Zia Mian addresses the First Meeting of State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna.

SPIA Researchers Named to Pioneering U.N. Nuclear Treaty Scientific Advisory Group

Jun 05 2023
By Tom Durso
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Three members of the Program on Science and Global Security (SGS) in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs have been appointed to the newly launched Scientific Advisory Group of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

SGS co-director Zia Mian, associate research scholar Sébastien Philippe Ph.D. ’18 and visiting researcher Moritz Kütt are among the 15 founding members of the Group, which held its initial meeting in March. At the meeting, Mian was elected co-chair of the Group’s first year of work.

The Scientific Advisory Group is the first international scientific body created by a United Nations treaty process for the purpose of advancing nuclear disarmament. The TPNW is a comprehensive prohibition on the development, possession, hosting, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons. It creates a shared internationally agreed framework for verified disarmament by nuclear-armed states were they to decide to join the treaty.

“Scientists have played a central role in designing, developing, building, testing, maintaining, and modernizing nuclear weapons, but throughout the nuclear age scientists also have sought to use their training and knowledge to help explain nuclear dangers and to help chart a path to nuclear disarmament,” Mian said. “Now, as part of the TPNW process, scientists can provide advice and assistance in the great shared endeavor to lift the nuclear shadow over humankind.”

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly authorized negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons; a year later, 122 countries agreed the treaty. Mian and other SGS researchers were among the handful of scientists invited to present to the delegates at the 2017 negotiation conference. In 2019, in an article in the Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, Mian, Philippe, and Tamara Patton Ph.D. ’21 proposed a dedicated scientific and technical advisory body for TPNW.

The First Meeting of State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was held last June in Vienna, and was presided over by Austrian diplomat Amb. Alexander Kmentt. Mian and his colleagues provided briefings to diplomats and officials leading up to the meeting. Based on work done together with Mian, Kütt presented analysis to support setting treaty deadlines for removing nuclear weapons from operational status and destroying them as well as a deadline for the removal of such weapons from host states.

“The verification of nuclear disarmament is a challenging task and has mostly relied on expertise in nuclear-armed states,” Kütt said. “By supporting TPNW member states, scientists can help states that have rejected these weapons participate more effectively in nuclear disarmament verification processes.”

At the meeting, Mian reiterated the case for a formal scientific advisory process for treaty states. The states approved the establishment of the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) shortly afterward.

“The SAG will provide scientific expertise to the TPNW on requests regarding all matters and developments that are of relevance for the implementation of the treaty,” Kmentt said “What is more, the SAG has the mandate to actively engage on these matters with the scientific community and wherever relevant expertise exists. This broad mandate is intended to lead to enhanced capacity and increased engagement by a wide set of stakeholders.”

Mian, Philippe, Kütt, and the other members of the group were nominated by TPNW states and then appointed by Amb. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the U.N. and the president of the Second Meeting of TPNW State Parties, in consultation with the treaty states.

“As president of the Second Meeting, and as a representative of one of the longtime supporters of the prohibition of nuclear weapons, it was most satisfying that the First Meeting of State Parties in 2022 agreed on the creation of the Scientific Advisory Group,” de la Fuente said. “The Group will be crucial to provide information and analysis on the status and developments regarding nuclear weapons and the risks associated to these weapons and their humanitarian consequences, among others.”

While the end of the Cold War fostered optimism that the nuclear threat might diminish, more recent events – including U.S. and Russian withdrawal from long-standing arms control treaties, China’s nuclear build-up, nuclear arsenal modernization by the nine nuclear-armed states, and Russian nuclear threats in the context of its war against Ukraine – have provided a grim reminder otherwise.

“SGS scientists supported the dramatic measures that helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race,” said Frank von Hippel, who co-founded SGS in 1974 and is now a professor emeritus. “It is gratifying to see a new generation of SGS scientists and collaborators in other countries playing a similar role advising the effort to achieve a total prohibition of nuclear weapons.”

Speaking at a public lecture at SPIA last November, Kmentt pointed out, “All of us need to realize with utmost urgency that the nuclear weapons issue is back as a central and existential threat to the survival of humanity. It is a clear and present danger to all our societies and all humanity.”

Photo caption: Zia Mian addresses the First Meeting of State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna.