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Did the G7 Hiroshima Summit Make Progress on Nuclear Disarmament?

Arad Farhadi-Niaki, G7 Research Group
May 28, 2023

As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Hiroshima for the G7 summit, all eyes were on a likely increase in financial and military support for Ukraine, notably in the form of F-16 fighter jets. Behind the anticipation of further armaments for Ukraine, however, loomed the shadow of nuclear non-proliferation as the setting of this year's summit, Hiroshima, reminded the world of the limits (or lack thereof) we place on ourselves in times of war.

Despite the wreath laying and tree planting by G7 leaders at Hiroshima's Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims, it was easy to forget the fact that three of the seven countries in the G7 possess nuclear weapons, including the country responsible for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lives of multiple generations of its citizens. In their Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament, G7 leaders stated: "in a solemn and reflective moment, we reaffirm, in this first G7 Leaders' document with a particular focus on nuclear disarmament, our commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all." With the prospect of nuclear weapons use possibly higher today than during the Cold War, it is more important than ever to eradicate the world from the nuclear threat. Despite ceremonial actions and flowery language about banning nuclear weapons, if one reads between the lines, notably in reference to "undiminished security for all," one can see no such ban in sight.

The leaders heralded the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, yet given its institutional deficit the treaty is more of a glaring warning sign than a reassuring guarantee. As of now, the NPT lacks an executive council, secretariat or any other body designed to oversee the implementation of the treaty; instead it relies on a bi-decade Review Conference at which parties can exercise decision-making powers. The recent deterioration in global security as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's militarization of the Indo-Pacific reveal the NPT's inability to execute its mandate.

Alongside their reiteration of support for the NPT, G7 leaders applauded the Hiroshima Action Plan, two pillars of which are continuing transparency of nuclear capabilities and maintaining a decreasing global trend in nuclear stockpiles. Yet despite this, the United Kingdom has not only recently increased its nuclear arsenal, but has also limited the information it will release in regards to it. Today, 77 years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on an occasion described as a significant leap forward in non-proliferation, there persists a sense of complacency and stagnation.

As attendees at among the most influential tables in world politics, G7 members – particularly the ones without non-nuclear arms – have a responsibility to lead the world toward an unconditional and accelerated abolition of nuclear weapons. Canada, a historic proponent of NPT reform, can play a unique role in facilitating this, through supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Now in force, the TPNW not only improves the NPT's institutional shortcomings, and also provides provisions to reach the G7's apparent goal of nuclear disarmament. All signatories to the TPNW are legally required never to acquire or possess nuclear weapons; the treaty also requires more stringent armament withdrawal and safeguards. As potentially the first member of both the G7 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Canada could play an integral leading role in shaping the treaty regime from within to facilitate an environment conducive to further NATO signatories through securing their non-proliferation interests and security needs.

Of course, accession to the TPNW would not be uncontroversial, and would likely be criticized for undermining the NPT and requiring unilateral disarmament. However, the TPNW ensures that the NPT's provisions will not prejudice obligations set out in pre-existing international agreements. It also provides a framework for negotiating plurilateral disarmament prior to signature, in turn ensuring adequate verification, irreversibility and other security assurances agreed to by all parties.

As the G7 now begins to move toward the 2024 summit in Italy, achieving non-proliferation will depend on reopening dialogue between G7 members on disarmament so as to lay the groundwork for potential cooperation with other countries – including China and Russia.

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