This page was archived on October 2020.


Key elements of the international system

11 - European policy on non-proliferation and the arms trade

Grade: C
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 2/5
Total 8/20
Scorecard 2012: B (13/20)
Scorecard 2013: B- (11/20)
Scorecard 2014: A- (16/20)
Scorecard 2015: A- (16/20)

The EU’s differences over disarmament were made embarrassingly public, including at a nuclear non-proliferation conference

The Iran deal was a clear success for European diplomacy on nuclear issues, but the EU faced significant splits over disarmament, on which there is no EU foreign policy consensus.

In May, the regular five-yearly Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in New York became a platform for intra-European disagreements, as Austria tabled a call for progress towards eliminating all nuclear weapons, garnering support from 159 countries. Many EU countries failed to sign up, including France, the UK, and other NATO members.

The conference was ultimately undermined by a push from Arab countries for an urgent summit to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East. This was largely designed to embarrass Israel, and the US, UK, and Canada refused to accept it. In the absence of consensus, the conference produced no outcome document. This may have been a relief for Finland, which had been trying to facilitate the proposed meeting since the previous NPT review, with little success.

By contrast, technical work on the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty – a shared priority for EU members in recent years – moved forward in 2015, with an agreement to establish the secretariat in Geneva. Debates on chemical weapons continued in the Security Council, centring on evidence of the repeated use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia demonstrated greater flexibility on this issue than in the past, eventually agreeing to an investigatory mechanism to determine responsibility for these incidents. This was, however, largely negotiated bilaterally between Russia and the US as part of wider efforts by Washington to ease tensions.

Cyber issues featured increasingly prominently in arms control debates. The UK and China agreed to ban commercial hacking, and Berlin is working on a similar deal with Beijing. However, a robust multilateral framework against cyber-attacks remains a remote prospect for the time being.