CNIC Statement: Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty-In Response to the Failure to Reach a Consensus at the 2022 Operational Review Conference

August 30, 2022

 On August 26, the Russian government opposed the adoption of the draft final document at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Operational Review Conference held at UN Headquarters in New York, resulting in a breakdown, as it did in 2015. This is an opportunity to reflect on the NPT.

 The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, defines the five nuclear weapon states as the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China (Article 9.3), and stipulates that nuclear weapon states may not transfer nuclear weapons to other states or assist in their development (Article 1). Non-nuclear weapon states are prohibited from receiving or producing nuclear weapons (Article 2) and are obliged to accept safeguards from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (Article 3). On the other hand, the peaceful use of nuclear energy is an “inalienable right” of state parties (Article 4.1), and the treaty obliges state parties to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith (Article 6) ( the so-called three pillars of the NPT). However, more than 50 years after the conclusion of the treaty, nuclear weapons still exist in large quantities in the world today. India, Pakistan, and Israel have developed nuclear weapons without joining the NPT, and in 2003 North Korea withdrew from the NPT. In this environment, non-nuclear weapon states and civil society, which are growing increasingly frustrated, have enacted the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons (which entered into force in 2021). It is said that the conflict between nuclear weapons states and countries under the nuclear umbrella, including Japan, and non-nuclear weapons states is intensifying.

 Let us consider how Japan, which is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, has responded this time. Prime Minister Kishida became the first Japanese prime minister to address the NPT Review Conference, but there was nothing new in his speech. We have been calling on the government and others to push for a U.S. declaration of no first use [1], but the Japanese government has rather strongly urged the U.S. not to declare a no-first-use policy. Again, the initial draft of the final document contained language calling for nuclear weapons states to adopt a no-first-use policy, but this language has been deleted since the revised version. This was because the U.S. requested its deletion in response to concerns on the part of  Japan and its European allies, which are under the “nuclear umbrella,” that the deterrence level may be affected [2].

 We also noted that China opposed nuclear sharing between the U.S. and some NATO countries and strongly discouraged the argument for introducing NATO-type nuclear sharing in the Asia-Pacific region [3]. This is because the late former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, former Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru, and former Defense Minister Inada Tomomi have all referred to the need for nuclear sharing. In a related matter, in response to a written question submitted by Osaka Seiji, a member of the House of Representatives, the Japanese government stated that it is “aware” of the U.S. government’s interpretation of the NATO-type nuclear sharing regime. Under this interpretation, the U.S. would only use a nuclear bomb placed under the nuclear sharing regime in an actual nuclear war, in which case the NPT would no longer be valid, and therefore, there is no violation of the NPT [4]. In other words, these people who have held key positions in the Japanese government are advocating an argument that assumes the NPT is invalid.  

 The Japanese government claims to build bridges between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states. However, while Japan claims that the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would not be effective because nuclear weapons states have not joined it, Japan sits under the US nuclear umbrella.  Furthermore, by opposing the U.S. declaration of no first use, Japan is seeking to use nuclear deterrence against attacks with biological, chemical, and large-scale conventional weapons. Not only that, government officials are even discussing nuclear sharing based on the premise that the NPT is invalid. How will this ever bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states? It simply shows the weakness of the Japanese government’s position.

 If the Japanese government insists on building a bridge, it should first take a step forward on its own. Specifically, it should clearly state that it does not oppose the no-first-use policy that the U.S. has been considering. It should also encourage NATO members to abolish nuclear sharing as a relic of the Cold War era.

 By the way, most countries do not oppose the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which is the remaining pillar of the NPT. This is because it is considered an inalienable right. For example, a working document submitted to the conference by the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), to which many TPNW signatories also belong, makes a strong appeal for the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy [5]. Malaysia, one of the leaders of the TPNW, said in a statement on the last day of the conference, “it has become evidently clear that there is absolutely no desire on the part of a handful of States Parties to fulfill their disarmament obligations, while at the same time forcing the majority to shoulder additional nonproliferation burdens with limitations on the access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. “[6]. The draft final document also argues that nuclear energy could play an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the climate goals in the context of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

 Nuclear power is central to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. But what will the situation be like when nuclear power plants are spread around the world? Nuclear fuel would be constantly transported around the world, and large amounts of high-level and low-level radioactive waste would be generated. The right to peaceful use will come down to plutonium separation technology through reprocessing of spent fuel, and uranium enrichment technology, both can be diverted to nuclear weapons development. As a result, the risk of theft would increase dramatically. A large number of nuclear engineers will also be needed, and the risk of nuclear weapons development will increase at the same time. There is also the risk of an attack on nuclear power plants, as evidenced by the Russian military’s occupation of the Ukraine Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The lifespan of a nuclear power plant, including decommissioning, can exceed 100 years. How many countries will be able to maintain peace during that time? Moreover, not many countries can cover the huge construction costs of nuclear power plants on their own before using them. As a result, they will have to finance the construction with loans, as Russia did when it sold nuclear power plants to Bangladesh, Egypt, and other countries. Debt that is not commensurate with a country’s strength can destabilize it, as we saw in Sri Lanka recently. To avoid such a situation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy will be divided into two categories: that which benefits a few countries which can afford it, and  that which is conducted sparingly under strict restrictions. In other words, the peaceful use of nuclear energy is effectively an empty promise.

 On the other hand, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons have been regarded as if they were separable. However, this is a false equivalence. For example, in 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy published a document[7] stating that it is necessary to maintain nuclear power in order to maintain the nuclear regime, because “a defense-only perspective fails to provide economies of scale to stimulate sufficient demand to protect U.S. national security interests”. In other words, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are two wheels of the same cart, and now that the NPT regime is in crisis, we believe that the time has come to reexamine the compatibility of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear abolition.


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