Successful Conference: Now Words into Actions (Briefing No. 18)

21 May 2004
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports back to the acronym home page Calendar UN/CD NPT/IAEA UK NATO US Space/BMD CTBT BWC CWC WMD Possessors About Acronym Links Glossary

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Successful Conference: Now Words into Actions
By Rebecca Johnson

Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 18, May 20, 2000, including the Conference Agreement on a Programme of Action (Next Steps) on Nuclear Disarmament

The President of the Sixth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, finally brought his gavel down on the adoption of a final document containing the consensus views and objectives of representatives of the Treaty's 187 parties on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Despite being more than 24 hours later than scheduled following several sessions that extended deep into the night, there was applause and relief that the NPT review conference, the first since the Treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995, had ended so well. The successful conclusion was viewed as a triumph for the non-nuclear weapon states (especially the New Agenda Coalition of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden) who had effectively pushed through an unequivocal undertaking and next steps on nuclear disarmament, and for the Conference President, whose determination to produce a success, refusal to give up, and personal style of (exhausting) management forced opposing sides to deal with each other and compromise -- or miss their planes and another night's sleep!

The clock had to be stopped at ten to midnight on Friday May 19, as diplomats continued to struggle to resolve the stand-off between the United States and Iraq over how to describe Iraq's non-compliance under the Treaty. In addition to assessing the implementation of the Treaty over the past five years, the Conference adopted an important agreement on practical next steps for nuclear disarmament, which had been negotiated between the five nuclear weapon states (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) and the key group of 'New Agenda' non-nuclear weapon countries from Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and Europe. Because of long-standing disagreements between the nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states over the fulfilment of disarmament obligations, previous Conferences since 1985 were unable to gather consensus to adopt their final documents. The 2000 Review Conference's achievement is all the more remarkable for taking place at a time of impasse in the disarmament field and deep political divisions between some of the nuclear powers, especially over the ABM Treaty and NATO expansion.

Much has been riding on this Conference, as there has been a growing sense that the non-nuclear weapon states may have given away their leverage in 1995 when they agreed to the indefinite extension of the Treaty in return for principles and objectives on non-proliferation and disarmament, and a strengthened review process. It was therefore fitting that the President of the 1995 NPT Conference, Jayantha Dhanapala, now UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament, should be seated next to the 2000 President, Abdallah Baali, when the gavel came down on this substantive set of agreements. Though much remains to be done, this Conference has shown what can be achieved when the tools of increased accountability provided in 1995 are effectively employed.

Nevertheless, though the agreements on disarmament may be regarded as a breakthrough, they must be measured against what was missing from the Conference. Politically, this was a lost opportunity to address the proliferation dangers inherent in US plans to deploy national (ballistic) missile defences, and to send a strong message to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament to stop haggling and get down to negotiating and concluding a ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons (fissban). Both issues, of great importance to the non-nuclear weapon states and some of the nuclear states, were swept under the carpet by the early agreement among the nuclear powers of a P-5 statement. In effect, the United States sold out its allies by agreeing to China's demand to link the fissban with a CD programme of work, knowing that in China's view such a programme would have to include an ad hoc committee