On 17 October 2019, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) organized a First Committee side event entitled Nuclear Risk Reduction: Pathways Forward.
Dr. Wilfred Wan, Researcher in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme at UNIDIR, opened the debate about the topic at hand by drawing attention to the Swedish working paper on nuclear risk reduction and the Stepping Stones approach that was circulated at the 2019 Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
The June meeting in Stockholm on the Stepping Stones approach is an example that demonstrates States’ willingness to engage with one another and shows that it was possible to trigger ambitious but realistic processes, said Swedish Ambassador Ann-Sofie Nilsson. She urged States not only to work on political commitments but also to undertake practical measures.
Dr. George Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment, continued that the greatest risk the international community faces today are escalatory risks in a crisis between nuclear-weapon States. States may choose to ‘escalate to de-escalate’ – in other words, to use limited nuclear strikes to end a conventional war. Nuclear risk reduction measures are therefore crucial to avoid misinterpretations and miscalculations. In this light, he expressed a positive view about the discussions that were held in Washington (United States) last July in the first Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) meeting, while recognizing that work remained to be done in the areas of risk reduction and crisis management.
Ms. Amélie Delaroche, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, drew attention to the objectives of ongoing dialogue on nuclear risk reduction, namely: identify where the greatest risks lie; how States can address those risks; and finally, how States can signal their readiness to engage on those topics to others. Speaking on the topic of greater transparency, she acknowledged the legitimate expectations from non-nuclear-weapon States when it comes to security and safety on the one hand, and the limits to the information nuclear-weapon States could reveal due to proliferation concerns on the other hand. Concluding, she offered that more, still, could be done in the area of information sharing on nuclear doctrine and crisis management.
The discussion that followed in the Q&A portion of the event focused on increasing transparency as a major nuclear risk reduction measure. States’ representatives and panelists explored the options and limitations for greater transparency, military-to-military dialogue, the implications of technical developments, the necessity of drawing on existing knowledge for nuclear risk reduction, and ways to include non-NPT States in the dialogue.
Text and photos by Marie-Charlotte Aubry