Analysis: Is Past Prologue? Examining NPT Review Conference Commitments

A paper published under the auspices of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

By Tariq Rauf

The international nuclear arms control community will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 5 March 2020. Yet, the more significant anniversary will fall on 11 May—the date in 1995 when the NPT was rendered of indefinite duration. Few would have thought that a quarter century later the commitments on nuclear disarmament made in connection with indefinite extension in 1995 would be called into question and the slate swept clean of follow-on commitments agreed in 2000 and 2010 in the framework of the Treaty’s quinquennial review conferences. Fortunately, the commitments made regarding peaceful uses of nuclear energy, safeguards, security and safety remain in place as generally these have not been too controversial and have been implemented to a significant degree.

By all accounts the NPT has been a phenomenal success in its principal objective of preventing further proliferation of States with nuclear weapons—only one NPT non-nuclear-weapon (NNWS) State has broken out to acquire nuclear weapons. India, Israel and Pakistan never signed the Treaty, remain outliers as each went on to develop, test and deploy nuclear weapons. South Sudan, established in 2011, has yet to accede to the NPT. Four out of the five nuclear-weapon-free zones came about under the NPT.

Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine acceded to the Treaty as NNWS after renouncing Soviet nuclear weapons left behind in their territories. Argentina and Brazil gave up military nuclear programmes, established a mutual nuclear verification system with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and joined the NPT. South Africa unilaterally dismantled its handful of nuclear weapons and acceded to the Treaty.

The five nuclear-weapon States (NWS) party to the NPT hold themselves accountable for their nuclear weapon policies only under the NPT review process and in no other forum. It must be recognized that the Russian Federation and the United States each have reduced their respective nuclear weapon arsenals by more than 80% over their Cold War heights, yet they still hold some 90% of the nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons in existence today. The United States remains the only NWS with land-based nuclear weapons deployed outside its territory—about 180 in five NATO NNWS. France and the United Kingdom have capped their arsenals (with France being the only NWS to have destroyed its nuclear test site and production facilities for weapons- grade nuclear materials). All five NWS have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) albeit China and the United States are hold outs as regards ratification and holding up entry-into-force.

In this era where the foundations of Cold War nuclear arms control are being cast aside in favour of unilateral renunciation of negotiated treaties, undermining of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and breakdown of habits of civilized dialogue, the NPT stands as one of the last stalwarts of an international legal order that holds the five NWS accountable for disarmament and 186 NNWS accountable for the non-diversion of their nuclear activities from peaceful to weapons purposes through safeguards (verification) implemented by the IAEA.

Dark clouds hover over the prospects of an agreed substantive review this year of the implementation of the NPT during 2015-2020, and an agreed set of measures to be implemented during 2020-2025, to promote the full implementation of the Treaty across its three pillars (nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and peaceful uses). The present international environment is not conducive to rallying States behind a common position on nuclear disarmament. In addition, many delegates taking part in the NPT review process are not up to speed on the modalities of the strengthened review process for the Treaty agreed in 1995 and clarified in 2000. They unfairly blame the review process for their inability to make the required political compromises to achieve consensus outcomes at quinquennial review conferences and their preparatory committees.

This paper discusses the commitments undertaken by States Parties in the consensually agreed outcomes of the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT review conferences, especially as they relate to nuclear disarmament pursuant to article VI of the Treaty, and makes recommendations for their follow-up at the 2020 NPT Review Conference. It also will touch upon possible ways in which States Parties could produce an agreed outcome and in what format, as well on the practice of seeking “consensus” on the outcome documents as required under rule 28.1 of the Rules of Procedure.

Read on and download the full paper by Tariq Rauf here.

Tariq Rauf, board member of Atomic Reporters, has attended all nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings since 1987 as a delegate, including as senior adviser to the chair of Main Committee I (nuclear disarmament) in 2015 and to the chair of the 2014 preparatory committee; as alternate head of the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation to the NPT; and as a non-proliferation expert with the Canadian delegation from 1987. Personal views are expressed here.