Recently I was able to attend a panel discussion at the VCDNP on the prospects of this year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Commission meeting that will begin in May here in Vienna. One of my professors was actually moderating the panel and opened the discussions with some interesting albeit sobering questions. In many cases, he highlighted the exacerbated divide between the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and the non-western-allied non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS).
Later on in the question and answer phase, one of the audience members called into question the utility of starting the review conference cycle with such pessimism. But I agreed with the rebuttal proposal: optimism is all fine and dandy, but it is more necessary to to be realistic if we want progress. Many of us were quite optimistic before the 2015 Review Conference, and that did not usher in a winning consensus final document.
While ignorant optimism can sometimes do more harm than good, full-fledged pessimism is also detrimental to the process. One of the panelists made a good point in my opinion, that this was not the first time that a review cycle was beginning in a turbulent set of political and security concerns. And I think it’s definitely something that should be taken into consideration when the doomsday predictions start flying. If we begin the conferences with the belief that progress is impossible, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But at the same time, we need to remember that while that is true, the frustrations have been building for longer now. With each Review Conference, the frustration from lack of sufficient progress by the NWS grows within the NNWS. And as I have mentioned in an earlier post, I believe that new negotiations in the near future pose a high risk of adding to that frustration.
As much as I enjoyed the panel discussion, it in itself also exemplified one of the main problems of the NPT, even if it didn’t say it explicitly. It proved to reiterate the same arguments and issues that have been coming up in every NPT discussion for about the last 17 years. Nonproliferation diplomats and academics have been having the same arguments for years now and yet the frustrations from lack of resolution continue to grow. The NPT needs new ideas, it needs fresh perspectives, and it needs the delegations to consider un-gluing their feet from their typical un-retractable positions.
Yes, it’s very easy to just say that we need new ideas, and no I am not going to provide the answers (because I don’t have them… if I did don’t you think I would be employed by now?). But hopefully, in my nonproliferation baby-status of ‘student’, I am hoping to be a part of the new group asking the new questions and looking for ways to color outside of the box.