Members of the Stockholm Initiative, an informal union of 15 states seeking to uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and boost its progress towards total nuclear disarmament, met in Berlin, by invitation of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, to discuss concrete suggestions, or "stepping stones" to help signatories of the treaty prevent it from becoming obsolete. The Stockholm Initiative states are hoping to present these during the routine meeting of NPT-members on 27 April 2020, where they will review the treaty's prospects.
Maas, who organised the Initiative's last meeting on 25 February, warned that unless existing issues with nuclear disarmament are resolved, the NPT won't last long.
"We want to overcome the stalemate in the area of nuclear disarmament. The Non-Proliferation Treaty is in grave danger if we do not invest more political capital and make the Treaty fit for the future!" the German foreign minister said.
At the end of the Berlin meeting, members of the Stockholm Initiative, Argentina, Canada, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, published their vision of 22 "stepping stones", which both nuclear powers and other signatories of the NPT must take if they want the agreement to live and to avoid any future use of atomic weapons.
The Initiative names the preservation of the New START treaty as one of the most crucial steps in that direction. They called on the US and Russia to engage in talks to not just preserve it, but also to expand it without clarifying whether the expansion should be geographical or just include more weapons and require a more significant reduction of armaments. Washington had previously suggested that China join the New START.
The members of the Stockholm Initiative also called on all nuclear-armed states to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national defence policies, and scale back on their efforts to develop new generations of nukes, instead of focusing on arms-control initiatives and their transparency. The 15 states gathering in Berlin also called on these countries to express support for a suggested treaty stipulating a comprehensive ban on weapons-grade fissile material production and upholding nuclear weapons test bans.
New START's Future
The fate of the primary remaining arms control treaty, the New START, is in question, as it expires in less than a year. Its signatories, the US and Russia, have not engaged in negotiations on its extension yet, despite Moscow expressing readiness to do so unconditionally.
Previously the two countries were also bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which limited their short-to-medium range ground-based missile arsenals. Washington abandoned the treaty in 2019 under the pretext of alleged violations of the accord by Russia, which Moscow denied and had offered to disprove.
At the same time, following the demise of the INF treaty, not only did the US start developing new missiles, but it also made progress in developing new low-yield nuclear warheads. President Donald Trump initiated its development in 2018 as a means to limit Russia's alleged readiness to engage in limited atomic warfare via pre-emptive strikes. The new US policy arose despite the Kremlin continuing to adhere to a no-first strike policy in its nuclear posture.