Berlin consultation focuses on detente, gift-baskets and nuclear weapons financing

PNND, UNFOLD ZERO and German arms control and disarmament organisations have consultation with the Foreign Office.

Ban treaty, NPT prep com, Russia/NATO relations and UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament discussed.

On March 22, a number of German peace and disarmament organisations, met in Berlin with PNND, UNFOLD ZERO and Susanne Baumann (Deputy Commissioner for the Federal Government on questions of disarmament and arms control), to discuss nuclear risk-reduction and disarmament negotiations and processes. This was the sixth in a series of consultation roundtables conducted in UN centres and key capitals over January-March 2016.

The Berlin consultation covered a wide range of issues including the NATO/Russia relationship, ban treaty negotiations, NPT Review process and the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament (2018 HLCND). Key considerations in the discussions were how to achieve success in each of these areas, and how they could work in complementary – not competitive – ways.

Dialogue, Diplomacy and Detente

On the NATO/Russia relationship, it was generally recognized that there are difficult challenges – with tensions between Russia and NATO very high, a number of unresolved conflicts including over the Ukraine, and uncertainty as to the policies from the new Trump administration.

The importance of US/Russia bilateral arms control agreements was stressed – including both current arms control agreements and opportunities for new agreements. In this context there was reference to the initiative of former German Foreign Minister Steinmeier to re-invigorate conventional arms control between NATO and Russia, the proposals for further Russia/USA nuclear arms reduction agreements including those put forward in the Brookings Institute October 2016 report Arms Control Choices for the Next Administration

It was recognized that arms control and disarmament is unlikely to progress without dialogue, diplomacy and détente between NATO and Russia. This includes at government level, such as through the NATO-Russia Council, at parliamentary level such as through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (which includes the parliaments of Russia, US, Ukraine, NATO states…), and through civil society.

The resolution on nuclear risk reduction and disarmament adopted in July 2016 by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, indicates the possibilities for progress, and provides support for governments like Germany to take leadership in this area.

The Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) demonstrates the possibility of success when there is a commitment to diplomacy, even when there are deep-seated conflicts and different perspectives on the core issues. In the NATO/Russia context, a similar commitment to détente and diplomacy – not just dialogue – will be important. As such there was some discussion of the new initiative Détente Now.

Ban treaty and NPT

With regard to the UN negotiations for a nuclear prohibition treaty, starting in New York on March 27, one issue discussed was the value, or otherwise, of nuclear reliant States like Netherlands and Germany participating in the negotiations if they are very unlikely to join the negotiated treaty. Another issue was the differing implications of either a strong treaty with detailed national implementation measures, or a more simple treaty with national implementation left up to each State party. A third issue was whether the current polarization between states participating in the negotiations and those outside would hurt the NPT process, and if so whether this division can be bridged.

With regard to the NPT Review process, it was noted that no substantive agreements would be made until the 2020 NPT Review Conference, and even then, the consensus ‘all or nothing’ modality of NPT review conferences means that if consensus is not found on all issues, then there is no agreement on any issue – as happened at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

For this reason, it could be advantageous to use the 2017 NPT Prep Com to consider not only what might be possible to agree upon at the 2020 NPT Review Conference, but also what might be possible to agree upon at the 2018 HLCND, which does not need to rely upon the consensus ‘all or nothing’ approach. This connection between the 2017 NPT prep Com and the 2018 HLCND is explored in The Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, a working paper from PNND and UNFOLD ZERO to the 2017 NPT Prep Com.

UN conferences and gift-baskets

A key point made in the discussion on the 2018 HLCND was that, such UN conferences can be very successful in bridging divides and formulating agreements, as seen in the UN High Level Conferences in 2015 and 2016 on sustainable development, climate change and refugees which produced global agreements - the 17 Sustainable Development Goals,  Paris Accord on Climate Change, and New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants.

If the international community desires a similarly successful outcome to the 2018 HLCND, there would need to be considerable preparation and coordination between parliamentarians, civil society and like-minded governments.

It was also noted that a single, consensus agreement would be difficult to achieve, and if achieved would probably be a compromise text watered down to the lowest common denominator. A much better approach would be to focus on building agreements by groups of States on separate, but mutually reinforcing measures. This gift-basket approach to international conferences, which was used effectively in the Nuclear Security Summits, could be a useful model here.

The basket of gifts for the 2018 HLCND could include some ‘gifts’ (measures) from non-nuclear States – such as announcements of ratification of the nuclear prohibition treaty, if it has been negotiated by then. It could include some from nuclear-armed States – such as measures on de-alerting, and nuclear stockpile reductions. It could include some from all nuclear reliant states – such as an affirmation of the practice of non-use of nuclear weapons and/or a commitment to no-first use or sole purpose. It could include ‘gifts’ from like-minded States on nuclear disarmament verification. And it could include some gifts from all States, such as an agreement to support a revived UN process for establishing a Middle East Zone Free from Nuclear Weapons and other WMD. 

Nuclear weapons financing

The second session of the Berlin consultation on March 22 focused on civil society and parliamentary actions, and so did not include any government representatives.

A key topic discussed was nuclear weapons financing. It was noted that corporations manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems have a vested interest in maintaining the nuclear arms race (and the threat postures justifying these) in order to keep their profits high.

Legislative actions in nuclear-armed States to reduce nuclear weapons budgets – like the SANE Act introduced by PNND Co-President Ed Markey - are usually thwarted by the lobbying power of the nuclear weapons corporations. As such, actions by other entities - such as city authorities, non-nuclear governments and even individuals – to divest from nuclear weapons corporations, could assist.

Such divestment campaigns are already having an impact in the field of climate change (divestment from fossil fuel corporations) and in cluster munitions and landmines. The campaign for divestment from nuclear weapons at the moment is small, but could receive a large boost if a prohibition on nuclear weapons financing is included in the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. See UNFOLD ZERO: Nuclear ban treaty should prohibit nuclear weapons financing.

Other consultation events

For short reports on some of the other PNND/UNFOLD ZERO consultations see:

Other documents

The NPT and the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament