“Diminishing enthusiasm” for global nuclear disarmament

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Progress on the abolition of nuclear weapons, and on strengthening barriers to their proliferation, remains “achingly slow” according to an authoritative scorecard report on the state of play in meeting commitments and recommendations agreed at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Despite high hopes at the end of 2009 following President Obama's ground-breaking speech in Prague outlining a vision of a world without nuclear weapons, the report concludes that “much of this sense of optimism had evaporated” as a result of lack of progress for talks on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, nuclear weapon modernisation programmes, and proliferation challenges posed by North Korea and Iran.

The report, 'Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play', published by the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and  Disarmament at the Australian National University, documents “the unhappily diminishing global enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament, and the growing risks of nuclear proliferation” and measures progress – “or more often lack of it” – made as of the end of 2012 on the commitments and recommendations made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits, and also in the 2009 report of the International Commission for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) which sets out a road-map for global disarmament.

There have been “small pockets of progress” in each of the four areas studied (nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear security, and the security risks associated with peaceful uses of nuclear energy), but overall the report assesses that 'significant progress' has been made towards only two of 27 key objectives, and none have yet been fully implemented.

The weakest area for action has been nuclear disarmament.  The report states that “While nuclear disarmament continues to be very strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of non-nuclear-armed states, it remains for every nuclear-armed state at best an open-ended, incremental process, with broad and indeterminate links to global and regional stability. There is no appetite for a multilateral disarmament process and no disposition to discuss disarmament timelines”.

Minimal or no progress had been made towards meeting five out of seven disarmament objectives, and four out of eight objectives relating to non-proliferation.

Introducing the report at the 2013 NPT PrepCom meeting at Geneva, co-author Professor Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and chair of the ICNND, said that “progress on disarmament has not been at the scale or speed necessary to set the scene for a successful NPT Review Conference in 2015”, and that there has been “minimal or no progress on too many non-proliferation objectives”.

Professor Evans said that “leadership and risk-taking will be needed” if the world is to move closer towards nuclear disarmament, and that steps by the United Kingdom to take its Trident submarines off a continuously-deployed posture, or reduce the number of replacement submarines, would be“a hell of a step towards disarmament” and regenerating lost momentum.

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