Glossary of basic terms

The disarmament field is a tangle of acronyms and specialist terms. To assist our readers we have prepared a list that briefly explains what some of the commonly used terms on this website mean. In addition, a useful overview of how the so-called disarmament machinery works is here.

Austrian pledge: At the end of the December 2014 Vienna conference on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the Austrian government read out a national pledge it encouraged other countries to associate with. Among other things, the pledge calls on “all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”.

CD: The Conference on Disarmament. It is often referred to as the “single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community” based in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Established in 1978 by the first UN Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD I), the CD succeeded prior Geneva-based negotiating forums. Both the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the CTBT in 1996 were negotiated in the CD, but the CD has been deadlocked ever since. It means that although the 65 CD member states meet every year, there have been no further negotiations on any of the items on its agenda (fissile materials, nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances, or any agreements to prevent an arms race in outer space).

CTBT: The 1996 Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an international treaty that “bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground.” The CTBT has a particularly complicated entry-into-force requirement (all the 44 states listed in the second Annex of the treaty need to ratify). As of 2015, eight specific states (including China and the United States) still need to ratify in order for the treaty to enter into force. The secretariat for the Treaty (CTBTO) is not affected by this requirement, however, and has been up and running since the late 90s.

Humanitarian consequences: although an old subject, since 2010 a growing number of countries have sought to draw attention to and build a facts-based discussion around what the impacts of nuclear weapons would be if actually used, and to review the actual level of risk of nuclear weapon detonation events. Various humanitarian joint-statements and three international conferences (in Oslo in March 2013, Nayarit in Mexico in February 2014, and Vienna in December 2014) appear to have contributed to this end. Some supporters of the humanitarian consequences approach hope it will create resonance that will increase pressure on states to undertake steps toward nuclear weapons prohibition and elimination.

Humanitarian statement: There are a number of humanitarian joint-statements—all of which refer to governments’ concerns about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use mentioned in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, and calling for renewed nuclear disarmament progress. For a list, follow this link. What’s most significant about the statements is the vast expansion of support for them—from 16-countries in 2012 to 155 in October 2014 for a New Zealand-coordinated statement, for instance.

ICAN: The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, “a global campaign coalition working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.”

NAC: The New Agenda Coalition, a six-country cross-regional group of governments regarded as progressive on nuclear disarmament issues. The NAC has been active in the NPT context since the late 1990s. It is comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa: Sweden left the NAC in 2013. NAC working papers are likely to be significant elements in 2015 NPT review meeting discussions on nuclear disarmament.

NAM: The Non-Aligned Movement, an entity created in 1961, to “create an independent path in world politics that would not result in member States becoming pawns in the struggles between the major powers.” The NAM is made up mostly of states in the global South, including nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). It is active in the NPT and CD contexts, although its sheer size means it can be diplomatically unwieldy.

New START: A nuclear arms control reduction agreement signed between the United States and Russia in April 2010, which entered into force in February 2011. It establishes a limit on deployed strategic warheads, which is particularly significant because these two countries have by far the largest nuclear arsenals.

NPDI: The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative is a cross-regional 12-country group formed in September 2010 “to take forward the consensus outcomes of the 2010 NPT Review Conference and jointly to advance the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agendas as mutually reinforcing processes.” Among its members (Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates) are several nuclear umbrella states.

NPT: The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is intended to limit the spread of these arms. Originally a treaty 25-years in duration, it was extended indefinitely in 1995 after difficult negotiations. It is reviewed under three “pillars”: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. One of the NPT’s notable features is that those states that “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967” were classed as nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). Another is that, under Article 6, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” A major tension for the NPT’s membership is the perceived lack of progress of the nuclear-weapon states toward nuclear weapons elimination, and indeed recent steps taken by all of them to modernize their nuclear arsenals. The NPT’s next five-yearly review conference in April-May 2015 is likely also to be notable for lack of progress on implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

OEWG: an Open-Ended Working Group set up by a decision of the United Nations General Assembly in October 2012. The OEWG met in 2013 “to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” by “developing proposals”. Although the OEWG was deliberative in nature, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States voted against setting it up (China abstained). A 2014 General Assembly resolution left open the door to the OEWG convening again in 2016 or beyond.

P5: Coincidentally, the five states that are “nuclear-weapon states” recognized by the NPT are also permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. This has given rise to the widely used abbreviation ‘P5’ (Permanent Five). Given that their permanent membership of the Security Council is unrelated to their possession of nuclear weapons, a more accurate abbreviation would be ‘NPT5’. The other states currently known or believed to have nuclear weapons are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India, Israel and Pakistan—none of which are party to the NPT (the DPRK withdrew in 2003).

Step-by-step: the “practical step-by-step approach” frequently features in arguments against new forms of initiative aimed at creating more propitious conditions for nuclear disarmament that do not have the backing of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states. Such statements usually refer to the NPT. However, it appears there is no universal understanding of what “step-by-step” is. For example, India does not refer to the NPT, to which it is not party, in talking about step-by-step. And, the reality remains that any conceivable route to nuclear disarmament will necessarily involve many steps.

Umbrella state: States that are not nuclear-weapon-states per se, but which in practice depend on nuclear weapons for security through military alliance arrangements with nuclear-weapon-states (so-called “nuclear umbrellas”). This extends in certain cases to nuclear-sharing arrangements in which nuclear weapons are sited on the territories of these countries and might, in the case of war, be delivered to target by their aircraft. One commentator has described nuclear umbrella states as “weasel states” for talking about the need for nuclear disarmament while supporting policies and practices that purportedly undermine its prospects—a term that has taken hold, at least in the Geneva disarmament community. Umbrella states include the NATO states, Australia, Canada and Japan.

UNSSOD: United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. The first UNSSOD was held in 1978 and, among other things, established the CD. In 1979, when the CD first met, it agreed the so-called ‘Decalogue’ of issues for its work—presumably reflecting UNSSOD I’s priorities. Top of this list of ten subjects was nuclear weapons in all its aspects. Although the CD has been deadlocked for 19 years, the Decalogue remains the basis for its negotiations on a work programme.