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NPT Review Conference 2015, 27Apr-22May New York

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Article for Peace Writes – NPT Review Conference 2015, 27Apr-22May New York
 
 
The CPACS Human Survival Project's and PND's valiant 'warriors', John Hallam and (health permitting) Prof Peter King, cyber-swords in hand, are off once more, to do battle with the forces of global destruction at the 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
 
(In fact our 'letters of approval' arrived just today from the UN. This is important because it means we can actually enter the building once we've gotten our bit of magic plastic at the registration desk.)
 
Ever since it was first signed and entered force in 1975, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, now the most widely – supported treaty on earth,(with only India, Pakistan, Israel and the DPRK not part of it) has conducted a 'Review Conference'(Revcon) every five years.
 
These Review Conferences are preceded by three 'Preparatory Committee' (prepcon) conferences.
 
There is an 'off year' immediately after a Review Conference, in which no conference is held.
 
The conferences rotate between Vienna, Geneva, and New York, with the actual Review Conference in the UN building in New York.
 
The author attended the previous (2010) Review Conference in New York, at which a massive 'final document' was produced that detailed all the things that needed/need to be done in order to move to a world without nuclear weapons, and that still need to be done. This 2010 final document will be referred back to over and over again no doubt this time round.
 
Its contents range from things like signing and ratifying the CTBT,(Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) the negotiation of a 'Fissile Materials Cutoff treaty' (FMCT) under which no further fissile material would be produced (don't worry there is already far far more than is needed to encompass the destruction of the world), lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems,(nuclear weapons are currently maintained in a status in which strategic silo-based forces and submarine forces can be launched in 'a few dozens of seconds' in spite of repeated UN General Assembly resolutions urging 'de-alerting'), decreasing the salience of nuclear deterrence in security policies, 'no first use' agreements, negative security agreements (whereby if you don't threaten me with nuke weapons I will not threaten you with them even if we are at war), and of course, cutting the overall numbers of strategic and other warheads. The 2010 final document also covered in mind-glazing detail proliferation and nuclear security issues as well as issues relating to 'peaceful' nuclear power.
 
It was at the 2010 Review Conference that the issue that has dominated discussion the last five years first became prominent, namely 'Catastrophic Humanitarian Consequences'. That issue has now had three special meetings (Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna) devoted to it. Though the author attended only the Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Consequences, Peter and I, together with our close colleague Steven Starr have made a significant impact over the years in raising the topics of Nuclear Winter and Accidental Nuclear War, and nuclear weapons as a threat to human survival. Seven years of showing stunned-mullet-silent rooms-full of diplomats animated graphics of the soot of burned cities blotting out the sun planet-wide has had its hoped-for effect.
 
These topics did of course, dominate the Vienna agenda, and the 158 governments that attended Vienna, spearheaded by Austria, Switzerland, NZ, South Africa, Ireland, Costa Rica, Malaysia, and much if not most of the NAM bloc (a mere ¾ of all the governments there are), will be intent on making catastrophic consequences and nuclear risks the topmost priority at the New York Revcon at the end of this month. It's notable that even quite mainstream briefing outfits like Wilton House in an excellent preview of the upcoming conference, noted that nuclear risk 'will dominate the upcoming conference', taking its cue from Vienna, where the focus was very much on accidental nuclear war (with Mr Seth Baum of the Catastrophic Global Risk Institute addressing the 158 governments on the all too real risk of an accidental apocalypse), and Prof. Mills addressing the delegates with a literature review on nuclear winter.
 
The political dynamics of the upcoming 2015 Review Conference are interesting to say the least.
 
On the one hand, with the 'Catastrophic Humanitarian Consequences' dialogue that started at the 2010 Review Conference gaining more and more momentum, and with more and more governments, let alone NGOs, understanding that the large-scale use of nuclear weapons would be the end of much, much, more than merely what we call 'civilization' and it could possibly be the end of us as a species – there is less and less tolerance for those governments who wish to hang on to their nuclear deterrence doctrines. The commitment on the part of non-nuclear-weapons governments to a nuclear weapons – free world is crystal clear (mind it has never been anything else), and there is an increasing sense of urgency about it.
 
On the other hand, the geopolitics of it are every day uglier, and every time Putin threatens someone (it was Denmark last week) with nuclear use – or every time US Congress's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces votes more money for modernization of the US ICBM force – the world, far from moving toward abolition, moves closer to a renewed nuclear arms race and 'cold war' that could anytime, with a faulty microchip in Colorado or Kosvinsky Mountain and a bit of panic, turn million-degree hot.
 
The Vienna Conference last December, didn't only talk about Doomsday and freezing in the dark after most humans have already perished in firestorms, but managed to do so in a way that inspired hope rather than despair. The 158 governments and the over 600 NGOs who were there, came away feeling that while the reasons to eliminate nuclear weapons are life and death not merely for humans but for most land-based complex life – forms, felt the way to eliminate nuclear weapons and go to zero was reasonably clear. There was urgency, but we are going to get there.
 
They are going to come into direct collision with the belief on the part of the US, Russia, France and the UK that they 'need' nuclear deterrence to maintain the peace – or to have their way in a world they see as increasingly threatening.
 
Since Vienna in Dec2014 a further layer of urgency has been added by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last January moving the hands of the iconic 'Doomsday Clock' (which has to be done of course, by a committee of Nobels), from five minutes to midnight to three minutes to midnight. Last time it was there was in the '80s at the terrifying height of the Cold War. (The nearest it has been to Midnight was in 1953-54 in the immediate wake of the first US thermonuclear weapon, and with 'live' plans for a US pre-emptive strike against the USSR.)
 
Now, a number of nuclear threats later, the landscape looks frighteningly familiar – haven't we been here before? Surely that was in 1983? Or 1963? And didn't we nearly perish back then? To cap it all, Der Spiegel, a mainstream German newspaper published an article that said that the likelihood of global thermonuclear war is now GREATER than during the Cold War. The Guardian and the Economist have front-paged similar articles, and the conservative Foreign Affairs journal has devoted an entire issue to nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war with suitably apocalyptic front cover.
 
The situation is as urgent as it's ever been. The possibility of nuclear war, most likely as a result of accident or miscalculation – a deadly combination of computer error and sheer terror that this time it is for real and I have to press the flashing red button or hit 'enter' and input the numeric codes before 'their' missiles arrive, all determined by a half-hour missile flight time from Siberia to Washington (or Sydney), or from Colorado to Moscow (or Beijing), with frenzied decisions being taken amongst wailing sirens and flashing lights – That utterly terrifying possibility, is once more on the global agenda.
 
Your correspondents have a panel on catastrophic global risks, nuclear weapons and human survival, but we expect discussion of the likelihood of an accidental apocalypse to be all – pervasive.
 
Your author has six minutes (with around 20 other NGOs) to address the body of the conference which is like addressing the body of the UN (its literally the same people).
 
That is close to the same time a US or Russian decision-maker has, hovering over a wailing flashing nuclear briefcase, or in a launch control center with sirens and flashing lights to make the most important decision a human could ever make.
 
I intend to put everything into that six minutes.
 
John Hallam
Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 16:42