NPT Review Conference Should Not Repeat the ‘Sad Experience’ of 2015

Viewpoint by Sergey Lavrov

Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with President Vladimir Putin. CC BY 4.0

The following are extensive excerpts from Russiaan Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference on “Foreign Policy Priorities of the Russian Federation in Arms Control and Nonproliferation in the Context of Changes in the Global Security Architecture” Moscow, 8 November 2019. [2019-12-17]

MOSCOW (IDN-INPS) – The truth will be born in disputes that can be conducted candidly and professionally, with full awareness of our responsibility for controlling the risks that exist in the world today in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, strategic stability and arms control rather than with an eye towards achieving any momentary geopolitical effect in the context of one or another electoral cycle.

A Review Conference to consider the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be held next May. We are convinced that the proliferation risks and threats that we face today can be eliminated precisely based on the strict observance of this treaty, while respecting and ensuring the balance between its three components: nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

It is crucial that the upcoming Review Conference in May be held as non-confrontationally as possible and not repeat the sad experience of the 2015 conference, when in fact, the participants refused to talk to each other and even to listen to each other, and each stated their position independently of what the others were saying.

This was the reason for a rather dangerous and at the same time illusory trend to prevail, namely to “force” the nuclear powers to abandon their existing nuclear arsenals without taking into account their security interests and strategic realities. This approach led to an accelerated drafting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which was open for signing.

To reiterate, Russia does not plan to accede to this treaty. We share the goal of building a nuclear-free world. However, this goal should not be achieved by the unilateral, rather arrogant methods on which this document is based. We presume that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is possible only in the context of general and complete disarmament where equal and indivisible security is ensured for all, including nations with nuclear weapons, in accordance with the NPT.

We consider progress in making the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) enter into force critical to maintaining the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The fact that it remains non-operational 23 years after it was opened for signing is a serious problem. Responsibility lies with those eight states from the “list of 44” that must ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force. The position of the United States appears particularly destructive. It stated explicitly in its nuclear doctrine documents that it would not seek its ratification. This jeopardises the fate of this crucial document, which is the only effective verifiable international agreement to end nuclear testing. There is no alternative to it.

One more serious problem is the absence of clarity as regards the prospects for creating a zone free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery vehicles in the Middle East. This problem is directly related to the success of the NPT Review Conference next May.

In this context, we attach special importance to the successful holding of the conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East in New York on November 18-22. We have been preparing it for many years, sometimes meeting lack of understanding and even resistance from our co-sponsors in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, I believe we eventually arrived at an agreed upon format for this conference, which should suit all of the participants. It should remove tensions regarding the Middle East issues in the context of the NPT Review Conference.

Let us remember that the resolution on the need to start negotiations on creating a WMD-free zone was adopted in 1995. Nothing has been done since then. Russia will take a most active part in the conference. I would like to emphasise that the conference is not a onetime event but the beginning of a process that will rely on consensus. Everyone is ensured. It would be absolutely counterproductive to block this forum.

Now that many understandings for nonproliferation have been discarded, I would like to note the productive cooperation on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540 on preventing the acquisition of WMDs by terrorists and other non-state actors.

A comprehensive review conference on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 will take place next year. We hope it will extend the mandate of the relevant Security Council committee that is designed to promote cooperation in this very important area.

We welcome the appointment of the Ambassador of Argentina at International Organisations in Vienna, Rafael Mariano Grossi, as Director General of the IAEA by the IAEA Board of Governors. He faces a very serious task – to promote the agenda that will unite the member states and preserve their desire to achieve friendly and consensus-based work together.

The IAEA must remain a professional, technical mechanism for verifying compliance with safeguards commitments and play the key role in international cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We are certain that the system of IAEA safeguards must remain unbiased and depoliticised. It must rely on international law and the related agreements. In this context, I would like to mention the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme.

The JCPOA has not become less important despite Washington’s unacceptable actions. It made it possible to put the IAEA’s questions to Tehran, create maximum transparency in its nuclear programme, and reaffirm its lawful right to master and develop civilian nuclear technology under IAEA control. The JCPOA and the Security Council resolution that approved it have made Iran the most verified country in the world. Let’s not forget this. We are convinced that it is in the interests of all countries to preserve the JCPOA and create favourable conditions for its further, consistent, full-scale and honest implementation within the established time period. We support the efforts of Europeans to this end but, regrettably, for now they have failed to produce results.

The Korean Peninsula nuclear problem can only be resolved by diplomatic methods on the basis of a dialogue between all parties concerned. A full-fledged launch of the denuclearisation process on the Korean Peninsula will become realistic only if political talks make progress based on reciprocal moves by the directly involved parties. Specific proposals on how it would be possible to move towards that goal have been formulated by Russia and China, first in a roadmap and now in an action plan that we are finalising together with the members of the six-party talks.

Strategic stability has deteriorated in recent years. The profound crisis in this area is unprecedented in modern history. Above all, it is caused by the actions of the United States aimed at gradually destroying the architecture of international legal arms control agreements, with the blind support from its allies.

It took decades to create this architecture, which worked successfully for the common good in the most complicated periods of world history in the late 20th century, but now it has become a burden and an unwanted restriction for Washington, which hinders the US’ ability to build up its military potential all over the world to put pressure to bear on its opponents and, if necessary, to use military force directly, of which there are numerous examples.

The dismantling of the INF Treaty by Washington has very negative implications. True, while the treaty was in effect, both parties saw their mutual complaints mount, but, instead of addressing them professionally in a constructive and businesslike manner, our American colleagues were only engaged in searching for pretexts to get rid of the INF Treaty. Concrete practicable measures proposed by Russia to handle mutual concerns so that the treaty could be saved were arrogantly rejected. Sadly, most of the NATO member countries obediently submitted to Washington’s demands and did not accept our proposals to come and see with their own eyes that the Americans’ allegations had nothing to do with reality.

Since the United Sates has already begun to build land-based intermediate-range missiles, we, as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned, will act in a similar way. At the same time, to make the search for maintaining predictability in the field of nuclear missiles possible in the future, Russia has resolved to not deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles in any region unless US-made missiles of the same class are deployed there.

In his messages to the leaders of the NATO member countries and Asia Pacific countries, President Putin called on them to join the moratorium on the deployment of land-based intermediate-range missiles. So far, NATO has not clearly responded. Moreover, we are given to understand that NATO will not agree to this. Of course, we are aware of the discussion that has already become public and was sparked by the statement made by the United States that it planned to deploy these missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and South Korea. Seoul said it knew nothing about this, however, there is no smoke without a fire.

There is much concern today over the extension of the Russian-American New START Treaty which still remains, albeit with some problems, as the last effective bilateral instrument of nuclear missile weapons control. Its extension would prevent the collapse of control and restriction mechanisms and would gain time to study approaches to possible ways to regulate new military technologies and to agree on the number of participants in potential talks.

Meanwhile Washington is evading any serious discussion, making public discouraging signals regarding the future of this treaty. It’s an open provocation to insist on China’s participation in the process, as a precondition, despite Beijing’s clearly stated and many times repeated position on this.

We will do everything possible to restore the dynamics of the arms control process. We are open to constructive interaction with anyone who is ready for real cooperation on enhancing international security with due regard for the interests, the balance of interests of all the parties based on comprehensive consideration of all the factors affecting global strategic stability without exception.

We consider the deployment of the US’ global missile defence system to be such a factor. The configuration of the system probably dissuades any remaining doubt – in those who might have had them – that it targets not an Iranian missile threat, but that it has much greater ambitions. Among these factors are also plans to deploy assault weapons in outer space, development of non-nuclear high-precision weapons for preventive “disarming” strikes.

Of special concern is the development of low-yield nuclear weapons launched by the US in the context of its doctrine documents stating the possibility of lowering the threshold for nuclear weapons use. The policy of a decreasing defence potential for other countries through illegitimate methods of unilateral economic coercion that bypass the UN Security Council cannot be ignored either.

This policy is not being hidden; it demands that various countries around the world stop military-technical cooperation with [US] competitors and purchase only US-made weapons.

We are increasingly concerned about the attempts of our Western colleagues to use multilateral intergovernmental agencies in charge of nonproliferation for their own geopolitical interests, to erode the independent status of their secretariats and to try to “privatize” them.

The most indicative example is the situation in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). I would like to emphasise that the Technical Secretariat of this international organisation is exclusively endowed with the powers specified by the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, last year Western countries adopted a course towards replacing international law with their own rules in flagrant violation of this convention. Using the minority votes of its participants they are trying to compel the Technical Secretariat deal with issues that are the exclusive prerogative of the UN Security Council. The deep differences that have emerged in the organisation as a result, are bound to affect the prospects for the convention.

Our Western colleagues are also trying to prevent the consolidation of the international community as it attempts to draft uniform standards for countering terrorism related to WMDs and their components. I am referring to the situation at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament several years ago. Russia and China suggested creating a new instrument – the Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Chemical and Biological Terrorism at this universally recognised international negotiating venue. The NATO members bluntly opposed it.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to take some steps in this highly risky situation when access to biological and chemical toxic substances may be open to those who should not have it. Instead of doing this work at the collective negotiating venue of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, the NATO members announced the creation of an “International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons,” which is not based on any universally accepted international legal standards.

Only those who share Western approaches to the issue were invited to join it. This applies, in part, to the groundless accusations against the Syrian government of committing chemical attacks that were investigated by the OPCW exactly as the West told them to, through highly doubtful methods that were at variance with the convention. This partnership will make decisions as a narrow closed club and they will be presented as the will of the international community. In fact, this is already taking place.

The tendency to replace intergovernmental universal organisations that rely on generally accepted international legal instruments with closed-door clubs like these is very dangerous. Only those who won’t argue are invited to take part. Regrettably, this trend is growing more pronounced in the policies of our Western colleagues.

I would like to emphasise that weapons proliferation threats are too serious to use them as objects in geopolitical games or to try to use them as bargaining chips for getting shady advantages in international affairs. Indicatively, this is always, or for the most part, being done with geopolitical and ideological goals in mind.

We are convinced of the need for a system-wide approach to nonproliferation and arms control. This can only be achieved through an open-to-all dialogue. Russia is ready for this and interested in cooperating with all those who share the aims of strengthening international peace, security and stability.

I would like to say with certain optimism that I am encouraged by the approval of the Russia-submitted draft resolution on consolidating the system of treaties and agreements on arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation by the UN General Assembly First Committee.

The draft was supported by 175 countries, including all NATO members. Not a single country voted against it. If we manage to unite on this platform, we will be able to overcome objective and, for the most part, subjective difficulties that block the way to a safe and stable world. I hope that your conference and forthcoming discussions will make it possible to approach this goal. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 December 2019]

Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. CC BY 4.0

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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