The Ukrainian crisis is a wake-up call for the foreign policy establishment in the West
The research group in International Politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium) is the only academic institution in Flanders that focuses on issues of non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament. Consequently, networking with peers happens on a European (ECPR, EU Non-Proliferation Consortium) and global level (Fissile Materials Working Group, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, International Studies Association). Specific research interests of a substantial part of the group are nuclear security, nuclear terrorism, US nuclear weapons policy, US extended deterrence, Iran, missile defense, the emerging powers and the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and the desirability and feasibility of nuclear elimination (including the humanitarian approach). The Group also tries to engage the public by writing op-eds and by commenting in the media. Other members of the Research Group deal with related international topics, like diplomacy (Prof Jan Melissen), geopolitics (Prof David Criekemans) and the role of international organizations (Prof Dieter Kerwer).The third NPT Prepcom was held in New York last week. How do you assess the current NPT review process?
The NPT has been an essential tool in managing nuclear proliferation. That said, the NPT has also its limits, the major one being the lack of a concrete date for nuclear elimination. As the NWS do not feel the heat, except at the 5-yearly review conferences, and keep modernizing their nuclear weapons, the NNWS will have to wait for a very long time before all nuclear weapons will be eliminated. That is not what they expected when they signed the NPT. As a result, many of the NNWS are becoming impatient. Indications are the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, the Egyptian walk-out at the 2013 Prepcom, the setting-up of the Open-Ended Working Group, the recent lawsuit by the Marshall islands against all nuclear weapon states, and above all the new dynamics of the so-called humanitarian approach that may lead to a nuclear weapons ban. Such a ban will stigmatize nuclear weapons and shift the debate. It will then be up to the nuclear weapon states to explain why they refuse to ban nuclear weapons. Combined with the financial pressure on the defense budgets, a country like the UK may start getting rid of nuclear weapons, which on its turn may trigger a positive domino effect.What could be the impact of the crisis in Ukraine on the non-proliferation regime in Europe and beyond?
In the short-term, the crisis in Ukraine will have a negative impact on arms control and nonproliferation because of three reasons: first of all because the political relationship between Russia and the US, that was already icy, further deteriorated. Second, the crisis led already to demands for the acceleration of the installment of missile defense in Europe, something that will encourage Russia even more to believe that US missile defense is meant to be against Russia. Thirdly, advocates of nuclear weapons, who have been on the defensive over the last years, see this crisis as an opportunity to speak out. In the medium term, the picture may be rather different. Arms control may be the most likely instrument to start improving the relationship with Russia, like during the Cold War. This crisis is a wake-up call for the foreign policy establishment in the West, which may trigger some introspection. We should find a way to fully integrate Russia (and Ukraine) into the European security architecture. The end result may be much less nuclear weapons in Europe and a compromise on missile defense.
Interview conducted by Benjamin Hautecouverture