6th February 2019 Geneva, Switzerland
Disarmament blog: the P5 meet in Beijing
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) recognises five states as ‘Nuclear Weapon States’ – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. In 2009, the UK took the initiative to convene a conference of those States to discuss matters related to the NPT. This ‘P5’ process has since become an important channel of communication and co-ordination between us on nuclear issues. (The ‘P5’ refers to the fact that the five Nuclear Weapon States also happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but there’s no direct link between the two.)
Although there are regular consultations between the five in Geneva and in the margins of meetings of the UNGA First Committee and NPT, the main set piece in the calendar is an annual conference of senior government officials. The last was in Washington in 2016. Last week, foreign and defence ministry officials and Geneva-based disarmament diplomats from the five convened in Beijing for the 2019 conference.
The starting point for our discussion was our agreement that a strong NPT is crucially important to the world, and that we as Nuclear Weapon States have a particular responsibility to work for a successful Review Conference in 2020. We talked about the main issues under each of the three ‘pillars’ of the NPT – disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. We discussed the risks the NPT faces, and what we might do together to mitigate them.
We also had an in-depth discussion on our national nuclear doctrines and postures. It is important to understand each other’s capabilities and how and in what circumstances they might use them, in order to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding.
It’s no secret that relations between the P5 are not easy at the moment. That makes it even more important that we use opportunities such as this to try to understand each other’s perception of the threats we face, and to explain why we take the measures we do in response. We owe it to ourselves, the non-nuclear weapon States and the NPT architecture to act responsibly in our management of nuclear weapons, and the P5 dialogue is a key part of that.
China will continue as coordinators until the Third NPT Preparatory Committee in New York in May. They have invested a lot of time and effort in that role, and have been generous hosts. The UK will pick up the baton from China after the PrepCom and act as P5 coordinators until the end of the 2020 RevCon.