International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September, 2014
Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. It has been on the General Assembly’s agenda along with general and complete disarmament ever since 1959. It has been a prominent theme of review conferences held at the UN since 1975 of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was identified a priority goal of the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament in 1978, which attached a special priority to nuclear disarmament. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.
Yet today, some 17,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-range plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2014, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. This is so—despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them. Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament have been prominent in Wilton Park’s work for almost two decades now. Our annual meeting on this issue, established after the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has become a fixture in the calendar for experts and government officials. It is traditionally held in the third week of December, in order to be well placed for forthcoming PrepComs and Review Conferences, and attracts substantial participation from key stakeholders. This year’s dialogue is on Nuclear non-proliferation: preparing for the 2015 NPT Review Conference and takes place from 15-19 December. Our partners this year are Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, and the governments of the UK, Norway and the Netherlands.
This year we will assess the prospects and opportunities for, as well as the challenges to, a successful outcome at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Participants will examine what is at stake at the 2015 Review Conference, both in terms of the NPT regime’s viability as a focus for non-proliferation diplomacy and its objectives for nuclear non-proliferation; how effectively the different tracks on nuclear disarmament complement each other; the contribution of the P5 process to the NPT Review; the evolving context of non-proliferation; the status of negotiations with Iran; and the Helsinki Conference on the Middle East WMD-Free Zone. A special session will look at the bargains involved in the 1995 decision to indefinitely extend the NPT, as we approach the 20th anniversary of that moment. The dialogue will then turn to what an outcome document at the Review might look like, first in a round of focused working groups, and then in full sessions. Participation by people with a strong commitment to, and involvement with, the goals and diplomacy of the NPT is warmly invited.
Elsewhere in our programme of work, we have examined the role and influence of nuclear weapons in international security. Much of this dialogue takes place at our regular summer meeting on the nexus between deterrence, assurance, disarmament and arms control. The 2014 version looked at the future for deterrence in the aftermath of Ukraine, with special reference to NATO and the evolving security environment in Northeast Asia. Next year’s meeting is a work in progress, but the principal focus will be rethinking the criteria for deterrence and assurance.