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Russian Topol M intercontinental ballistic missles on parade in Moscow. Alamy Stock Photo
United Nations

Irish diplomats work to broker nuclear weapons deal in high-level New York talks

Irish diplomats are involved in the month-long talks on the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

IRISH DIPLOMATS ARE involved in high stakes talks in the United Nations to bring an end to nuclear weapons – but efforts to take “the bomb” out of global politics are stymied as Russia and China seek to grow their arsenal. 

The tenth review conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York opened last week, with Ireland playing a pivotal role among non nuclear countries in the talks. 

During the month-long negotiations a team of eight Irish diplomats and negotiators will travel to New York from their missions in Dublin, Geneva and in the US.

Sources have said that the team is comprised of five women and three men and their strategy will focus on risk reduction while ensuring that efforts at proliferation continue. 

Sources have said that while there is widespread agreement among States on the need for a continued reduction in nuclear weapons, there is a reticence among the big atomic countries of the US, China, Britain, Russia, France. Israel also has an estimated 90 warheads.

There are also complications among countries such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea as they seek to arm.

Risk reduction, sources have said, is about limiting the likelihood of an inadvertent escalation to full nuclear war. 

Such escalations, negotiators believe, can be started accidentally but this is mitigated by dense safeguards in each country. There is another factor and that is around how such weapons are deployed.  

“One key way to look at this is with Russia. Military leaders when looking at an approaching Russian aircraft will determine the threat but the difficulty is that Russia deploys both conventional and nuclear weaponry on their aircraft,” the source said.

Ireland is not immune from the nuclear weapon threat. The Irish coast has seen Russian Tupolev Tu-65 “Bears” patrolling down the western seaboard – they are capable of carrying atomic missiles. 

soviet-tu-95-bear-h-photographed-from-a-raf-typhoon-quick-reaction-alert-aircraft-qra-with-6-squadron-from-raf-leuchars-in-scotland-in-april-2014-photo-mod SOVIET TU-95 Bear H photographed from a RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert aircraft (QRA) with 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars in Scotland in April 2014. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

On those occasions British Royal Air Force fighters were scrambled and accompanied the bombers until they left the airspace.

It is also believed, according to security sources, that nuclear armed submarines operate in the Irish Sea and around the coasts of Ireland.  

Complicating factors

The talks have been overshadowed by a number of complicating factors – the invasion of Ukraine and the rhetoric of Russia around the use of such weapons of masse destruction. 

Sources have said that China, which is threatening an invasion of Taiwan is also in the process of a major increase in military capability.

It is understood that the Chinese Communist Party is seeking to bring its nuclear capability in line with the US and Russia. It is making efforts to increase the stockpile of weapons to 1,000 by 2027.

There are also concerns around North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and India and their behaviour and their efforts to grow a nuclear capability.

The key consideration is around the behaviour of Russia and Ukraine and the destabilising effect of the war globally. 

A source said: “In regard to Ukraine, two key dimensions are firstly the implicit threat of use of nuclear weapons by Russia, and the attacks against and military activity in and around civilian nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

“On the latter, the team will aim for the outcome to include recognition of that the seven key pillars of nuclear safety and security apply in all circumstances, including in armed conflict.

“And separately, they will be working for a condemnation of the threat of use of nuclear weapons, whether explicit or implicit irrespective of the circumstances,” a source explained. 

A source added: “Ireland is not of the view that the problems with Russia in Ukraine and the broader security situation globally is a block to success in nuclear disarmament. 

“It is not correct that it can only be achieved if the security situation is perfect.”

The Journal had sought to find which countries were causing the most difficulties – sources said that the big nuclear weapon countries were coming at the non-proliferation talks at a different angle than countries, like Ireland, that do not have a nuclear capability.

Ireland has a long history of campaigning for nuclear disarmament – in 1958 Ireland introduced at the UN the first of what became known as the “Irish Resolutions”.

This diplomatic campaign culminated in the adoption of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Ireland was the first country to sign the NPT in 1968.

Ireland was part of a group of states who lobbied for and negotiated a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017. This Treaty, the first of its kind, calls for a ban on the production, use and possession of nuclear weapons. 

One key aspect of Ireland’s latest campaign is the State’s support for research showing that there is a disproportionate impact on women and girls from nuclear weaponry.  

un-chinese-envoy-u-s-disarmament Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs Li Song speaks at the 10th Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the UN headquarters in New York on Aug. 5. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images


Ireland, like other countries, has developed a strategy for the talks and this will be led by the Department of Foreign Affairs team.

Key to that strategy, sources have said, is focus on the seven pillars of nuclear non-proliferation – these include an assurance of safe storage, handling and a continued reduction in weaponry and use. 

The team is centring its approach around a “reaffirmation” of all past commitments by nuclear weapon states to the “total elimination of their arsenals”, sources have said.   

“There must be a strengthened reference to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – this adds urgency for progress and is a way to further stigmatise nuclear use,” the source explained.

Security sources also said that the strategy is likely to focus on the development of a risk reduction package.

“This includes appropriate benchmarks and sufficient transparency to allow the involvement of non nuclear weapon states,” a source explained. 

This component of the negotiation is problematic and there will be a strong focus on ensuring that risk reduction is not presented as a substitute for progress on disarmament.

There will also be a mechanism developed whereby there will be an accountability component to monitor the implementation of the various agreements.

In her address to delegates at the beginning of the conference Minister for State Hildegarde Naughton recalled the threat of nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War.

“I am proud of Ireland’s role in the creation of the NPT, a major contribution to international peace and security. The NPT reminds us that even in the most dangerous of times, progress is not only needed but is possible.

“All States Parties have an obligation to work for a safer world for current and future generations; a world that does not include the spectre of nuclear weapons. I can assure you, President, Ireland is ready to play our part,” she said.  

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