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Issues & Insights – Vol. 17 No. 9 – The Third Meeting of the CSCAP Study Group on Nonproliferation and Disarmament in the Asia-Pacific

The Pacific Forum, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, held the Third Meeting of the CSCAP NPD Study Group in Auckland, New Zealand on March 5-7, 2017, on the front-end of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Inter-sessional Meeting on Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ISM/NPD). Approximately 65 senior scholars and officials and Pacific Forum Young Leaders attended, in their private capacity. Off-the-record discussions focused on recent developments in Non-proliferation and disarmament, Korean Peninsula denuclearization, strategic trade controls (STC) and nuclear governance, biosafety and biosecurity, Non-proliferation and nuclear security implementation, and possible workshop proposals for the ARF ISM/NPD. Key findings from this meeting include:

Adherence to Non-proliferation and nuclear security instruments by Asia-Pacific states has improved but implementation still lags behind in many states. Implementation gaps stem from lack of capacity, lack of awareness, and/or lack of political will. CSCAP and the ARF should focus on raising awareness and capacity-building, while encouraging states to exercise the political will required to come into full compliance.

There are questions about the future of nuclear security implementation in the aftermath of the Nuclear Security Summit; to date, no state or organization has picked up the baton to ensure that progress continues. Because much depends on high-level political support, governments should continue to make nuclear security a priority. The ARF could become an institutional home for regional nuclear security governance. The ASEAN Network of Regulatory Bodies on Atomic Energy (ASEANTOM), which seeks to enhance cooperation among ASEAN members on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards could also play a leading role.

Looming negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons are raising fundamental questions about the future direction of Non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. Advocates of a Ban Treaty highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons and the need to move swiftly toward their long-overdue elimination. Skeptics stress that a better approach is to continue to proceed toward disarmament in an incremental manner, while seeking to address security concerns that for the moment make disarmament risky. Middle ground suggestions included discussing on ban on use rather than possession as a first step and/or examining the prospects of a WMD vice nuclear ban.
The difficulty of getting to zero should not stand in the way of efforts to move toward zero however. More research is needed to identify realistic pathways to nuclear disarmament that take into account nuclear weapons and other weapon systems, including high-precision conventional weapons and missile defense, as well as the growing roles of the space and cyber domains.
The prospects for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula seem bleak. The DPRK appears determined to remain a nuclear-armed state; it continues to expand and improve its arsenal, which it regards as critical to its survival. DPRK participants stress that their country will “never give up nuclear weapons,” but also maintain that these weapons are exclusively for defensive purposes and that the DPRK will not proliferate.
At present there appears to be no clear path toward Korean Peninsula denuclearization. Given that neither war nor acceptance of the DPRK as a nuclear-armed state are viable options, efforts should be made to renew negotiations. Absent a breakthrough, stricter implementation (and strengthening) of United Nations sanctions against the DPRK appears likely. UN Resolutions 2270 and 2321 are broadening the scope of sanctions, which remain aimed at bringing the DPRK back into compliance with the NPT, preferably through a resumption of Six-Party Talks on the basis of the 2005 Joint Declaration.
There is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty regarding future US policy. While the Trump administration has yet to formulate its nuclear policy, many worry that it may break with the US tradition of support for Non-proliferation and disarmament. Others fear a nuclear arms race. Since most participants agreed that US leadership on NPD issues is critical to further progress, participants called for an early clear articulation of US nuclear policy.
The CSCAP “experts groups” on STC and nuclear governance have helped regional states make headway in both areas. The STC group has shown that STC implementation in fact facilitates rather than inhibits trade of monitored items. Recommendations on how to develop STC are laid out in CSCAP Memorandum No. 14, including the need for states to: adopt comprehensive STC laws; establish regulatory frameworks, enforcement mechanisms, and a single point of contact; and integrate core principles into the agenda of relevant regional initiatives.
Similarly, the experts group on nuclear governance has produced important recommendations on how to keep sensitive materials safe and secure, including: encouraging individual states’ leadership and responsibility; priority management of radioactive sources; giving equal importance to safety, security, and safeguards; and having realistic expectations.
More work is needed in the area of nuclear governance. Topics of interest include nuclear waste management and efforts to expand the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) into an enrichment-and-reprocessing free zone and/or a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone. Given that all ASEAN member states have endorsed the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, turning SEANWFZ into a WMD-free zone seems politically feasible.
There are important bio-threats in the Asia Pacific, ranging from natural threats (SARS, Zika, or bird flu) to the accidental or intentional release of biological agents. Little progress has been achieved under the auspices of the Biological Weapons Convention; the December 2016 Review Conference was a disappointment. There are numerous mechanisms to help states build capacity to prepare for and combat bio-threats, however.
Recent events in Malaysia also highlight the need for continued vigilance in dealing with chemical weapons threats. While nuclear use may be the most catastrophic, chem/bio use appears more likely and ARF states in general are ill-equipped to deal with this challenge. Establishing a CSCAP Chen/Bio Experts Group would help develop a better understanding of the threats and of the opportunities and challenges to address them.
CSCAP NPD Study Group participants recommend the ARF ISM/NPD consider convening the three following workshops to help implement its Action Plan: 1) a workshop on nuclear security governance in the Asia Pacific; 2) a workshop on SEANWFZ; and 3) a workshop on nuclear disarmament verification, drawing on the work of the International Partnership on Disarmament Verification, or IPNDV.