The future of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament is in danger

Image: Getty, Angela Weiss/AFP
Image: Getty, Angela Weiss/AFP

After a month of negotiations, the tenth review conference (RevCon) of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded on August 26 without a consensus final document, raising concerns about weakening efforts to promote nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It also marked the first time two consecutive RevCons have failed to produce such a document.

In this Council of Councils global perspectives series, our experts analyse what this failure means for the future of nonproliferation and disarmament and what might be done to strengthen the nuclear regime. Although the meeting could be considered a failure given the goal of producing a consensus document to review implementation of and advance the NPT’s objectives, some take solace in the fact that the normal work of improving nuclear safeguards and ensuring access to the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy remains strong.

African Countries Should Strengthen Their Collective Voices

The outcome of the tenth NPT RevCon was disappointing, especially considering the more successful first meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that took place in June 2022. Russia stands out as the outlier in terms of the outcome of this RevCon. For the most part, African states supported the substantial aspects of the final document, watered down as it was.

NPT member states, individually or collectively, typically submit working papers or present statements to the RevCon to convey their position on certain aspects of the treaty, policy directives, and suggested action points. In this regard, African states could have played a stronger role and elevated their presence at the RevCon. They need to back up their normative collective commitment to the NPT by also submitting working papers and statements. Only a handful delivered statements. Just three submitted national reports on the action plan of the 2010 RevCon. Algeria was the only state to submit an individual working paper and in fact submitted three.

Clearly, the continent opted for a more multilateral approach to express its views:  most states supported positions presented in collective working papers as part of the New Agenda Coalition, the Non-aligned Movement, and Zangger Committee. Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania were among the states submitting joint working papers on nuclear disarmament. Ethiopia supported the Stockholm Initiative’s working paper on a nuclear risk reduction package.

Niger joined several European states to produce a working paper on a framework for the peaceful use of nuclear cooperation. Nigeria’s involvement entailed submitting two working papers jointly with its fellow members of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative. Namibia joined a group of states submitting a working paper on gender mainstreaming in the NPT. Cape Verde and Morocco were part of a group of sixty-seven states delivering a statement on gender during the general debate. Egypt was one of four states submitting a joint working paper on nuclear technologies for heritage science.

Participation by individual African states in the proceedings of the three main committees was also low. Only four African states addressed plenary meetings. This, then, creates the imperative and an opportunity for the African Group to strengthen its collective voice on multilateral nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. 

This write-up forms part of a longer compilation of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Read it here.