Nuclear Weapons

2010 RevCon begins

05.03.10 | 4 min read | Text by Alicia Godsberg

by Alicia Godsberg

Today marked the opening of the 8th Review Conference to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations.  The general debate began today and will continue through Thursday, with an NGO presentation to the delegates this Friday to end the week.  Today’s plenary provided a few revelations from the U.S. and Indonesia that could impact the rest of the RevCon and the nuclear  nonproliferation and disarmament regime in general…

Speaking on behalf of the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that from today forward the U.S. would make public the size of its nuclear arsenal and the number of nuclear weapons it has dismantled since 1991.  This measure of transparency is meant to show the irreversible steps the U.S. is taking and has taken toward fulfilling its nuclear disarmament obligation enshrined in Article VI of the NPT (for more detail on this disclosure, see Hans Kristensen’s post).  In addition, Secretary Clinton announced that the administration, “will submit protocols to the United States Senate to ratify our participation in the nuclear-weapon-free zones that have been established in Africa and the South Pacific” (the Treaty of Pelindaba and the Treaty of Rarotonga), creating a long-sought legally binding obligation not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against those states.

Regarding a NWFZ in the Middle East, Secretary Clinton said the U.S. would, “reaffirm our commitment to the objective of a Middle East free of these weapons of mass destruction, and we are prepared to support practical measures that will move us toward achieving that objective.”  This is an important departure from previous language, in which this and previous administrations voiced their support for a NWFZ in the Middle East, but did not go as far as to say they would support any measures to that end.  The implementation of a NWFZ in the Middle East was a key “carrot” the U.S. and other nuclear weapon states parties used to secure the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, and the U.S. has been criticized by many states parties, especially in the Arab League, for its part in the overall lack of action to create of this NWFZ because of its relationship with Israel – one of only three  non-signatories to the NPT and a country known to have nuclear weapons (although Israel has never made this information officially public).

The last major revelation from the U.S. was that $50M was being committed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish a new initiative for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  This initiative will help states interested in nuclear power to develop the necessary infrastructure in a safe, secure, and proliferation-resistant manner.  The U.S. has been accused by many non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT of interfering with the exercising of the “inalienable right” to the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes enshrined in Article IV of the Treaty by putting non-Treaty specified restrictions on the export of certain nuclear technology, such as uranium enrichment and reprocessing technology, because of these technologies could be used to manufacture fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.  This new initiative is a way for the U.S. to continue to restrict sensitive technology while also promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy by funding technical cooperation with interested states parties and the IAEA.

These measures, along with the reduced role of nuclear weapons in the new NPR and the signing of the New START treaty with the Russian Federation, were touted by Secretary Clinton as concrete steps of the U.S. toward fulfilling its nuclear disarmament obligation enshrined in Article VI of the Treaty.  Many countries made mention of these positive developments in U.S. policy, but many also expressed disappointment at the continuation of nuclear deterrence in the security policies of nuclear weapon states parties (NWS) and the lack of implementation of commitments from previous RevCons, such as the implementation of the 13 practical steps toward nuclear disarmament and the implementation of a NWFZ in the Middle East.

The Foreign Minister of Indonesia announced that his country was taking steps to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and urged other states that had not done so to work for ratification.  Indonesia’s ratification of the CTBT is important, as it is one of 9 countries listed in annex II of that treaty that need to ratify before the CTBT can enter into force but have not yet done so.  The Indonesian Foreign Minister’s revelation was therefore significant, and will hopefully impact the decisions of the eight remaining hold-out nations, including the United States.  The Obama administration is already committed to working on ratification of the CTBT, but Senate advice and consent for ratification is not guaranteed.

For information on the civil society activities this past weekend in New York before the RevCon, see the FAS Development Blog.