The 2020 Review Conference of States Parties to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) is likely to be postponed until 2021. This is one of a number of UN events having to be postponed or cancelled due to the corona virus situation.
The NPT is a critical treaty where-by non-nuclear States agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and the nuclear-armed States agree to work for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Every five years the States Parties to the NPT meet for four weeks to review progress on these objectives.
“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is an essential pillar of international peace and security, and the heart of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Its unique status is based on its near universal membership, legally-binding obligations on disarmament, verifiable non-proliferation safeguards regime, and commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear energy”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres 24 May 2018. Fiftieth Anniversary of the NPT’s opening for signature.
The 2020 NPT Review Conference was scheduled to be held at U.N. headquarters in New York from April 27-May 22. However, on March 13, the President of the Review Conference Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina contacted the NPT political groups to propose postponement of the Conference, with details to be formalised at a procedural meeting on April 27 (held subject to conditions of the pandemic). The NY Times reported on March 24 that it is most likely that this proposal will be accepted and a decision on the new dates to be announced next week.
Prospect of a successful NPT Review Conference
Postponement of the NPT Review Conference is most likely a necessity due to the corona virus situation. However, such delay could also be beneficial politcally. A number of commentators have noted that 2020 is a difficult year to hold a nuclear disarmament event due to the political tensions between the nuclear-armed States, the deteriorating situation regarding the Iran nuclear non-proliferation deal (JCPOA) and the fact that it is election year in the United States. In 2021, there may be a new administration in the United States, and the possibility of a more successful NPT Review Conference.
‘Right now, the United States, Russia, and China have nothing to offer in the way of nuclear arms reductions, actual or prospective. This is despite the commitments they made, along with the United Kingdom and France, at the 2010 Review Conference, “to undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons.” The failure to fulfil this and other commitments made at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 conferences is the single most important factor casting a pall over the upcoming conference and making a consensus substantive outcome unlikely.’
John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, cited in Coronavirus Threatens to Wreck Nuclear Review Conference, IPS News, March 4, 2020.
Civil society events at the NPT Review Conference
The NPT Review Conference is also a time when peace and disarmament organizations from around the world gather in New York to lobby the governments and build cooperation amongst themselves on political strategies and actions for nuclear disarmament. Much of this is done through civil society side-events. With the NPT likely to be postponed, some of these events will be cancelled. However, others will be turned into virtual meetings, video conferences and webinars.
UNFOLD ZERO is involved in a number of these including the Annual Meeting of Abolition 2000 (the global civil society network to eliminate nuclear weapons) and NPT side-events on Move the Nuclear Weapons Money and Youth Voices for Climate, Peace and Nuclear Disarmament which will be turned into webinars (details to follow).