This section is part of a new ELN series on Process P5 that explores the national point of view of the five nuclear weapons states ahead of the NPT Review Conference.
At Lancaster House on 12-13th February 2020, the United Kingdom chaired the ninth ‘Process P5’ conference, attended by high-level representatives from the capitals of the five Nuclear Weapons Countries (NWS) recognized under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and, at least for some meetings, a constellation of representatives of Non-State States Nuclear Weapons (NNWS), UN officials, and civil society participants.
Distrust and geopolitical differences are evident, especially with respect to the Trump Administration latest position that further weapons control with Russia must also involve China. Nevertheless, England is next statement implied that closed meetings are useful in other ways, allowing for preparatory discussions at the upcoming NPT Review Conference (RevCon) – now postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic – among many other problems.
The breadth of topics and broad participation of civil society conferences shows how the process has evolved significantly from the start. Founded in 2009 by the British Labor Government, under the leadership of then Defense Minister Lord Browne of Ladyton, the conference was originally intended only to hold a P5 nuclear laboratory for technical discussions about nuclear disarmament before the 2010 RevCon NPT. Over time its delivery has evolved, and the Process has taken the role increasingly prominent in managing NWS relations and reducing global stock of nuclear weapons. A decade has passed, now is the right time to ask whether the P5 Process has met British expectations.
As coordinator of the P5 Process for 2019-2020, the United Kingdom has sought to continue the good work recognized by China more than the previous year and compiling the contribution of P5 to the RevCon NPT. This is a slot on the seat list that the United Kingdom reports says is happy to hold. While maintaining neutrality as the conference coordinator, Britain understood itself to play a bridge-building role and set the agenda in the Process, mediate fundamental disputes between larger nuclear weapons states, and foster culture within the group, as seen in its involvement with BASIC-ICCS Program on Nuclear Responsibility.
Over the past year this has largely meant maintaining five current work strands from the Process, on:
- building mutual understanding of nuclear policies and doctrines;
- promote joint signatures of the Protocol to the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone;
- expand P5 Glossary Key Nuclear Provisions;
- promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology, nuclear security and nuclear safety; and,
- resolve technical issues related to the Fissile Material Termination Agreement.
Dialogue on nuclear policy and doctrine is perhaps the most quoted by British officials, contributing to the UK nuclear risk reduction agenda as well as by illuminating and helping to harmonize different understandings of general terms. One story tells of the realization in the group that the phrase ‘escalation management’, which when used in English is intended to imply the entire escalation ladder (including many steps) to nuclear use), tends to imply to the Russian ear just a rung after nuclear use. Therefore, clarifying this difference is important to reduce the risk of linguistic misperception in a crisis. Moreover, officials draw attention to the benefits of exploring the meaning of written doctrine through systematic question and answer sessions, which are intended to ensure each party understands and demonstrates both ‘sensibility of the security dilemma’. letter and also Spirit the doctrine of their enemies.
Among these five workflows is another ongoing discussion chaired by different members. As stated by Baroness Goldie in the closing remarks of the London conference, Britain has’ led by example ‘on transparency and reporting,’ not because we want to be good shoes, but because we hope [others] would follow’. The conference itself addressed broader nuclear topics, including nuclear risk reduction, non-proliferation, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Iran, North Korea, Middle Eastern Weapons from the Free Zone of Mass Destruction, and the IAEA.
Under British leadership, the participation of people outside the NWS was of course widespread. To engage the NNWS, the UK held consultations with the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a diverse grouping of NPTs from 12 ownerless countries established to maintain progress on the 2010 64-Point Action Plan. To involve civil society, the CPACC funded two organizations British non-governmental organizations – King’s College London and European Leadership Network – for implement an open section the main conference and hosted a ‘next generation’ side event the day before the conference, where two of my colleagues at BASIC spoke, Marion Messmer and Sophie McCormack. Events like this help provide evidence to Britain’s claim to be a ‘champion’ or ‘leader’ of the steps to building transparency.
The main results of the London conference, originally intended to be presented at RevCon which is now postponed, have not yet been seen. It is unclear whether this will be held until next year or released sooner. What will be said is unknown, but based on statements made in the public section of the February conference it seems as though they might include a re-statement of negative security guarantees (NSA) by the five countries; advanced edition of the 2013 P5 Glossary of Main Nuclear Terms; and, a clearer understanding of how P5 understands nuclear risk reduction, which can set the framework for future substantive discussions on this theme.
While there are some doubts whether Britain will continue to hold the seat until the RevCon is postponed, the process has agreed that France will take over as planned after May 2020. This puts France in an inevitable position because it must rotate its plans. to meet the new NPT schedule, and is expected to maintain the existing workflow for now.
However, while certain topics such as strategic risk reduction will emerge to get a permanent position on the agenda – which is fundamental because this issue is for the maintenance of international security – the flexibility inherent in the P5 Process agenda is its strength. This helped him adapt to current issues and prevented him from falling into the trap of the Disarmament Conference, ensnared by his mandate on the same issues for nearly a quarter of a century.
The challenge of the P5 Process is to keep the dialogue open despite differences of opinion. The termination of 2017-2018 due to various accusations, including regarding the use of chemical weapons approved by Russia in Salisbury, is a warning that must be considered – especially if demands for trilateral weapons control produce further alienation. Given the catastrophic impact of the cessation of practical cooperation within the NATO-Russian Council on relations, in any situation the members of the Process do not threaten to limit dialogue as a way to punish one another. It must also agree on protocols for going out to difficult periods or black swan events – such as COVID-19.
If this process is to become stronger, it needs to continue to utilize the expertise of NNWS and non-government experts, as has happened in recent years. This means doing more to communicate what has been achieved and trying to achieve it; seriously consider the appeal of Chris Ford and many others to change his own name to the ‘N5 Process’, to break the misleading relationship between immortality in the UN Security Council and possession of nuclear weapons; and make clear joint statement avoid nuclear war to build trust and confidence. Given the ‘escalation management’ story, the NWS must also identify three to five good case studies of doctrinal discussions that dispel misconceptions and present them on RevCon.
Disclaimer: The author does not speak for the British Government, but remains close to the process through off-the-record conversations with officials over the past four years.
The opinions expressed above represent the views of the authors and do not reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or its members. The aim of the ELN is to encourage debate that will help develop Europe’s capacity to overcome the foreign, defense and security policy challenges of our time.
Image: Flickr: Jacqui
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