Dear Representatives of China, France, Russia, the UK, the USA and other States Parties to the NPT,
Nuclear weapons threaten current and future generations. The security they may have provided in the 20th Century has no place in the world of today and tomorrow, which is struggling to address the COVID pandemic, stabilise the climate, resolve national and international conflicts in peaceful ways, protect cyberspace, and advance human security and the sustainable development goals.
It is time to start phasing out the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and develop a practical plan to achieve the peace and security of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
At the Tenth Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT-X) in 2022, we call on you to:
The NPT was adopted in 1970 for a fixed timeframe of 25 years, after which it was expected that it would be replaced by a more comprehensive nuclear disarmament regime. This did not happen.
In 1995 the NPT was extended on the basis of three near-term (incremental) commitments – to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by 1996, to negotiate a fissile materials treaty and to establish additional nuclear-weapon-free zones especially in the Middle East – and a more comprehensive commitment by the nuclear armed States to reduce nuclear weapons in a process leading to their total elimination. Of these, only the CTBT has been negotiated, and it has yet to enter-into-force.
There can be no excuse for not achieving the three incremental commitments in the near future, and the more comprehensive commitment – the global elimination of nuclear weapons – within the next 25 years, if not sooner.
A key measure to reduce the risk of a nuclear war and to start phasing out the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines while maintaining strategic stability, is to commit to never initiate nuclear warfare by adopting no-first-use (or sole purpose) policies and related operational controls.
Options to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and preparations to enable such a first-use, escalate tensions and risks, stimulate counter measures such as launch-on-warning, justify nuclear modernisation programs and prevent negotiations on nuclear disarmament. First-use options are literally playing with fire in very combustible situations, and have nearly led to a nuclear war being initiated by mistake or miscalculation.
Unilateral no-first-use declarations, bilateral no-first-use agreements and/or a multilateral no-first-use agreement can reduce these risks. We commend China and India for already adopting unilateral no-first-use policies and we commend China and Russia for adopting a bilateral no-first-use agreement. These can be followed by nuclear force restructuring and operational controls to implement no-first-use policies, and to build credibility and confidence in the policies to further reduce nuclear risks.
And most importantly, the adoption of no-first-use or sole purpose policies could open the door to the nuclear armed states and their allies joining negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are required to deter against a range of threats – not only nuclear weapons – then countries relying on nuclear deterrence will most likely not agree to eliminate the weapons while these other threats still exist. However, if the only purpose of a country’s nuclear weapons is to deter against the nuclear weapons of others, then the country can agree to join a verified nuclear disarmament process as long as all other nuclear armed countries participate. For this reason, the States Parties to the NPT also need to engage with the states which are not parties (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) in the nuclear disarmament process.
We thank the governments of China, France, Russia, the UK, USA and other States Parties to the NPT for considering this letter, and we look forward to supporting and engaging with you as you adopt these policies and as we jointly establish the peace and security of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
(The Open Letter is also available in French and Italian and Spanish)
Title and Affiliation/Organisation are for identification purposes and do not necessarily imply organisational support