Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 11:38 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 11:38 | SYDNEY

NPT Review Conference wrap-up


Fiona Cunningham

1 June 2010 15:20

After a month of deliberations at the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT RevCon), ending last Friday, the international community appears to have diagnosed the condition of the non-proliferation regime as 'serious but stable'.

'Stable' because there has been concrete progress towards disarmament by the nuclear weapon states under the treaty, upholding their end of what has become the pre-eminent bargain of the NPT, that non-nuclear weapon states would not acquire their own nuclear weapons, provided that nuclear weapon states disarm.

'Serious' largely because the pace and extent of disarmament has disappointed, and the Treaty's lack of universality undermines its effectiveness in achieving its non-proliferation and disarmament goals.

That diagnosis, evident from the final document adopted by consensus, led governments, civil society and international organisations to breathe a collective sigh of relief — the previous RevCon failed to produce a final document, leaving a cloud of uncertainty and pessimism over the international non-proliferation regime.

The Australian Government's optimistic evaluation of the Conference outcome reflects sentiment internationally that the non-proliferation regime is looking forward to a healthier, more active and constructive five-year period before the next RevCon.

Sixty-four action points are included in the final document, with disarmament coming first. But despite this admirable set of recommendations, nuclear weapon states will continue to disarm at a pace and to the extent they are comfortable with, as shown by their successful removal of a time frame for disarmament from earlier drafts of the final document.

But at least the nuclear weapon states are inside the tent – what really threatens the health of the non-proliferation regime are those states outside the NPT (or with a foot in and a foot out).

The final document fails to provide any creative solutions to the problems of Iran's non-compliance within the treaty, North Korea's departure from it, and Indian, Israeli and Pakistani exclusion from it.

Starting with Pakistan and India, calling on all non-members to accede to the treaty as non-weapons states is clearly unacceptable to the South Asian powers and further alienates them from the non-proliferation regime. Calling on North Korea to re-join the treaty and support the Six-Party Talks will do little to bring it back into the tent.

Similarly, persistent calls for states to comply with their treaty obligations is the nearest the document gets to mentioning Iran – no new measures for treaty enforcement are mentioned. Israel is the only NPT outsider whose status is met with concrete measures to bring it into the regime, though this is by no means a new, creative solution – a conference to be held in 2012 to pave the way towards a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

While the NPT regime has been strengthened by the RevCon and its grand bargain is an essential factor in preventing proliferation and encouraging disarmament, the Conference highlights the inability of the treaty to deal with the major problems that threaten the existence of the non-proliferation regime. If NPT members really want to see their non-proliferation goals achieved, they will need to seek universality of the non-proliferation regime outside of the treaty itself.

The successful RevCon has created confidence in the non-proliferation regime between NPT members. They should use that confidence to approach solutions to proliferation problems outside the treaty with the weight of international consensus behind them, rather than trying to universalise a treaty that is too rigid to accommodate the complex proliferation problems posed by India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and even Iran.

If the most that can be done within the framework of the NPT is to provide for a conference to discuss a Middle East WMD-free zone, NPT member states need to build measures outside the NPT for enforcement of non-proliferation obligations and to deal with the nuclear arsenals of non-member states.

The Nuclear Reactions column is supported by the Nuclear Security Project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, as part of a wider partnership between the NSP and the Lowy Institute. 

Photo by Flickr user roujo, used under a Creative Commons license.