Disarmament blog: nuclear transparency in action

  • 4th October 2019
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Disarmament blog: nuclear transparency in action

Skip to content Aidan Liddle

Aidan Liddle

UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament

Part of Conference on Disarmament

4th October 2019 Geneva, Switzerland

Disarmament blog: nuclear transparency in action

The three principles of disarmament are usually held to be verifiability, irreversibility and transparency. Transparency underpins the other two principles. You can’t tell whether what’s been done is irreversible unless you can verify it; you can’t verify it unless it’s transparent. As such, transparency, often in the shape of reporting by States Parties, is a key obligation of many disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation treaties.

Submitting national reports to NPT RevCons is a fairly recent innovation, designed to help States Parties to review how commitments undertaken under the NPT are being implemented. There’s particular interest of course in the reports of the five Nuclear Weapon States, who in 2013 adopted a common framework for their reports to make them easier to compare. As we approach the 2020 RevCon, all the Nuclear Weapon States have once more committed to submitting national implementation reports using the same common framework we used for the 2015 RevCon.

Last week, the UK Foreign Office convened a unique workshop at Wilton Park, our in-house convenor of foreign policy dialogues, in the Sussex countryside to discuss the UK’s draft report, which we tabled at the third Preparatory Committee in May this year. We invited a broad selection of non-Nuclear Weapon States – in particular members of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), who have been championing transparency and reporting as part of a strengthened review process – as well as representatives of civil society and observers from the other Nuclear Weapon States. It was an inclusive, innovative and collaborative conversation that invited outsiders into the usually closed thought processes of a Nuclear Weapon State. All the participants engaged enthusiastically with the process; not (for the most part) airing political differences with the UK’s approach to the NPT, but digging deeply into how we talk about it, why we use the language we do, and how we choose what to include and leave out. I’m really grateful to them – and to our expert facilitators, led by Wilton Park’s own Mark Smith – for taking part so readily.

During the two days of discussions I noted down 97 separate specific comments on different aspects of the text. We will now take those away and consider them in detail as we finalise the report for submission at the RevCon. Although the document will of course remain a UK product, for the first time, many people outside the UK Government will recognise their contributions and suggestions in the final text.

Many of the participants also commented how the process had made them think about their own national reports, what audiences these reports are really intended for, and why we place value on reporting and transparency at all. In that way, the workshop was not just about making the UK report more accessible and useful, but also about improving the whole NPT review process.

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