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THE THREE-WAY SPLIT ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The EU is a microcosm of the nuclear weapons regime. As such, it presaged its failure

by Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm (Voltaire Promotion)


The international community failed to reach agreement on the state of play of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) at its five-yearly review conference that concluded at the end of May. Four weeks of negotiations yielded no consensus outcome.

Did the EU’s role at the conference live up to its ambitions? The Union is often regarded as a “civilian power”, and should be well positioned to pursue goals such as nonproliferation and disarmament. It is structurally less prone to impose its will than unified nation-states, and less likely to use military force than most of the ‘big powers’ in today’s multipolar world. It therefore enjoys a higher degree of credibility when championing human rights, conflict resolution, and disarmament.

The EEAS has been highly successful at complementing Member States’ diplomatic services. In spite of the requirement of unanimity on foreign policy issues, in multilateral forums such as the United Nations the EU does find agreement on the vast majority of files. Compared to the rest of the world, EU members do share the same values and interests, and where they do not, the file may not be important enough for any single member to withhold their acquiescent consent. But the contentious topics are the ones grabbing the headlines, often making the EU appear as a divided bunch, e.g. on military action, Middle East politics and Russia sanctions.

And nowhere is the EU as divided as on nuclear weapons. In spite of its inherent ease with multilateral negotiations and multi-level bargaining, the EU dramatically failed in its ambition to play a constructive role at the 2015 NPT conference.

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