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WILPF Germany at the NPT PrepCom 2023 in Vienna

Our member Shumaila H. Shahani represented WILPF Germany in the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 Review Conference of the State Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Article by Shumaila H. Shahani

The NPT convened in Vienna from July 31 to August 11, 2023. Diplomats and civil society representatives gathered to discuss matters pertaining to the forthcoming NPT review conference set for 2026. Unfortunately, the preparatory committee failed to obtain consensus on a final document. This signifies the first instance in history where three consecutive committees have failed to reach an agreement. The preceding preparatory committees that also concluded without any success were held in 2015 and 2022.

During these sessions, the state parties to the NPT presented their official statements, which were laden with clichéd and superficial claims, lacking sincere commitment to the principles of the NPT. Evidently, non-nuclear weapon states expressed greater concern about the persistent threat of nuclear conflict, especially in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine. They voiced apprehension about the current global security landscape, characterized by an escalating risk of nuclear conflict.

The plenary sessions during the Preparatory Committee were marked by mutual accusations among state parties, where they criticized each other for violating the NPT, all the while ignoring their own deficiencies. For instance, the United States (U.S.), despite having deployed its warheads in multiple European countries, including Germany, condemned Russia for similar activities in Belarus. Non-nuclear weapon states, some of which host U.S. nuclear warheads, also engaged in mutual accusations and finger-pointing. Russia too expressed reservations about the AUKUS trilateral partnership, asserting that it contributes to heightened instability in the Asia-Pacific region and leads to a new arms race. 

Among the conference’s side events, which provided valuable insights into different facets of the NPT and disarmament efforts, one event was organized by the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA) in collaboration with Russia’s Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS). This event specifically addressed the AUKUS submarine deal. The joint report released during this event criticized the deal for running counter to the goals and spirit of the NPT. The argument put forth was that the AUKUS deal, driven by a „Great Power Competition“ model, heightens uncertainty in regional and global security, potentially stimulating non-nuclear-weapon states‘ interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, including nuclear submarines, and fueling arms race.

While admittedly Russia’s deployment of nuclear warheads beyond its borders, especially in the midst of its war on Ukraine, pushes the world closer to a nuclear catastrophe and further away from a nuclear-free future, none of the aforementioned parties can claim the moral high ground. An essential element in progressing towards a nuclear-free world, which seems to elude many state parties, is the necessity for mutual trust in each other’s commitment to reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons. In a world where countries hold nuclear weapons as a deterrent, a notion devoid of factual basis, achieving a nuclear-free world hinges on the assurance that every country shares an equal resolve to disarmament.

Another event hosted by the Permanent Mission of Germany to the International Organizations in Vienna and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP), focused on the intersection of „Feminist Foreign Policy and Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament”. It highlighted the increasing efforts of several NPT States Parties to integrate a gender perspective into the treaty’s review process. Elena K. Sokova, the Executive Director of VCDNP, commended the progress made by States Parties like Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Spain, all of which have officially embraced feminist foreign policies. Germany’s Deputy Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control, Susanne Riegraf, emphasized the importance of moving away from viewing women as victims but recognizing them as key drivers and change-makers in nuclear policy.

The recurring failures of Preparatory Committees underscore the limitations of the NPT, especially during times of global conflict. These limitations stem from the fact that the NPT allows the permanent member states of the UN Security Council to legally retain their nuclear arsenals. This signifies the importance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which, unlike NPT, imposes a comprehensive legal ban on the possession of nuclear weapons by all signatories.