Photo: Opening of the Review and Extension Conference of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 17 April 1995. Seated on the podium from left to right: UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; President of the Conference, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka); Secretary-General of the Conference, Prvoslav Davinić. Credit: UN Photo by Evan Schneider # 68537. - Photo: 2020

25 Years After the Indefinite Extension of The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: A Field of Broken Promises and Shattered Visions

By Tariq Rauf*

VIENNA (IDN) – “I long ago took to heart the words of Omar Bradley, spoken virtually a half century ago, when he observed, having seen the aftermath of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus: ‘We live in an age of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We live in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We’ve unlocked the mysteries of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living’.”

These remarks were made by General George Lee Butler, the last Commander of the United States Strategic Air Command (SAC) in a speech in Ottawa, Canada, on 11 March 1999.

“Why a country that makes atomic bombs would ban fireworks”, asked a child at the United Nations kindergarten in New York.

Attending my second NPT review conference as a member of the Canadian delegation, I can still recall that early afternoon on 11 May 1995 when delegates from 175 countries, after four weeks of hectic negotiations that went late into the night in a small conference room at the United Nations in New York that reeked of an admixture of cigarette smoke, perfume and disgusting body odour, finally came together in the General Assembly Hall to make the world less dangerous from the overhanging threat of nuclear devastation and agreed without a vote to indefinitely extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Resting under my seat was a briefcase with signed declarations by the heads of delegation of 111 NPT States parties that I had collected over the past three weeks, committing them to support the indefinite extension of the Treaty – that is, to render it of permanent duration meaning that it will never expire.

This was insurance in case of a rebellion, or change of heart, by States committed to an indefinite extension to back away either because of insufficient assurances from the nuclear-weapon States (NWS) to reduce their weapons or dissatisfaction with the NWS’ intransigence in opposing agreement on an assessment of the qreview of the implementation of the NPT during the preceding quinquennium – 1990-1995.

Had rebellious States insisted on blocking a decision on indefinite extension or insisted on alternatives such as extending the Treaty for some fixed number of years, my instructions were to hand over the pile of signed declarations, neatly organized in the English alphabetical order, to my Canadian head of delegation who then would call for a recorded vote on the matter of indefinite extension; would remind the 110 other heads of delegation to vote in favour as they had already committed in writing to support such an outcome and that he had on his desk their signed codicils to this effect – 111 constituted a clear majority of the-then 178 parties to the NPT and a vote would be in accordance with Article X.2 and the rules of procedure that provided for a decision by a “majority”.

The process of deciding on the extension package is described below with a view to informing today’s delegates attending NPT meetings as to what transpired 25 years ago because most of them are not sufficiently aware of the history and process in 1995 of deciding on the future duration of the Treaty and what bargains or agreements were the catalysts to enable the indefinite continuation in force of the NPT. If these erode away, the future of the Treaty could be in jeopardy.

Decision on the Indefinite Extension of the NPT

The momentous decision to extend the NPT indefinitely was taken on Thursday, 11 May 1995, in the 17th plenary meeting of the review and extension conference starting at 12:10 PM New York time. The President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC), Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka), began the meeting by saying that, “I apologize to all delegations for the delay in convening this meeting, but I assure them that it was for very good reasons. Consultations were taking place amongst delegations to ensure that our work should progress smoothly. We also commence a little after high noon to intensify the drama of the occasion”.

Dhanapala informed the delegates that three proposals were on the table regarding options for the extension of the Treaty, these were: (1) a proposal by Mexico, calling for indefinite extension along with a number of procedural elements; (2) a proposal submitted by Canada on behalf of 103 States parties and subsequently sponsored by eight additional States parties, calling for the indefinite extension with no added elements; and (3) a proposal submitted by Indonesia and 10 States parties and subsequently sponsored by three additional States parties; calling for an extension for rolling fixed periods of twenty-five years with a review and extension conference at the end of each fixed period to conduct an effective and comprehensive review of the operation of the Treaty, and for the Treaty to be extended for the next fixed period of twenty-five years unless the majority of the parties to the Treaty decided otherwise at the review and extension conference.

Dhanapala then noted that in addition to the three proposals for extension, the conference had before it three draft decisions: (1) on strengthening the review process for the Treaty; (2) on principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament; and (3) on the extension of the Treaty. He stated that these “three documents are the end result of considerable discussion over long hours”, that the discussions drew on the substance of the three proposals on an extension of the Treaty, and that together they represented a fair and equitable balance of interests of different States.

The Conference President went on say that the “documents before representatives provide, in my humble opinion, an excellent basis for an understanding on principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the strengthening of the review process for the Treaty and for the extension of our Treaty. It is also clear that a majority exists in terms of article X, paragraph 2, relating to the extension. This leads me to conclude that it will not be necessary to resort to a vote on the three draft decisions before us. Accordingly, if I hear no objection, I will take it that the draft decisions may be adopted without a vote”. The President then gavelled down the adoption of the three decisions – no objections were voiced.

Immediately following the adoption of the three decisions, Ambassador Dhanapala put up a resolution co-sponsored by the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America – the depositary States for the NPT. He introduced an amendment to operative paragraph 1 of the draft resolution as follows: “Endorses the aims and objectives of the Middle East peace process and recognizes that efforts in this regard, as well as other efforts, contribute to, inter alia, a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction”. Dhanapala stated that “It is my understanding that there is general agreement on the draft resolution as orally amended. I should like therefore to propose that we adopt this draft resolution without a vote”. The conference adopted the resolution on the Middle East without a vote, thus completing the package of decisions and resolution that together enabled the indefinite extension of the NPT.

This was followed by eleven statements by States parties. Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Syria inter alia emphasized the importance of the Middle East resolution, called upon Israel to accede to the Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon State, and enjoined the NWS to fulfill their nuclear disarmament obligations. Algeria referred to the decisions and resolution as a “package” that enabled reluctant States to not object to the indefinite extension. China and France, NWS under the Treaty and recent adherents (1992) welcomed indefinite extension and portrayed it as necessary for movement on nuclear disarmament.

Nigeria stated that it was the second signatory to the Treaty and though it could not support indefinite extension as it had preferred a rolling extension, nonetheless it chose not to stand in the way of the majority even as the NWS were reluctant to abandon their nuclear doctrines in an international environment less antagonistic to their security interests. South Africa referred to the decisions as providing an interlinked and realistic framework to faithfully implement the Treaty, and as a “yardstick” to measure non-proliferation and disarmament achievements.

Malaysia declared that: the decision on indefinite extension “does not have the consensus of the Conference”; that the outcome would have been different had a secret ballot been called; that efforts to call for specific commitments on nuclear disarmament were “met with strong and determined resistance from the nuclear-weapon States and their supporters”; and that “in reality, the indefinite extension provides a carte blanche to the nuclear-weapon States and does not serve as an incentive towards universality …[and]… fundamentally weakens all efforts towards the elimination of nuclear weapons”.

The last words of the session rightfully went to Canada, which reiterated that the Treaty now rested on permanence with accountability and that a template for accountability had been created. Canada thanked those States that “made the longer leaps of faith” to become “essential partners in our achievement”, “made our unity possible in the final, decisive stage [to] have bridged the larger gaps” and that “we [have] shared here a great, common victory for the better angels of our nature”. The historic session closed at 13:50 PM New York time (11 May 1995).

A further eleven statements were made in the afternoon session on the same day. Costa Rica stated that “the use or the threat of the use of nuclear weapons represents a violation of international law – and in particular of the jus cogens human rights norms – none of the provisions or recommendations in the decisions just adopted, nor the extension [of the Treaty] … should be interpreted as recognizing, directly or indirectly, the legality of the use, the threat of the use, or the possession of weapons of this type”. Indonesia stated that a rolling 25-year extension would have been the best option, as an indefinite extension “will remove the sense of urgency from the obligations under article VI of the Treaty and will have the effect of perpetuating and legitimizing the possession of nuclear weapons”.

This outcome of indefinitely extending the NPT was the result of efforts by Canada’s for “permanence with accountability” that were supported notably by South Africa, Mexico and several other countries – for a detailed account of the extension decision see my article co-authored with Rebecca Johnson of the ACRONYM Institute, “After The NPT’s Indefinite Extension: The Future Of The Global Nonproliferation Regime”, and the publication co-authored with Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala (President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference), Reflections on The Treaty on The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons: Review conferences and the future of the NPT. Also see, Susan Welch, “Delegate Perspectives on the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference”, and the Digital Archive created by Michal Onderco as well as his, “Extending the NPT – A Critical Oral History of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference”.

In the afternoon on the next day, Friday, 12 May 1995, Conference President Dhanapala started the proceedings on a sour note as during the lunch break some of the Western Group (WEOG) ambassadors had given press interviews of a triumphalist note that did not go down well with most of the delegates from non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) as the conference had not been able to agree on a review assessment of the 1990-1995 period mainly because of opposition from the nuclear-weapon States (NWS). The NWS and their allies had achieved their objective of indefinite extension, albeit a conditional one based on an integral “package” of three decisions and a resolution – to be discussed in some detail later in this paper – and were in no mood to agree on anything else. The only high note of the day was the announcement by the President at 22:30 PM that Chile had completed its parliamentary procedures and thereby had become a State party to the NPT.

The “most important arms control conference in history”, in the words of US Ambassador Ralph Earle, petered out and became a chapter of history at 00:35 on Saturday morning, 13 May 1995, but not without a reference to the movie “High Noon” – whose ending metaphorically has come to pass a quarter-century later as the NWS and their allies apparently have quit (the) town (of nuclear disarmament).

The 1995 NPT “Package of Decisions and Resolution”

In accordance with Article X.2 of the NPT, on 11 May 1995, the 175 States parties in attendance decided without a vote to extend the Treaty indefinitely based on an interlinked and indivisible “package” of three decisions and a resolution. This package comprised the decisions on the strengthening the review process for the Treaty, principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament (P&O), the extension of the Treaty, and a resolution on the Middle East. But no agreement could be reached on a final declaration as some of the NWS were perceived to be gloating over indefinite extension and were reluctant to agree to a formal final declaration on the review of the implementation of the Treaty during 1990-1995.

In strengthening the review process, the preparatory committee for future review conferences was authorized to consider both procedural and substantive matters in each of three annual sessions of ten working days (as opposed to five working days), focused consideration in subsidiary bodies of each of the three main committees (covering the three pillars of the Treaty) at review conferences, and review conferences were mandated to both evaluate the implementation of the Treaty over the previous five years as well as to making recommendations for the future to strengthen implementation, universality, integrity and authority of the NPT.

The principles and objectives contained recommendations and actions covering all three pillars of the NPT: (1) nuclear disarmament; (2) nuclear-non-proliferation; and (3) peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.

As regards nuclear disarmament, it was agreed inter alia to: complete the negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (CD) of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) no later than 1996; immediate commencement and early conclusion of a treaty prohibiting production of fissile material for nuclear weapons (FMCT/FMT); and determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons.

On nuclear non-proliferation, it was agreed to: further strengthen the safeguards or verification system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); new arrangements for the supply of nuclear items should require as a necessary precondition acceptance of IAEA full-scope safeguards and internationally legally binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons; and nothing should be done to undermine the authority and independence of the IAEA in implementing safeguards.

On facilitating cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, it was agreed to ensure the exercise of the inalienable right of all the parties to the Treaty to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with the non-proliferation and verification provisions of the NPT. It was noted that attacks or threats of attack on civilian nuclear facilities create serious concerns about nuclear safety, and in such cases, action would be warranted through the application of international law on the use of force in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

The resolution called for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and for all States in the region to accede to the NPT and place all of their nuclear activities under IAEA verification.

Broken Promises and Shattered Visions

Today, 25 years after the historic decision to render the NPT of indefinite duration and the solemn commitments undertaken by the NWS, though the overall number of nuclear weapons has gone down to about 14,500 – with 90 per cent held by the Russian Federation and the United States – the lament (in the header to this article) still holds true that was sounded by General Lee Butler who was one of a very few nuclear war planners to evaluate the entirety of the 12,500 targets in the US’ single integrated operational plan (SIOP) for using nuclear weapons and reduced it down to 3,000 targets.

Now, nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, existing treaties have either been dismantled or at risk, development in underway of new types of nuclear weapons with new missions and lowered threshold of use, and threats of use of nuclear weapons have been sounded.

The lack of fealty to the package of extension decisions by the NWS manifested itself within 72 hours of the end of the NPTREC when China resumed nuclear weapon testing on 15 May 1995 and it carried out three more tests in 1996 even as the CTBT was being finalized at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. This means that as China was taking part in the NPTREC, it was finalizing a nuclear weapon test at its Lop Nor test site. France waited for three months before resuming nuclear weapon testing in the South Pacific in September 1995, which at the time I described as a “fool’s errand”. France stopped in January 1996 after six detonations. A senior French government official explained that the NPTREC had called only for “utmost restraint” and not for a moratorium on nuclear testing, therefore, French testing should not be seen as a violation of the understandings reached at the Conference”.

The second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) signed in January 1993 by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin, though ratified by both the Russian Duma and the US Senate, never entered into force because the Senate rejected ratification of the 1997 protocol to the treaty and several amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; passage of which was required by the Duma as a condition for entry into force of SALT II. The treaty was effectively abandoned as a consequence of the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002.

While extending the NPT indefinitely in 1995, many delegations from all political and regional groupings emphasized the point that this decision did not in any way allow for the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons by the NWS – something conveniently forgotten by some of today’s NWS diplomats who are the successors of the delegates at the 1995 NPTREC. These successors would be well advised to review the writings of their betters and predecessors, such as Ambassadors George Bunn and Roland Timerbaev, respectively the US and USSR negotiators of the NPT, “Nuclear Disarmament: How Much Have the Five Nuclear Powers Promised in the Non-Proliferation Treaty?”. Times may change but solemn treaty-related commitments of States endure – pacta sunt servanda, a concept sadly alien to some policymakers in some of the NWS.

Today, follow-on commitments to the 1995 NPTREC agreed in 2000 and 2010 have largely been sidelined, belligerent and unhinged attacks made on proponents of fulfilling past commitments, as faith is being placed in rainbows, butterflies and unicorns of creating the environment for nuclear disarmament.

As of 11 May 2020, the CTBT has yet to enter into force, FMCT negotiations have not started at the Conference on Disarmament, and systematic and progressive reductions in nuclear weapons are at a standstill; rather existing arms control treaties are being abandoned and the remaining strategic arms reduction treaty between the Russian Federation and the U.S – New START – will expire in February next year unless renewed. In addition, new nuclear weapon systems are being developed and nuclear doctrines changed to lower the threshold of use of nuclear weapons.

As for new nuclear supply arrangements requiring full-scope IAEA safeguards and legally binding non-proliferation commitments, the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement of 2005 and the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group approval of an “exception” to supply India with nuclear items (also disregarded India’s non-compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1172 (1998) following its nuclear detonations in May 1998) – both actions were and remain in express violation of principle 12 of the 1995 principles and objectives (that was reaffirmed in 2000).

The resolution on establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East also remains to be implemented; rather the three co-sponsors – Russian Federation, UK and US – are divided with the US at loggerheads with Russia and the Arab States. The Arab States out of frustration have pushed through a process under the aegis of the General Assembly – but the implementation of the 1995 resolution remains within the NPT review process.

The 191 countries that are members of the NPT routinely refer to the Treaty as the cornerstone of the global nuclear governance regime in particular that of nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. In this context, at the review conferences in 2000 and 2010, they agreed on additional steps and actions that built on the 1995 principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. But these were not fully implemented or were reversed in some cases, thus as a consequence the 2005 and 2015 review conferences broke up in bitter discord over differences on the Middle East resolution and dissatisfaction over the pace of nuclear disarmament – problems that will haunt the next review conference.

Many of the supporters of indefinite extension, including the President of the 1995 NPTREC, now realize that the warnings of broken promises and lost leverage sounded by some delegates in 1995 and in subsequent years indeed have come to pass.

Looking to the Future

Ambassador Christopher Westdal (Canada’s head of delegation to the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences, with whom I worked on the strengthened review process and the outcome documents) used to quote William the Silent, a figure in Dutch history, who said that, “It is not necessary to be hopeful to persevere”. That attitude is what I think is needed as we look to the convening of the NPT review conference scheduled for this year that has been postponed to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite continuing oppugnancy in views over the Middle East issue and nuclear disarmament that do not raise hopes for a consensus outcome at the upcoming review conference, it is necessary to persevere in defending the NPT and the implementation of the remaining relevant elements of the consensus 1995/2000/2010 review conference outcomes despite the rejectionist attitudes of some States.

Perseverance in protecting the NPT and consensus commitments requires a number of steps, such as: (1) escaping the politically toxic environment at the United Nations in New York and convening the upcoming and future review conferences in Vienna (as I have argued); and (2) buying time both to recover from the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to benefit hopefully from a better international political milieu to hold the postponed NPT review conference not in 2021 but in 2022.

2022 NPT Review Conference in Vienna

Following my article of 20 April, in which I had made the case for postponing the review conference from the proposed dates of 4 to 29 January 2021 to later in that year; in light of current developments, my views have evolved further in the context of promoting a successful outcome. An out-of-box unintended opportunity is to do something new, even ambitious, and to hold the review conference in Vienna in 2022 (not 2021), during the April-May time frame scheduled for the first session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2025 review conference – and to add two weeks to the regular proceedings to enable 20 working days, the norm. A one-day PrepCom session could be included in these 20 working days to agree on procedural matters for the 2023-2024 PrepCom sessions. Thus, the 2022 PrepCom’s substantive discussions would be subsumed within the review conference.

As I have noted previously, NPT review conferences are not UN conferences – rather, they are conferences of the States parties to the NPT, paid for by them separately from UN membership dues and are governed by their own rules of procedure (RoP). Thus, while the President-designate and States parties need to take into account the advice of the UN secretariat which is always given in good faith, they are not bound in any way to accept it and are fully empowered to make their own decisions under the RoP for NPT review conferences taking into account international political developments.

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, the UN formally has nothing to do with the NPT as it was written and adopted in 1968 – this is not a criticism of the UN which does valuable work internationally but merely a factual observation. The only international organization to which the Treaty accords a formal role is the IAEA – the role of implementing safeguards or verification of the non-proliferation obligations of non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) parties (article III). The inalienable right of States parties (article IV) to utilize nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes by NNWS, especially developing countries, in practice has come to be implemented through the technical cooperation programme of the IAEA.

The reality is that of the present 171 member States of the IAEA, 163 are NNWS party to the NPT. Currently, at the IAEA there are 848 active technical cooperation projects underway covering development priorities in areas such as human health and nutrition, food and agriculture, water and the environment, nuclear safety, nuclear security, nuclear power generation, nuclear waste disposition, nuclear sciences, industrial applications, nuclear knowledge development and management, and legislative assistance (nuclear law); as well as to develop solutions for future energy needs, and standards for radiation safety and nuclear security worldwide. Presently, the Agency is assisting developing Member States with real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR) methodology for detection of COVID-19 infections in people – previously, RT-PCR technology was utilized by the IAEA to diagnose diseases such as Ebola, Zika, MERS-Cov, SARS-Cov1 and other major zoonotic and animal diseases.

The first NPT review conference was held in 1975, for which a preparatory committee had been formed of 26 States parties serving on the IAEA Board of Governors or represented at the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament – that held two meetings in 1974 and one in 1975, all in Geneva. The PrepCom decided on Geneva as the venue for the review conference. The IAEA and UN participated under paragraph 3 of rule 44: “The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or their representatives, shall be entitled to attend meetings of the Plenary and of the Main Committees and to receive the Conference documents. They shall also be entitled to submit material, both orally and in writing”. Thus, the IAEA and the UN have equal status and the rule continues unchanged as does the participation of the IAEA and the UN – review conferences are addressed by the UN Secretary-General and the IAEA Director General in succession.

The IAEA is an autonomous international organization subject to its own governance structure, and like most international organizations the Agency has a relationship agreement with the UN on a common system for personnel management and related administrative functions.

The UN capably and professionally has been providing services to review conferences and PrepCom sessions, such as, secretary-general of the conference, meeting rooms, interpretation, summary records, and secretarial services including officers to support the president and the chairs. While the UN provides the official secretary to main committee I (nuclear disarmament), credentials and drafting committees, and prepares the elements of their draft reports; the IAEA covers main committees II and III (non-proliferation and peaceful uses) and prepares their draft reports – though the UN also covers items such as regional issues, universality, and the review process, but it is not the secretariat for the NPT, nor is one needed.

In 1995, the NPTREC was moved to New York on the claim that all UN Member States have representation there and thus would enable the maximum number of States parties to participate in the conference’s main objective – to decide on the Treaty’s extension. A review of the record of participation by States parties shows that in various years up to 30 or more States do not take part or only show up for one or two sessions in order to be registered in the list of participants. Therefore, the argument of participation is not a sufficient reason to keep the review conference in New York.

Starting in 2007, the first session of the PrepCom was moved to Vienna (from New York) in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the IAEA and its contributions to the implementation of the NPT. The UN has successfully organized PrepCom sessions in Vienna in 2007, 2012 and 2017 – thus there is no compelling reason why it would be unable or find it difficult to organize the review conference in Vienna with the assistance of the conference services offices of the UN Office in Vienna (UNOV) and of the IAEA at the Vienna International Centre and its adjoining Austria Center Vienna.

The 50th anniversary of the Treaty entering into force already has been marked by some States, on 5 March 2020, at the UN in New York, as well as in Moscow and Washington. The 25th anniversary of its indefinite extension on 11 May 2020 likewise can be appropriately recognized in 2022 – without in any way adversely affecting the Treaty or its review process.

There is no overly pressing matter to be resolved at the review conference which in any case has been postponed to 2021. Instead of scrambling for dates next year that could yet have to be changed, holding the review conference in 2022 takes away the pressure of uncertainty of dates in 2021. In the meantime, (hopefully) a new US administration could be in place, perhaps improved US-Russia/China relations, EU recovery, New START extension by a Democrat president in the US, as well as some form of rescue of the “Iran deal” (JCPOA), among other developments possibly could improve both the prospects and atmospherics of the review conference – though of course there is no certainty, just as it is absent for 2021. Nonetheless, there are no insurmountable obstacles to holding the review conference in 2022 in Vienna other than mental blocks and policy inertia.

At present, as the necessary and sufficient conditions are absent to hold the review conference in January 2021 or even later that year – better to hold out for 2022 in Vienna.

Given its direct relationship to the NPT, it is now time for NPT States parties to relocate the review conference to Vienna to be closer to the Agency without whose verification and technical cooperation programme the NPT would be reduced to a hollow shell.

What is needed is that diplomats covering the NPT, including those in Vienna, need to discover “courage” in their heart to launch this process – courage that seems to be missing in action much as the Lion in the Wizard of Oz seemingly was missing courage. The Lion does indeed have courage only to be discovered when he encounters the “Wicked Witch” and stands up to “Be a lion, not a mouse” and recognizes “Courage. What makes a King out of a slave? Courage!” The same can be true in spades of Vienna-based and other diplomats covering the NPT were they to put their minds to it!


General Lee Butler, former commander of the US Strategic Air Command, insightfully observed that nuclear proliferation cannot be contained in a world where a handful of self-appointed nations both arrogate to themselves the privilege of owning nuclear weapons, and extol the ultimate security assurances they assert such weapons convey.

At an event that I attended in Ottawa (Canada), on 11 March 1999, addressing the Canadian Network Against Nuclear Weapons, as noted in the header (to this article), General Butler cited WWII General Omar Bradley, who had said on Armistice Day 11 November 1948 that, “We live in an age of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner”.

The reason for recalling this admonition is a disturbing new tendency starting around 2013 for some States, especially some of the NWS, to push back on implementing agreed commitments on nuclear disarmament of 1995/2000/2010 while insisting on full implementation of NNWS commitments on safeguards, export controls, nuclear safety and security, among others. They posit that for nuclear disarmament it is important to take into account the international security situation, revived great power competition and regional instabilities, and to focus instead on nuclear risk reduction, motivations to hold nuclear weapons and on international arms control institutions. Furthermore, it is even argued that the NPT review process may no longer be fit for purpose as regards nuclear disarmament unless it takes account of the considerations noted above.

The NPT cannot resolve every problem related to the international security environment and strategic stability – that is not and never has been the purpose or objective of the Treaty or of its review process. The NPT review process included in the Treaty at the insistence of NNWS was and remains to ensure accountability for the implementation of its provisions and obligations. As discussed above, the 1995 NPTREC in deciding on indefinite extension instituted a strengthened review process that was further elaborated in 2000 to ensure “permanence with accountability”. The NPT is not the forum to discuss and review international relations or disputes, the appropriate venues for these are the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.

Furthermore, to prohibit nuclear weapon testing, the CTBT was negotiated in 1996 in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and adopted by the General Assembly; to prohibit nuclear weapons, 122 NNWS negotiated and adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) under the aegis of the General Assembly; nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) treaties are negotiated by the concerned regional States; and a FMCT/FMT to prohibit the production and stockpiling of weapon-usable nuclear material, also is to be negotiated at the CD. The fact that the CD is stymied on negotiations on a FMCT/FMT, nuclear and space weapons, and other matters, does not mean that these should be dragged into the NPT review process.

Other negotiations in other forums will be needed to address advanced emerging technologies, cyber and space weapons, and other related political-military and technological developments. The NPT is not the appropriate forum to negotiate on these matters, but it is the forum to negotiate on measures to further strengthen the authority and integrity of the Treaty across its three pillars and to review their implementation along with Treaty provisions.

The NPT is the only multilateral nuclear arms control treaty on the books that commits the NWS to nuclear disarmament and the NNWS to non-proliferation – it is the only multilateral forum in which the NWS are prepared to discuss their nuclear weapon policies with the NNWS, albeit within limits. If the foundations of multilateralism are attacked and weakened, the NPT will not escape its effects.

A key element for success at the next review conference will rest on clear acknowledgement of the continuing validity of the relevant elements of 1995/2000/2010 outcomes that along with the Treaty itself can be considered the “triptych” of the acquis communautaire of the NPT community. The Berlin Declaration on The NPT at Fifty got it right when it stated that: “We underline that past NPT commitments remain valid and form the basis for making further progress in fully implementing the treaty and achieving a world free of nuclear weapons”. Characterizing reaffirmation of existing past commitments as “conventional wisdom that is at least a generation out of date” wins no friends, not to mention is disingenuous.

Sometimes the most penetrating wisdom comes out of the “mouths of babes”, in this case a *child at the United Nations kindergarten in New York who aptly observed: “Why a country that makes atomic bombs would ban fireworks?”

* Tariq Rauf is former Head of Nuclear Verification and Security Policy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, and former Alternate Head of the IAEA Delegation to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) review conferences. He has attended all NPT meetings as an official delegate since 1987. Personal views are expressed here. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 May 2020]

Photo: Opening of the Review and Extension Conference of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 17 April 1995. Seated on the podium from left to right: UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; President of the Conference, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka); Secretary-General of the Conference, Prvoslav Davinić. Credit: UN Photo by Evan Schneider # 68537.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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