresee it as another promise of progress on paper that is unlikely to yield the kind of results expected by the NNWSs.

I am by no means calling for its cancellation or even hoping for its failure, it has been decided and I hope that it yields productive discussion. I just also hope that those who are ardently supporting the resolution and its goal, are also prepared for the realistic results of the Conference.

And please, can we not hail North Korea’s vote as a great victory for the ban treaty cause? I think it is more than likely that North Korea knew the kind of good political capital it could earn with its vote of approval without any of the risks of an actual ban treaty being established in the foreseeable future. North Korea is going to continue to represent the exact opposite of the sentiments contained in the resolution, no matter what their vote was.


2 thoughts on “Hopeful Horizons for Nonproliferation?

    1. And I hope it does, I just also think that it has a high potential to be detrimental to the overall goal. I don’t know when the conditions will be “ripe”, the international security atmosphere is incredibly turbulent, especially now. But just saying that it has been too long is not justification enough for trying to force something when you do not have the power to ensure its success.


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