IND as a concept remains unexplored. The 2010 NPT Review Conference reiterated the call in the 2000 Review Conference Final Document: nuclear-weapon states should undertake steps to accomplish nuclear disarmament “in accordance with the principle of irreversibility” and all states parties should commit to implementing their treaty obligations following the principles of irreversibility, verifiability, and transparency. Despite this restatement, irreversibility needs further conceptualisation. In response, participants in this dialogue discussed how to craft a shared understanding of IND further, following up on the precedent that the 2022 meeting at Wilton Park set.
The discussions during the 2023 meeting at Wilton Park on IND reflected and embraced the diverse approaches to defining irreversibility. This diversity could have complicated the conceptualisation of this notion. However, participants embraced this diversity as a valuable tool to better appreciate the different IND components and the challenges that IND could face. After some conversations, the dialogue produced a positive attitude towards possible ways to conceptualise irreversibility. A potentially productive way to approach IND would see it as a gradual procedure to build trust and consequences in a spectrum on which states can more or less easily reverse a disarmament process. In this conceptualisation, IND would entail legal, political, economic, social, and technical processes that would make reversing disarmament difficult, complex, and costly.
Participants emphasised that thinking about IND as a definite result in the long term might not be helpful. Instead of approaching IND as just an end goal or a definite result in the future, it is necessary to see it as a process—an end-in-view. Given the current international environment, IND faces an uncertain context. Thus, thinking about IND requires that analysts and policymakers map out the foreseen consequences that could arise while promoting IND. This preventive approach would prepare scholarly and policy communities to better deal with the unforeseen challenges and consequences that could emerge when operationalising IND. At the same time, seeing IND as a process or end-in-view would give a new meaning and further direct arms control or disarmament measures focused on immediate, short-term goals and problems, situating them in a longer process that adapts to changing international circumstances.