Nuclear Weapons

NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document

06.02.10 | 6 min read | Text by Alicia Godsberg

by Alicia Godsberg

The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues.  While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals.

The delegation of the United States worked tirelessly in the months preceding the Review Conference (RevCon) and at the Conference itself to advance the agenda President Obama outlined in his Prague speech last April.  To that end, the U.S. made great strides in transparency by de-classifying the number of nuclear weapons in the stockpile, announced the administration would seek the ratification of two nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) treaty protocols, reaffirmed the administration’s desire to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), highlighted the signing of the New START agreement, and announced a new negative security assurance (NSA) policy meant to decrease the salience of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy.  In addition, the U.S. engaged in difficult behind-the-scenes negotiations with Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group) to ensure there would be an acceptable compromise on the issue of a NWFZ in the Middle East, an issue that threatened to block consensus from the outset of the Conference.

These are all welcome achievements, but unfortunately there is still a large gap between what nuclear weapon states parties (NWS) and non-nuclear weapon states parties (NNWS) see as progress and as important in terms of the Treaty.  Nowhere is this gap wider than in perceptions about nuclear disarmament and the fulfillment of the obligation to work toward negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament found in Article VI of the NPT.  While some NWS point to unilateral and bilateral reductions in their arsenals, agreement to seek the security of a nuclear weapon-free world, and qualified negative security assurances as good faith efforts toward progress on nuclear disarmament, the vast majority of the world – represented by NNWS – view these measures as incremental at best, leading down a long path toward nuclear disarmament for an unspecified amount of time, during which nuclear weapons are still wielded as instruments of power and coercion.  Much like the issue of the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, in which Israel signals that progress cannot be made until a comprehensive peace is achieved in the region but the Arab States say comprehensive peace in the region cannot be achieved until there is progress on creating the NWFZ, such diametrically opposed viewpoints not only make compromise difficult, but also leave the sides without a common understanding from which to even begin trying.

There was however some good news in terms of progress on implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.  In that Resolution, the 1995 Review and Extension Conference reaffirmed the importance of universal adherence to the NPT and called for the taking of practical steps to establish an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.  This Resolution was meant to address concerns over Israel, a regional state that has an undeclared nuclear weapons program and is not a party to the NPT.  The indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 was made possible partly because of the inclusion of this Resolution on the Middle East in the Final Document of the Review and Extension Conference, but since then no progress has been made on its implementation.

Finally in 2010 there was a small breakthrough; in the action plan of the Final Document a plan was endorsed to address implementing the Resolution.  This plan includes the convening of a Conference in 2012 by the United Nations Secretary-General and the co-sponsors of the Resolution (Russia, U.S. and U.K.) to be attended by all States of the Middle East on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the region.  In addition, the convening parties will appoint a Facilitator to support implementation of the 1995 Resolution by conducting consultations with the States of the region and preparing for the convening of the Conference.  The Facilitator will also assist in implementing follow-on steps agreed by the participating regional States and report to the 2015 Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee meetings.  These measures were the minimum Egypt and the other Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Arab States required in order to not block consensus at the RevCon.  While the U.S. and Egypt worked hard to get compromise language on this issue, the U.S. now must assert great pressure on Israel to attend the upcoming Conference, participation in which the Israeli government has already rejected.  Failure to convene this Conference with Israel in attendance could be the final straw that breaks the NPT in 2015.

The need to make substantive progress on nuclear disarmament was at the front of the agenda of the NNWS at this RevCon.  Many commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 Conferences to that end have yet to be fulfilled, and several NNWS – backed by civil society in attendance – pushed for the inclusion of a time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament, such as a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), to be included in the Final Document.  While the Final Document did include some reference to this idea in the review section,[i] the language only “notes” new proposals and initiatives for a nuclear weapon-free world, which in “UN-speak” is a lesser endorsement than if these proposals and initiatives had been “welcomed.”  The Final Document also “notes” the UN Secretary-General’s Five Point Plan for Nuclear Disarmament that includes consideration of negotiating a NWC or “agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification,” and “affirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, which a majority of States parties believe should include specified timelines.”  This language is strongly diluted from previous Committee drafts that called for the negotiation of a NWC or other nuclear disarmament agreements within a specified timeframe.  Here again differences in interpretation become apparent, as the U.S. has stated that it is indeed engaging in such negotiations of “separate mutually reinforcing instruments” by pursuing ratification of the CTBT and the New START.  While many NNWS expressed appreciation for these efforts, they certainly do not view these steps as progress toward the irreversible and verifiable total elimination of nuclear weapons, to which the NWS made an “unequivocal commitment” in 2000 and which they reaffirmed at this RevCon.

It is encouraging that Action 1 of the Final Document states: All States parties commit to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons. This blog would be much longer if I pointed out every instance in which States parties agreed or committed to certain actions that some currently contradict with their behavior, both NWS and NNWS.  However, aspirations are important because they direct future good faith efforts and provide a measure to which States parties can be held accountable.  The U.S. delegation has been telling civil society just that for the months leading up to and at the RevCon – judge us in 2015 on what we will have accomplished that we set out to do here in 2010.  Let’s hope this administration has the weight to do what they say they want to do and we don’t end up right back where we started 5 years from now.

[i] Action 82: The Conference “notes the new proposals and initiatives from Governments and civil society related to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons… [and] notes the proposals for nuclear disarmament of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to inter alia consider negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification.”

Action 83: “The Conference affirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, which a majority of States parties believe should include specified timelines.”