2021 EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, Day One

This article is a brief report of the first day of the tenth EU Conference on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

The first day of the tenth EU Conference on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, held virtually on 6-7 December 2021, addressed several pressing issues in the field, including ways to rebuild mutual confidence in arms control; non-proliferation and disarmament in the context of the P5s; nuclear issues; and prospects for the next NPT Review Conference. The conference, organised for the fourth consecutive year by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), is the result of the EU-sponsored non-proliferation and disarmament project initiated in 2010 following a decision by the Council of the EU to promote academic research and policy debates in Europe on how to effectively address old and new challenges in the field. The dialogue featured speakers from think tanks, national governments, EU institutions and international organisations, as well as experts from outside Europe.

The opening session of the conference was delivered by Ettore Greco, Executive Vice President of IAI, who outlined the main elements that have characterised the evolution of the project in recent years, including emerging security issues, such as the impact of new technologies and the pandemic on the population. He was followed by Pawel Herzcynski and Izumi Nakamitsu respectively.

Herzcynski, the European Security and Defence Policy and Crisis Response Managing Director of the European External Action Service, spoke on behalf of High Representative Joseph Borrell. He drew attention to the unstable geopolitical environment characterised by a growing lack of respect for the rules-based international order. "We see several regional powers increasingly seeking to influence their direct environment. These powers do not share a respect for international law and the multilateral order." He called on the international community to engage collectively to address these challenges. "The EU will continue to invest in mediation, sustainable development, addressing global inequality and respect for human rights as prerequisites for easing international and regional tensions. Confidence-building measures and transparency in armaments can help stave off threats to international security."

Nakamitsu, the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, suggested that non-proliferation and disarmament issues should be tackled in a comprehensive and flexible manner, and included in a new peace agenda as essential elements to ensure human, national, and collective security. She stressed the need, at the national level, to reduce excessive military budgets, to ensure adequate social spending and to link disarmament to development opportunities. In addition, she outlined five priority topics to be covered by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference: affirming practical measures to reduce nuclear weapons, such as improving transparency; recognising the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and taking tangible steps towards nuclear disarmament; making practical commitments; considering how States Parties deal with Asian regions and supporting dialogue with regional hotspots; and implementing commitments made at previous conferences.

The first plenary session of the conference, ''Trust and Credibility in in Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament: the P5 Context', highlighted the deep crisis of multilateral cooperation that takes root in the security environment due to growing rivalry and tensions between major powers, unresolved proliferation issues and growing gaps in the emergence of arms control regimes, and reiterated the need for trust and transparency.

The second part of the meeting focused on the prospects for the NPT Review Conference, on which the EU Council approved an important document reaffirming not only the hope for a successful outcome, but also the goal of universalising the treaty towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. During extensive consultations, a number of themes emerged regarding what states parties want to see emerge from the review conference, including a desire to address regional proliferation to answer questions such as what role the treaty can play in mitigating challenges particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

The final contribution came from Gustavo Zlauvinen, chair-designate of the Tenth NPT Review Conference, who argued that there had been significant developments in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and expressed confidence in the commitment of stakeholders to pursue ambitious outcomes. At a time of global crisis, “it is essential that parties are able to maximise positive developments and strengthen commonalities, while working to bridge divisions and improve negative trends”.


Author: Eleonora Lombardi

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