Russia has blocked an agreement at the United Nations aimed at strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because Moscow objected to a clause over control of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya plant.
The failure of a joint statement after four weeks of debate and negotiations between 151 countries at the UN in New York is the latest blow to hopes of maintaining an arms control regime and curbing a renewed arms race.
The closing session was postponed for more than four hours because Russia refused to agree to a lengthy statement of support for the NPT, which included a reference to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian forces close to the frontline in southern Ukraine. East.
The alarm was raised on Thursday when the plant was temporarily cut off from the Ukrainian electricity grid, but the connection was restored. Russian forces are reportedly planning to shut the plant off the grid permanently, raising concerns about a potential disaster.
A paragraph in Friday’s final draft stressed “the utmost importance of control by the competent authorities of Ukraine over nuclear installations … such as the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant”.
The Russian delegation was the only one to speak out against the agreed text, but blamed Ukraine and its “protectors” for the failure of the conference and called the negotiations a “one-sided game”. After making its statement, the Russian delegation left the UN room.
The NPT was a deal made in 1968 in which nuclear-weapon states promised to disarm, while states without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them. At the time, there were five recognized nuclear powers, although by then Israel had secretly developed its own weapon. There are now nine states that possess nuclear warheads. Before the NPT went into effect, some had predicted that there would be dozens of countries with their own arsenals.
It is the second five-year review conference that has failed to issue a joint statement re-establishing the treaty’s objectives. It’s been 12 years since there was even a partial agreement.
But Sarah Bidgood, the director of the Eurasia non-proliferation program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the NPT had not been broken beyond repair and any other country would have accepted the text.
“The most important thing to me is how far-reaching the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine has become,” she said. “Even in some of the darkest moments of the Cold War, cooperation in support of the NPT was often possible. But what we saw today at the last plenary session doesn’t bode well for the future of nuclear diplomacy, including on issues like arms control.”
Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said the disarmament elements in the proposed text had already been watered down by all five official nuclear powers recognized by the treaty — Russia, the US, France, the UK and China. .
“So, in all honesty, I don’t think it makes much difference,” she said. “This is the very dangerous game the nuclear-weapon states are playing by consistently achieving nothing in this treaty. At some point, non-nuclear weapon states really start to question whether this treaty is worthwhile and whether it is relevant.”
Fihn argued that the continued failure of NPT review conferences to reach an agreement meant that it was all the more important for countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which aims to ban them completely. It entered into force in January 2021 and so far 66 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty.
“It becomes really relevant that we move forward quickly with the TPNW and get more states,” Fihn said. “It really is an insurance policy that if… [the NPT] continues to fail, that we are not without something.”