- The 10th five-yearly Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT) was due to take place in April–May 2020, but has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In force since 1970 and with 191 states parties, the NPT is hailed as the cornerstone of a rules-based international arms control and non-proliferation regime, and an essential basis for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. But successive review conferences have been riven by disagreement between the five nuclear weapon states and many non-nuclear weapon states over the appropriate way to implement the treaty’s nuclear disarmament pillar.
- Although the number of nuclear weapons committed to NATO defence has been reduced by over 90 per cent since the depths of the Cold War, NATO nuclear weapon states, and their allies that depend on the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence for their own defence, favour continued retention of the remaining nuclear weapons until the international security situation is conducive to further progress on nuclear disarmament.
- The test of a constructive NPT Review Conference will be the extent to which broad engagement can be achieved on how and where to find common ground on practical ways forward for nuclear disarmament during the next five-year review cycle. In this regard, NATO allies are likely to promote the US-led Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) process, and other new initiatives with which NATO members are associated.
- Though not likely to be in force by the time of the forthcoming Review Conference, the recent negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) also brings a new dimension to the debate on how best to implement the NPT’s nuclear disarmament pillar. The challenge for the Review Conference will be to acknowledge that papering over the differences inherent in the competing perspectives on, and approaches to, nuclear disarmament is not a desirable way of marking the first half-century of the NPT. Nor, more importantly, will it help pave the way to a calmer global security environment in which the risks of both nuclear proliferation and use of nuclear weapons are reduced and ultimately eliminated.