The Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is taking place in New York at the moment. Phantitra Phuphaphantakarn (Ariel Karn) writes.
The 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon) is finally happening after being postponed several times due to the pandemic. NPT RevCon is a crucial conference for global disarmament efforts, held every five years. Since the 9th NPT RevCon was held in 2015, various important defence cooperation and international arms race affairs have been developed; therefore, it is important to explore both the nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation affairs in the Indo-Pacific, along with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) itself – in order to see the implication on the Indo-Pacific strategic stability.
Ever since the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki back in 1945, the world had lived in the terror of such a “Weapon of Mass Destruction”; therefore, even while the nuclear bombs were being developed, there were already debates regarding the consequnces of its existence. Nuclear weapons were concerned as something to be controlled due to their massive impact on lives. However, throughout history; the portion of the “Nuclear Dilemma” argument, stating that nuclear weapons created a peaceful international environment, has sustained their existence to this day.
One of the most significant, if not the most significant, global nuclear non-proliferation efforts throughout history is the establishment of the “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)” which was opened for signature in 1968; the Treaty entered into force in 1970 and being extended indefinitely twenty-five years later. The NPT covered various aspects of the non-proliferation efforts and agreements. It states that the Nuclear-Weapons States (NWS – states which are officially recognized by the treaty for possessing nuclear weapons. Currently, there are five: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) must not support Non-Nuclear-Weapons States (NNWS – other NPT member states besides the five NWS; recognized as not possessing any nuclear weapons) to acquire nuclear weapons and to committed to a disarmament efforts and so likewise for the NNWS not to attempt or develop nuclear weapons. The NPT also covered concerns regarding the peaceful use of nuclear technology along with the verification regimes and more. Ever since 1995, member states get together every five years at an “NPT Review Conference”, to review their operations and efforts (NPT RevCon) .
Nuclear weapons, from a historical perspective, were well developed by the superpowers and were crucial factors in the Cold War era. Such weapons combined with the emergence of regional conflict; the world later arrived at the Second Nuclear Age in which the regional powers began to develop their own nuclear weapons with motivations driven by both the conflicts with their neighbours, and the desire to gain both military and diplomatic power. There are various important key players and institutions for nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation affairs in the Indo-Pacific; however, the key attributions rest upon the influences of both global and regional nuclear power along with the existence of the Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones.
The Indo-Pacific is undeniably influenced by two major superpowers, namely China and the U.S; This particular argument is well discussed and understood among scholars and diplomats. These two nations, being both the leader of global military power and Nuclear-Weapons States, are also arguably having the strategic stand-off on the Indo-Pacific arena. With the dynamics of existing major sub-regional conflict, from South China Sea to the Korean peninsula, the demand for more advanced military technology increased and therefore continued pushing the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-related military technology in the Indo-Pacific region, with the help of both nations in the hope to pursue their own visions and purposes for the region.
The Indo-Pacific is a home of more than two Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ – a specified region in which countries commit themselves not to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons). This implies the intertwinement of nuclear and non-nuclear domain deterrence along with the desire to exploit NPT loopholes regarding the peaceful use of nuclear technology without breaking the commitment given to the regime. Therefore, looking from the Indo-Pacific perspective we find nothing but complicated dynamics of nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation affairs.
There are various issues to look forward to as part of the 10th NPT RevCon discussion, as it has already been almost eight years since the last conference was held. Crucial defence cooperation such as the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS) has emerged. The world is introduced to the possibility of NPT loophole by simply arguing the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It is important to discuss the solutions to both closing such a gap along with prospecting the consequences on similar cases in the future.
Besides regional affairs, global events such as the war in Ukraine should also raise concerns regarding nuclear danger and the consequences of “already existing” nuclear weapons. As the origin of the war in Ukraine itself involves a regional conflict, like various cases for what is happening in the Indo-Pacific, it is important for the region to observe the discussion regarding nuclear danger at this 10th NPT RevCon.
Last but not least, we should also pay close attention to remarks regarding the advancing technological development. Currently, military technologies are enhancing and advancing rapidly, and at the same time deterrence affairs have grown more complicated through the intertwined connection of non-nuclear deterrence technology in the nuclear domain deterrence affairs. This leads us back to the concerns regarding the relationship between nuclear superpowers and Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones member states.
To understand nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, it is important to understand both the separated forces and the relationship between nuclear possession and proliferation, knowing that it is crucial to demand actions and efforts from both Nuclear-Weapons States and Non-Nuclear-Weapons States , although for the same purpose: total elimination of nuclear weapons. Therefore as nuclear governance observers, it is important to explore the dynamic of nuclear possession and proliferation, and its relations, in regional contexts.
Nuclear deterrence dynamics and dangers in the Indo-Pacific derive from various factors. The influences of nuclear super and regional powers play crucial roles on nuclear governance in the region by allowing possibilities for Non-Nuclear-Weapons states and Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones member states to acquire nuclear technology by exercising the loopholes under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would therefore enhance interest, increase demands for such weapons, and undermine the global efforts invested for decades.
Therefore, it is important that we observe the discussion regarding conflict and tensions, on both global and regional level, in order to understand nuclear danger under global governance context and NPT’s concerns. We must also observe the discussion regarding new threats such as the exercise of regime loopholes along with the rapidly advancing military technologies.