Folding the Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty
Policy Briefs

Folding the Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty

APLN Policy Brief 58

The adoption of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (NWPT) by 122 states in July 2017 introduced a powerful new dynamic into the stagnant realm of nuclear disarmament. The decision by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and their nuclear dependent allies to boycott the NWPT negotiations created a schism within the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) community that will not be easily repaired. The NWPT did not come out of the blue, but was in itself a manifestation of the building frustration of non-NWS over the failure of the NWS to deliver on their nuclear disarmament commitments. While sharing some of this frustration, the nuclear dependent allies opted to privilege adherence to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence over advancing nuclear disarmament goals. If the NPT regime is not to suffer serious erosion, these nuclear dependent allies will need to convince their NWS partners to undertake tangible nuclear disarmament action. The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative grouping of states (which includes both pro and anti NWPT states) may have a special role to play in this regard.

To fold the metaphorical “nuclear umbrella” it will be necessary to convince those sheltering under it that it is safe to come out and to recognize that the umbrella may be more of a danger than a protection. To understand why the advent of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (NWPT) represents such an existential dilemma for those non-nuclear weapon states (non-NWS) party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but under a nuclear umbrella, it is necessary to consider the antecedents to the NWPT.

This paper will briefly review the diplomatic developments that led up to the conclusion of the NWPT, the predicament posed by this new direction in nuclear affairs for those non-NWS allied to nuclear weapon states (NWS), and what prospects exist for the non-NWS concerned to take actions that would enable eventual adherence to the NWPT. Particular attention will be paid to the nuclear policies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a constraint on non-NWS members of that alliance, but there is much similarity with how non-NATO non-NWS, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea have reacted to these new developments, with the common factor being the reliance of all these non-NWS on US nuclear guarantees.

The paper concludes that if the NPT’s relevance is to be sustained it will require the NWS and their nuclear reliant allies to develop a positive agenda regarding the NWPT and demonstrate that they are able to actually deliver on neglected Article VI commitments.

About the Author

Paul Meyer is Adjunct Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University and a Senior Fellow at The Simons Foundation in Vancouver, Canada. Prior to taking up his current appointments in 2011, he had a 35 year career in Canada’s Foreign Service, serving as Director-General of International Security (1998–2001) and as Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (2003–07). He is the current Chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group.

Image: APLN/Unsplash stock, Azhar.