NPT Review Conference postponed: don’t delay disarmament

Mar 28, 2020

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While unavoidable, this delays an important opportunity for nations to hold each other accountable and renew efforts for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear-armed states continue to spend more than US$100bn (A$169bn) each year on their nuclear arsenals, funds better spent on strengthening public health and emergency response systems. The annual US nuclear weapons budget of US$35.1bn is equivalent to the cost of 300,000 ICU beds plus 35,000 ventilators, 150,000 nurses and 75,000 doctors*. At a time when the US now has the world’s largest COVID-19 epidemic and is unable to provide even enough masks to protect its front-line health workers, the nuclear weapons budget for 2021 requested last month by the Trump administration was 19% higher than this year’s at US$44.5bn (A$75bn).

Countries, such as Australia, that provide support for nuclear weapons via their security doctrines and military facilities should cease these endorsements, given the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of their use.

The NPT is now 50 years old, and has failed to eliminate nuclear weapons. It has slowed but not stopped the spread of nuclear weapons. It faces serious challenges with the decade-old 2010 Action Plan only partially implemented, and most other disarmament commitments unfulfilled after decades, perhaps most notably the “unequivocal undertaking” made in 2000 to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. We urge states, including Australia, to reinvigorate efforts to fulfill their Article VI obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament, or risk the collapse of the treaty.

 A growing number of nations are already doing this by joining the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which reinforces and complements the NPT. Furthering the goals of the NPT, the TPNW comprehensively outlaws nuclear weapons and provides the needed framework to achieve total elimination. We applaud all nations** that have joined the ban, which will enter into force in the next 12-18 months.

 In Australia in recent months we have endured unprecedented drought, bushfires, floods, and now a pandemic; all of which destabilise the community and require well-resourced emergency services. Our challenges are manifold, but the threat posed by nuclear weapons is both the most acute and one that we can completely do away with.

 When the NPT Review Conference is convened at a future date, we urge Australia to participate constructively. Under governments both Coalition and Labor, Australia has signed up to the treaties that ban biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. Seventy-five years on from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is beyond time to exclude the worst weapons of mass destruction from our security doctrine. Indeed, Australia has no credibility on nuclear disarmament until it stops being part of the problem and joins the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It’s time to change course and get on the right side of history.


* Nuclear spending vs. healthcare costs: https://www.icanw.org/healthcare_costs

** To date there are 81 signatories and 36 states parties to the TPNW: https://www.icanw.org/signature_and_ratification_status