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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Interviews

Confronting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Challenge: An Interview With New CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd


October 2021

For a treaty that has never formally entered into force, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has a very good success record. It opened for signature on September 24, 1996, and has near-universal support, with 185 signatories, including the five original nuclear testing states. More importantly, no state except North Korea has conducted militarily significant nuclear test explosions in the last 23 years, and North Korea halted testing in 2017.

Robert Floyd took office as the fourth executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization on Aug. 1. (Photo by CTBTO)Nevertheless, unless eight key states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—actually ratify the treaty, it cannot enter into force. That raises serious questions about the durability of the unofficial testing moratorium that nuclear-armed countries are currently observing and about the long-term future of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and its sophisticated global network of sensors that monitor for nuclear testing.

The person elected by CTBT member states to lead the organization into this uncertain future is Robert Floyd, the former director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office. He became the CTBTO’s fourth executive secretary in August. He spoke with Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball on September 16 about the challenges ahead.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

ACT: This month marks the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT, made possible in part by the diplomatic leadership of Australia, your home country, back in the summer of 1996. Looking back over the last quarter century, give us your broad sense of what has been accomplished in terms of international security since then on nonproliferation and with respect to
the CTBTO.

Robert Floyd: The 25th anniversary and any anniversary, I think, is a really good time to look back at what has been done and take stock of that, as well as to review what has yet to be done. In the case of the CTBT, in the 25 years since its opening for signature, so much has been done, and this is at several different levels.

One level is that there is almost universal support for this treaty. We should never lose sight of that. We have 185 states out of 196 that have signed the treaty. We have 170 states that have ratified the treaty. Of those states that have not done so, the vast majority of them actually support the treaty, but there are two main classes of reasons as to why they may not have signed or ratified.

The first is actually bandwidth. It’s to do with how much legal drafting skills, et cetera, do they have available….
[M]any of those that haven’t completed [ratification] are the smaller and new countries. So, there’s a special case where I think more work can be done in support.

Then there’s another set of countries that have…their own circumstances which might limit their ability to take the decision politically now to either sign or ratify the treaty. Some of their considerations may well be more strategic than anything. So, all of that aside, the vast majority of countries support it, so that’s the first achievement.

Antarctica, Ascension Island, Greenland, and United Kingdom are just some of the 300 sites worldwide where the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization has located its sensors to detect potential nuclear tests. This one is in Qaanaaq, Greenland. (Photo by CTBTO)The second achievement is that the treaty organization, the CTBTO, is responsible for establishing the verification mechanism so that it can be ready for when the treaty enters into force. That verification arrangement contains over 300 monitoring stations of what we call the International Monitoring System (IMS). It entails the International Data Centre (IDC), established here at the CTBTO, and the network of national data centers in various states. It entails developing on-site inspection protocols and approaches and the training of a cadre of would-be inspectors for any inspection which may be required by the verification regime of the treaty. The network is 90 percent complete, which is an amazing achievement.

This goes to your point about the accomplishments in terms of international security and nonproliferation, what we then have is something like a global norm that’s been established, a global norm against nuclear testing. Although we do not yet have a legally binding treaty—of course it has not entered into force due to eight of the states listed in Annex II having not yet ratified—we have a verification system under development that can demonstrate very clearly if there has been a nuclear test conducted anywhere, anytime... [B]efore the treaty was opened for signature, more than 2,000 tests had taken place. Since then, very few, and by very few states: India
and Pakistan late in the 1990s, and then the only state to test in the 21st century being North Korea. That to me is a story of great success.

ACT: Let me zero in on some of the challenges that you were alluding to. There are eight countries that have either not signed or ratified the treaty that are listed in the Article XIV provision on entry into force. What specifically do you plan to do to engage with those eight countries and to work with other friends of the CTBT countries to try to advance entry into force?

Floyd: The eight countries are an important focus of activity. My plan for engagement is that I want to meet with each of those eight countries individually, and I want to sit down with them to better understand three things: For five of the eight, when they signed this treaty, what were their considerations, and why did they sign the treaty? To understand their current context with regard to the treaty—their policy goals, situation, and natural disposition with regard to the treaty. Importantly, to explore with them scenarios as to how we can move from where we are now to where we want to be, where they would ratify.

That, to me, is a discussion I would want to have with each of those states to understand their individual history, journey, and possible scenarios to move forward. It would be presumptuous of me to be just writing the script for those meetings without actually meeting with the individuals that hold those responsibilities. I recognize, though, that the steps forward may not be so individual, the step forward well may be regional and coordinated in some ways in different parts of the world. Some would even suggest that it’s entirely global.

So, that’s how I would approach it, but let me put just one rider on that. Entry into force of the CTBT is a team sport. I have a part to play, and I take it very seriously. The CTBTO as an organization has a part to play, and we take it very seriously, but it’s actually a team sport of all those that love and appreciate the objectives of the CTBT. So, working with other state signatories, working with civil society, working with the youth—all of these are important avenues of engagement that we together could make a difference.

ACT: Speaking of one of the team players, so to speak, you met with some senior Biden administration officials here in Washington earlier this month. What was your basic message to the Biden administration about what it can do to advance the CTBT and to support the organization beyond rhetorical expressions? What can you share with us about what you might have heard back?

Floyd: Yes, of course I would not go into the greater details of discussions with members of the Biden administration, for which I am very thankful to have had some helpful discussions and to have had a good deal of their time. It is clear, everybody can see, that President [Joe] Biden and his administration are certainly keen about the CTBT. His history of involvement early on with the CTBT is well known. It’s also clear that the process for ratification is not just about the president’s wish, and so there are some practical challenges to seeing the treaty move to a point where a ratification might happen.

I am confident that if any opportunity arose for that to happen, then the opportunity would be seized, but that is for the judgment of the U.S. administration and the U.S. officials. So, I think that the discussion with the U.S. administration is not one that should be single dimensional. If it is unidimensional and it’s just about entry into force, then it’s too narrow a discussion. The discussion, to me, is to see a continuation of the great commitment that the United States has made across many administrations to support financially the CTBTO, both through regular assessed contributions, but also through some very generous extra contributions. We are deeply appreciative of that clear and very strong demonstration of support.

An additional demonstration of support has been the engagement of U.S. technical experts in areas of the processes, committees, and considerations and even technologies used by the CTBTO, and I would love to see that continue on. In addition, I would like to see strong political support by the U.S. administration in encouraging, even though this is slightly awkward, further ratifications moving toward universalization—ratifications and signatures with other states.

Obviously with the Nuclear Posture Review coming up, we would appreciate as strong and as forward-leaning language as can be produced to be put into that document. I would personally love to see that that would be stronger than has ever been used before in the Nuclear Posture Reviews of the past. All of these are things that the U.S. administration can do, could do, and would be good illustrations and demonstrations of their commitment to the treaty, even if delivering on ratification was not possible in the immediate term.

Infrasound Station IS50 on Ascension Island. (Photo by CTBTO)ACT: Speaking of some of the technical operations, you are the head of a large organization that has a global span, and one of your core missions is maintaining the IMS and the IDC. What do you see as some of the main challenges facing the organization, in particular, maintaining the funding necessary to keep the organization’s operations going? Is it more difficult to do so given the delay in the formal entry into force of the treaty?

Floyd: Yeah, the IMS and the IDC are the major cost centers of the CTBTO. The on-site inspection area should never be forgotten, it’s a very important part of the verification mechanism, but it certainly demands less of the budget than those other two areas.

ACT: That has not yet been implemented because on-site inspection can only be triggered with entry into force, correct?

Floyd: Absolutely. The preparation for approaches, protocols, handbooks, et cetera, and even the training of a possible cadre of inspectors are important preparatory activities, but nonetheless the cost of that is way less than the cost to set up the monitoring and the analysis and the data center part. It’s been estimated that the IMS and the IDC is about a $1 billion asset that has been invested in over the last 25 years. So, that is a very significant asset. When I look at the functioning of the IMS and the IDC, I see continuing improvement, continuing adding of stations, but I’ll give you what keeps me awake at night.

What keeps me awake at night is that a $1 billion asset needs to be serviced in terms of its depreciation….[T]his equipment needs to be sustained. There are repairs, maintenance, and replacement that need to be done. You need a significant financial commitment that should be continuing over every year and accumulating over years to be able to sustain a $1 billion asset such as this one, spread across some of the far reaches of the globe. That, to me, is the challenge. The normal operation of the agency through the goodwill and generosity of the state signatories is being covered even with the impact of COVID-19 on global and national economies, but this other aspect is yet to be worked through.

ACT: Let me ask you a question about the role of some of the former nuclear testing states, particularly the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which happen to all have had nuclear testing programs. You will be attending a special meeting on September 27 on the CTBT, convened by Ireland. While there has been cooperation on the council in expressing support for the CTBT, there have also been some disagreements. I wanted to ask you to offer some thoughts about one of these issues.

As you’re aware, the United States has alleged that Russia has engaged in activities at its former test site that are inconsistent with the zero-yield prohibition established by the treaty. Russia has denied this charge. Has the United States presented or sought to present any evidence to the CTBTO or to member states about its concerns
about Russia’s activities so far?

Floyd: As far as I am aware, and I would never be fully aware of everything that the U.S. government would do, but as far as I’m aware, the United States has made, on a number of occasions, that declaration that you just mentioned. But I’m not aware of a sharing of more detailed information that might back that up.

ACT: The CTBT, when it was negotiated, was not really designed to operate indefinitely in the situation in which on-site inspections are not available, but that’s where we are. So, just a technical question: Does the treaty allow for states to discuss or explore confidence-building measures to supplement the formal system, and how might the CTBTO play a technical role in facilitating that if states-parties request it?

Floyd: Confidence-building measures are an important part of the treaty. They particularly are opportunities for states to give some explanation of any incidents or events that may occur in their jurisdiction which could end up being misread or misinterpreted in various ways. Sharing that information with other states is a helpful thing so that people don’t jump to wrong conclusions. This mechanism, building confidence, is an important one, and the application of that in a context that is pre-entry into force is a slightly different consideration as to how that would and could take place. At this point, this is all quite theoretical in that nothing has been brought to the CTBT for consideration by the [CTBTO]…. Until it is, we don’t have something to be responding to.

ACT: As you were saying at the outset, the test ban treaty has always been viewed as part of the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament architecture. As we all know, at some point if it’s not delayed once again, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) states-parties will convene for the 10th review conference, and the CTBT has always been part of the NPT deliberation. What are you hoping that NPT states-parties agree to do with respect to the CTBT when they meet for this review conference, and how important do you think the treaty is with respect to the NPT, which is now more than 50 years old?

Floyd: Obviously, it’s kind of a significant review conference for the NPT. It’s slightly delayed, so it does coincide with their 50th anniversary and, for us with the CTBT, the 25th anniversary of opening for signature. My desire is that there would be some strong language in any document which is produced by the NPT review conference speaking about the importance of the CTBT and calling on all states yet to do so to sign and ratify so that the treaty can enter into force. The CTBT has a very important draw when it comes to fulfilling part of the NPT, and in the space of nonproliferation and disarmament, having an effective and verified ban on testing is an important element. Maybe in this coming 10th review conference, the work and the achievement of the CTBT is one of the things that states can point to that helps us in the space of ultimate disarmament. Moving to ultimate disarmament is not possible unless there is a testing ban and a verifiable testing ban to put that block in the pathway of the proliferation of weapons capability or the enhancement and development of new weapon types. So, I think that the CTBT and all it has achieved is the good news story…and its recognition in [the NPT] concluding document would be wonderful.

ACT: There is a new treaty that has come on the scene since 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). How do you see the relationship between the TPNW and the CTBT? Does it reinforce the norm? Is this helpful for the CTBT regime as a whole? How do you personally view it?

Floyd: The TPNW is the latest element of the international nuclear architecture. The NPT is probably in many ways the centerpiece. The CTBT augments and delivers a part of that. There are many other treaties that are important, such as treaties on nuclear security like the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its amendment, and there are nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties. All of these have complementary roles. The TPNW is a part of that broad, international legal instrument landscape around nuclear weapons. My responsibility is clearly for one of those treaties, the CTBT, and its entry into force and the implementation of particularly the verification architecture associated with that. My goal is to work cooperatively with all of the other elements of the nuclear architecture.

ACT: To circle back to one of the things you mentioned at the top about the role of civil society, your predecessor, Lassina Zerbo, and his predecessors launched some key initiatives to engage civil society in the work of the CTBTO and the treaty. What is your plan, your view, about how such initiatives can help advance the CTBT regime?

Floyd: As I said early on, the role of civil society is very important. It’s not about governments alone, and governments reflect in democracies the will and the interest of people. Civil society, the media, all of these players have a part in this important social discourse. A couple of things that Dr. Zerbo did when he was executive secretary that I think were particularly important were the establishment of the CTBTO Youth Group, an initiative to engage the next generation of policymakers, maybe legislators, as well as the thinkers and academics of the next generation. I had the privilege to speak to the youth group on a video chat earlier this week. I had been so looking forward to it, and I was not let down. It was such a pleasure to meet with them and to hear their ideas, their enthusiasm, and their commitment. Sadly, the entry into force of this treaty is a multigenerational activity, and so the work of Dr. Zerbo to work with the young people to establish the youth group is particularly to be applauded. I would like to see how we make it even better. To review, to take stock, and to look at how we improve the effectiveness of the youth group, as well as its support for the CTBT and the CTBTO.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Dr. Zerbo established another group called the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), and that is picking up on a number of people from different countries around the world that have had deep experience in issues related to nuclear policy and the establishment of the nuclear architecture. Engaging with these people to learn from their experiences and to also see them continue to be involved in influencing and shaping, I could see the logic of why that was also important, and I heard of the very positive experience when
GEM met the youth group and the generations were able to interact and learn from one another.

Again, using the wisdom and experience of elder statesmans is something I want to look at. How do we do that best, how do we harness all of that potential in the most effective way? Those are important initiatives and ones that I am wishing to understand better and look at how we enhance our effectiveness with both cohorts.

Confronting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Challenge: An Interview With New CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd

The Future of the Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons: An Interview With Susanne Baumann, German Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control


July/August 2021

World War I taught the horrors of using chemicals against adversaries, but it was not until 1997 that the international community agreed to a treaty that aimed to outlaw this entire category of weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) took effect in 1997, and today, 193 countries count themselves as adherents. The treaty encompasses 98 percent of the global population and has resulted in the destruction of more than 98 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Susanne Baumann, the German Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control, says in an interview with Arms Control Today that it is essential for the UN Security Council to continue to deal monthly with the issue of Syria's use of chemical weapons.  (Photo by German government)Yet, concerns are rising that some desperate leaders have become newly emboldened to use chemical weapons, which generally cause slow, agonizing deaths. Russia, for instance, has been accused of poisoning Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny, opponents of President Vladimir Putin. In 17 cases, Syria was found to likely or definitely have used chemical weapons, according to the head of the international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Arms Control Today interviewed Susanne Baumann, German commissioner for disarmament and arms control, by email on the status of the global norm against chemical weapons and how it can be strengthened.

Arms Control Today: The global norm against chemical weapons use is eroding. In the past five years, chemical weapons have been used in violation of the CWC in the poisoning of political dissidents or high-level officials and in numerous and indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Violators of the treaty have done so with relative impunity. What is the reason for this trend? Has the world become numb to such weapons? Are nuclear weapons viewed as so much more lethal that chemical weapons are dwarfed?

Commissioner Susanne Baumann: Nuclear and chemical weapons are both weapons of mass destruction that could cause horrible human losses and suffering. At the same time, chemical weapons are in many respects different from nuclear systems. Access to chemical weapons is easier, and their manufacturing, handling, and use are technically less demanding compared to nuclear weapons. In addition, correct and rapid attribution can be a challenge if chemical weapons are used in asymmetric conflicts or for the targeted assassination of individuals. In my view, it is exactly these characteristics of chemical weapons that have led to their use in a number of cases in recent years, ranging from the notorious and appalling chemical attacks in the Syrian civil war to the infamous cases of Skripal and Navalny. These incidents come with new challenges for the international community and the rules-based order. It is now extremely important that we strengthen the notion that the CWC is not only about banning the use of chemical weapons in international conflicts. On the contrary, the CWC is based on the principle that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and under any circumstances constitutes a violation of international law. That is why the German government cooperated very closely with the OPCW after the attack on Navalny. That is also why we actively support the efforts of the OPCW to shed light on chemical weapons use cases in Syria.

ACT: What specific steps could be taken within the next five years to reinforce the global norm and strengthen compliance with the CWC?

Baumann: It is obvious that norms have to be enforced in order to really be effective. In today’s international environment, this is often easier said than done. Yet, the recent cases of chemical weapons use clearly show that the international community is not willing to accept the erosion of the CWC. Within the OPCW framework, a number of new mechanisms have been established in order to clarify the circumstances of the chemical attacks in Syria and to attribute responsibility. This evolution has not been self-evident. The OPCW became the central player on the Syrian file because Russia vetoed several decisions at the UN Security Council that would have allowed further clarification and investigation into the issue of responsibility for the attacks. As a consequence, a growing majority of OPCW state-parties supported the creation the OPCW’s own investigative instruments.

ACT: Moving forward, how can the treaty be strengthened to provide for stronger accountability mechanisms against CWC violators?

Baumann: With the new mechanisms, the OPCW has successfully started not only to determine whether, when, and where chemical weapons were used in Syria, but also, based on reports of the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), to identify the guilty parties. Given the circumstances, that is an almost revolutionary step forward for the CWC and, in more general terms, for the international rules-based order. In times of hybrid warfare and disguised attacks, the notion of accountability and impunity becomes increasingly central. That is also why initiatives like the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons are of great importance for raising international awareness and generating support for international bodies like the OPCW. It is also essential that the UN Security Council continues to deal with chemical weapons use in Syria on a monthly basis despite opposition from some Security Council member states.

ACT: What additional steps could be taken to deter would-be CWC violators?

Baumann: Deterrence is closely linked to the concept of individual accountability. The OPCW has investigative mechanisms at its disposal but no judicial means to penalize individuals. To this end, states-parties are required by the CWC to put effective national legislation in place, explicitly penalizing any activity banned by the CWC. Roughly two-thirds of OPCW states-parties, including Germany, have translated the CWC into their respective national legislation. Although having laws on paper is an important first step, what counts is implementation. Training and education of experts is key. In this field, international cooperation, including with the OPCW, remains essential. Here too, Germany is supporting the organization very strongly.

ACT: CWC states-parties have voted to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under CWC Article XII, which states that a noncompliant state’s rights and privileges may be suspended until it returns to full compliance under the treaty. Syria has been called on to declare the entirety of its chemical weapons stockpile and affiliated facilities to regain its rights and privileges. In your view, what next steps should the CWC states-parties and the international community writ large take if Syria fails to cooperate with the OPCW and return to compliance with the CWC?

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks to his airplane seat on a January 2021 trip to Moscow from Berlin, where he was treated for a poisoning attack that he said was carried out under orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny was arrested upon arrival in the Russian capital and remains imprisoned. His case has exacerbated concerns about the eroding global norm against chemical weapons use. (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)Baumann: With the decision to suspend Syria's rights and privileges under the CWC, the conference of states-parties in April 2021 for the first time made use of the sanctions mechanism provided for by the CWC, thus making clear that chemical weapons use is not tolerated by the international community and will not avoid consequences. In a next step, this decision will be submitted to the UN Security Council and General Assembly through the secretary-general. If Syria does not return to compliance with the CWC, the international community might decide on further steps in the UN framework. It should not be overlooked that the European Union, as a consequence of the chemical attacks in Syria, established a sanctions mechanism specifically to react to violations of the CWC. The EU used this mechanism to impose sanctions on Syrian individuals and institutions and, more recently, on Russian individuals and institutions in connection with the Navalny case.

ACT: In the latest progress report, the OPCW identified a new issue with Syria’s stockpile declaration, which was described as an undeclared chemical warfare agent. As the OPCW works to clarify inconsistencies with Syria’s dossier, how can the organization ensure the completeness of Syria’s stockpile declaration?

Baumann: Ensuring the complete declaration of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile is the mandate of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team. The team has worked in a very thorough way since its inception in 2014. There have been numerous rounds of consultations with Syria. The next visit to Syria is planned for early this summer. The detection of a newly undeclared chemical warfare agent by the team in samples taken in September 2020 shows that there are still open questions and, what is even worse, there are new inconsistencies. What is also obvious is that the team experts are extremely able and cannot be easily fooled by Syria. Even if progress is very slow and not without setbacks, the work has to continue. The Syrian case cannot be closed. The more imminent worry remains, of course, to ensure that the Syrian regime does not embark on the use of chemical weapons again.

ACT: Nearly nine months have passed since Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was poisoned in Russia with a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Despite strong evidence of Moscow’s involvement, the Kremlin has yet to be held accountable for violating the CWC’s prohibition on developing, possessing, or using chemical weapons. What can be done to ensure that Russia is held accountable for violating the CWC?

Baumann: The use of a chemical nerve agent against Navalny, a Russian citizen, represents an outrageous breach of the taboo against using chemical weapons. The attack happened on Russian territory. It is up to Russia to clarify the circumstances of this attack, which raises a number of questions on Russia’s compliance with the CWC. Russia has all necessary evidence to start criminal investigations into this attack. In this regard, it is also regrettable that Russia has so far not cooperated with the OPCW, which stands ready to provide technical assistance to Russia. The pressure has to be maintained by CWC states-parties in order to assure that Russia actually fulfills its obligations under Article VII of the CWC.

ACT: Can the CWC ever really be a credible restraint on chemical weapons use if Russia, a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, violates it?

Baumann: International efforts on disarmament and arms control are uphill battles by nature. Enforcing arms control norms is the biggest challenge. Arms control and nonproliferation arrangements like the CWC provide only limited tools for sanctioning or penalizing the guilty party. That is why concerted action taken by different international organizations and bodies is needed. In the case of the poisoning of Navalny, the EU has reacted very rapidly by imposing sanctions. We have to uphold this pressure together, with and through other international forums like the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the UN International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, and human rights bodies. Progress is possible when we put the necessary commitment to the task and cooperate with one another. The latest decisions at the OPCW on creating investigative mechanisms and taking measures against Syria show a growing support for the concept of attribution or the notion of accountability. This is encouraging.

ACT: The OPCW IIT is an important mechanism to ensure that instances of chemical weapons use in Syria are properly attributed and that the perpetrators of those attacks are identified. In your view, are there benefits to expanding the IIT’s mandate beyond Syria to investigate instances of chemical weapons use on the territory of any CWC state-party?

Baumann: The decision of the conference of states-parties in 2018 already foresees support by the OPCW for investigations of chemical weapons use beyond Syria. The director-general, if requested by a state-party to investigate possible chemical weapons use on its territory, can provide technical expertise to identify those who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors, or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons. Hence, there is a path to broadening the mandate of the IIT for other cases. It would require further detailing and, first of all, the consent and the cooperation of the state-party concerned.

ACT: What role do you see the IIT playing in future efforts to strengthen compliance and accountability under the CWC?

Baumann: The IIT plays an essential role because it identifies those responsible for the use of chemical weapons and thus prepares the ground for holding them accountable. Professional, independent investigations and the identification of perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks send out a clear message: chemical weapons use will not be without consequences. More IIT reports are to come, as only four of nine incidents that the IIT planned to investigate have been addressed up to now.

ACT: During a recent UN Security Council Arria Formula meeting, several nations, including Russia, expressed concern over what they view as “politicization” of the OPCW, despite offering little concrete evidence. Those states reiterated their concerns during the CWC Conference of States Parties and voted against the call to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the treaty. How would you respond to this and similar remarks that the OPCW’s work is politicized?

Baumann: Claims of a politicization of the OPCW have been pronounced by states-parties who apparently fear naming and shaming and, quintessentially, fear attribution and the establishment of accountability. In a very blunt and absurd manner, they try to question the professionalism and the impartiality of the OPCW experts. The current problem in this respect is the state-sponsored chemical weapons use by Syria. Very few allies of Syria seem determined to shield Syria against consequences in international forums. The camp of those who want to slow down the evolution toward stronger attribution and stronger norms remains small. The Syria attacks and the cases involving Skripal and Navalny have shown the growing strong support for the OPCW and the CWC.

ACT: What is your view on the role of the OPCW in identifying perpetrators of chemical weapons use?

Baumann: The OPCW has the necessary instruments and expertise at its disposal to identify guilty parties, including individuals. Yet, it does need the cooperation of the respective state-party to fulfill its mandate. Moving from attribution to judicial accountability remains one of the biggest challenges in fighting the use of chemical weapons. But again, here the OPCW and the states-parties have made significant progress over the last decade, which gives reason for optimism that the OPCW can become a driving force in the overall fight for more accountability.

 

 

 

International reaction to the recent cases of chemical weapons use clearly shows that the world is not willing to accept the erosion of the Chemical Weapons Treaty, Baumann tells Arms Control Today.          

Negotiating With North Korea: An interview with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun

June 2021

For more than two years, Stephen Biegun was U.S. deputy secretary of state and the top envoy executing President Donald Trump’s highly personal and ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Biegun had eight meetings with North Korean officials and accompanied Trump in 2019 to meetings with Kim in Hanoi and also at the Demilitarized Zone. In his first interview since leaving government, Biegun discussed his views on what the last administration tried to accomplish and what went wrong and offered some advice to the Biden administration. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Arms Control Today: When Trump took office in 2017, the outgoing Obama administration warned that North Korea's nuclear program posed one of the most significant security threats. It remains so today. As the Biden administration prepares to adjust U.S. policy to deal with the North’s nuclear and missile arsenal, what advice would you offer? 

Stephen Biegun (L), the U.S. special representative for North Korea during the Trump administration, answers questions from the press after talks on North Korea's nuclear activities with Lee Do-hoon (R), South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, at the foreign ministry in Seoul in December 2018. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)Stephen Biegun: The administration has begun to roll out its recent policy review, and so we're starting to understand how they intend to proceed. During the transition between the two administrations, we did a very thorough, deep dive on a number of issues, but none more so than North Korea. As the former special representative for North Korea, I and my team sat down with President-elect Joe Biden's team to walk them through where we were and really to share almost every detail of our interactions with the North Koreans, certainly everything that was available to us. It looks to me like the Biden policy is largely a continuation of what the negotiating team in the [Trump] State Department was trying to attain from the North Koreans, which is an agreement on a path toward denuclearization with a certain endpoint that is complete denuclearization but that we can structure along the way with some flexibility. We wanted to move in parallel on other things that might help open the aperture for progress like people-to-people exchanges, greater transparency, and confidence building on the Korean peninsula. I think the Biden administration's conclusions are logical and, frankly, are the best among the choices that are available to any administration. 

That said, it's not significantly different than much of what's been tried in the past, and so it begs the question whether or not one can expect any different outcome. I think the key factor in whether or not the United States will make progress with North Korea rests with whether or not the North Korean government is prepared to go down this course. That's the challenge that we confronted in the Trump administration. We eventually came to the conclusion that the North Koreans simply weren't prepared to do what the two leaders had laid out. So I'd advise them to start with the establishment of communication, which I think they have been making some progress doing. Get a reliable channel for that communication going forward, so that we can have a more sustained set of diplomatic engagements.

ACT: In April, the U.S. intelligence community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report concluded that "Kim Jong Un views nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent against foreign intervention and believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power." Do you share this assessment? 

Biegun: I think it's less important what the North Koreans think in this regard than what we in the rest of the world think. I would certainly never advocate accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and the Biden administration has been quite clear that they don't either. The implications of that are larger than the Korean peninsula. If North Korea were to essentially convince the world that it would never give up its nuclear weapons, fairly soon other countries will begin making decisions on their own security in relation to North Korea that could also involve the development of nuclear weapons. There are several countries in East Asia that could over a short period of time develop nuclear weapons. 

So, I think it's incumbent upon us to retain our determination and clarity about the need to do away with these nuclear weapons. 

That's not to say there aren’t other things we can do. If the Kim regime truly wanted to make the transition to a different relationship with the rest of the world, there are ways to address concerns about security that don't require nuclear weapons. The premise of a country needing nuclear weapons as a deterrent is that they are at risk of being invaded. I just find that to be an absurd proposition. There's no intention in South Korea and certainly no intention in the United States to act militarily against North Korea, so the whole premise frankly is absurd. 

I actually don't think security is the driver of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. It’s national mobilization around the ideology of the regime. Also, I think the North Koreans know well, it's an attention getter. They used their weapons of mass destruction program to attract concessions from the outside world in the past. What we tried to do is show them is there is a better way through diplomacy. 

ACT: Should the goals set out by Kim and Trump in their 2018 Singapore summit joint statement of working toward a "lasting and stable" peace regime and "complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula" remain U.S. policy objectives? 

Biegun: Absolutely, it should remain the policy objective. I would be surprised if you would find anybody who would suggest otherwise, even among the more hard-line voices on North Korea policy. The challenge has never been what our goal is. The challenge has been how to get there. 

The Singapore joint statement offers a high-level agreement on where we're going. What we tried to do over the two and a half years that I was leading the efforts on behalf of the secretary of state and the president is translate those commitments into more detailed road maps that over time would get us to an agreed end state—normalization of relations, a permanent peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, the complete elimination of weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula, even in later stages economic cooperation–and all this affected and tempered by broader societal contact, people-to-people exchanges, inter-Korean cooperation, and so on. 

Trump had a sweeping vision for how to get there, and he was prepared to move as quickly as the North Koreans were prepared to move. But at the end of the day, the North Koreans get a vote. They were really stuck in an old form of thinking. They wanted to bicker and minimize their commitments and give up as little as possible and gain unilateral concessions. That wasn't going to happen. 

The failure to reach an agreement in Hanoi underlined for them that this wasn't going to be a one-sided diplomacy. Had they moved, had they engaged, had they been willing to see where this can go, I think they could have changed history on the Korean peninsula, but I don't think they'd made a decision they wanted to do that. I don't know when we'll be able to queue up that alignment of opportunities again. I hope the Biden administration and their team are able to do so, but the short of it is, the North Koreans missed an opportunity. 

ACT: Why do you think that was such a special moment? 

Biegun: The North Koreans have long said in engagements with my predecessors on these issues that if the two leaders could agree, then anything was possible. It was almost something of a mantra from North Korean representatives over the years, and President Trump, in his own unconventional and often controversial way, put that to the test. The president had a lot of confidence in his own abilities. He was not constrained by critics over the conventions of the past. So, he proposed a summit in Singapore to sit down with Kim and basically say, hey, you know, this war ended 65 years ago, let's find a way to put it behind us.

For all the controversy and debate that his foreign policies generated, I can say as a negotiator that it was incredibly empowering to be able to test a proposition like that. For many of the president's critics, their concern was that somehow he was going to give away the store, that he was going to accept the one-sided deal. I think what the summit in Hanoi showed was that it was going to take two to tango. 

We had high hopes going into the summit. I and our negotiating team were there a week before the summit. We'd been to Pyongyang a few weeks before that, and we met in Washington a few weeks before that. We had laid out to each other in detail what our views were, what our objectives were. They didn't align entirely, but each side knew what the other side was looking for out of this. When we got to Hanoi, our North Korean counterparts had absolutely no authority to discuss denuclearization issues, which is just absurd. It was one of the core points of agreement between the two leaders in Singapore.

Ahead of the United States-North Korean summit in Hanoi that would ultimately collapse, Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief (L); Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, held planning talks in Washington in January 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)ACT: Do you still think a negotiated settlement with North Korea is possible? 

Biegun: My belief in that is unshaken. 

ACT: One apparent area of tension within the Trump administration was the pace and sequencing of denuclearization by North Korea, with some U.S. officials advocating a complete denuclearization within a very short time frame. 

Biegun: Without a doubt, there were differing views among the staff in the administration. But elections are for presidents, not for the staff. The president's view was that he was prepared to reach an agreement provided that it successfully denuclearized North Korea. I think the speed with which that happened, were we to have gotten that agreement with the North Koreans, was negotiable. 

Our hope was to move as quickly as possible, and we wanted to tie the benefits for North Korea to the speed with which North Korea wanted the lifting of sanctions. They controlled the tempo of that. The faster they met our expectations on denuclearization, the faster the sanctions went away. It was a fairly simple formula. 

But we were also looking at denuclearization as just one line of effort across multiple lines of effort, including transforming relations on the Korean peninsula, economic collaboration, and potential diplomatic representation in each other's capitals. We saw that in parallel with creating a more secure Korean peninsula, with confidence-building measures and transparency through military exchanges, ultimately through the negotiation of a permanent treaty to end the Korean War.

Of course, denuclearization was going to be the toughest. The other thing that was non-negotiable from our point of view was that, regardless of the timing, two things had to happen. To begin, the North Koreans had to freeze everything. We weren't going to take everything out on day one, but they could stop. They could turn off the centrifuges. They could turn off the nuclear reactors. They could stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. The other non-negotiable was that the endpoint had to be complete denuclearization. The rest of it in between, plenty of room to negotiate how that happens. 

ACT: Could that Trump-Kim summit-level approach have been adjusted in some way that would have made it more successful?

Biegun: What would have made it more successful is if the North Koreans engaged in meaningful, working-level negotiations in advance of the summits in order to produce more substantive agreements for our leaders. I have very good reason to believe that the North Koreans felt like they got exactly what they wanted, which was profile and prestige, without having made any commitments that were actionable. I think that may have lulled them into a mistaken view that that's all this was about, and in coming to Hanoi, that they could similarly do so. What they didn't realize was we were getting into a deeper level of discussion at that point. 

Had the North Koreans been willing to discuss denuclearization with our negotiating team, had they brought appropriate experts to those discussions—we never saw a uniform or a scientist at these meetings. Our delegation was comprised of scientists from the Department of Energy, missile experts from the intelligence community. We had international law and sanctions experts. We had an interagency delegation that we brought to Pyongyang and Hanoi. The North Koreans simply failed to match the ambition.

The other thing I'd say about the president's diplomacy is that I saw absolutely no downside in it and, in some ways, it may even have created challenges for the North Koreans because their regime is being judged by itself and by its own people as to what they're able to achieve. If North Korea were to continue to seek that kind of engagement without delivering on the commitments that it makes or the commitments that it's expected to make, I think that it only worsens global opinion toward the North Korean regime. 

One of the things that was always very effective for us is that we worked with partners and allies and even countries with whom we had more challenging relationships, like China and Russia. We were always willing to meet. We weren't putting any price on the North Koreans sitting down across the table. 

ACT: You said the North Korean negotiating team wasn't empowered to discuss steps toward denuclearization in meetings with your team ahead of the Hanoi summit. Did that inhibit progress? 

Biegun: Of course it did, because in the lead-up to the summit in Hanoi, the two teams spent nearly a week together trying to hammer out the basis for the two leaders to reach an agreement, a much more detailed set of documents than my predecessors had been able to obtain at the Singapore summit. To their credit, the North Koreans brought some creative ideas of their own on how we could improve people-to-people cooperation and transform relations on the Korean peninsula, but the key driver of the Singapore summit was denuclearization. Literally, the offer from North Korea was a “big present.” The negotiators said when Kim would arrive in Hanoi, he would have a big present for Trump, but we had to agree at the front to lift all the sanctions. I'm a practical person; tell me what your opening gambit is, tell me what your bottom line is, but don't tell me you're bringing me a big present. 

ACT: They told you that without defining what the big present would be? 

Biegun: Without any definition of what it would be. 

The North Korean delegation came with ideas on everything but denuclearization. I think the play was that they thought that the president was desperate for a deal and they were going to save that for the leader-level meeting. Lo and behold, that proved to be a very mistaken strategy. Anyone who encouraged them to pursue that policy, whether it was internally or external voices, perhaps even in South Korea, it was a huge mistake. 

But the president's meetings with Chairman Kim, even though the gap was too large for us to reach an agreement in Hanoi, were cordial and friendly. The president's last words to Kim in Hanoi were, “Let's keep at it, let's get something.” Another summit was not going to happen without substantial engagement by the North Koreans at the working level. Unfortunately, after Hanoi and then COVID in 2020 made it all but impossible, the level of engagement diminished significantly. 

ACT: Why were there conflicting reports about what was put on the table in Hanoi? North Korean officials denied they offered partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions. Instead, they said, Pyongyang requested a partial removal of UN sanctions in exchange for a permanent halt of nuclear and ballistic missile testing and the full verifiable dismantlement of facilities at Yongbyon. 

Biegun: Yongbyon is only a portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The North Korean rebuttal, which was delivered after the summit by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Choe Son Hui, was that they'd only asked for a partial lifting of sanctions. But we understood the value and the impact of every sanction that was in place, and what the North Koreans were asking for was a complete lifting of UN Security Council sanctions. In effect, the only remaining strictures on trade would be actively doing business with the weapons of mass destruction facilities and enterprises themselves. So in terms of what the North Koreans offered, any knowledgeable expert would recognize it was a partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions, and there were no subsequent commitments. It would in effect accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. That was implicitly what was in that offer. 

ACT: Some observers argue the lack of progress on denuclearization was due to the failure of the two sides to maintain a regular dialogue between high-level meetings. Do you agree? 

Biegun: This takes us back to where we started and why I am so emphatic that establishing a reliable channel of communication is an essential antecedent to making progress. You can't have these episodic engagements. The North Koreans, as my predecessors can attest, use even the willingness to answer the phone or not answer the phone as a negotiating tactic and then oftentimes seek to extract a concession to answer the phone. There is a deeply ingrained tactic on the part of North Koreans that to show up for a meeting requires a concession. 

During the two and a half years that I carried the North Korea portfolio, I met eight times with the North Koreans, and that wasn't enough. It was a lot. It was more than I think most people recognized, and not all the meetings were highly publicized, but it wasn't enough. We need that sustained engagement. I think the United States, whether under Trump or Biden or quite frankly any other president, would be committed to a process like that. But the North Koreans get a vote. 

ACT: North Korea has become highly adept at sidestepping U.S. and UN sanctions and has been unwilling to make concessions in response to those sanctions. No doubt, some partners, namely China, could do more to enforce international sanctions now in place. Have we effectively reached the limits of using sanctions to coerce better behavior on nuclear matters from North Korea? 

Biegun: Sanctions rarely if ever produce, in and of themselves, a policy shift. The sanctions are a necessary component of diplomacy that affects the choices or the timetable that the other party may have in terms of whatever it is you're seeking to address. So, sanctions are a tool, not the policy itself. 

No amount of sanctions evasion is able to overcome the severe downward turn of the North Korean economy because the sanctions are draconian, but if you wanted to make them more severe, that decision really lies in Beijing. I'm not sure at this point that more could be accomplished by more sanctions. I think it's kind of a reflexive statement that policymakers make when put on the spot. The key here is to find a way to appropriately use the pressure of sanctions to produce a better outcome in diplomacy and to get on with what needs to be done on the Korean peninsula to end this ridiculous 65 years of hostility, long after a war between two systems that no longer even exist today, at one of their first showdowns after World War II.

ACT: The latest U.S. intelligence report foresees China doubling its nuclear stockpile over the next decade. Do you think that is accurate? 

Biegun: I don't think we've spent sufficient time trying to understand what's happening in the strategic weapons program with China, and I think policymakers, arms control advocates, experts, scientists, and specialists need to devote substantially more time than we have. I think we've been neglectful in understanding this, and it is serious, and it is growing, and this is a substantial factor for U.S. national security. Quite honestly, it's a substantial factor for Russia's national security and for the world as well. China is the only country that's moving against the tide of the basic commitments made in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that nuclear-weapon states would be making efforts to reduce their nuclear weapons. 

I expect that the purpose is the same as it's always been, to have a convincing deterrent in the case of conflict. But even if one accepts—and China is an accepted nuclear-weapon state—that they are going to have nuclear weapons, we need to devote a lot more effort to understanding their doctrine, to building new mechanisms for strategic stability between the United States and China. Basically, we have to kind of crack open some old playbooks and go back and think about how we can create a world that can remain free of the use of nuclear weapons at the same time that we're sustaining peace and security. 

ACT: Even if the Chinese doubled their arsenal, they still wouldn't approach what the United States and Russia have. Yes, China is building up its stockpile but so are other countries, such as India and Pakistan. Don't we need to keep that in perspective?

Biegun: There are ample reasons to be worried about strategic stability, not only in the U.S.-Russian context, but the U.S.-Chinese context and in the context of other states. We've spent a long time talking about North Korea. Our commitment and China's commitment in the NPT is to commit to making efforts to reduce those nuclear weapons, not to increase them. It's not about what they owe us. It's about what their treaty commitments are internationally. This year, we have an NPT review conference where we hope China answers how its nuclear ambitions square with its commitments made in the NPT. From the U.S. and Russian points of view, I think certainly we should continue efforts to create a sound, stable, strategic formula that reduces nuclear weapons while maintaining the effectiveness of deterrents. 

Ultimately, the ideal that so many advocate—the complete elimination of nuclear weapons—is well beyond our reach, but that doesn't mean we need more. I've personally never been an advocate of more. I've been an advocate for sound, treaty-based mechanisms that reduce weapons while sustaining stability. If we could do that with the Chinese, all the better, but I can tell you that there's nothing stabilizing for China or for the rest of the world that will come from a rapid expansion of their nuclear arsenal. 

As the Biden administration prepares to engage with North Korea, Biegun says establishing a reliable channel of communication with Pyongyang is key to making progress.

Can Disarmament Be Revived? An Interview With Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde


May 2021
 

Sweden has long played a significant role in seeking to advance nonproliferation and disarmament. For example, Sweden was part of the New Agenda Coalition, which has sought to bridge the divide between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states that surfaced during negotiations regarding the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says the Stockholm Initiative, which aims to prod the world to revive progress on disarmament, is more important than ever. (Photo: Kristian Pohl/The Government Offices of Sweden)In 1998, Sweden co-authored a joint declaration calling for a new agenda for nuclear disarmament and deploring the fact that “countless resolutions and initiatives [with respect to the elimination] of nuclear weapons in the past half century remain unfulfilled.”

In February 2020, the 16 countries involved in the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament endorsed 22 measures, or “stepping stones,” to reinforce the disarmament goals of the NPT.

To help readers understand what this latest initiative has achieved and where it is headed, the following questions were posed by email to Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: How do you think the Stockholm Initiative can accelerate progress on nuclear disarmament? What do you hope it
can achieve in the short term and the long term? Is the effort more or less necessary since the initiative was launched in June 2019?

Foreign Minister Linde: The Stockholm Initiative and the 22 specific stepping stones adopted in Berlin last year are proposals for concrete measures for nuclear disarmament. They are honest suggestions for measures that we believe can be taken now—in the current security situation—to implement commitments and obligations from previous NPT review conferences. In parallel, these measures will contribute to building confidence and pave the way for further progress and additional steps. Nuclear risk reduction is a key area for the Stockholm Initiative, but our proposals also cover doctrines and policies, transparency, and disarmament verification.

The initiative is as important today as it was in June 2019, if not more so. The global security situation continues to deteriorate, and disarmament diplomacy remains highly polarized. This was a main reason for launching the initiative in Stockholm almost two years ago. At our latest ministerial meeting in Amman in January this year, we agreed that the challenges persist and that the initiative’s raison d’être and proposals for stepping stones remain valid. It is crucial that we move away from the deadlock and instead contribute to building an inclusive process that can lead to real progress at the next NPT review conference in August and beyond. In a nutshell, this is what the Stockholm Initiative is about. I sincerely think that it is possible to achieve progress if there is unity of purpose.

ACT: Many of the stepping stones call for nuclear-weapon states to open or deepen discussions on such issues as nuclear doctrine and strategic stability. How will the Stockholm Initiative encourage not only discussion but also action by nuclear-weapon states on these measures?

Linde: Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in doctrines and policies is crucial. The trend in the opposite direction that we have seen in recent years is deeply worrying and must be reversed.

This is why the issue figures prominently in the stepping stones package, in line with the commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Doctrines and policies will be high on our agenda in discussions with nuclear-weapon states. Increased transparency from the nuclear-weapon states with regard to their policies is certainly a welcome step, but more needs to be done. We should seek an outcome at the upcoming review conference that paves the way for concrete progress in the next review cycle.

ACT: What specific outcomes does Sweden envision coming out of these discussions, particularly in the next round of nuclear arms talks between Moscow and Washington following the five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? How, specifically, could you prod other major nuclear armed states to engage more effectively in the nuclear disarmament process?

Linde: The five-year extension of New START was obviously of fundamental importance. But as was rightly pointed out by the United States, it should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of nuclear arms control efforts.

Negotiating new arms control agreements is difficult and time consuming, so I hope new talks can be launched soon, primarily between the United States and Russia. With an arsenal that is both expanding and becoming more diversified, the relevance of China’s participation is clearly also growing.

As for the agenda, I would hope that negotiators are ambitious and set out to do the following: (1) seek further reductions in the strategic arsenals; (2) for the first time, regulate arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons; (3) seek effective ways of mitigating the consequences of the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; and (4) enhance awareness of how emerging technology, including space-related technology, could impact future arms control.

ACT: The Stockholm Initiative last met in January 2021. Afterward, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas released a statement that said the initiative “will reach out to all groups and initiatives, both governmental and from civil society.“ Has this outreach occurred since this meeting, and if so, how has it been going? Have additional states signaled support for the initiative?

Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde (center) poses with officials from other countries involved in the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament at a ministerial meeting in Berlin in February 2020. (Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)Linde: We have been happy to note strong interest for the initiative from other countries that are NPT states-parties. Several countries have chosen to align with the stepping stones proposals that were agreed in Berlin in February last year and we hope that more will follow. In any case, we hope that the initiative will be considered an effective method to achieve further disarmament and that our proposals can help stimulate discussion.

The pandemic and the current uncertainties related to the holding of the 10th NPT review conference complicate our work, but I am pleased to see that the engagement nonetheless remains strong.

ACT: One of the initiative’s recommendations is for “visits to and interaction with communities affected by nuclear weapons, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and former nuclear test sites.“ Why do you believe this is important? Should heads of state and foreign ministers commit to visiting sites where nuclear weapons have inflicted health and environmental consequences?

Linde: Such visits would serve several purposes. We are obliged to learn from history and to use our knowledge to make better choices in the future. Visits could help raise awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and contribute to putting these issues back at the top of our political and public agendas. It would also be a key part of further engaging the younger generations, which in turn could promote a much-needed growth of knowledge and innovation in these areas.

Increased and inclusive knowledge of nuclear disarmament affairs is something that I find of utmost importance at all levels. Nationally, we are establishing a knowledge center with the purpose to engage in education and research in related areas, guarantee future expertise, and provide cross-disciplinary support for policy work. It is also a part of the broader quest to raise public awareness on nuclear disarmament and to stimulate a public debate.

ACT: In the February 2020 statement on the Stockholm Initiative, the group resolved “to strengthen the NPT against the background of disturbing trends—the unravelling of the arms-control fabric that has served and must continue to serve global security well, increasingly tense relations between nations, and risks arising from new and emerging weapon technologies.“ What specifically does Sweden believe needs to emerge from the 10th NPT review conference, tentatively scheduled for August, in order to jump-start progress on disarmament and to address new and emerging weapons technologies? Is it your goal to see the conference not only reaffirm past commitments and obligations on the Article VI disarmament pillar, which describes the mechanism by which disputes over the treaty may be settled, but also adopt an updated consensus action plan on specific disarmament-related measures?

Linde: The upcoming NPT review conference provides an important—and long awaited—opportunity for states-parties to strengthen all three pillars of the NPT. Much is at stake. Political engagement at the highest level is therefore essential. The format must allow for in-depth discussions, negotiations, and deliberations. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to not underestimate the value and power of honest in-person exchanges of views in order to achieve results.

We need to collectively reaffirm the continued validity of previous commitments made within the NPT framework. Equally important is that real progress must be made in implementing these commitments, not least when it comes to Article VI. We need not only to review what has been done so far, but also to look into the future and examine what lies ahead and how greater progress can be made, regardless of the prevailing security environment. This is not the time to abandon or set aside what has once been agreed. There is only one possible direction, and that is going forward. There can be no backtracking.

In this regard, we would do well to remind ourselves that all states-parties to the NPT carry a responsibility to help make sure that the review conference achieves the desired outcome. Yes, it is true that nuclear-weapon states carry a special responsibility, particularly in terms of disarmament. However, this does not mean that the rest of us should not work hard to make sure that we reach our common goals. All efforts are needed. With the Stockholm Initiative and its stepping stones, Sweden, along with the initiative’s 15 other partner countries, is trying to do just that, to contribute in an ambitious yet realistic manner that embraces differences of opinion and that allows for an inclusive process. Only with everyone seated at the table can real progress be achieved.

ACT: Have you discussed the initiative with the Biden administration, and if so, what has been its response? Will the United States be an active participant?

Linde: Nuclear disarmament is a central Swedish foreign policy priority. I took the opportunity to raise the Stockholm Initiative with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in our first conversation just days after he had taken up his duties. We had a brief discussion then, and I have since, together with my Canadian and German colleagues and on behalf of the members of the Stockholm Initiative, sent a letter encouraging the new administration to seriously consider the 22 stepping stone proposals to advance nuclear disarmament. These proposals are aimed at providing an ambitious and realistic set of measures that we hope that all NPT states-parties, not least the nuclear-weapon states with their special responsibility, will study with an open mind and act on.

The United States is a critical partner and without a doubt will be highly active and engaged in all our deliberations ahead of the review conference. I look forward to continuing the conversation with Secretary Blinken on how we can move forward on an implementation agenda.

ACT: In March, the United Kingdom announced that it will raise the ceiling on its total nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40 percent, from its earlier goal of 180 by the mid-2020s to 260 warheads. Do you view this action as consistent with the UK’s political and legal commitments under the NPT, which include pursuing “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament“? If this decision is inconsistent with those obligations, what can be done about it?

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, addresses the 2015 Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which fell apart when members could not reach consensus. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says the next conference, tentatively set for August, cannot afford such failure.  (Photo: United Nations)Linde: First of all, we regret that the UK is set to increase the cap on its nuclear arsenal and no longer provide public figures on operational stockpiles, deployed warheads, and deployed missiles. I believe this to be a clear step in the wrong direction, at a time when our focus should be on achieving progress on disarmament ahead of the review conference. It adds to a deeply worrying trend, with also China increasing and diversifying its arsenal and with major modernization efforts going on elsewhere, not least in Russia. We must do everything in our power to avoid a costly and dangerous arms race.

This has also been my message in recent discussions with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. It should be pointed out, however, that while the UK has announced a raised ceiling, the arsenal has not increased so far, and we certainly hope it never will. The UK has made clear that they will continue to press for key steps to achieve multilateral disarmament and that they remain strongly committed to the full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament. I trust that they plan to honor this commitment. I should also mention that the UK has been and continues to be a great partner to Sweden in areas such as nuclear disarmament verification through the Quad Nuclear Verification Partnership.

We will now have to find constructive ways to go from here. I would welcome further engagement by the UK on key areas such as nuclear risk reduction, transparency, and declaratory policy, and I do believe that the Stockholm Initiative offers a path forward in this regard.

ACT: In 2019 the United States launched the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative, which U.S. officials described as an effort to overcome obstacles to and create conditions for furthering nuclear disarmament. Almost all members of the Stockholm Initiative are also members of the CEND initiative, and Sweden is one of those. Where might the CEND and Stockholm initiatives’ efforts converge and diverge?

Linde: At the outset, let me make clear that I welcome all efforts and initiatives aiming to find ways forward on disarmament and to bring us closer to making our common goal of a world free from nuclear weapons a reality. There are quite a lot of groupings out there, be it at the regional, the cross-regional, or the thematic level; and in my opinion, they all bring something to the table. We have consistently underlined that the Stockholm Initiative is not there to replace or go against any other existing formats. Rather, we see efforts as complementary. If anything, the Stockholm Initiative proposes an agenda that can be supported by a large number of countries. Many of the countries of the Stockholm Initiative are also, as you rightly pointed out, active participants in other initiatives such as the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), the CEND initiative, or the Non-Aligned Movement, to name a few.

The CEND initiative gathers a broad group of countries, including states that are not part of the NPT but nevertheless possess nuclear weapons. In that sense, it fills a gap, providing a much-needed platform for discussions that go beyond treaties or commitments and possibly helping to build confidence, trust, and better understanding of positions among countries. However, the Stockholm Initiative is a more focused effort in that it proposes concrete steps that can be taken now, in the short term, and that could lead to further, substantive measures down the road. It also proposes a method in this regard, a stepping stones approach, and puts an emphasis on high-level political engagement. Committed and sustained political leadership is crucial if we are to achieve concrete and sustainable results.

ACT: Since the Stockholm Initiative was launched, the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has entered into force, and the first meeting of states-parties will likely be held in January 2022. Should the TPNW be recognized as a positive contribution to efforts to reinforce the basic goals and obligations of the NPT, including disarmament, and to reinforce the taboo against nuclear weapons? Do you believe, as the five NPT nuclear-armed states put it in their joint statement in 2018, that it does not contribute to the development of customary international law and “is creating divisions across the international non-proliferation and disarmament machinery, which could make further progress on disarmament even more difficult“?

Linde: The entry into force of the TPNW constitutes a significant development in multilateral nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

It is clear that there are different views regarding the TPNW. For example, Sweden is one of the countries that decided not to sign or ratify the treaty due to what we perceived as a series of shortcomings. Nevertheless, Sweden intends to become an observer to the treaty as soon as a framework and process for this is put in place by states-parties.

It is essential that the upcoming NPT review conference does not turn into an argument for or against the TPNW. We must not let the differences in views add to further polarization among states-parties to the NPT. Digging ourselves deeper into trenches will not solve anything. Rather it may risk having a negative spillover effect on other issues. Only through understanding each other’s points of departure can we reach our common destination—a world free from nuclear weapons.

ACT: At the start of 2021, you became the chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In 2020 the United States withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty, and in January of this year, Russia announced that it would begin domestic procedures to withdraw from the treaty if the United States remains outside the treaty. From Sweden’s perspective, how does this treaty contribute to European and international security? What does Sweden believe can be done to preserve the treaty, and what would Sweden like to see the United States and Russia do to ensure the treaty does not collapse?

Linde: The Open Skies Treaty plays a key role in contributing to transparency, predictability, and confidence building in the OSCE region. There is great value in maintaining it.

Although all OSCE countries are not parties to it, the Open Skies Treaty is a part of the comprehensive OSCE arms control framework. It is therefore a concern for the OSCE. As chairperson-in-office, I would regret to see any state withdraw from the treaty. Sweden would welcome the United States rejoining it.

The signals that Russia is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty are also worrying. A situation where neither the United States nor Russia would be parties to the treaty would be negative for confidence building and security in the OSCE area. Full implementation by all parties is key to preserving the treaty.

As global security deteriorates and the world becomes more polarized, Sweden is advocating moves to stabilize the situation and create a new opening for arms control progress.

Reviewing the NPT: An Interview With Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen


January/February 2021

Since the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force on March 5, 1970, states-parties to the treaty have gathered every five years to assess implementation of and compliance with the treaty and to seek agreement on steps to advance common goals and objectives related to the three pillars of the treaty: nonproliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and disarmament.

(Photo: Argentine Foreign Ministry)This year, representatives from most of the 191 NPT members will meet no later than August for the 10th review conference, which has been delayed twice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With progress on key NPT goals stalled, relations between key nuclear-armed states poor, and some key nonproliferation successes in jeopardy, this review conference has the potential to be among the most contentious.

Argentinian Foreign Ministry official Gustavo Zlauvinen has been chosen to preside over the review conference as the president-designate. Among other diplomatic postings, Zlauvinen has served as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representative to the United Nations in New York, where he represented the agency during NPT meetings from 2001 to 2009.

Zlauvinen spoke with Arms Control Today by video conference on December 9 from Buenos Aires. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Arms Control Today: This year [2020] marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT. From your perspective, as someone who has worked in the field for so many years at the international level, how has the treaty succeeded? How has it fallen short? Why is it important today?

Amb. Gustavo Zlauvinen: Yes, 2020 marks three anniversaries. First, it is the 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force. The second is the 25th anniversary of the treaty’s indefinite extension in 1995. That was part of a grand bargain at that point, which is still valid and for many states is an important part of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, the third marking [of] 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the use of the atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is a very solemn and an important year, and it gives an opportunity and a challenge for states-parties, civil society, and the international community in general to ponder what the NPT has achieved in these 50 years and where it has fallen short of the aspirations that were the drivers during the treaty negotiations.

There are many accomplishments that the NPT and its states-parties have achieved. One in particular was to keep the number of nuclear-weapon states to a reduced number. It prevented many potential countries that could have had the capabilities, and maybe even the political will, to develop nuclear weapons from doing so. I’m not talking about cases like my own country, Argentina, or Brazil. Let’s start with Sweden. Remember that, in the 1960s, Sweden had a nuclear weapons program, and there is no secret about that. Other countries, very influential ones at that time, were concerned at the time that there was no norm against acquiring nuclear weapons.

To us now, it seems that’s the benefit of having the NPT. You know, it seems bizarre, even abnormal, to think that a country like Sweden could have had a nuclear weapons program. Not that it is impossible in today’s world, but that’s a sign of the NPT’s success. The NPT changed our mind-set in the sense that what was considered okay in the 1960s and part of the 1970s became unacceptable for most countries in the international community.

Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala of Bangladesh presided over the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. If the conference had decided to extend the treaty by 25 years, this year's review conference would be debating extension during difficult circumstances. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)A second achievement is that while preventing the spread of countries with nuclear weapons, it helped the spread of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. You can see that in the large number of countries around the world that have adopted nuclear power generation and applications in nuclear medicines, agriculture, and many other sectors. This probably could not have happened without the NPT. In the 1960s, only a few countries had the technology, so it was not easy to get access to that technology by yourself. Therefore, you needed the cooperation from countries having nuclear technology, and those countries were not going to pass it on that easily. By accepting IAEA safeguards, as required by the NPT, countries received more chances of receiving nuclear technology transfers from more advanced nations, and that helped the transfer of technology.

In both achievements, the key element is the robust IAEA safeguard system. What it has achieved is tremendous in that all non-nuclear-weapon countries under the NPT receive regular inspections from the IAEA to prove that their nuclear programs are not being diverted for the development and production of nuclear weapons.

Now, where does the NPT fall short? What I have heard during my consultations with states-parties is that a large majority of states-parties feel that progress toward the nuclear disarmament obligations of Article VI of the NPT, which is about achieving an eventual total elimination of weapons and total disarmament, has not evolved in the way that the NPT has provided for.

Another one is that some states-parties say that despite the treaty’s enablement of technology transfers, they are not receiving access to nuclear technologies from those countries having those technologies. They claim that they are blacklisted even though they are party to the NPT and have IAEA safeguards agreements, and they claim that this is for political reasons. This is a concern that has been expressed by not many, but at least some, states-parties.

There is also a discussion about making the IAEA safeguards system more robust and better able to show the nuclear intentions of NPT states-parties. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq was discovered with a clandestine nuclear weapons program just under the radar of the IAEA safeguards system, a review led to negotiations and the adoption of the Model Additional Protocol to nations’ safeguards agreements in 1995. At that time, IAEA member states decided that nations would adopt an additional protocol on a voluntary basis.

That is the dilemma that NPT communities still have. Several states-parties would like to have an additional protocol as the new verification standard for the NPT. But others, including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and a few others say that because it is not a mandatory measure, it therefore cannot be established as a new standard. So, that is an issue I expect to be debated at the review conference.

As to why the NPT remains important today, we should consider what would have happened if the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference had not extended the treaty indefinitely. Remember that Mexico and others at the 1995 conference were pushing for an extension of another 25 years in order to see whether the NPT nuclear-weapon states were going to fulfill their obligations under Article VI. They didn’t want to keep committing themselves as non-nuclear-weapon states forever while the nuclear-weapon states may not implement Article VI. So, what would the situation be today if the negotiations in 1995 had agreed to extend it only for 25 years? The treaty would have ended this year, and the review conference would not be a regular review conference; it would be a conference to extend the treaty. Under the present circumstances, it would have been extremely difficult to come to an agreement on the extension of the NPT.

So, it’s better to have the NPT with all its limitations rather than to not have the NPT. It is as relevant as 50 years ago because the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, obviously; and it will continue to be so for a while, unfortunately. As long as we have our situation, as long as we have nuclear weapons, as long as we have an incentive for some countries to develop a potential program for nuclear weapons, as long as you have the spread of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes but they are of a dual-use nature, then you will need to have a system under a treaty with legal obligations by which the large majority of the international community commits itself not to develop and not to use these awful, horrible weapons.

Maybe the states that are also party to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will see that their approach is one to complement or fulfill that NPT aspiration to achieve full nuclear disarmament. That’s fine, but I think the TPNW would not have been possible without the NPT having been established in the first place.

ACT: The TPNW will enter into force on January 22, just about the time this interview will be published. If some nuclear-weapon states continue to oppose the treaty, could that provoke TPNW supporters and create schisms or rifts at the review conference? How will you seek to reconcile the views of states that believe the TPNW reinforces the NPT with those who say it creates a norm contrary to the NPT?

Zlauvinen: The TPNW is obviously a new fact that we have to take into account. Obviously for those states that are party to the TPNW and the NPT, they believe that the TPNW reinforces, complements, and completes the NPT. Meanwhile, other NPT states-parties that are not party to the TPNW have said that they will never join. They see that the new treaty has come to be a challenge and even to help erode the legal norms and systems that the NPT has established during these 50 years.

This is a debate that we must have and is already happening. Those who have not signed or ratified the TPNW cannot close their eyes and act as if the TPNW doesn’t exist. But I hope that this debate is not going to create another challenge, another problem at the review conference between NPT states-parties. We have to see how we maneuver that discussion. It will be up to the states that are party to both treaties to explain to those who are not party to the TPNW that the TPNW should not be seen as a challenge to the NPT. It is on them to explain and to prove that it is not contrary to the NPT, it has not come to erode the NPT. If they do their job correctly, hopefully they will convince at least the majority of those who have not signed and ratified the TPNW at least to accept that they have to live with that. At the end of the day, with this type of complex, difficult diplomatic negotiations, everything boils down to political will from both parties and the language. I always say that the language that we can develop to accommodate both positions will be key. I hope that, on both sides, they will be willing to make a political compromise so that we can move forward and this issue will not be a stumbling block for a successful outcome of the conference.

A B-2 bomber prepares to take flight from the U.S. base at Diego Garcia in 2020. The issue of nuclear-weapon states' commitments to their NPT obligation to move toward nuclear disarmament is expected to be a major topic once again at the NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Heather Salazar/U.S. Air Force)

 

ACT: When you became president-designate of the review conference, you could not have foreseen the consequences of this COVID-19 pandemic. What have you been doing in these conditions to maintain the pace of preparation for the review conference? How are you seeking to engage states in the coming months and in the lead-up to the review conference and before the end of August?

Zlauvinen: The hiatus that we are facing due to the pandemic is something that we were not expecting when I officially took over as a president-designate in January 2020, just two months before the pandemic hit us in a major way. The main challenge was and still is how to keep momentum, how to help states-parties and civil society to keep momentum as we are unable to conduct negotiations until the review conference. That is obviously not going to happen because you cannot have negotiations before the review conference. Negotiations take place at the review conference.

Nevertheless, in every review cycle of the NPT, as has happened with many other treaties before their own review conferences, you have consultations and discussions among states-parties and members of the different regional groups. This is what I’ve been trying to do as president-designate: to keep motivating states-parties and delegations, to keep looking at the challenges that the NPT is facing, the problems that we are going to have at the review conference, not to shy away and to confront those issues without replacing negotiations. Let’s have open and frank discussions among the states-parties to the NPT and including civil society. The views from a gender perspective, the views from the industry, the views from youth—they are all part of our society. At the end of the day, we diplomats and government officials, we don’t work in a vacuum. We work in real life and on issues that affect real people. Therefore, the NPT should not be a closed club. It should be open to youth, industry, and gender perspectives if we want to keep the NPT fit for future generations.

Secretary-General António Guterres (left at table) meets virtually with leaders of the UN Climate Change Conference in January. The Covid-19 pandemic has created uncertainty over what level of in-person participation will be allowed at the 10th NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN)In a normal situation, during the months before the review conference, the president-designate would travel to New York, Geneva, and Vienna for consultations with the regional groups in person. Then they will travel to several capitals to have bilateral conversations and discussions and to hear firsthand from the states-parties about their concerns, about their positions, and to see what margin of maneuver they will give the president-designate during the review conference.

I started traveling in January and February and the beginning of March, and then I had to stop. So obviously, that is a huge challenge because I have to start doing business in a different way that has not been done by my predecessors. I have to start engaging delegations and even capitals in a virtual manner, but it’s not the same as being in person. I have also held informal consultations with the regional groups, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), the Eastern European Group, and the Group of One (China). I have had do it virtually, which is not the same.

What I miss the most is that you can have the same conversations virtually as you can in person, but you cannot have the personal interactions in virtual discussions. Say that you go to Vienna, you meet with the WEOG or the NAM for two hours in a meeting room; and after that some delegation will approach, and you will have coffee with them; or another delegation will approach you in the corridor and tell you something that they could probably not tell you in front of others. In a more relaxed environment, maybe they can tell me things that they probably would not be able to in front of others, and I’m missing that part.

Even when I’m having virtual bilateral discussions, as several capitals asked me to do with senior officials of their own capitals, it’s kind of a scripted conversation because it’s being recorded. We have done a good deal of using these new technologies to reach out to the delegations and states-parties to continue the consultations. I’m trying to hold those every two months, so the next one will be in the beginning of February, then one in April, and then June or July before the conference.

I’m trying to challenge the delegations that when we do have those consultations, even virtually, to address the real important issues. So, let’s address substantive issues. Let us have a frank discussion, even if they disagree. Fine. I’m not afraid of delegations disagreeing. On the contrary, it is part of the nature of this political animal, the NPT. There are more than 190 parties. There will always be some disagreements, and you have to deal with that. The more those disagreements are being aired, there’s a better chance that we have that we can accommodate those positions at the review conference.

ACT: Based on what you know at this stage and based on the experience from the UN General Assembly and its First Committee meetings, how do you expect the review conference will physically operate? How many persons might be there? Might some sessions be held virtually?

Zlauvinen: Based on what we have seen of the General Assembly and the First Committee, the review conference will have a limited in-person presence. There could be one delegate per country at a given time at the conference room, plus two additional delegates linked virtually. It proved to work for the General Assembly, which managed to adopt resolutions, and for the First Committee also. But I understand that business was done in a reduced manner. They didn’t have time, for example, for formal presentations of draft resolutions. Some delegations were not pleased with the way that it worked under that hybrid concept.

Now, what may work for the General Assembly or the First Committee or the IAEA General Conference may not work for the NPT review conference. No two forums are going to have the same dynamics. We have to look into the NPT review process itself and see how the states-parties can engage with each other and try to get a successful outcome.

What I’ve heard so far from the consultation with all regional NPT groups is that a large majority of states-parties prefer to have a full-fledged review conference, meaning a conference that lasts four weeks, that will be in person, and that will allow for delegations from capitals to attend, as well as delegations from Geneva and Vienna.

The conference should allow for parallel meetings, in the sense that you may have two main committees working in parallel because the work is very extensive. We have many issues to handle, and even four weeks is not enough if you’re going to have, for example, one single conference room. That was the situation we would have faced had we decided to go ahead with the conference taking place in January 2021 in New York. The UN Secretariat advised us that, under those circumstances, under the pandemic circumstances, we would have had only one conference room for four weeks, and delegations found this unacceptable.

On the other hand, there is a group of states-parties that says the most important thing is to have the review conference as soon as possible, regardless of the format. That is another rift that I’m trying to avoid, so I have decided that we are going to have another round of consultations in April to discuss the time and the format of the review conference. I hope that, by April, the UN Secretariat can tell us, based on the overall pandemic situation in the world, how many conference rooms we may have in August, how many parallel meetings we can have, and if we will allow for in-person or limited in-person meetings. Based on this information, states-parties have to decide whether it will be acceptable to go ahead in August. If the UN Secretariat cannot provide us all the conference rooms and services necessary to have a full-fledged conference, then we are going to have another major, major headache in April on how we will proceed.

ACT: The NPT’s entry into force in 1970 helped open the way for U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control, but now that arms control architecture is under severe stress. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is gone. The future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is uncertain. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has widespread support, but key nuclear-weapon states have still not ratified it. Many states have argued that the nuclear-weapon states are not meeting their NPT Article VI obligations and have failed to fulfill key obligations agreed at the 2010 review conference. How important is it to the health of the NPT and the success of the coming of this review that we see progress in these areas in the coming months?

Zlauvinen: The arms control treaties that the Soviet Union and the United States, and later Russia and the United States, have managed to agree to and implement during the last 40 years or so have eroded and deteriorated. The demise of the INF Treaty, the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, and the questions about whether New START is going to be extended before it expires in February have contributed to a very pessimistic view by many that the chances for the 10th review conference to have a successful positive outcome are very slim. Obviously, the overall international security context has an impact on the NPT and its review conference. What is more important is the lack of agreement, but also of trust, between Russia and the United States and between China and the United States. This is not helping our conversations on how we move forward in the implementation of the review of the NPT in the next five years.

I’m not that pessimistic. I believe that the NPT has faced similar challenges in the past, that the arms control system put in place by the Soviet Union and the United States started in very difficult times and has evolved. Remember what President Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify.” You need some kind of verification, even if you’re going to try to trust your adversary.

The NPT has managed to overcome all those challenges in the past. I hope and I really believe that the NPT and its members are going to overcome the current challenges. We will also have to wait until January, when there is going to be a new administration in the United States. We have to see what the new administration is going to do regarding the extension of the New START. The current U.S. administration has placed a condition for extension, demanding that China also be included in the negotiations. China has openly rejected that proposal.

So, we have to see whether the new administration is going to continue with those new conditions or whether it’s going to extend New START for another year. We have to wait also to see if the new administration conducts a new nuclear posture review.

Nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear technologies, and nuclear weapons are a matter of U.S. national security, and therefore they are one of the most important issues for any U.S. administration. Traditionally, change of administrations didn’t bring a major shift or changes in the overall U.S. approach to these issues. But in the past, we have seen some changes in the tone, in the attitude, the approaches from one administration to another. I hope that, by August, it will be an environment more conducive for our conference to achieve success.

What I mean by success is a meaningful and fruitful outcome, an outcome that is not going to be only a piece of paper, but an outcome that means practical things for the states-parties to implement in the next five years, an outcome that is going to be fruitful in the sense that everybody will leave the review conference saying that we have achieved something, maybe it’s not so much, but we have achieved something. We have a fruit. We have a result that we can take home and care for and implement.

The outcome will be up to the states-parties. If they want to have an overall document or if they want to have no document at all, fine. If they want to have a high-level political statement or declaration, fine. It’s up to them. I’m not going to be drafting such a declaration. It’s not in my prerogative to do so. It’s up to them.

ACT: This is the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty. This conference is seen by many as being unique and different because of that. How are you planning to elevate the profile or the stature of the meeting despite the pandemic conditions? Are you seeking some higher-level national participation in the conference by prime ministers and presidents, for instance, or in some other way trying to encourage a heads of state-level communique?

Zlauvinen: I hope that governments will see it is in their own interest to have an outcome that is going to be positive for them and therefore they’re going to do their utmost to help in the process. One way that they can do so is by attending at least the first few days of the conference at the highest levels. I cannot impose on parties who that high level should be, but heads of state or government would be more than welcome. Even if they are not able to attend at that level, I think foreign ministers will be very welcome. Before the 2020 review conference was delayed, we were expecting almost 40 foreign ministers and six or seven heads of state or government.

In my bilateral consultations, I’m encouraging states-parties to do so. But again, I cannot impose participation on heads of state or heads of government. That’s my wish. I hope so. I think it is going to be for their own benefit.

ACT: When you mentioned potential changes to U.S. nuclear policy by the next president, will you also look to see how policy might change toward the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? Is it important that the United States return to the JCPOA and that Iran return to the limits of the deal?

Zlauvinen: The review conference will be addressing challenges to the safeguards system and obviously the Iran nuclear program. From what I have heard from delegations, that is going to be a very complex and difficult discussion. The JCPOA is going to be an issue of contention.

I’m not here to take sides. I’m not here to say whether the U.S. administration should go back to the JCPOA or whether Iran should limit itself. It’s up to the states-parties in the context of the NPT review conference. What I hope is that, by August next year, this issue will have evolved from where we stand today. I hope that the new administration will review its policy regarding the JCPOA, and whether the decision is to keep the current positions or change them back or move to a new position, I hope that, by August, it will have a positive result in the negotiations and discussions with Iran, and in particular at the IAEA regarding the Iran nuclear program. I hope that, by August, the whole situation regarding Iran’s nuclear program will be much clearer and less tense than it is now.

ACT: Even if tensions over the future of the JCPOA are resolved, there would still be discussion at this review conference about strengthening safeguards. Given the fact that some states have still not fully adopted an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements and some countries such as Saudi Arabia have outdated small-quantities protocol arrangements, how might the review conference encourage more states to adopt a stronger set of safeguards standards in the future?

Zlauvinen: This issue is also going to be an issue of contention because many countries believe that an additional protocol should be the new verification standard, while others don’t believe so. At least they believe that it is, and it is, on a voluntary basis. It’s not mandatory. This is linked to what many call the grand bargain, the 1995 decision of the review conference to extend the treaty indefinitely and the recommitment by all states to the nonproliferation obligations and to Article VI by the nuclear-weapon states.

Those countries that have not signed or ratified an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements have several reasons not to do so. I’m not here to support or take part in that. I’m just describing the situation the way that I see it. First, the IAEA Board of Governors, when it adopted the Model Additional Protocol in 1995, said that the decision for member states to adopt an additional protocol was voluntary. Therefore, those countries that have not adopted it have decided for national reasons not to.

Secondly, some countries believe that they have adequate systems in place. Argentina and Brazil, for example, believe that their current safeguard system, consisting of a bilateral agreement, an agreement with the Brazilian-Argentinian Agency for the Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), and a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, is strong enough and it doesn’t leave any doubts about the peaceful nature of both nuclear programs. Therefore, they don’t need to have an additional protocol because they have almost that kind of additional protocol in the ABACC itself.

Beyond those technicalities, there is the issue that countries that have placed their peaceful nuclear programs under safeguards agreements believe that they have fulfilled their obligations under Articles I and III. Now, they don’t want to take on more nonproliferation obligations while nuclear-weapon states have not fulfilled their own obligations under Article VI. This is becoming more of a political question as opposed to a technical issue, so that makes the overall issue a bit more complicated. This going to be a contentious issue at the review conference.

I don’t believe there is going to be an agreement. It is not up to the NPT review conference to suggest that an additional protocol is mandatory. It is up to the IAEA Board of Governors. Nevertheless, there are going to be many voices at the review conference calling for an additional protocol to be the new standard, so we will see how we manage that disagreement.

ACT: How can you move forward the debate on the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East? This has been a goal that states-parties committed to try to advance, beginning with the outcome of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. What are the main issues that still need to be settled, and who needs to be involved in sorting them out?

Zlauvinen: It’s going to be another challenge, another issue of contention as it has been for many review conferences. I thought that the 1995 decision, a resolution to push for the establishment of a nuclear weapon-free zone and other weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, was going to do the trick, but it didn’t. At the end of the day, it depends on overall political settlement among all the states in the region. For that, obviously you need Israel. You cannot establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East without the direct involvement of Israel, and so far, Israel has not participated.

There is a new development with regard to this issue that is going to be important at the negotiations and discussions during the NPT review conference, and that is the UN-convened conference in November 2019 on the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East. Most countries in the Middle Eastern region, as well as many European nations and others, attended that conference, with the exception of Israel. The United States also did not participate. The result of that conference is being seen by many parties to the NPT as a step forward in the direction that was designed by the 1995 decision on the Middle East. Therefore, they see that finally there is positive movement, a positive development in the implementation of the 1995 resolution. Therefore, they would like this to be reflected in the outcome of the NPT review conference.

Other countries, Iran and Syria in particular, believe that while the UN-convened conference is important, it is a separate track from NPT Middle East resolutions. They say that there are two different tracks, you cannot link them, so we should not even mention the UN-convened conference at the review conference.

Then you have a separate view, held particularly by the United States, that it refuses to accept that the UN-convened conference even took place or existed or mattered at all. Therefore, it doesn’t want to have any mention at the NPT review conference of that UN conference. Therefore, something that could be seen as a positive step could also be another complication for our conversations and discussions at the NPT review conference. I hope that we can manage language that will accommodate the different positions to acknowledge the UN-convened conference and maybe just set the tone for how to keep moving from the NPT point of view during the next five years in pursuit of the goal of the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East.

It is very important for the countries in the Middle East. I’ve been told by all states-parties that come from that region during my consultations that, for them, this is one of the most important issues for the review conference and, without an adequate reflection of this issue at the review conference, the review conference is going to have a big challenge. Aside from nuclear disarmament, this is the second most important challenge we face at the review conference.

ACT: A few times, you’ve mentioned the position of the current administration coming in late January. With the new administration on the way, given what you know about the tendencies of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, are you more hopeful that his administration will be able to bridge that divide about simply recognizing past review conference commitments; and can that help move this conference toward a meaningful, fruitful outcome?

Zlauvinen: Indeed, the issue of how we deal with the commitments made in past NPT review conferences is going to be another crucial element. It’s part of the challenge that we are going to face related to nuclear disarmament, because when people talk about past commitments, they mainly focus on the commitments of past conferences related to progress toward the implementation of Article VI. Yes, the current U.S. administration has expressed that it saw no need to reconfirm those commitments because circumstances have changed. It claimed that those commitments were made in the past during a different global security environment and different situations and those situations don’t exist anymore. There is a lack of confidence and trust, among nuclear-weapon states in particular, and therefore they are not in a position to reconfirm those commitments. Obviously, for a great majority of states-parties, that’s very important. That is key because they believe that the commitments made at previous conferences are an integral part of the obligations under the NPT. This is the view that they have, and therefore they would like to have those commitments reasserted during the next review conference.

I cannot speak just now on what the new administration is going to do or what approach it is going to have regarding those commitments. Whichever that position may be, I hope that, at the review conference, we can find a way among all the states-parties to a common position on this. But more important than those commitments is what we are going to do as a community regarding nuclear weapons, what we’re going to do regarding the full implementation of Article VI. I believe that the reason why many states signed and ratified the TPNW is because of their frustrations on the lack of progress on the implementation of nuclear disarmament. This is being seen by many, not only in government but in civil society, that as a global community we have to do something better regarding moving forward to that overall goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

I would like to have that question answered by the new administration. I think that the commitments are a secondary or tertiary issue related to that. If the new administration answers that question, then it will be easy to know what they’re going to do with the commitments at previous conferences. It is more important to answer how they’re going to deal with the demand from the overall community that nuclear-weapon states have an obligation, they have a responsibility to do something much more regarding how we move forward to that goal of achieving one day a world free of nuclear weapons.

The president-designate of the 10th NPT Review Conference discusses the political and logistical hurdles facing the delayed meeting.

Explaining Iran’s Nuclear Position: An Interview With Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi


September 2020

In May 2018, the Trump administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed U.S. sanctions waived by the deal. One year later, Iran announced it would begin reducing its compliance with the JCPOA in response. This August, the Trump administration sought more stringent sanctions against Iran, and Iran agreed to enable International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to two controversial sites.

As the sanctions debate was unfolding at the United Nations and the IAEA Director General prepared to travel to Tehran, Arms Control Today discussed these and other nuclear issues on August 6 with Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s permanent representative to the UN since April 2019. Prior to that, he served as deputy chief of staff for political affairs in the Iranian Office of the President beginning in 2017, and as deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs from 2013 to 2017. While serving as deputy foreign minister, Ravanchi participated in the multilateral negotiations on the JCPOA.

Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi speaks to the media at UN headquarters in New York in June 2019. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Arms Control Today: Iran announced in May 2019 that it would begin reducing compliance with limits imposed by the JCPOA in response to the deal’s failure to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the nuclear agreement after the United States. withdrew and re-imposed sanctions. In January 2020, Tehran announced that its nuclear program would no longer be subject to any limits. Does Iran intend to take any additional steps to breach its JCPOA obligations in the next several months? If so, what would be the intended purpose of those moves?

Amb. Majid Takht Ravanchi: The United States withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 in contravention of its obligations under international law because the JCPOA is part of Resolution 2231. It is an annex to the resolution. The resolution has endorsed the JCPOA, and Resolution 2231 was adopted unanimously by the whole Security Council. So that shows that the whole international community was behind Resolution 2231.

The U.S. move was against international law and against the international obligations of the United States. After the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA Iran waited for almost a year to see what the other members of the JCPOA could do in order to give Iran the benefits of the JCPOA. We were told by some members of the JCPOA that Iran would be compensated for the losses that it has received as a result of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. But unfortunately, after a year we did not receive any tangible benefits from implementing our obligations under the JCPOA. Then at that time in 2019, after a year, we were left with no other option but to reduce our commitments. This is in line with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, so our action is totally in line with our commitments in the JCPOA.

Regarding whether Iran is going to move further from what we have done, as you know after taking the fifth steps, Iran said it would no longer take any action, and that has been our position since. As far as our future action is concerned, it depends very much on the way that the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 are going to be treated. Our actions will be corresponding to whatever happens with Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA.

ACT: Until recently, Iran still benefited from cooperative nuclear projects in the JCPOA. However, in July, U.S. sanctions waivers for several activities required by the JCPOA, including modifications of the Arak reactor, were terminated. What is the status of the Arak conversion project? What are Iran’s plans for the future of the reactor?

Ravanchi: The U.S. move a few months ago was another act in contravention of U.S. obligations, as they put sanctions on the nuclear cooperation between Iran and other countries. So that is the basis of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. And then they started violating their obligations in May 2018. They just put aside the nuclear cooperation with other countries, and now they put the final nail in the way the JCPOA is being treated. So that shows the real intention of the United States when it really does not want Iran to have advancement in high technology, and that shows that the U.S. is not interested in seeing the Iranian people enjoy the benefits of scientific achievements. As far as the Arak nuclear facility is concerned, we are in talks with our partners, and the talks are ongoing. At the same time, we have said that if we are faced with a situation when Iran cannot advance this part of its nuclear facilities, we will go back to the old design, which was something of our creation. So that is an option for Iran, and we will decide at the right time when to go back to the old design. This is a very good option for Iran.

ACT: In July, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that Tehran triggered the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism (DRM) to address what Iran views as a violation of the deal by the France, Germany and the United Kingdom. What specifically does Iran hope to achieve with this move?

Ravanchi: That was not the first time that we initiated the DRM. In fact, since 2016 we have invoked the DRM mechanism on different occasions that the JCPOA was violated. The last time that we invoked the DRM was in response to lack of commitments by the EU partners. So this is a mechanism that every member of the JCPOA can apply, and we have used our rights in accordance with the JCPOA to benefit from the dividends that are supposed to be given to Iran. Our main purpose is to show that we have a complaint and the Joint Commission of the JCPOA has to study this complaint. We have sent our letter to the head of the EU Commission, and we hope that our concerns and our complaints will be taken into account by the Joint Commission.

ACT: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued two reports in 2020 detailing its investigation into past, possible undeclared nuclear activities and materials and its unmet requests to inspect two facilities in Iran. After these reports were issued, the agency’s Board of Governors passed a resolution calling on Iran to cooperate with the agency’s inquiries. Iran told the agency in June it is “willing to satisfy the agency’s requests” but certain “legal ambiguities” must be addressed first. What are the specific legal ambiguities that Iran wants addressed and how?

Ravanchi: First of all, Iran has continuously cooperated with the IAEA. Just look at the figures the IAEA produces. In 2019 almost 20 percent of all inspections, all over the world, have been done in Iran. That figure shows by itself that Iran is cooperating with the IAEA, so inspectors can go and visit different places in Iran. To say Iran is called to cooperate is not really an interesting argument, because Iran is cooperating with the IAEA. As for those specific places that they wanted to see, we were discussing with IAEA people in Iran, in fact the deputy director-general was in Iran, and we were discussing the issue with him. And our talks were advancing, and all of a sudden we witnessed a move in the IAEA Board of Governors to issue a resolution against Iran. That was very counterproductive because we were about to resolve the issue of the visits.

We have said time and again that the IAEA is a technical body. It should not be politicized, but unfortunately some countries, headed by the United States, are politicizing this organization. We think that the best way to address the problem is to adhere to the technical nature of this body. We are in contact with the IAEA, we are in contact with members of the Board of Governors in Vienna, and we hope that we can resolve this issue.

There are certain principles that we need to adhere to. We cannot rely on fake information or fake intelligence to conduct the business of the IAEA. Information given to the agency by the Israeli regime cannot be relied on because they have been very adamant in providing fake information, particularly with regards to Iran. So that is something that needs to be considered by the agency. If the agency has its own evidence, it has to show its evidence to Iran, not just duplicating what it was given by others.

Another point is that we have already closed the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) file back in 2015. We cannot allow this file to open again because we have already closed that, and the agency has issued a resolution on this. The Board of Governors has already issued a resolution for the closure of PMD. And alleged activities going back to 17 years ago is not something that the Board of Governors should be spending time to issue a resolution on. So these are the politicized activities I was referring to. Therefore, we think that we should continue our talks with the agency and with the members of the Board of Governors so that we can find a solution to the problem.

ACT: As you know, the Trump administration is seeking to extend the UN restrictions on Iran’s conventional arms sale that are set to expire in October per Security Council Resolution 2231 and U.S. officials say they will use the snapback mechanism in that resolution if necessary. A number of countries, including those still party to the JCPOA, oppose U.S. efforts and disagree with the U.S. legal interpretation that it is still entitled to use snapback. How do you expect this debate will play out in the Security Council? How would Iran respond if the Council agrees to extend the arms embargo or if the United States tries and somehow succeeds in snapping back UN sanctions under UNSC 2231?

Ravanchi: First of all, any move by the security Council to impose sanctions, military sanctions against Iran, is illegal, is against Resolution 2231. So, there's no legal room for the adoption of any resolution by the security Council to impose sanctions on Iran. The second issue is that the U.S. attempt is going to fail because the members of the Security Council are not prepared to accept the violation of Resolution 2231. As I said before, 2231 was adopted by consensus, by unanimity, in the Security Council, and that is part of international law. So, members of the Security Council today should be the last ones to adopt something against international law.

U.S. President Donald Trump displays his order reinstating sanctions on Iran after he announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House on May 8, 2018.  (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)As far as the snap-back is concerned, it is really a very ridiculous proposition to consider the United States as a JCPOA participant because the U.S. is not a member. It has already said that it ceased its participation in the JCPOA, and it said this at the highest level. Just look at the announcement by the White House on May 8, 2018. It says the U.S. has ceased participation in the JCPOA. And high officials in the United States government have said that they are not going to refer to the JCPOA because they are not members of the JCPOA. At times the U.S. officials claimed that JCPOA and Resolution 2231 are two separate documents. While the U.S. has withdrawn from the JCPOA, it still claims to be a member of 2231. Apparently, they have not read resolution 2231. Resolution 2231 endorses the JCPOA, and the JCPOA is an annex to Resolution 2231. We are not talking about two separate documents. We are talking about one document and that is resolution 2231.

Resolution 2231 talks about JCPOA participants. It is not talking about 2231 participants, it talks about JCPOA participants. There are certain rights and certain obligations for JCPOA participants. Because the U.S. has withdrawn from the JCPOA, it cannot be considered a JCPOA participant. So, there is no legal basis for the U.S. claim to be a JCPOA participant. We believe that the United States cannot invoke the relevant provision in 2231 for bringing back the old resolutions. We have said very clearly that if arms embargoes are going to be back against Iran, Iran’s reaction will be harsh. We have different options available to us, and we do not rule out any political options that are available to Iran

ACT: Iran maintains that it will return to compliance with the JCPOA, if other parties meet their obligations. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would reenter the JCPOA. If Biden is elected, or if the Trump administration were to express interest in rejoining the JCPOA, how quickly could such a return to compliance be accomplished once and if both sides agree to such an approach? Would Iran be open to follow-on talks with Washington and other JCPOA parties regarding the future of Iran’s nuclear program and other issues of mutual concern? What is the range of issues would Iran be willing to discuss in such a scenario?

Ravanchi: First of all, we are not interested to involve ourselves in U.S. domestic politics, so it is for the American people to decide who the next president should be. What is important for Iran, and for other countries, is the respect for international agreements, international law, that should be provided for by the U.S. government. It doesn't matter if it’s a Republican government or a Democratic government in the White House, the U.S. obligations should be respected by all U.S. governments. So, Resolution 2231 is part of international law, and the U.S. government has a legal obligation to observe the provisions of Resolution 2231. If the next administration, whoever that might be, is going to accept Resolution 2231 and implement the provisions of the JCPOA in all honesty, I believe there is room for the United States to join the other members of the JCPOA within the context of the Joint Commission to talk about different issues related to the Iran deal. That is something that we have to wait and see whether the U.S. will take that decision or not.

Another point I also have to emphasize is that Iran has suffered a lot after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. In the last couple of years, we have suffered a lot in terms of losing precious Iranian lives as a result of the U.S. sanctions, even on food and medicine. We have lost a lot in terms of economic issues. So, there is a good argument by Iran to seek compensation from the United States. There are the things that have to be borne in mind when we were talking about future moves by the United States to join the JCPOA again.

ACT: The rescheduled 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is planned for early 2021 and many states believe that this is a key opportunity to reaffirm international support for the treaty and the full and timely implementation of its goals and objectives. Will Iran use this opportunity to reaffirm its commitment as an NPT state party to forswear nuclear weapons and to meet its NPT safeguards obligations?

Ravanchi: Iran was the first country back in 1974 to initiate a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calling for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Iran has also been observing its International obligations based on the NPT, so Iran is in good standing in terms of its respect for international law. We are going to have the opportunity in January 2021 to discuss different aspects of the NPT within the review mechanism. Definitely, Iran and other non-nuclear-weapon states will stress the fact that nuclear-weapon states have not been up to their obligations based on the relevant provision of the NPT.

Another point is in regard to the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone and free from other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. As you know for the last couple of years, the UN General Assembly has been seized of this matter. Last year we had the first conference on this important issue. But unfortunately, Israel, with a known stockpile of nuclear warheads, has not shown any interest to join the effort to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. I believe the next NPT review conference is also a good opportunity for all member states to call on the Israeli regime to join others in putting all of their unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under the supervision of the IAEA.

Iranian workers stand at the heavy water production plant in Arak when it opened in August 2006. The plant was to provide heavy water for the site's research reactor, which was later modified by the terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)ACT: Back to the question of Iran’s approach to the 10th NPT Review Conference, do you plan to use this particular conference—an important one, the 10th review, 50 years after the treaty’s entry into force—to reaffirm Iran’s commitment to the NPT and all of its goals and to Iran’s future safeguards obligations. And on the zone issue, there will also be another meeting on the UN conference in November convened by the secretary-general. What specifically do you believe could and should be achieved at that November meeting and at the NPT review conference in the context of the objective of advancing the discussions toward the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East?

Ravanchi: On the first question, Iran’s position remains the same that there are certain obligations that nuclear-weapon-states have to honor. And the non-nuclear-weapon states are of the conviction that the nuclear-weapon-states have not observed their obligations. This is an important issue for non-nuclear-weapon states, and that issue will be brought up in the review conference. Regarding the nuclear-weapon-free zone, I believe that while we have a conference dealing specifically with this issue, we are of the opinion that the NPT review conference is also another avenue that should be considered to discuss this important issue because some countries were not eager to participate in or support the conference for the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East. Therefore, in the NPT review conference there is another opportunity for all members to discuss this important issue and try to support the establishment of such a zone and first and foremost to force the Israeli regime to accept joining others to discuss the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East.

ACT: Is it your expectation that the 10th review conference will still be taking place in January?

Ravanchi: It's too early to predict what exactly will happen in January. It depends on the situation at the time, because nobody can predict what the situation related to the pandemic is in January. If the situation is the same as what we had in March, I believe we can expect another postponement. But I suppose the way things are developing in New York City, I think and hope that the conference will convene as scheduled.

 

Iran’s UN ambassador sets out the case against U.S. actions in the Security Council.

Russia’s View on Nuclear Arms Control: An Interview With Ambassador Anatoly Antonov


April 2020

Arms Control Today conducted a written interview in early March with Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States on issues including the current status of U.S.-Russian strategic security talks, the future of New START, talks on intermediate-range missile systems, engaging China in arms control, and President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a summit of the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, then director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Security and Disarmament Affairs, speaks at the closing plenary of the New START negotiations on Apr. 9, 2010, one day after the treaty was signed in Prague by the U.S. and Russian presidents. (Photo: Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission, Geneva)Antonov was appointed ambassador to the United States in August 2017. For more than three decades, he has served in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its successor, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he has specialized in the control of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Serving as the ministry’s director for security and disarmament, he headed Russia’s delegation to the 2009 negotiations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). He was appointed deputy minister of defense in 2011 and deputy minister of foreign affairs in 2016.

Arms Control Today: What issues were discussed in the recent U.S.-Russian strategic security talks in Vienna? When do the two sides plan to meet next? Does Russia find this dialogue on issues affecting strategic stability useful and, if so, why?

Amb. Anatoly Antonov: Russia and the United States are the largest nuclear weapons powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. They bear a special responsibility for preserving world peace and security. That is why it is crucial to maintain the bilateral strategic stability dialogue at any given circumstance, regardless of political situation. It goes without saying that such engagement should be conducted on a regular basis.

While discussing security issues, one must keep in mind that any conversation, no matter how substantial it might be, should focus on achieving tangible results. Reaching agreements on reducing tensions and mutually acceptable arms control solutions could help meet this goal. The primary task is to rebuild confidence in this area, attempt to preserve treaties that are still in effect, [and] mitigate crisis dynamic.

As for the consultations in January, our reaction can be described as “cautious optimism.” On the bright side is the fact that the meeting did take place, even though it exposed serious disagreements between our countries on a number of topics. Without going into detail, I must note that on many occasions we heard our partners talking about a concept of conducting dialogue within the framework of the so-called great power competition. In our view, such a formula could hardly serve as a foundation for building constructive cooperation on security issues between nuclear powers.

Nonetheless, Russian and American negotiators managed to discuss factors that significantly impact strategic stability (even though our partners somehow prefer the term “strategic security”). In our perspective, they include, above all, deployment of global missile defense, implementation of the “prompt strike” concept, threat of placement of weapons in outer space and designation of space as a “war-fighting domain,” quantitative and qualitative imbalances in conventional arms in Europe, development and deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads, and adoption of new doctrines that lead to lowering the threshold of using nuclear weapons.

In our view, another positive outcome of the renewed Russian-U.S. dialogue on strategic stability was the agreement reached in Vienna on conducting expert group discussions on specific topics, which we have to go over and agree on.

ACT: Do you agree or disagree with the idea that there is ample time to decide whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? From Moscow’s view, when must the presidents of the United States and Russia formally agree on extension of New START to ensure completion of the necessary processes before its expiration date? Is it Russia’s view that the treaty can only be extended once, or can it be extended multiple times totaling up to five years if the two parties decide to pursue that approach?

Is it possible for the Duma to provisionally recognize a joint decision by the two presidents to extend the treaty in order to allow a decision on extension closer to the expiration date?

Antonov: As you have correctly noted, Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly spelled out our stance on New START. On December 5, 2019, he declared our country’s readiness to immediately and unconditionally extend the treaty. Later last year, we officially suggested that Russia and the United States should review the entire set of corresponding issues including the term of the treaty’s possible extension (up to five years).

A Russian defense official shows Russia's 9M729 cruise missile at a facility outside Moscow on Jan. 23, 2019. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov disputes the U.S. accusation that the missile violated the INF Treaty. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)However, we have yet to get a response. Trump administration representatives keep claiming that “there is still time” since the extension of the treaty in their view can be formalized in a matter of days. These statements are made despite our repeated clarifications that New START’s extension is not a “mere technicality,” but a rather extensive process that requires the Russian side to undertake a series of domestic legislative procedures. I would like to reiterate that as past similar review processes show, it may take several months to complete the New START extension.

Therefore, it is surprising that the U.S. Department of State refused to conduct consultations proposed by the Russian side on legal aspects of potential extension of the treaty. In response, we hear mixed comments (for instance, during the briefing of a “senior State Department official” on March 9, 2020) on the nature of interaction between the executive and legislative branches in Russia.

As for your last question, I would rather not contemplate in a conditional tense. I wish to emphasize: Russia stands ready to reach an agreement on New START’s extension even this very day. However, our goodwill is not enough. It requires U.S. consent, which we have not received yet. Should Washington agree, we will immediately begin implementation of the corresponding domestic procedures.

We hope that the United States will finalize its stance on New START in the nearest future since there is not much time left before the treaty expires in February 2021.

ACT: For nearly a year, the United States has insisted that China be involved in trilateral nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia and the United States. Chinese officials have said, however, that given the disparities between their arsenal and those of the United States and Russia, they are not interested in trilateral arms control talks at this time. Russia has said that if the U.S. side can persuade China to participate, then other nuclear-armed states such as France and the United Kingdom should be involved.

In Russia’s view, which nuclear arms issues and which types of weapons should be part of any bilateral or multilateral follow-on negotiation to New START? Would Russia be willing to engage in negotiations designed to limit or reduce stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well as strategic nuclear weapons? When, in Russia’s view, should any such New START follow-on talks begin?

Antonov: I would like to remind you that our stance on this issue dates back to 2010. We have said more than once that, with the signing of New START, any possibilities for further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms on a bilateral basis are virtually exhausted and that further progress in this area will require involvement of other states with military nuclear capabilities. However, we do not understand why some of our U.S. colleagues talk exclusively about China. Let’s also involve NATO members possessing nuclear weapons, Great Britain and France. In fact, that is what the special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, Ambassador Jeffrey Eberhardt, suggested in his March interview with your journal, when he said, “we have to move beyond bilateral discussions between ourselves and Russia and bring in other countries.”

We are convinced that cooperation with third countries in developing possible new agreements in this area should be strictly consensus based and pose no threats to legitimate security interests of the parties. Beijing has clearly rejected the idea of being involved in the so-called trilateral agreements on nuclear arms control that you have mentioned. We believe that this “obsession” with the trilateral format can become a serious obstacle to the development of the Russian-U.S. strategic dialogue, in particular, in terms of preserving existing treaties and developing possible new bilateral agreements.

There is no doubt that the Russian-U.S. bilateral arms control agenda remains relevant. We are open to discussing within the strategic dialogue the issue of the newest and prospective weapons that do not fall under New START. However, the conversation on this topic should be conducted in a comprehensive manner, which takes into account interests of both sides.

At the same time, the possible extension of New START would give Russia and the United States an opportunity to discuss the prospects of bilateral and multilateral arms control regimes in the environment of strategic predictability.

ACT: Regarding your proposal to convene a heads-of-state meeting among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, what specifically would be discussed at such a meeting, and what specific outcomes does President Putin think could be achieved and how?

Antonov: Currently we have been conducting preliminary discussion on a possible date and venue for the summit.

The goal of the summit, as stated by Russian President Putin, is to begin a substantial conversation on the fundamental principles of cooperation on the international arena in order to resolve the most pressing issues faced by the global community. A meeting of the leaders of the five permanent members of the Security Council is the most appropriate format for such a dialogue to commence.

We proceed from an understanding that the leaders will discuss the crisis situation in global stability and security, including the erosion of the UN-set foundations of the world order, regional conflicts, fight against international terrorism and transnational organized crime, challenges of migration, and destabilizing technologies. We will not be able to leave out disarmament and arms control issues. We hope that the summit will allow us to identify approaches to solving pressing strategic stability issues.

But it can only be achieved within an interested and mutually respectful dialogue that implies consideration of interests of all sides. Later, other countries can and must join these efforts since only collectively we may solve the global problems of humanity. The summit is our proposal to the international community to step away from confrontational thinking and get behind a productive agenda.

ACT: Would Russia’s proposal for talks on a moratorium on deploying intermediate-range missiles also prohibit Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, which U.S. and NATO officials have charged as an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)-noncompliant system? Which geographic “environments” does the Russian proposal envision becoming nondeployment zones for these prohibited missiles? How would the parties to the agreement monitor and verify compliance or otherwise share information about the locations and numbers of the prohibited systems? Lastly, is Russia open to considering counterproposals to its initial concept, and with which countries does Russia seek to negotiate such a missile moratorium?

Antonov: Russian President Putin’s message to the heads of the leading countries, including the United States and other NATO members, dated September 18, 2019, states that our country made a voluntary commitment not to deploy ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe and other regions so long as the United States refrains from doing so. On many occasions, we have called on other countries to support this initiative in order to prevent a new missile arms race, primarily on the European continent.

We believe that a multilateral moratorium in accordance with the Russian proposal will require additional verification measures, especially considering that launchers capable of firing intermediate-range land-based missiles are already deployed in Romania (Poland soon will follow suit). It was clearly proven during the test of a sea-based Tomahawk cruise missile fired from a ground-based Mk41 launcher conducted on August 18, 2019. Should our U.S. and European partners be interested, Russia is ready to work out corresponding technical aspects of the verification regime.

As for 9M729 missiles, the alleged “proof” amassed by the United States and NATO of our systems violating the INF Treaty (while it was in effect) has never been presented either to us or the international community.

Russia stands ready to discuss the issues of intermediate- and shorter-range ground-based missiles with all concerned countries. Our call to adhere to a moratorium, similar to the one already observed by our country, is addressed above all to Washington and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

ACT: Regarding the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), what are the main action steps on nuclear disarmament, previously agreed in the 2010 review conference outcome document, or perhaps new steps that Russia will encourage the 10th NPT review conference to support? What specific nuclear risk reduction measures is Russia ready to support in the context of the NPT review conference? [Editor: The 2020 NPT Review Conference will not meet as scheduled, see ACT news article, this issue.]

Antonov: Our stance and priorities in nuclear disarmament have been comprehensively described in the Russian working paper submitted to the second preparatory committee for the 10th NPT review conference. It stipulates a consensus-based incremental approach that implies consistent work on creating the right conditions that help the global community to continue down the path toward nuclear disarmament.

In this regard, we consider the forced development of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (now open for signing) as wrongful. It fails to promote nuclear disarmament, undermines the NPT, and creates additional tensions between its participants. We believe that complete elimination of nuclear weapons is only possible within comprehensive and complete disarmament and under conditions of equal and indivisible security for all, including nuclear states, in accordance with the NPT.

A significant contribution to progress in nuclear disarmament would be made by extending New START and adopting a moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles by the United States and its allies. An important role in efforts to limit and reduce nuclear weapons is played by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Unfortunately, since the CTBT was opened for signature 20 years ago, the world has still been awaiting its entry into force.

As for nuclear risks, we are working on a joint statement with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council on the inadmissibility of a nuclear war (the United States has failed to respond to Russia’s proposal to do it in a bilateral format). This could in a way become a reconfirmation of the well-known Gorbachev-Reagan formula, this time in a multilateral format.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States discusses strategic security, New START, and other key topics.

Defining U.S. Goals for the NPT: An Interview with U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Eberhardt


March 2020

As the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) marks the 50th anniversary of its entry into force, its parties will gather for the treaty’s 10th review conference in New York, from April 27 to May 22. Ambassador Jeffrey Eberhardt, special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, will lead the U.S. delegation to the review conference. He spoke with Arms Control Today on February 5 to describe U.S. goals and positions on issues that will likely be contentious at the conference.

Jeffrey Eberhardt is sworn in as special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation In June 2019 by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford. (Photo: U.S. State Department)Arms Control Today: At last year’s NPT preparatory committee meeting, the United States said that “we must recall our predecessors’ accomplishments,…reaffirm our shared commitment to the NPT and the broader nonproliferation regime, and…rededicate ourselves to preserving and strengthening them for future generations.” How does the United States plan to move in that direction?

Jeffrey Eberhardt: On the occasion of the treaty’s 50th anniversary, we really want to focus on our common, shared interests in the treaty. The benefits of the treaty, the effectiveness of the treaty, have been enormous over the years. If you look back to where we were when the treaty entered into force 50 years ago, how many nuclear-weapon states there were, how many potential nuclear-weapon states there were, it was not a good outlook. If you look at the state of the safeguards regime, it was not as strong as it is now. If you look at the ability to share the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, it was not as strong as it is now. Because of the NPT, that strong foundation of nonproliferation norms, that knowledge that your neighbors are not pursuing nuclear weapons programs has first and foremost helped set the conditions for the dramatic reductions that we’ve seen to date, even though initially our arsenals continued to grow.

The aspect that is most overlooked is the tremendous benefits that the world has seen from the spread of nuclear technology, not just in power generation, although this is a tremendous carbon-free power source, but in the areas of medicine and agriculture. The enormous benefit this has had in raising populations out of poverty, improving health, quality of life, would have been unimaginable without the NPT, that sharing of nuclear technology. So this is a great opportunity for us to focus on those benefits, and those benefits are as important today as they were 50 years ago.

ACT: But what are your goals? What would you like to see come out of the review conference?

Eberhardt: I’d like to see a good exchange of views on how people see the treaty being implemented. After all, we are required to review the treaty, that’s what we ought to do. We will have different views on how that has gone—that’s to be expected with a membership as wide and diverse as we have—and we will have a conversation about how we move forward. Again, views will vary, given the membership of the treaty. A robust exchange of views on the treaty, both past and future, would be important.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in Prague on April 8, 2010. It will not be possible to complete a new nuclear weapons treaty with China before New START's scheduled expiration in one year, according to Amb. Jeffrey Eberhardt, special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Now, to the extent that can be captured in some kind of a final document remains to be seen. That has always been a daunting task, borne out by the fact that it has only happened twice in the classic sense where you’ve had a consensus review and a consensus forward-looking document, in 1985 and 2000. In other years, there have been various outcomes. In 2010, we had the forward-looking plan, but not the review. In 1995 we had a series of decisions. In 1985, we had a reflection of the various views that everyone agreed by consensus that this accurately reflected the views that were exchanged, even if not all these views command consensus. So there are a range of outcomes that are possible. There could be a simple statement reaffirming our commitment to the NPT as a separate decision. We are also looking at the area of peaceful uses, again one of the more underappreciated aspects of the treaty, and we’re looking at whether we can put together a package on peaceful uses that could be put in the form of a decision at the review conference. So, there are a number of ways to get to success that, as most often has happened in the past, fall short of a classic consensus review and forward-looking document.

ACT: One of the challenges still facing the treaty is the possibility that Iran could enrich uranium well beyond the limits set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. What does the United States hope the review conference can do about the Iran issue? What message do you think the conference could deliver that could help keep Iran’s capabilities in check?

Eberhardt: Part of this is being played out in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) right now. There are serious questions as to what Iran has done. Iran has never come clean on the weapons program that it was pursuing. So what we want, and I think the president has made this clear, is a deal that ensures that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon. Now, we and our European allies may disagree on how best to achieve that. The president has put forward a plan for a pressure campaign to try to bring Iran back to the table. Those things take time. I don’t think it will be resolved by the review conference, to put it mildly, but that’s an issue that we will have to discuss at the conference. It won’t be the first time that we’ve had to discuss Iran at a review conference. That was an issue certainly in 2005, when we talked about potential Iranian noncompliance at the time. Of course, when we’re talking about noncompliance—and I’m not saying Iran is in noncompliance today—as a general matter, when you’re talking about the questionable behavior of a party to a treaty, then it makes getting consensus on a document that much more challenging.

What the conference can say by consensus about this, I have my doubts that we can have a strong statement, but it will certainly be an issue that needs to be raised and debated in the course of the conference. That’s what the review is all about.

ACT: How would you assess U.S. progress so far toward meeting its Article VI obligations to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament?

Eberhardt: The United States has made tremendous progress by making dramatic reductions. We’ve had a whole series of negotiations dealing with nuclear arsenals going back to the days of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Granted, those limited the rise of arsenals, not cuts. But once we were past the peak, there were a whole series of negotiations to reduce those arsenals, and really that’s what Article VI calls for: good faith negotiations on steps toward nuclear and general disarmament. So, we have done that, and we continue to pursue that. There’s nothing in Article VI that says this must be accomplished in one fell swoop, so I think over the decades, we have shown a tremendous commitment to Article VI, probably more so than any other NPT party.

Going forward, we have launched the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative to talk about how we get there. When I was in Geneva last week at a panel sponsored by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), someone made the claim that he thought the initiative was a distraction. I said, “No, it’s not a distraction, it’s a serious discussion.” It’s all well and good to say we want a nuclear-free world and let’s all get rid of nuclear weapons, but the real question is how we do it. That’s what the CEND initiative is all about: How do we actually get there?

It was far easier to reduce when our stockpiles were fairly enormous and the verification demands weren’t as great. The first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) capped U.S. and Soviet, then Russian, arsenals at 6,000 warheads. So if somebody is not quite at 6,000, does cheating on the margins of that treaty matter that much? From the standpoint of credibility of compliance, yes, of course it always matters, but as a militarily significant advantage, not much. But as we go down, the military significance of cheating on the margins becomes more important, and therefore verification becomes more important. So, we have different things to deal with.

As we go lower, we have to move beyond bilateral discussions between ourselves and Russia and bring in other countries. That brings in a whole other set of issues. Why do those other countries have nuclear weapons? The answer is not the same for every country. They have different dynamics they have to deal with, motivations, so if we are going to be serious about moving toward this—the United States is and always has been serious—we have to get at the root causes for why nuclear deterrence remains relevant today, then identify effective measures toward mitigating them to move progress forward. To my mind, the CEND initiative is the personification of Article VI in searching for ways to continue to move the process forward and make progress.

This is something we’ll be talking about at the review conference, both in our national statements and hopefully statements of others. We hope there will be a side event with some of the CEND working group co-chairs to talk about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, where we’re trying to go, and getting the message out as to why we believe this is a serious effort that will go well beyond the review conference. I’ve always said that the review conference, while important, is a milepost, not the finish line, for the CEND initiative. It’s a significant event, obviously, for those CEND members that are members of the NPT, but it’s not driving what we’re doing. This is a long-term process.

ACT: What are some specific outcomes that you see emerging from the CEND initiative as it contributes directly to some of the goals and objectives that have been agreed at previous review conferences regarding Article VI?

Eberhardt: We are hoping to set up another CEND working group meeting between now and the review conference, probably in early April. [Editor's note: After this interview, the meeting was scheduled for April 8–9.] Since the last working group meeting, where we developed concept notes for each of the groups, we have been working with the co-chairs to develop programs of work to address exactly how to get at this problem. We’ve made some good headway in working with the co-chairs. We hope to be at a point soon where the co-chairs can send out some draft programs of work to the broader group for discussion and hopefully its approval and blessing at the next meeting. We have progressively disaggregated this problem. We started with creating the CEND initiative, we have broken that down into some working groups, and those groups then broke those down into specific lines of effort. The programs of work will now take those lines of effort and disaggregate them further, looking at which issues to take first, how do we approach these issues, what outside experience do we want to bring in to provide working papers and briefings, and sort of nail that down.

Hopefully by the end of the April program, we can definitively say the substantive work is now underway on these specific issues.

ACT: Today is February 5, and in 12 months, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is due to expire. Many NPT states-parties, including many U.S. allies, are encouraging the United States and Russia to extend the treaty and engage in follow-on talks. What message do you anticipate bringing to the review conference on the U.S. approach on that and the state of U.S.-Russian discussions on nuclear disarmament?

Eberhardt: As for New START specifically, we have not yet made a final determination on the extension of the treaty, but we still have time left. It doesn’t take much to extend it once you decide to do that. More broadly, we recently had a strategic security dialogue with Russia in Vienna, where we talked about a range of issues.

The president has also talked about going beyond bilateral arms control to trilateral arms control to bring China to the table in some way.

ACT: Is there going to be a proposal on that way before the review conference, because that idea was floated about a year ago?

Eberhardt: I can’t predict when we’ll have something more specific to say about that, but that is clearly where we need to go. If we are going to end the arms race—well, a couple of years ago I would have said the arms race is over, but Russia has been developing some dramatic new systems—and I’m not saying we’re in one now, the United States is certainly not racing, our program of record is what it is, but it is important to ensure that our potential negotiating partners don’t start racing or continue racing.

ACT: Even if China were interested in such a negotiation, is it realistically possible that there’s a new agreement involving China before New START expires?

Eberhardt: A new signed, sealed, delivered agreement? Realistically that’s not possible, but it is possible to have a negotiation underway or agreed to by then. New START took an entire year, these things do take time, but the commitment to negotiate can certainly be achieved by then.

ACT: Some U.S. officials have said the United States should not feel compelled to adhere to the body of commitments made at past review conferences. What is your assessment of that, and is the United States committed to the agreements achieved at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference?

Eberhardt: Previous commitments cast a pretty wide net. I would say that it’s not just some current administration officials have said that. Some previous administration officials have made the same argument: decisions of review conferences, as embodied in final documents, are political commitments. They are taken in the context of the time in which they are achieved.

As for 1995, the extension of the treaty has a treaty-based nexus, so that is in fact a legal commitment because the original treaty called for a review and extension conference in 25 years to determine whether or not to extend the treaty. That is a treaty-based commitment that is distinct from other final document commitments.

The other aspect of 1995 is the resolution on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. The U.S. position remains clear on that: we support the establishment of such a zone if it is freely arrived at among the parties in the region. Our position hasn’t changed on that since 1995. The question is, how do you get there?

It’s a challenge. If you imagine a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and you have a country that is violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), that’s a problem. If you have other countries that haven’t signed up to the CWC, that’s a problem. If you have uncertainty about where Iran is going with its nuclear program, that’s a problem.

You have to address the reasons why such a zone is not achievable today before you can achieve the zone.

There was a UN conference that was established in New York in November, but it doesn’t include the participation of all the key states in the region. Also, if you look at all the nuclear-weapon-free zones that have been negotiated in the world, none of them was negotiated at the United Nations. They were all agreements freely arrived at by the parties to the region. So, we need to find a way for the parties in the region to address all the concerns. We continue to support the goal, but it is not a goal that can be imposed from outside.

ACT: Now that the UN meeting has taken place, do you believe it set back efforts?

Eberhardt: That remains to be seen. It was said at the time the resolution passed the First Committee that this would relieve pressure on the NPT review process. I’m happy to take them at their word, and if they are satisfied with their conference, then this need not be an issue that is addressed at length at the review conference. That would be a very good outcome. We have many more pressing issues to address in New York than the Middle Eastern zone, but we’ll see what happens.

ACT: U.S. officials have said the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is inconsistent with the NPT, but many NPT parties have supported it and have argued that it complements the NPT. Will this disagreement be a hurdle to a consensus decision at the review conference?

Eberhardt: It depends on what the advocates of the treaty want to say about it. They have set up a separate treaty with a separate process. I’m perfectly happy for them to discuss that treaty in that process. The TPNW is inconsistent with the NPT in the sense that there is a specific article that says when in conflict with other treaties, the TPNW takes precedence, so that’s a problem. It establishes a standard of verification that is lower than what is commonly accepted in the NPT: a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the additional protocol to that agreement.

Chaja Merk of Extinction Rebellion (left) and Alicia Sanders-Zakre of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) speak at ICAN's Campaign Forum in Paris on Feb. 15. ICAN promotes the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that has been signed by 81 states so far, despite U.S. opposition. (Photo: Joe Jukes/ICAN)The TPNW is not an effective measure toward disarmament. This is not an issue that I want to belabor at the review conference, and if no one brings it up, I’ll be happy not to bring it up either. Let’s see how that goes.

ACT: Some NPT parties, such as Saudi Arabia, have not agreed to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement. What can the review conference do to advance that standard of verification?

Eberhardt: We would certainly like to see language in the final document, assuming there is one, reaffirming that comprehensive safeguards and the additional protocol are the recognized standard for verification of NPT safeguards obligations. That would be a strong affirmation of the fact that the additional protocol is so important, not just for Saudi Arabia but for everyone. It’s something I talked about when I was in Nigeria in December on a workshop on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Comprehensive safeguards and additional protocols are enablers for accessing the benefits of these technologies, and this was well understood and accepted by all participants in the workshop. It was a very gratifying experience.

ACT: What is the U.S. approach to the idea that the review conference might endorse specific nuclear risk reduction steps? For instance, some have urged NPT parties to say in their national statements that a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought, the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev formulation from 1985.

Eberhardt: I’m not really sure. I will say that I’m pleased that the discussion around risk reduction has matured. It used to be that all anybody wanted to talk about was reducing operational readiness, de-mating warheads, and various other measures that I think are actually destabilizing. The conversation has become more nuanced now, and people are talking about what exactly do we mean by risk reduction. There are four or five ways, including the reduction of nuclear war, reducing the risk of accidental use, and so on. This is actually one of the areas that the CEND initiative is taking up, and I’m looking forward to how that group develops the concepts and then looks at specific measures that can be taken. It’s still early days, so I can’t point to any specific measures in that. But I am also hopeful that because we’re having these serious discussions in the CEND initiative about risk reduction, that might spur progress elsewhere—perhaps in the process of regular meetings among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the P-5 process—to have a more serious discussion about risk reduction and measures that can be taken. It could be an impetus for that group to have that serious discussion. Russia and China have participated in the CEND initiative up to now; we’ll see how that plays out.

What specific measures might be available at the review conference, I can’t say. The Reagan-Gorbachev statement was of a time when arsenals were fairly enormous. What we are looking at is how can we perhaps come up with new language that is reflective of today’s environment, that gets to that same idea but perhaps in a more practical and realistic way. I don’t have anything to share with you now, but we’ll see how that plays out.

ACT: Argentina has organized a series of regional workshops to prepare for the review conference, after Rafael Grossi was selected as the conference’s presumptive president last year. Grossi became the director-general of the IAEA in December, but his Argentine colleague, Gustavo Zlauvinen, has taken his place. Have those meetings succeeded in expanding the time to prepare for the review conference? Are you comfortable with the organizational preparations for the conference?

Eberhardt: This is not a perfect situation, having to change president-designates midstream. We had already had the problem of getting Grossi named as the president-designate at the last Preparatory Committee meeting. It’s been a challenge, but I was impressed with Zlauvinen when I met him last week. He has a very realistic and measured approach toward executing the office, recognizing the need to take a balanced approach, taking into account all views. I know he intends to carry on the series of regional workshops that Grossi had set up, and those have been useful.

As to the organizational aspects, UNODA has done a great job of assisting throughout this process, so I’m an optimist. I play golf, so by definition I’m an optimist. We’re in good hands with Zlauvinen.

The State Department’s head of delegation to the 2020 NPT Review Conference provides the U.S. perspective on the meeting.

A U.S. Perspective: An Interview With Admiral James Winnefeld (USN, ret.)


January/February 2020

What If New START Expires? Three National Perspectives

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hold documents after signing New START on April 8, 2010. If the treaty expires in one year, the United States would lose its ability to conduct on-the-ground verification in Russia and would have reduced confidence its assessment of Russian nuclear forces. (Photo: Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)With the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on August 2, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is now the only remaining arms control agreement limiting at least a portion of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. New START expires on February 5, 2021, but can be extended by up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents. If the treaty expires without an extension or replacement, there will be no legally binding constraints on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in half a century. Although Russia has indicated its support for a clean, unconditional extension, the Trump administration remains officially undecided about whether to extend the treaty and is seeking a more comprehensive arms control agreement that includes more types of Russian weapons as well as China. Arms Control Today sought the views of experts in China, Russia, and the United States to describe today’s situation and look to the future.

A U.S. Perspective: An Interview With Admiral James Winnefeld (USN, ret.)

Arms Control Today: The five most recent U.S. presidents negotiated agreements with Russia to control and reduce both nuclear arsenals, and only President George W. Bush negotiated an agreement that did not contain detailed verification provisions. Do you think arms control still serves an important role in curtailing threats to the United States and its allies?

Admiral James Winnefeld: Properly constructed arms control agreements serve several important purposes. The principal reason for limiting the number and type of nuclear arms and delivery vehicles in a mutually balanced and adequately transparent manner is to maintain strategic stability, which lowers the likelihood that one nation believes it could win a nuclear war. Second, all other safeguards considered, fewer nuclear weapons reduces the likelihood of accidents or proliferation. Finally, fewer strategic systems allows smaller national expenditures to defend the nation’s most vital interest, which frees those resources for other purposes.

ACT: Do you support extending New START for five years, as allowed by the treaty?

Adm. James Winnefeld, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2015. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)Winnefeld: Extending New START will bolster U.S. security while future arms control arrangements are negotiated. New START is not perfect. No treaty ever is or will be, but this treaty has served the principal purpose of arms control: maintaining strategic stability. I applaud the administration’s desire for a new treaty that would account for recent Russian activity, but it would be difficult to negotiate such a treaty today given the prevailing geopolitical environment and the U.S. and Russian domestic political environments. Extending the treaty could provide a window of opportunity in which those environments could evolve and set the conditions for a successful negotiation. It would be better for both sides to negotiate such a treaty from an existing baseline rather than in a vacuum, and we have little to lose by extending it.

To be sure, crafting a new treaty will be difficult. The U.S. team will need to negotiate from a position of strength and avoid a tendency to reveal its bottom line early or negotiate with itself. After all, a bad treaty is worse than no treaty at all. Both sides will have to account for changes that have occurred since New START was ratified, including advances made by Russia in systems not covered by the existing treaty, such as hypersonic weapons and new types of undersea weapons. The United States will need to continue developing ballistic missile defenses to counter North Korean and Iranian threats, but this remains a major irritant for Russia and is what probably stimulated their development of unorthodox systems. Russia will resist the solid verification measures needed to preclude their tendency to cheat, but just because talks will be difficult does not mean we should not try, as long as the U.S. side can maintain the discipline to negotiate a treaty that serves our nation’s interests well.

ACT: Why has the U.S. military been a strong proponent of strategic arms control, including New START? What is it about strategic offensive armaments that have led the United States and Russia, through the ups and downs in the political relationship, to continue to pursue limits on these weapons? If we have less visibility into Russia's nuclear capabilities, their force structure, and their modernization plans, which would be the case without New START, what impact could that have on U.S. military planning and spending?

Winnefeld: The U.S. military fully recognizes the benefits of well-constructed arms control treaties, for all the reasons outlined above. Moreover, the predictability provided by these treaties permits more stable defense planning, especially in an era in which defense budgets are highly unstable. Although a future treaty negotiation will be shaped by the nation’s strategic force modernization plans, the reverse is also true. For example, New START limited the number of sea-based ballistic missile launch tubes, which required the United States to decommission some existing launchers in its submarines. This limit clearly guided plans for the next generation of U.S. submarines. An absence of boundaries and transparency over Russia’s program development could lead to program disruption when a response is required by an unanticipated change in the trajectory of Russian strategic systems development.

ACT: Is there any way to replace the information gained through the “boots on the ground” inspections provided by New START if the treaty disappears? If we lose the New START verification regime, would the Pentagon and the intelligence community have to spend more on national technical means of verification to make up for this loss?

Winnefeld: Sadly, unlike the U.S. security culture of strict compliance with treaties, Russian security culture permits and perhaps encourages getting away with anything they can. It is why the Russian side always resists verification measures, which underscores the importance of verification. High-confidence arms control verification requires a multifaceted approach in which actual visits on the ground augment other measures, technical and nontechnical. These other means are no doubt how the United States discovered Russia’s plain violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eventually caused the United States to withdraw from the treaty after two successive administrations tried to bring Russia back into compliance. Loss of an on-the-ground verification regime might not cause the Pentagon and intelligence community to spend additional money on other means of verification, but it would stress existing means and lower U.S. confidence in Russian compliance.

ACT: With respect to the administration's desire to bring China into the arms control process, China has stated repeatedly that it is not interested in entering negotiations on a multilateral agreement, citing the large disparity between the size of the Chinese arsenal and the arsenals of the United States and Russia. Do you think it is possible to negotiate an agreement to limit China's nuclear forces before New START expires in February 2021? Would extending New START buy time to engage Russia and China on a more comprehensive arms control approach? Short of limiting China's nuclear forces, what are some practical steps the United States could pursue to bring China into the arms control process?

Winnefeld: It is relatively easy to predict the motions of two celestial bodies as governed by gravitational forces. Predicting the motion of three bodies, however, involves heretofore unsolvable differential equations, the so-called three-body problem. Similarly, bringing a third party into an arms control negotiation dramatically raises the already high level of complexity of reaching a bilateral agreement, especially if one party is reluctant to participate. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine circumstances that would make it possible to negotiate a bilateral agreement with China before 2021, especially given other ongoing tensions, such as trade disputes. That said, every effort should be made to explore how a negotiation, whether bilateral or trilateral, might work and to encourage it. This would be probably best initiated by Track 2 discussions to lower the political risk of setting prematurely high expectations.

New START is a stabilizing force that should be extended while future arms control options are explored.

The 2020 NPT Review Conference Starts Now: An Interview with Argentine Diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi


June 2019

The 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will begin April 27, 2020, just weeks after the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Held every five years, the review conferences offer the treaty’s members a formal opportunity to assess the treaty’s implementation and its states-parties compliance. The conferences provide an opportunity to discuss and seek agreement on steps to advance common goals and objectives related to the three pillars of the agreement, which involve the interconnected obligations of states-parties on nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful uses, and disarmament.

Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi will serve as president of the 2020 NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)NPT states-parties convened at the United Nations from April 29 to May 10 for the final preparatory committee meeting for the 2020 review conference. They agreed by an unusual mechanism to designate veteran Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi as president of the review conference, effective in the last quarter of 2019. The decision empowers Grossi to begin immediate consultations with NPT member states to prepare for the potentially contentious review conference. Grossi is Argentina’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, where he previously served as assistant director-general for policy.

The ambassador spoke with Arms Control Today on Thursday, May 9 at UN headquarters to describe his plans for the next year.

Arms Control Today: What is the value of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its review process, and is the 2020 review conference more important because it marks the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force?

Rafael Mariano Grossi: The treaty is the most important piece of international law that we have had regulating the nuclear order for the past 50 years. The importance of this treaty cannot be overstated.

For me, the review process is an interesting feature of the treaty. It is rare in international law to have treaties reviewed in this thorough way, where the element of accountability enters into play.

The reviews are not always easy because every review is a result of circumstance and circumstances change with time, so what meant something at some point in time might have changed. There are different provisions in any piece of international law, some that are more permanent, and some others, including some in the NPT, that have been maybe superseded with time. For example, the NPT includes references to peaceful nuclear explosions, things that with time fell nicely with no conflict into oblivion because of their anachronistic nature.

But other provisions remain relevant, and in this sense, it is important to have this review. The review process itself is also subject to discussion.

As for the 50-year milestone, anniversaries can have a meaning for some people. For me, as in human life, they are a good opportunity to take stock. In this case, 50 years is a sizable chunk of time where you can assess the impact of the instrument on international life and maybe position it toward the future.

ACT: The preparatory committee has agreed with your selection as president of the 2020 review conference. What is your diplomatic game plan in the lead-up to the review conference? How will you engage key states in the coming months?

Grossi: For me, the review conference starts next Monday [May 13]. Until tomorrow, we are busy with the [preparatory committee]. But as of Monday, we need to start preparing for the review conference.

I plan an initiative that is commensurate with the gravity of the times. It is necessary to have a very thorough process. It is necessary for me and for states-parties to have an opportunity to discuss outside the limits of the formal meeting what is possible and what is feasible, and this requires time and effort.

I have announced a very ambitious program of regional conferences, consultations, workshops, and symposiums. The names of the meetings don’t matter too much; these are opportunities to meet and discuss the NPT in different forms and configurations. It has never been done before. I’m planning to have at least eight or nine of these, apart from the bilateral meetings that are always expected from the president to have with the P5 [the five recognized nuclear-weapon states under the NPT] and others.

There will be an effort on peaceful uses, a topic which I believe has been if not marginalized, then less looked into. It is area that means a lot for the vast majority of the membership. Of course, we are going to be discussing disarmament and nonproliferation too.

What starts now is a very intensive phase in the lead-up to the conference, which made it so important to confirm my review conference presidency. Now this is done, so I can start working and engaging countries with the necessary authority.

ACT: Can you describe your planned meetings in more detail?

Grossi: There are few things that are new in the process. The first is that I will have a bigger, larger, more inclusive table than we have seen before. I mean by this that I will be inviting technical support organizations, national regulators, scientists and technologists, and nuclear power plant operators. I will be inviting people that are active in nuclear applications in all these countries.

Why? Simply because I feel that discussions around the NPT have been limited to diplomats like me or practitioners in nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy. This is very important and will continue, but we were missing voices from the discussion, those who at the end of the day are benefiting from the system, from the framework, from the modus vivendi that the NPT has set up.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford is leading the U.S. initiative "Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament." The initiative is based on the U.S. premise that global security concerns are preventing nuclear-armed nations from reducing their arsenals.  Washington will host the first working group meeting of the initiative in July. (Photo: Paul Morigi/CEIP)I see value in having this conversation, which has political significance. These people may be part of national delegations, and they should have a say in the sort of commitments, in the sort of compromise building that I am trying to strengthen at this moment. Later on will be a time for diplomatic negotiations and small groups and draftings and all of that, but you have to prepare the ground for that by trying to have this sort of wider conversation.

Another thing that will be new is a strong emphasis on reaching out, going out in the field. Meeting only in the UN hub cities of Vienna, New York, and Geneva give us a limited perspective of things. When we talk about proliferation or disarmament or how we use nuclear science technology or energy, it’s very different to have this discussion in North Africa or in Southeast Asia or in Central America than to have it here in New York. When you leave those hubs, everything changes, perspectives change, opinions change.

We are planning to have at least two conferences in Asia, three in Africa, at least two in Latin America, and maybe one or two for the Middle East, on top of the traditional meetings. This will be a very extensive exercise of preparation and consultation, which is badly needed.

Yet another new thing that I’m going to have is a cross-regional presence. When we go to Asia, I will have Africans and Europeans or Latin Americans coming as well, and vice versa. By showcasing lessons learned and successful partnerships, I want to demonstrate examples of things that can reinforce nonproliferation or show how things can be done in a way that is nonproliferation friendly.

ACT: How would you define a successful review conference? Is the ultimate goal to reach agreement on a final statement and an agreement on a forward-looking plan, or are there other possible outcomes, for example a high-level segment statement?1

Grossi: Apart from my personal preferences aSwedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom announced at the preparatory committee that Sweden will host a June 11 ministerial meeting to discuss moving toward nuclear disarmament with a stepping-stone approach. (Photo: Jussi Nukari/AFP/Getty Images)nd inclinations, we have a mandate to conduct a full review, and this is what I’m going to do. I’m aware of viewpoints and analyses, some of them very interesting, that suggest that it would be better for me to try to cut corners and save ourselves the aggravation of discussions that some consider pointless by trying to go straight for a minimalistic sort of outcome: We agree to disagree, then go home.

I disagree completely with this. This is not the mandate; the mandate is different. What one has to strive for is to have a full review and an agreed document. This is what this is all about: agreement. That being said, the dynamic of a diplomatic negotiation may take you in directions that may be different, and I would never exclude those possibilities.

There is the example of the 1995 review and extension conference, where a set of important decisions were taken.2 Frankly speaking, few know that there was no final document. People didn’t care in the end because the weight of these decisions was so great and the significance for the treaty and the package of decisions arrived at as a whole was so important. In the end, there was very little time to finalize a final document, and no one was shedding a tear about it.

So, the aim is to have a full review but, of course, with the disposition to explore possibilities that may lend themselves to good agreement among states.

You mentioned a high-level segment. Let me say that I don’t believe in segments for this type of conference. This is more appropriate for other types of conferences, like ones that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been conducting on nuclear applications or nuclear security.

In this case, the presence and support of high-level leaders, heads of state, for example, is what you need. If you talk about a segment, you are bureaucratizing something that I don’t think is appropriate in the case of the 50th anniversary of the NPT. Starting with the P5 and others, I have begun asking them to try and persuade their political authorities at the highest possible level to come to the review conference and use their presence to show the importance they all attach to the NPT. We need the visibility brought by the presence of those who believe that this treaty is not something of the past, that this treaty is not an obsolete thing, but rather something that is worth sustaining and protecting.

When asked how I define success, normally I say that I don’t like the question. I don’t like this exercise because it presupposes a defeatist state of mind. It’s like I’m going to play tennis with Roger Federer and I ask, How do we define success? Maybe if I get a point against him, I can consider this a win? No, I think it shows a defensive attitude that presupposes success is going to be almost impossible. Some might say, for example, that if we agree to disagree, but we’re civil, we don’t throw rotten tomatoes at each other, that can be success. No.

A successful outcome is something that might be difficult to define, but when you see it, you will recognize it. You will know that it is something that has strengthened the treaty as opposed to questioning it, challenging it, or diminishing it. That’s success for me.

ACT: If the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is terminated as expected and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is not extended or replaced before the review conference, do you expect that states will accuse the United States and Russia of noncompliance with their NPT-related disarmament commitments?

Grossi: With issues of state policy, we need to be careful about making assumptions of things that may or may not be there in 11 months. I think that some of these processes are quite open, initiatives are being mentioned in this area, and final policy decisions have not been made in some of them. To me, to pass judgment at this point is not a good idea because what we are going to be able to say will be a function of a circumstance and the circumstance may be different a year from now.

ACT: Do you see the deteriorating situation around the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), threatening to hijack other business at the review conference? How might states-parties respond to the possibility that Iran could pull out of the JCPOA and even
the NPT?

Grossi: That would have a huge impact, of course. The so-called regional, or nonproliferation, cases or crises, however we wish to describe them, always influence discussions a lot. But it is too soon to assess them, again because situations can change. In 2016, for example, you would have had a very good or a relatively optimistic atmosphere on the JCPOA and a pessimistic one on North Korea perhaps. Now how do you see it? It’s different, isn’t it? In 2018, it would have been less positive with the JCPOA, better with North Korea. Now, it’s a bit uncertain with North Korea, but still with some hope, and the JCPOA seems to be suddenly deteriorating. In just two-and-a-half years, it’s been a bit kaleidoscopic the way in which each of these individual, singular situations have presented themselves in front of our eyes. So to start speculating about these things is to me a bit pointless, but we will, of course, be monitoring each and every one of those. They will very much be part of the debates.

ACT: How can you move forward the difficult debate on the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, which has been a goal that NPT state-parties committed to try to advance beginning with the outcome of the 1995 review and extension conference? What are the main issues that need to be settled, and who needs to be involved in sorting them out?

Grossi: There are some new elements here, the first being the UN General Assembly decision to have a conference on the Middle East, which will take place November 18–22 here in New York.3 I have started consultations with the Arab Group and also with the presidency of that conference to indicate my disposition to listen and to prepare to establish the appropriate relationship between the November meeting and the NPT review conference. Some will believe there is no relation, others will pretend there must be a cause-and-effect relationship between them. What is clear, though, is that an ongoing, specific process does not mean the NPT review conference’s involvement has disappeared. On the contrary, just because you have another, specific process does not mean that we can say we have been unburdened from this responsibility. This is going to be a mutually reinforcing or otherwise process.

In terms of who participates, there is an internationally established definition of what countries are in the Middle East that comes from a listing agreed in Vienna, which includes a number of countries including Israel and Iran. It will be up to those organizing this conference to issue the invitations—I don’t think this has been done yet—and also the P5, of course, and agencies including the IAEA, probably the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, maybe the European Atomic Energy Community. This would be the first ring, I suppose, of participants in that exercise, but of course it is the sovereign decision of those who are organizing
this effort.

ACT: How will you work to bridge divides on disarmament progress while still achieving a meaningful outcome?

Grossi: The first, perhaps more obvious role that I can see for the president of the NPT review conference is to remind everyone that there are expectations and obligations when it comes to disarmament. Again, to cite my example of success, you cannot have success without appropriate visions and decisions on disarmament. So, my role perhaps is to be a constant reminder to the powers that be that the mix indeed requires tangible, credible elements when it comes to disarmament. We do have a number of those described at previous conferences and other gatherings and meetings that may form the basis for that.

As I said in the beginning, the review is the result of circumstance. The review is not the treaty. What we need to have is the ability to extract from certain countries the willingness to do certain things.

I don’t intend to conduct a review of past reviews, even though there is always the temptation to do that. I don’t want to have an accountant’s approach to the review. We need to discuss these issues, but many of those commitments may have changed or might even require certain alterations when you look at the technical parts that are included. I would not like to tackle this review with a document in one hand and looking at countries A, B, and C and telling them, “Fifth line, you haven’t…; sixth line, you haven’t…; seventh line, you are ok.” That’s an accountant’s approach, and that’s not what we are required to do.

Of course, we will keep everything in mind, nothing is forgotten, nothing is hidden under the table, but the discussion must be efficient. The accountant may be right, but if you have the wrong conversation, you are wrong in the end.

ACT: There are some new disarmament-related proposals in the NPT context, including the new U.S. initiative titled “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.”4 Do you see NPT states-parties agreeing with the premise of this initiative? How will you take this into account in your consultations leading up to the review conference?

Grossi: I welcome this initiative. Everyone should welcome any initiative that has the objective of nuclear disarmament as a goal. I’ve seen the introductory notes and documents on the U.S. initiative, but I understand it is still a work in progress and the United States intends to have a process where working groups will be set up and a systematic discussion will take place.

I welcome that, much as I welcome any other disarmament-oriented initiative in the run-up to the conference. These are all elements that are bringing material that we can use. This is the clay that we are going to be using in 2020 to shape the consensus that we are going to strive for. To take an a priori approach to a particular initiative would be wrong.

ACT: The United States has apparently sent out a hold-the-date note for an early July meeting of the working group on the U.S. initiative to be held in Washington. There’s also a June 11 convocation of foreign ministers that Sweden has organized,5 so how do these fit into your overall game plan?

Grossi: My understanding is that the Swedish initiative is more oriented toward demonstrating high-level political support for disarmament. I see these as potentially complementary initiatives. As I understand it, the process on the U.S. initiative is meant to be a holistic discussion aimed at nuclear disarmament, whereas the Swedish initiative intends to look at ways in which high-level political support can be garnered and shored up with the 2020 review conference.

ACT: Another disarmament issue that will likely come up at the review conference is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)6. How will you seek to reconcile the views of states that believe the TPNW reinforces the NPT with those that say it creates a norm that is contrary to the NPT?

Grossi: There won’t be unanimity, and this is something we need to be very clear on. The NPT is a family of 190 countries, so such an impressive membership tells you immediately that it will be impossible to have a unanimous view on the TPNW approach. The TPNW is a very interesting new element in the disarmament landscape. It embodies a humanitarian approach, but many countries that have subscribed to this approach have not subscribed to the TPNW. To make these amalgamations is an exercise I would caution against. The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, or any weapons of mass destruction for that matter, is very important, but try to channel that into one or the other instrument is something that is going to be nonconducive to progress because we will clash with hard national interests and the whole purpose of something as noble as the humanitarian awareness may be lost.

All these elements are an array of instruments, principles, and ideas that we will have to put together in the mixer and see what we can take out of them. To try and impose on a multipolar community a specific channel is not the best. I wouldn’t say it’s wrong, it’s just not the best approach.

It’s pointless to engage in a discussion whether there is complementarity between two instruments. Those who have subscribed to the norm, of course they will say that there is complementarity, otherwise they would not have done this. For others is the complete opposite. Other countries may be waiting, others may be assessing. My country is assessing, for example. Others have assessed already and have come to an opinion about it. But to try to corral countries is not conducive. This is about the NPT, and we need to care for it.

ACT: How can civil society contribute to a successful 2020 review conference?

Grossi: I’m very keen on having a number of discussions that are necessary with something like the NPT. One is, of course, with civil society. I had a first meeting with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday here in New York, and I intend to continue in that. There are lots of good ideas there. I am also hoping to have a better format for NGO interaction with delegations come 2020.

There is also the gender discussion, which is very close to my heart. There is a vast area there where improvements can be made, can be done, resulting in better diplomatic results. I think it is proven that an improved, balanced representation in delegations leads to better processes and better outcomes as well. It’s not only a matter of human justice, but also efficiency in the way we do business. We must include youth groups as well, and I am considering this. A good example already exists with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Youth Group; new generations are of the essence. At the end of the day, we do this for them, we want a better world for them.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Some diplomatic meetings have featured short portions in which high-level national representatives, typically ministers or heads
of state, address the participants and then depart to allow working-level officials to conduct the meeting.

2. Participants of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely and to a strengthened review process and a series of forward-looking principles and objectives on nonproliferation and disarmament.

3. In 2018, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted a resolution introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab League for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference on taking forward a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in 2019 and every year thereafter until a zone is achieved. Israel, Micronesia, and the United States voted against the resolution, and 71 countries abstained.

4. At the 2019 preparatory committee meeting, the United States described the initiative as “a new dialogue exploring ways to ameliorate conditions in the security environment that impede progress toward a future safely and sustainably free of nuclear weapons.” See Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States of America," NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018; Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Operationalizing the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Initiative: Working Paper Submitted by the United States of America," NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.43, April 26, 2019.

5. Swedish Foreign Minister Margo Wallstrom announced the meeting to the preparatory committee on April 30, 2019. “Speech by Margot Wallström at the NPT Preparatory Committee in New York,” April 30, 2019, https://www.government.se/speeches/20192/05/speech-by-margot-wallstrom-at-the-npt-the-preparatory-committee-in-new-york/.

6. Opened for signature in September 2017, the TPNW bans the use, threat of use, development, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transfer, stationing, or installation of nuclear weapons. Its supporters argue that it reinforces states' commitments to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. To date, the treaty has been signed by 70 nations, ratified by 23, and needs 50 ratifications to enter into force.

Arms Control Today interviews Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi to learn his plans to prepare for the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

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