Disarmament and non-proliferation training in times of renewed nuclear unpredictability

Published 29 May 2020

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Recently, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un made his first public appearance in weeks where he pledged to “further boost its nuclear capabilities”. Around the same time the Trump administration has discussed the US first nuclear test in decades. While the world is gripped by the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of an in-depth look on disarmament and non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) remains significantly relevant.

The Asser Institute, in collaboration with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is organising its eleventh one-week training that provides a thorough examination of non-proliferation and disarmament of WMD efforts. The full programme of the Disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction includes high-level panels, study visits, and interactive sessions with subject-matter experts in related fields. Furthermore, The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the OPCW, with funding support from the European Union have offered full competitive scholarships. For more details about the programme, the scholarships and registration click here.

North Korea’s usual unpredictability
While talks of denuclearisation with the US are bogged down, during North Korea’s Central Military Commission (CMC) meeting there were talks about “further strengthening their armed forces and addressing the threat of hostile forces” and “increasing the deterrence of the country’s nuclear war and sharpening its strategic forces”, according to their national news agency. As North Korea’s usual unpredictability continues, it remains difficult to estimate if, when, and how the country will act by word and deed.  

Since Kim Jong-Un took power over his country in 2011, he has accelerated the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. The country has conducted four out of six nuclear tests under his rule, while it also flight-tested at least three intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in 2017. According to South Korean officials, March 2020 marked the most active month in North Korea’s s rocket launching history with eight missiles, most of which are short range ballistic missiles (SRBM). 

The US - led negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme deadlocked after negotiations in Singapore in 2018, and again in Hanoi in February 2019. Despite the countries’ good willing efforts, the meetings failed to reach an agreement on how to eliminate the North Korea’s nuclear weapons and on when to ease UN sanctions against the country.

The United States to resume nuclear activity
While the US showed good and peaceful intentions during the negotiations with North Korea, it seems to contradict with their renewed intentions of possibly doing a live nuclear test for the first time since 1992. Congressional aides and former officials say this seems to be a way to pressure Russia and China into making a trilateral arms control deal. Nevertheless, nuclear testing might further unsettle the country’s unstable relationships with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran and may eventually harm existing alliances with countries such as Japan. The possible implications for further strengthening existing multilateral treaties and bilateral agreements related to non-proliferation and arms control could be undermined by the United States’ activities through militant means of realpolitik.

Although there is no legal block against live testing, since the US has not formally ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), testing would generate fear and mistrust, and is likely to fortify reliance on nuclear arms. In addition, the possibility of extending the bilateral New START arms control treaty with Russia also appears to be at stake. Furthermore, the US announced to leave the Open Skies Treaty (OST) with Russia, after leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and abandoning the Intermediate-Range Forces treaty (INF) in 2018. The probability of a world free of nuclear weapons seems to get even further away as one of the world’s super powers acts indifferent towards such treaties.

Disarmament and non-proliferation training programme
These current affairs give enough food for thought and discussion as international agreements on non-proliferation and arms control remain highly relevant, despite the fact that the subject might be less noticeable during the ongoing global pandemic. In line with this thought we would like to invite you to further elaborate on this matter at our Training Programme on disarmament and non-proliferation of WMD in late September of this year. Individuals who work towards achieving disarmament and non-proliferation, will have hands-on experience and the opportunity to learn from and discuss cross-cutting aspects with experts. 

Here is an impression of last year’s training programme:

How to apply
For more information on this training programme and to apply please visit the event page. For questions and inquiries email educationtraining@asser.nl

The disarmament and non-proliferation of Weapons of mass destruction training programme falls under Asser's research strand Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law which adopts as its normative framework a human rights approach to contemporary global challenges, inter alia in the fields of counter-terrorism, especially with regard to the topic of foreign (terrorist) fighters, international and transnational crimes, new technologies and artificial intelligence, and historical memory.