Dutch efforts to curb nuclear weapons: the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world has become more unstable and the threat of nuclear weapons has increased. Making international agreements on such weapons has become even more important. This August, in order to reaffirm international commitments in this area, 191 countries have come together for the Tenth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. In this news item we explain what the conference will do – and the role that the Netherlands will play.

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What does non-proliferation mean?

Non-proliferation means curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. It is meant to prevent countries that currently do not have nuclear weapons from obtaining them. Ultimately it also concerns disarmament, which is crucial to the safety of the world’s entire population.

What is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is the only international treaty containing binding legal commitments that prohibit the manufacture of nuclear weapons for countries that do not possess them, prohibit the dissemination of such weapons, provide for the transition to nuclear disarmament and regulate access to nuclear energy and technology for non-nuclear-weapon states. The treaty has been signed by 191 countries, including the Netherlands. Only India, Pakistan, North Korea and South Sudan have not become parties.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty has three pillars:

  1. Disarmament (reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons worldwide);
  2. Non-proliferation (curbing the spread of nuclear weapons);
  3. The right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

What does the NPT provide?

This 1970 treaty contains obligations for the five recognised nuclear-weapon states: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Compliance by these states is crucial. The treaty also contains obligations for non-nuclear-weapon states.

Thanks to the NPT, fewer than ten countries possess nuclear weapons. That makes the treaty a cornerstone of the international legal order. The NPT also facilitates large-scale use of nuclear energy and technology for peaceful purposes.

Tenth NPT Review Conference

Every five years, the Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty gather for an NPT Review Conference. At this conference, held at the United Nations headquarters, the Parties discuss new and existing agreements and whether everyone concerned is complying with their obligations. The tenth review conference was originally planned for 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was postponed until 2022 (2-26 August). It's high time, since efforts to curb nuclear weapons – and therefore the NPT itself – are under strain.  Critics say that worldwide disarmament is proceeding too slowly. Russia's aggression also has major implications for global security.

The Netherlands believes that the current tensions make it all the more important to uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The conference will devote a great deal of attention to President Putin’s threats about the potential use of nuclear weapons and violations of international nuclear safety and security agreements (for instance in relation to nuclear power plants). Russia is one of the countries attending the conference.

Non-proliferation: what is the Dutch position?

The Dutch government believes that specific agreements must be reached, for example to avoid misunderstandings, miscommunication or accidents. The worldwide norm against the use of nuclear weapons must remain in place. To this end, the Netherlands is focusing on a variety of themes aimed at bringing disarmament closer. These include transparency, the ban on the production of fissile material (FMCT), the ban on nuclear testing (Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, in Dutch), risk reduction, bolstering the NPT review mechanism, the development and improvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Standards, and promoting new technologies.

Dutch vice-presidency of the NPT Review Conference

This year the Netherlands holds the vice-presidency of the NPT Review Conference, together with Poland and Malaysia, under Argentina’s presidency. A representative of each of these three countries chairs a committee whose remit covers one of the NPT’s three pillars. The committee chaired by a Dutch representative will focus on the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology.

There are unique opportunities today for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology, but sound agreements on safety and security are of course essential. Nuclear science and technologies are capable of offering solutions to the greatest challenges of our times. These include combating cancer and zoonoses, controlling pests and pathogens, as well as supporting sustainable agriculture and climate adaptation.

At the NPT Review Conference, Dutch efforts will focus on establishing a clear strategy for the future. It is important to evaluate what has happened in the past five years, but even more important to have a result-oriented action plan for the next five years in order to help make the world a safer place.