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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 46, May 2000

Surviving the Storm: the NPT Regime after the 2000 Review Conference
By Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr.


The 2000 NPT Review Conference, the first since the indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995, was a major success despite a decidedly gloomy outlook beforehand. Three of the previous five Review Conferences had failed to produce a final document and, especially after the cantankerous Preparatory Committee meetings in 1997, 1998 and 1999, the 2000 Review Conference seemed likely to produce a similar result. But under the chairmanship of Conference President Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, the 155 States Parties present agreed to a consensus Final Document that reflects agreement on a surprisingly wide variety of issues and significantly strengthens the NPT regime. Also, the constructive diplomacy of the nuclear-weapon states and the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) in their negotiations is much to be commended.

Dark Clouds Looming

The atmosphere prior to the Review Conference was one dominated by a palpable sense of dissatisfaction among many of the non-nuclear-weapon states with what they viewed as the lack of progress by the nuclear-weapon states in reducing nuclear arsenals. Some expressed concern that the regime could not survive unless the nuclear-weapon states took steps to fulfill their NPT Article VI commitments to pursue nuclear disarmament. Shortly before the beginning of the Review Conference, for example, Egyptian Ambassador Fayza Aboulnaga, reflecting the view of many, remarked that without disarmament progress "'the NPT regime could crumble", and Switzerland's Alec Jean Baer suggested that rather than "trying to fix a system getting increasingly out of date, we should have the courage to start afresh."1

Statements such as these were of concern for two reasons: first, because the delicate balance which forms the basis of the NPT regime is one that, should the Treaty ever be dismantled, could never be reestablished and, second, because of the central importance of the problem the regime is designed to confront. As President Chirac of France, Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany noted in their October 1999 New York Times opinion piece, "as we look to the next century, our greatest concern is proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and chiefly nuclear proliferation. We have to face the stark truth that nuclear proliferation remains the major threat to world safety."2 The most important weapon in the battle against this threat is the NPT regime, so it seems logical that the NPT, and indeed bolstering the regime, be central elements of international security. Thus, it was of great significance that the NPT States Parties reaffirmed their commitment to the Treaty and took further steps at the 2000 Review Conference to strengthen the regime.

Unfulfilled Commitments

Ambassador Baali was correct to note in his closing remarks that the results of the Review Conference "should be seen against the background of prevailing political circumstances". In 1995 at the NPT Review and Extension Conference, the Treaty parties negotiated the Statement of Principles and Objectives on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which laid out a number of objectives, the achievement of which would ensure a strong and effective NPT regime for the future. These included, among others, universalization of NPT membership, a reaffirmation of the Article VI commitments of the nuclear-weapon states to pursue in good faith measures related to eventual nuclear disarmament, the completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the end of 1996, the commencement of negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty, efforts by the nuclear-weapon states to reduce global nuclear arsenals, the encouragement of the creation of new nuclear-weapon-free zones, an enhanced verification system, and further steps to assure the non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons (which meant legally binding negative security assurances).

The five-year period after the indefinite extension of the NPT, however, witnessed several setbacks to the regime, including the nuclear tests in South Asia, the rejection of the CTBT by the US Senate, and what the international community largely regards as a likely conclusion by the Clinton Administration to announce a plan for deployment of a national missile defense that might require the violation or abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty - which would negatively affect the NPT. Moreover, the 1995 Statement of Principles and Objectives to an important degree remains to be implemented. The Russian Duma's ratification of START II and the CTBT are significant steps forward, but the entry into force of both treaties remains far off. START II will return to the US Senate where it is likely to get caught up in the debate on national missile defense and, in any respect, the levels currently being considered for START III are only modestly lower than those initially proposed by Russia for START II. Indeed, there have been no negotiated reductions in nuclear weapons since 1993.

As for the CTBT, while it was indeed negotiated and opened for signature by 1996, Duma action notwithstanding it has yet to enter into force and seems unlikely to in the near future. To date, only 28 of the 44 states required for its entry into force have ratified the Treaty (Russia will be the 29th once it formally submits its instruments of ratification) and of the 44, three (India, Pakistan, North Korea) have yet to even sign it. The situation is worsened by the fact that there has been no progress since 1995 toward providing all NPT non-nuclear-weapon state parties with legally binding negative security assurances, and, with the exception of China, all of the nuclear-weapon states and NATO maintain policies that reserve the option of introducing nuclear weapons into future conflicts, potentially inconsistent with the 1995 negative security assurances which were essential to the indefinite extension of the NPT and remain central to its continuing viability. Thus, the prevailing political circumstances suggested that the regime was in serious trouble heading into the 2000 Review Conference in April.

Reversing Course: the 2000 Final Document

Against this backdrop, the Final Document produced by the NPT States Parties in New York at the Review Conference indeed represents a major step forward. Like the 1995 Statement of Principles and Objectives, the 2000 Document emphasizes key objectives to be pursued during the period before the next Review Conference in 2005. While many of these objectives are the same as those included in 1995, changes in the language used demonstrate important additional commitments by the nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states alike that indicate growing recognition of the central importance of the NPT regime. For example, in calling for universalization of the Treaty, the 2000 Final Document lists by name the four states, including Israel, who are not Treaty parties, something which was not possible in 1995.

Among the areas in which the Review Conference made the most progress was on the critical issue of the nuclear-weapons states' Article VI commitments. The Final Document recognizes unilateral undertakings in recent years by nuclear-weapons states to reduce their nuclear arsenals (principally those of France and the United Kingdom) but notes that US and Russian stockpiles remain too high and urges further progress in the START process. It also includes the much-publicized agreement to an "unequivocal undertaking" by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Adopting language proposed by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), this commitment includes none of the usual references to "ultimate" or "general and complete" disarmament, which in the past have limited or conditioned the undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to pursue nuclear weapon elimination. The achievement of total nuclear disarmament is not given a time frame and is of course some time off, but the most important immediate contribution of this language is that it somewhat reduces the political significance of nuclear weapons because it indicates that nuclear weapons, including those possessed by the nuclear-weapon states, are a temporary phenomenon.

The Final Document reflects agreement among all NPT States Parties on the need to reduce tactical nuclear weapons, increase transparency by the nuclear-weapon states with regard to nuclear weapon capabilities and reductions, and engage all the nuclear-weapon states in a five-power nuclear disarmament negotiation leading toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The latter is crucial to meeting the long-term objective of the NPT, achieving an eventual nuclear-weapon-free world. On an intimately related issue, the States Parties also called for "the further development of the verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world". The Final Document also includes agreement on the need to establish an appropriate subsidiary body in the Conference on Disarmament to deal with nuclear disarmament, something long resisted by the nuclear-weapon states.

Another important agreement reached at this Review Conference is that all States Parties, including the United States, agreed in the Final Document that the ABM Treaty must be preserved and strengthened as the "cornerstone of strategic stability". This language is the same as that in the 1997 Helsinki Agreement on further nuclear arms reductions and, while its precise interpretation differs among the NPT parties, it is clear that the Final Document makes maintenance of the ABM Treaty an NPT-related commitment. Put another way, pursuant to the Final Document, abrogation of or withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would be contrary to an NPT-related undertaking.

Also of note, with respect to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the 2000 Final Document calls for the completion of such a treaty within five years. This is the only obligation in the Final Document assigned a specific timetable for completion, as was the case with the CTBT in 1995, demonstrating a renewed commitment among the parties to negotiate such a Treaty. Since India and Pakistan are both members of the CD, which has been charged with negotiating the FMCT, meeting this deadline could be a challenge, but the important point is that there is consensus on this objective among the NPT parties, virtually the entire world.

On security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states, the Final Document, with the agreement of all the parties, explicitly stresses the importance of legally binding negative security assurances and requests recommendations on this issue by the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference. It notes the July 1996 Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, adding additional gravitas to this important document, and includes agreement among the parties on the need for a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons would ever be used. The latter is a reference to nuclear doctrine and the desirability of its modification in the post-Cold War world.

The Parties also urged the nuclear-weapon states to sign and ratify the relevant protocols to agreements establishing nuclear weapon free zones. These protocols provide legally binding protection against attack or threat of attack with nuclear weapons to the more than ninety states in nuclear-weapon-free zones in Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific. The Final Document urges the nuclear-weapon states to secure the "few lacking ratifications" of the protocols of the treaties of Raratonga (for the South Pacific) and Pelindaba (for Africa). The United States is the only nuclear-weapon state that has not ratified the protocols to these two nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties.

The Final Document emphasizes the central role played by nuclear-weapon-free zone arrangements in preventing proliferation. If we include the Treaty of Bangkok (which as yet does not have the support of the nuclear-weapon states because of Law of the Sea issues but pursuant to which the Conference notes consultations have been accelerated) in Southeast Asia, some 110 nations, collectively encompassing the land area of the Southern Hemisphere, are members of nuclear-weapon-free zones. The NPT States Parties urged the completion of new zones, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East. The parties reaffirmed the importance of the 1995 Middle East Resolution to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and encouraged the states of the region to pursue vigorously a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in their region. The significance attached to this issue is evidenced by the fact that the States Parties requested that the nuclear-weapon states and the states in the region report to the 2005 Review Conference and the preceding Preparatory Committee meetings on the steps taken to achieve such a zone.

With regard to the CTBT, the parties agreed to press for the early entry into force of the Treaty, and - of central importance - agreed to a moratorium on nuclear weapon tests pending CTBT entry into force. Thus, were any NPT state party to conduct nuclear explosive tests in the future it would be contrary to the NPT regime. Also, in noting Indian and Pakistani pledges to sign the CTBT, the Conference urged them to do so. By referencing UN Security Council Resolution 1172, the NPT States Parties once more strongly condemned India and Pakistan for their May 1998 nuclear tests, declared that the tests do not in any way confer nuclear-weapon state status upon either nation and urged them to join the NPT. Additionally, the States Parties made clear that "in accordance with Article IX, States not currently States Parties may accede to the Treaty only as non-nuclear-weapon States." Finally, in a rebuke of Indian criticisms of the NPT and CTBT, namely that these are discriminatory regimes, the Final Document emphasises that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing.


The most important accomplishment of the Review Conference, however, is independent of any of the specific items included in the Final Document - it is the consensus reached among the 155 NPT parties present at the Review Conference on the great importance and the value of the NPT regime as well as on a wide variety of related issues. The parties reaffirmed the 1995 Statement of Principles and added a number of new obligations. Among the most important of these additional undertakings are the unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons, the moratorium on nuclear testing pending entry into force of the CTBT, the linkage between preservation of the ABM Treaty and the NPT regime, and the call for a five power nuclear disarmament process. All of these and other new undertakings are now NPT-related obligations agreed to by all the parties.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the progress made at the 2000 Review Conference is the tone of the comments by delegates in the days after. Ambassador Antonio de Icaza of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the NAC at the closing of the Conference, noted that "today's events signify an important landmark on which to build a nuclear-weapons-free world… We leave this conference with greater faith in the prospects for nuclear disarmament." Similarly, Kofi Annan remarked that the Final Document "marks a significant step forward in humanity's pursuit of a more peaceful world, a world free of nuclear dangers". Statements such as these stand in stark contrast to gloomy language that preceded the Conference. Undoubtedly there is much progress to be made in the coming years, but without question the work of the Conference and the Final Document have significantly strengthened the NPT regime for the foreseeable future.

Notes and References

1. Quoted in Brahma Chellaney, "A Tough Review For A Frail Treaty", International Herald Tribune, April 26, 2000.

2. Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder, "A Treaty We All Need," New York Times, October 8, 1999.

Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., is President of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security (LAWS). From 1994-97, he was President Clinton's Special Representative for Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, and led the US delegation to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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