Go to Home Page
  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Review Conference, April 24, 2000

The 2000 Review Conference on the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(April 24-May 19, 2000)

Breifing From the Acronym Institute- April 24 2000
2000 NPT Briefing # 1

Testing the NPT

By Rebecca Johnson, The Acronym Institute

The Sixth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear

Printer Friendly

See Also
2000 NPT Index

Weapons (NPT) opens at the United Nations in New York on April 24, 2000. The Treaty now has 187 members, of which five were designated 'nuclear weapon states' in 1968. At that time, those five promised to negotiate in good faith to end the arms race and move towards nuclear disarmament. The 182 parties designated 'non-nuclear weapon states', promised not to acquire nuclear weapons. A significant number of these countries had pursued nuclear ambitions and programmes, which they gave up when they joined the NPT. At least two NPT parties -- Iraq and North Korea -- are known to have violated their Treaty obligations and safeguards agreements. In recent years a handful of others have also been the subject of accusations of cheating, as yet unproved. Of the four states remaining outside the Treaty, three -- India, Israel and Pakistan -- have nuclear weapon capabilities, although there are conflicting reports about whether these three have produced actual weapons, and if so, how many.

Most people in the world do not know what the NPT is. But they have heard of nuclear weapons, and of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where nuclear bombs were used in 1945. The NPT came about because of the fear in the 1960s that the spread of nuclear weapons would lead to nuclear war, which would cause unspeakable suffering to millions and could result in nuclear winter and the destruction and poisoning of the earth. Contrary to appearances, the negotiators of the NPT did not decide that five nuclear powers were enough. In essence, the Treaty says that five nuclear powers are five too many, but it did not give a target date for eliminating existing arsenals. In 1995, the states parties identified a programme of action for nuclear disarmament, giving a target date for completion of the CTBT. Because the goal enshrined in Article VI of the NPT is not nuclear arms control but nuclear disarmament, many more states will want to discuss and identify the next steps to be worked on over the next five years, perhaps with target dates.

The importance of collective non-proliferation commitments was underlined in 1995 when the NPT was indefinitely extended together with decisions on strengthening the review process and Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, and a Resolution on the Middle East. Indefinite extension was hard fought, not because some countries wanted to shorten or get rid of the NPT, but because states disagreed about how best to ensure its full implementation. In view of how little disarmament had been accomplished until the last few years of the original 25-year duration, many pushed for some kind of conditions, framework or roadmap to identify next steps and exert international pressure for accountability and further progress, especially on the nuclear powers.

The 2000 Review Conference will have to decide how well the Treaty has been functioning during the past five years. According to the 1995 decisions, the Conference must also look forward and identify ways and means to strengthen the non-proliferation regime further. For most, this task includes discussing and agreeing on next steps, especially to bring about nuclear disarmament among the five defined nuclear weapon states and the three remaining outside the NPT.

The NPT is the foundation stone for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, but it is not perfect. Thirty years on, its commitment to promoting nuclear power seems a dangerous anachronism to the many people who have become concerned about radiation dangers and nuclear waste, accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the proliferation link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. But without the Treaty, it is likely that many more countries would have acquired nuclear weapons over the past three decades. There is no contradiction in wanting to reinforce the universality and validity of its provisions on non-proliferation and disarmament while believing that the negotiators got it wrong on nuclear energy. In discussions about the 2000 Review Conference, there has been much focus on the problems and procedures. How difficult will it be to obtain consensus on a review document? Should there be a separate decision on Principles and Objectives for 2000 and beyond? Will there be agreement on subsidiary bodies on nuclear disarmament, as proposed by over 100 members of the Movement of Non-Aligned States (NAM), or on the Middle East, as proposed by Egypt and the Arab States; and if so, what will such bodies do? Does the review process need to be reworked? Is it time for the NPT to have an executive council or secretariat of some kind, with annual meetings of States Parties, such as are found in other treaties?

To most of the world, it does not matter whether NPT members adopt one, two or any number of documents. Come May 19, people will want to know if it is going to be harder for individuals or countries to buy, make, keep, deploy or use nuclear weapons. That will be the real test of the 2000 NPT Conference.

Where do we stand now? As a result of the problems with Iraq, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has negotiated additional protocols to the safeguards mandated in Article III of the NPT, with wider provisions covering undeclared facilities and more effective inspections. So far, the rate of signature and ratification of the Additional Protocols has been abysmal, with only 49 additional protocols approved, of which 48 have been signed and only 9 have entered into force. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was concluded in 1996, as required in the 1995 decisions (and nearly 30 years after it had been called for in the NPT's preamble). But despite more than 156 signatories, prospects for the CTBT's entry into force are precarious. In a late and welcome move, the Russian Duma has overwhelmingly voted for ratification, thus joining Britain, France and over 50 others. But the US Senate threw CTBT ratification out in 1999, and India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to sign.

Despite being identified as a key objective of NPT parties in 1995, the Conference on Disarmament has failed to get started on negotiating a ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan and Israel are still producing plutonium and enriched uranium and are very happy to contribute to the CD delays. Meanwhile, the existing nuclear powers have enough to keep recycling into new weapons. By the time a fissban is negotiated will it be too late? What can NPT parties do to get a cut-off treaty and move on for a wider ban that will contribute more effectively to irreversible nuclear disarmament?

Just days before the NPT Conference, the Duma has finally ratified START II. But it is important to note that Russia has linked further progress in nuclear weapon reductions with the continued validity of the ABM Treaty . Britain, France, Russia and the United States will no doubt provide charts of reductions and lists of weapons they have cut. Great stuff and worthy of applause, but they tell only part of the story. In March 2000, Russia's newly-elected President said he would "preserve and strengthen" Russia's nuclear capabilities. Then came the news that the US Department of Energy was planning to renovate more than 6,000 nuclear warheads. And Britain, which has undertaken significant measures, relatively speaking, was exposed in The Guardian newspaper as collaborating with US and French nuclear laboratories to research and develop a more flexible follow-on to Trident, confirming the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which emphasised that Britain expected to rely on nuclear weapons "for the foreseeable future". France is even more adamant about keeping its nuclear weapons and status, viewed as particularly important in the context of European politics. China, for its part, will emphasise that it has pledged no first use and did not produce such large numbers of nuclear weapons in the first place (as if this excuses it from engaging in any reductions or controls). Russian and Chinese anxieties about US plans for missile defence derive largely from the fear of losing the deterrent value of smaller forces or laying themselves open to a pre-emptive first strike. For most of the rest of the world, missile defence is opposed because it might cause a new nuclear arms race and in the longer term could lead to weapons and wars in space.

The deep pessimism of a few months ago has been replaced by cautious optimism. The President-designate, Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, has been consulting widely with key parties and there is guarded confidence that confrontation over procedural issues such as the establishment of subsidiary bodies can be avoided, although, as ever, the devil is in the detail. In contrast to early concerns, the Conference is likely to start well. Senior government figures, including US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Foreign Ministers of several countries including Russia, Portugal (for the European Union), Mexico, Ireland, Sweden, Bangladesh and Canada will attend and speak during the first days. Half of the next four weeks will be taken up in national statements of achievements, aspirations and criticisms. Will the rest of the time be devoted to real negotiations about problems in achieving full implementation and ways to make further progress on the essential components of the treaty, particularly nuclear disarmament, universality, nuclear weapon free zones, the non-transfer of nuclear technology, weapons or control? Or will the Conference be reduced to cut-and-paste negotiations on parcels of text for one, two, or however many documents? Will the NPT parties get to grips with the worrying signs that the nuclear powers are mistaking the NPT provisions as a carte blanche to develop leaner, meaner nuclear forces? What steps will be undertaken to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in strategic doctrine and policy?

The real test of the success of the 2000 NPT Conference is not whether a consensus document can be adopted, although such agreement would be symbolically important. The real test will be in what NPT Parties and the holdouts do in the next five years.

The Acronym Institute 24, Colvestone Crescent, London E8 2LH, England. telephone (UK +44) (0) 20 7503 8857 fax (0) 20 7503 9153 website http://www.acronym.org.uk