18th August 2022

NPT Side Event Explores No First Use and Other Short-Term Measures to Avoid Nuclear War

  • Disarmament
  • Nuclear Abolition

After several postponements, the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) began on 1 August 2022. This gathering of the States Parties to the NPT in New York comes at a time when the risk of nuclear warfare is at its highest level since the Cold War. Given that progress toward nuclear disarmament has stalled in recent decades, delegations discussed how to come to meaningful agreements

In their statements during the first week of the Review Conference, many governments condemned Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons. Several also celebrated the first Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). These states recognize the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons and that their abolition is the surest way to prevent nuclear catastrophe.

Another area of consensus was the importance and urgency of risk reduction, especially given current geopolitical tensions. While not a substitute for nuclear disarmament, measures such as building trust among nuclear-armed nations, preventing misunderstanding and miscalculation, and establishing clear lines of communication could help to stabilize the environment and facilitate nuclear disarmament.

To contribute to this discussion, SGI organized a side event, "Avoiding Nuclear War: What Short-Term Steps Can Be Taken?", sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. Moderated by Anna Ikeda of SGI, the event was co-sponsored by the Arms Control Association (ACA), Council on Strategic Risks (CSR), Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP) and International Peace and Understanding. The event was inspired in part by a statement from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on 26 July 2022, which urged the five nuclear-weapon states of the NPT to publicly commit to the principle of No First Use at the earliest possible date as well as all States Parties to support this principle.

Drawing upon the movement for climate action in his opening remarks, Ambassador Magzhan Ilyassov, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN, stressed the importance of educating and engaging the public on the issue of nuclear weapons.

Panelist Christine Parthemore, Chief Executive Officer of CSR, stressed the importance of consistency in both doctrines and effective plans regarding nuclear weapons. She commented, “If doctrine appears to prioritize restraint but nuclear weapons investments, developments and employment do not, we risk further mistrust and we risk further decline of trust in the NPT itself for advancing nations’ security needs.”

Photo credit: Andrew Facini

The second speaker, Yerzhan Saltybayev, Director of IWEP, proposed pursuing a legally binding commitment for No First Use in addition to elevating the role of the non-nuclear weapon states. Based on his experience working with the Global Alliance of Leaders for Nuclear Security and Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (GAL)—an initiative of the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, Saltybayev also stressed the role of expert dialogue on the topic.

Alexander Harang of International Peace and Understanding, a longtime peace activist, shared that the focus of his work since the beginning of 2022 has shifted to No First Use due to the changing global policy environment. He stressed that declaring No First Use policies in times like this is not only effective but also achievable. In light of this observation, he welcomed Ikeda's statement to the NPT.

Serving as a discussant, Daryl Kimball of ACA shared that governments and activists need to understand why we are discussing risk reduction now—that the recent threat of the use of nuclear weapons, which makes a nuclear confrontation more likely, is a new factor. He noted measures that can be taken to reduce risk, such as establishing direct lines of communication, resuming dialogue, and refraining from provocative actions among nuclear weapon states.

Nearly 90 participants, including representatives from States Parties and civil society, crowded the conference room where the event was held, demonstrating great interest in the topic. Audience members actively engaged in the discussion, raising questions such as the role of faith communities and the general public in advancing nuclear disarmament.

Reflecting on the event, Hirotsugu Terasaki, SGI Director-General of Peace and Global Issues, commented, "As an organization that has long focused on grassroots-level education to empower individuals, we thought it is important to find a rallying point around which people can engage, when many of us are seriously concerned about the potential use of nuclear weapons. We feel that the message of No First Use is a simple one that many can understand; at the same time, it can substantially shift the current security context when successfully adopted and create much-needed momentum toward nuclear disarmament."