May 2010

May has been an intense and hectic month for BASIC and for nuclear diplomacy. The month-long global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon) in New York draws to a close today. The British election and subsequent coalition government continues to be a source of speculation and uncertainty over the non-proliferation and disarmament agenda, with opportunities around the forthcoming strategic defence review. And the publication of the Experts’ Group report on NATO’s Strategic Concept was the latest development, as the Alliance nuclear posture has taken centre stage.


  • The new coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government is set to have some tough bargaining over the next few months over nuclear policy. There is clearly a desire to play a positive role, as suggested by the statement from new Foreign Secretary William Hague this week declaring Britain’s total stockpile to be no more than 225 warheads, and his announcement that the government would consider a tighter declaratory policy over the use of nuclear weapons. See the BASIC press release.
  • Paul Ingram, BASIC Executive Director, has been contributing to a number of meetings on NATO’s nuclear posture, including one in London organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Polish Institute for International Relations (PISM) on May 25th, and another at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the transatlantic relationship on May 18th. The publication by NATO’s ‘Experts Group’ attracted some response, not least from BASIC and the Arms Control Association (ACA), cooperating on a press release on the nuclear aspects in particular.
  • Brian Eno, BASIC Adviser and Artistic Director of the Brighton Festival this month, he led a discussion on 16th May entitled ‘This is Reasons for Optimism’, in which he, Paul Ingram, James Thornton of Client Earth and Jocelyne Quennell of Kids Company identified the reasons for seeing the positive in future. Paul discussed in particular the pragmatic optimism behind the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, and the spin-off consequences from the effort to materialise the steps towards it for global cooperation more generally.

Washington and New York

Most of the action in the United States has been in New York around the NPT Rev Con. Anne Penketh, our Washington Program Director, has been at the United Nations in NY for the month, trying to help push negotiations forward on our issues and making contacts with diplomats, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and possible funders. She has been posting daily updates and comments on our website. In addition, immediately prior to the conference BASIC published a number of briefings, available on the website, targeted at the critical issues facing delegates as they gathered in New York.

  • Trevor McCrisken (BASIC’s chair) moderated a panel on the consequences of the British general election at the Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, at which board member Jo Spear spoke along with Paul Ingram of BASIC. They were joined by Klaus Larres, adjunct professor of European studies at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University and Amb. Kurt Volker, senior fellow and CTR managing director, and former US Representative to NATO. Participants (including board members Sima Osdoby, Amb. Bob Barry and Jim Leonard) came from think tanks, the media and academia and several congratulated us on the initiative which produced a lively Q&A session. The title of the event was “The British elections: What happened and what does it mean“?
  • Trevor and a small delegation of BASIC staff met with staffers involved with the NATO Experts’ Group considering the Strategic Concept to discuss next steps, and building confidence in the reform process.
  • BASIC was well represented in the second week of the NPT Review Conference by Trevor, Paul, Anne, Analyst Chris Lindborg and BASIC Board member Amb. Jim Goodby participating in a number of briefings and attending sessions.
  • BASIC held a highly successful panel event at the Review Conference, attended by 60-70 delegates and NGO observers, that focused on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. The panel featured Paul, Trevor and Amb. Jim Goodby from BASIC alongside Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Nickolas Roth, program director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
  • Amb. Jim Goodby was on panels at two other events: in New York on ratification prospects for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification and in Washington on opportunities stemming from the US Nuclear Posture Review. This latter event, covering the range of issues from New START to NPT Review Conference to the US Nuclear Policy Review and prospects for CTBT ratification, was chaired by BASIC Board Member Amb. Bob Barry and addressed by Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund and Amb. Steve Pifer, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute.
  • In the third week of the Review Conference, Anne spoke on a panel hosted by Greenpeace on the Middle East nuclear free weapons zone.

Broadly speaking the biggest divide at the NPT Review Conference has not been over Iran, but rather between the nuclear “haves” against the “have nots”. There are also negotiations around starting talks outside the NPT context on the Middle East WMD Free Zone – success for the conference may yet hinge on agreement over the next step. There has been goodwill towards the Obama administration’s efforts on the arms control front, but equally a strong resistance to consensus by watering down commitments to disarmament. All is being played to the final wire.

Interviews– BASIC’s representatives at the NPT Review Conference gave extensive interviews to the on-line NPT-TV channel ( You can see several clips here:

Looking forward – We take a breath at the end of the NPT Review Conference (it’s a May bank holiday on Monday in the UK and Memorial Day in the US), before launching into our strategy to keep the momentum going for disarmament, including planning for the next events, which include:

  • A joint conference in Warsaw in July to discuss NATO’s nuclear posture and alternative means to establish security assurance.
  • A roundtable in London to discuss nuclear options for the UK in the new political and strategic environment.
  • The delivery of papers and presentations at events in June and July in London, Washington, Brussels, Toledo (Spain), Aberystwyth and Wilton Park.

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