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Policy brief | 11 December 2023

Pragmatic Steps to reinforce the NPT on the way towards the 2026 Review Conference

The ELN’s project on “Protecting the Non-Proliferation Treaty” holistically addresses the crisis of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is driven by ELN network members with extensive expertise in nuclear non-proliferation, tasked with identifying and pursuing pathways to diplomatic success in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Analysts and decision-makers trying to address the challenges confronting the NPT must do so under the conditions of uncertainty about the future of the non-proliferation regime. Many of the factors that will impact the 2026 NPT Review Conference remain difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate. This is not a new problem, but it is particularly difficult to tackle in times of war and growing geopolitical competition. When will the war against Ukraine come to a halt or end? What will be the impact of regional conflicts on other fora linked to the NPT, such as the talks on a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East? Will Russia and the United States be able to restart their talks on an arms control framework to replace New START, which will expire just a few months ahead of the 11th NPT Review Conference? It is quite possible that the answers to some or many of these questions will remain unknown for some time.

This policy brief outlines key issues as identified by network members that will be at the centre of the 11th NPT review cycle and offers actionable recommendations and pathways to diplomatic success.

This policy brief outlines key issues as identified by network members that will be at the centre of the 11th NPT review cycle and offers actionable recommendations and pathways to diplomatic success. Additionally, the brief charts some of the different scenarios that NPT states parties will have to consider as they prepare for the 2026 NPT Review Conference.

The paper recommends that NPT states parties should:

  • Implement the recommendations of the Working Group on Further Strengthening of the Review Process (WGSRP): As States broadly support improvements to the NPT review process, states parties can (unilaterally or collectively) implement the WGSRPs recommendations. Ambassador Viinanen’s draft could serve as a “best practice guideline” for the remainder of the review cycle.
  • Protect the base of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: On nuclear testing, NPT states parties should make protection of the CTBT and the norm against nuclear testing an urgent priority. On nuclear arms control, the impending expiration of New START in 2026 ushers in an arms control interregnum. States parties to the NPT should demand the commencement of direct talks among the three largest possessor states— China, Russia, and the United States— on nuclear risk reduction and arms control without preconditions.
  • Reduce the salience of nuclear weapons: Diminution of nuclear weapons in security postures requires the consideration of the admissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. The NPT can serve as a framework for further consideration of the Final Declarations of the G-20 Summits of 2022 and 2023 which stated that “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”

Read the policy brief

This paper is part of the ELN’s “Protecting the Non-Proliferation Treaty” project, supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project seeks to preserve the multilateral nuclear non-proliferation regime and prevent further erosion of the nuclear taboo and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Bringing together an intergenerational, pan-regional Network of experts, it works to identify pathways to success in the eleventh review cycle, taking a holistic approach to the NPT and its three pillars. We are grateful for comments and feedback from several NPT member state officials on drafts of this paper.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Flickr, UN Women