This new workshop report by APLN and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) highlights Asia-Pacific perspectives on the upcoming Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which is finally taking place on August 1-26, 2022.
The report puts forth concrete proposals by regional experts on security and diplomacy, measures that, if taken, would lessen the threat of further nuclear proliferation in the Asia-Pacific and increase the odds of a successful NPT Review Conference.
The report is based on a closed Track 1.5 workshop convened by the two organizations on June 29-30, 2022, in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss priority issues for strengthening the NPT in advance of the Tenth NPT Review Conference (RevCon). The meeting, sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, brought together over 30 participants from 15 countries across the Asia-Pacific region, including senior officials, next-generation professionals, and experts from governments, regional organizations, and think tanks.
The workshop report summarizes key takeaways that emerged from the discussions, identifying challenges and highlighting opportunities for Asia-Pacific nations to advance the NPT’s goals. It explores strategies and tactics to achieve a successful outcome at the RevCon, including by identifying precise actions countries can take to strengthen nuclear risk reduction, increase transparency, improve fissile material management, and expand the uses of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The participants floated several proposals and concrete recommendations, including:
- A request that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) establish a mechanism for monitoring and even regulating the spread of nuclear propulsion technologies in the Asia-Pacific.
- A commitment from the five official nuclear weapons states (NWS) to reduce the role nuclear weapons play in their security strategies. The experts agreed that nuclear weapons “can create a false sense of security” due to “spillover effects” and should be de-emphasized.
- Greater transparency by NWS regarding the status of their fissile materials. This would “help reduce proliferation pressures in the Asia-Pacific” felt by the non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS).
- Ass agenda security threats to the RevCon agenda that go beyond the traditional scope of the NPT to cover risk reduction. For example, territorial disputes among major states in the Asia-Pacific – from the South China Sea to the Senkaku Islands and beyond – leaves the region dangerously exposed to “strategic flashpoints” with no means of risk reduction.
Workshop participants surveyed the key political and strategic developments impacting the 2022 NPT RevCon and the non-proliferation regime, including the ongoing war in Ukraine and worsening relations among NWS. Participants emphasized that it is more important than ever to strengthen the NPT regime.
In the Asia-Pacific, nuclear arsenals are growing, conventional arms-racing dynamics are intensifying, interest in NATO-style nuclear sharing arrangements is growing in Japan and calls for an indigenous nuclear capability are becoming more prominent in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains outside the NPT and diplomatic efforts to halt its expanding nuclear and missile programs have stalled.
The submarine deal announced in September 2021 between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS) raised proliferation concerns in the region. Territorial and maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific continue to be contentious and threaten regional instability and conflict.
Participants noted that preparations for the postponed 2020 RevCon have tended to be most actively led by Western states. They agreed that Asia-Pacific countries should more openly voice their concerns about the issues that affect the region’s security and stability.
Doing so would make it more likely that Asia-Pacific priorities – such as the need for peaceful dialogue, establishment of and commitment to NWFZs, nuclear risk reduction measures, transparency measures, norms against nuclear testing, disarmament commitments, and the TPNW – are given due attention at the Tenth Review Conference.
Some participants remain hopeful that the 2022 NPT RevCon can reach agreement on a consensus final document despite these challenges. Others would be content with any outcome that reaffirms common ground (including the need to keep disarmament alive) and helps rebuild trust.
Image: Patrick Gruban via Flickr