On 8 October, the Permanent Missions of Germany and Sweden together with the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), hosted a First Committee side event, “Preparing for the NPT RevCon 2020: Applying the Stepping Stones Approach to Nuclear Disarmament”. As explained by the Stepping Stones Approach, it encourages building habits of cooperation among states to identify measures to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. It underlines the importance of incremental steps so that existing nuclear disarmament commitments made by States can be achieved.
Mr. Paul Ingram, Senior Fellow at the British American Security Information Committee (BASIC) opened the event by highlighting the four main areas of the Stepping Stones Approach, which are (i) building habits of cooperation, (ii) reducing the salience of Nuclear Weapons, (iii) enhancing transparency, (iv) and reducing nuclear risks. He stated that the approach was not a “middle of the road” approach but was rather designed to encourage opinions from across the spectrum, bringing together competing objectives.
Mr. Andrés Jato, Head of the Department for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, stressed three points. Firstly, the 2020 Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) should not be allowed to fail because the Treaty had served the international community for 50 years. Secondly, he mentioned that increased political leadership was required but had been lacking, and, thirdly, he stated that a conceptual, diplomatic-based framework for strategy-making proposals on nuclear disarmament was required to allow states to fulfil their obligations.
Mr. Rüdiger Bohn, Deputy Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, noted that the existing step-by-step approach was stuck and thus the Stepping Stones Approach could create new momentum by inserting smaller, more achievable steps in between. For example, a technical preparatory working group of experts could produce an implementable architecture for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, before negotiations on such a Treaty begin.
Mr. Bohn added that the Stepping Stones Approach also created an opportunity to look ahead into unchartered territory. Since the last NPT Review Conference, there had been changes in patterns, which included an increasingly multipolar international system and threats posed by tendencies to use innovative technologies for weapons systems. He stated that technology could have both negative and positive impacts. If used in non-proliferation strategies, it can create new opportunities in the verification process.
Ms. Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, stressed that time was not on our side. The longer the process took, the longer nuclear weapons would be around, increasing the likelihood of one being used, if only by accident. On the other hand, she reiterated that negotiations had led to an 85% reduction in nuclear weapons worldwide. Bell called on the nuclear-weapon States to reiterate their long-term commitment to the NPT and acknowledge that more has to be done.
Text prepared by Leila Hmaidan