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6 Nuclear security – a global threat

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President Trump will chair the UN Security Council on Wednesday 26 September. This is the third time in history a US president has chaired the Security Council, following Barack Obama’s involvement in 2009 and 2014 .

It is still unclear precisely what the session will focus on with President Trump seemingly intent on focusing the session on Iran and other diplomats keen to widen out discussions to nuclear proliferation and security in a more general sense. In either case the meeting could be fraught.

On nuclear security, the gap between the positions of nuclear and non-nuclear states has been growing for some time. The failure of the five official nuclear powers (N5 - also the five permanent members of the Security Council) to take meaningful steps towards disarmament has called the historic compromise at the heart of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) into question, and means that agreement at the 2020 NPT Review Conference looks unlikely. Non-nuclear states have instead invested their energy in the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 122 states voted for its creation: 60 have signed and 15 have ratified. The treaty will come into force 90 days after the 50th state has ratified it. A high-level event and further commitments are expected on Wednesday 26 September.

The N5 have been highly critical of the TPNW process, even going so far as to stage a protest outside the room in which the text was being negotiated. This has further deepened ill feeling between nuclear and non-nuclear powers and makes further work on disarmament more difficult. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative on Disarmament Affairs, speaking in the House of Commons at a meeting UNA-UK helped to convene, implored the N5 to take a more nuanced view of the TPNW: “don’t ignore it, don’t attack it”.

If debate turns to Iran, it will hopefully present the international community with an opportunity to reiterate their strong support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or ‘Iran deal’ – one of the most effective diplomatic agreements of recent times and one of the few successful examples of negotiated non-proliferation. President Trump is likely to strongly condemn the deal, despite repeated confirmation from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors that Iran is complying with its commitments. In part this is due to wider regional dynamics and the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran where the US (and the UK) have firmly taken the side of Saudi Arabia, despite the view of many regional and security experts, including the House of Lords International Relations Committee, that taking sides is “not in the UK’s interest, nor in that of its principal allies” and that it should instead take steps to encourage rapprochement.