Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Challenges of the NPT, Part 1

by Noritaka Egusa, Editor/Senior Staff Writer

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which will affect the future direction of nuclear abolition efforts, will be held at U.N. headquarters in New York in May 2010. This is an important conference that will foretell whether the international community is prepared to take steady steps toward nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. However, there are also moves, including the nuclear test by North Korea, that have impeded these efforts. Reflecting on the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, aimed at paving the way for the NPT Review Conference next year, we will examine the challenges facing the NPT over the next year and its outlook for the future.

Positive climate is maintained though recommendations are not adopted

“Bon voyage,” said PrepCom Chair Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku, banging a wooden gavel on the desk. It was May 15 and he was declaring the third PrepCom closed after two weeks at U.N. headquarters.

Diplomats from the NPT member nations thanked the chair for his service with loud applause. Meanwhile, puzzled voices were heard from the seats reserved for the public, occupied by members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the press: “What would become of the recommendations to the 2010 NPT Review Conference?”

The recommendations were intended to provide themes and a direction for discussions that will take place at the NPT Review Conference next year. Mr. Chidyausiku presented the draft recommendations in the middle of the two-week session, and twice added amendments to them in consideration of the views of the NPT member nations. Still, the recommendations were not adopted. The fact that the member nations discussed the recommendations will be placed in the official record but the contents of the recommendations will not. Reflecting on the PrepCom, Mr. Chidyausiku commented that the recommendations “would have been a bonus” but reaching an agreement during the session proved difficult. He added that one factor preventing adoption of the recommendations was simply the lack of time.

The NPT member nations gather for the NPT Review Conference once every five years and for three preparatory committees (four, depending on circumstances) between the NPT Review Conferences in order to review the execution of the treaty. The NPT member nations, including Japan, have expressed some appreciation for the fact that the recommendations were nearly adopted. Recommendations to a NPT Review Conference have yet to be adopted at a preparatory committee meeting.

In fact, no serious conflict of opinion arose in regard to the recommendations. For instance, the nuclear weapon states requested that the recommendations “maintain balance” and not focus exclusively on nuclear disarmament, while non-nuclear weapon states were seen only to call for a detailed statement concerning Middle East issues, with Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons in mind. To these requests, Mr. Chidyausiku responded by revising the draft recommendations.

Furthermore, in the positive atmosphere for global nuclear abolition that has been inspired by the arrival of the new U.S. administration, proposals calling for shelving minor amendments and adopting the recommendations were presented in the hope of carrying this encouraging mood into the NPT Review Conference next year.

Nonetheless, the recommendations were not adopted, which represents the limitations of the NPT. When a unanimous agreement is sought in multilateral talks, the majority is sometimes able to persuade the minority and reach the goal of consensus; at other times the talks ground to a halt when even one nation hesitates during the course of discussions. The former occurred at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, which succeeded in including the phrase “an unequivocal undertaking” toward nuclear abolition in the final document. By contrast, the 2005 NPT Review Conference failed to produce any agreements and the final document itself turned out to be a mirage.

The third PrepCom intentionally avoided a breakdown of the gathering and attempted to sustain the positive tone. It was at this moment, though, that North Korea conducted its nuclear test. How will the international community address this problem? A challenge to the 2010 NPT Review Conference has already surfaced.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)
The NPT defines the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China as nuclear weapon states and imposes on these nations the obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament. The other member nations will be granted the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in return for not developing nuclear weapons. The treaty entered into force in 1970 and has roughly 190 member nations. The de-facto nuclear weapon states of Israel, India, and Pakistan are not signatories of the treaty. North Korea declared its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003.

(Originally published on May 28, 2009)

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