ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

NPT Meeting Confronts New Nuclear Threats
Share this

Christine Kucia

While upholding the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as “the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament,” states-parties meeting in Geneva April 28-May 9 confronted the myriad of threats to the integrity of the arms control agreement that had surfaced in the past year.

Delegates welcomed Cuba, which acceded to the NPT November 4, 2002, after joining the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which delineates a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Caribbean and Latin America, October 23. In addition, East Timor joined the NPT May 5 when it deposited its instruments of ratification with the United States, a depository state. The only major countries outside the NPT are Israel, India, and Pakistan.

Proliferation concerns dominated the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) proceedings for the 2005 NPT Review Conference with countries highlighting ongoing problems with Iraq, newfound allegations of an extensive nuclear program in Iran, and North Korea’s destabilizing withdrawal from the 33-year-old accord. Delegates boldly “named names” of countries suspected of violating the treaty during the diplomatic gathering, which ordinarily shies away from levying such strong accusations directly.

Delegates at the gathering could not help but discuss North Korea’s withdrawal—the NPT’s first—despite an effort by PrepCom Chairman László Molnár of Hungary to minimize its impact on the meeting. Inaction by the UN Security Council provided the chair with no guidance, and Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the treaty’s depositories—did not agree on how to handle North Korea’s status upon its April 10 withdrawal date, so the United Nations could not address the issue prior to convening the PrepCom.

States-parties themselves were divided about whether to acknowledge North Korea’s withdrawal or to overlook it, so the conference faced “a stumbling block that could drive us into a procedural quagmire,” Molnár said in a May 27 interview. Deciding on an approach that Molnár acknowledged was “unusual,” he took custody of North Korea’s nameplate, literally removing the issue from the table. In this way, he explained, the conference’s progress would not be bogged down with the procedural matter of how to handle North Korea’s announcement.

Delegates still expressed dismay at North Korea’s announcement in their general statements at the meeting’s outset, stressing the need for a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Hubert de la Fortelle, France’s permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, went a step further in his April 28 remarks. He noted that “naturally, a clear commitment is also needed from the United Nations Security Council with a view to contributing to a peaceful resolution to the crisis.” After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution on North Korea’s noncompliance and referred the matter to the UN Security Council, action in New York has been stymied by China. (See ACT, May 2003.)

U.S. Policy

The United States focused its comments on Iran. (See ACT, June 2003.) Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf emphasized in his April 28 statement, “[e]very NPT party has a stake in seeing the veil of secrecy lifted on Iran’s nuclear program,” calling Iran’s recently discovered nuclear activity “the most fundamental challenge ever faced by the NPT.” Successive U.S. statements at the meeting repeatedly highlighted Iran’s rapid development of a uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, in possible breach of its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Semmell raised concerns in May 2 comments that “Iran kept secret and hidden a vast, longstanding program” to build the enrichment facility as well as a heavy-water reactor. Other countries, including France and the United Kingdom, backed up U.S. allegations about Iran’s program in their own remarks.

In response, G. Ali Khoshroo, Iranian deputy foreign minister, reaffirmed April 29 that Iran “is more than fully committed to all its obligations under the Treaty and is in the meantime determined to vigorously exploit its inalienable right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Khoshroo then turned the tables, questioning U.S. policy and its disarmament commitments under the NPT. “Which other nuclear-weapon states have named non-nuclear-weapon states parties to the NPT as the targets of their nuclear weapons? None.…Which NPT party other than the United States has left such a record of undermining so many international instruments, on disarmament and other issues alike? None.”

Delegates emphasized their concerns about recent U.S. actions that suggest nuclear weapons modifications or development might be imminent and that Washington might be reneging on its “negative security assurance” pledge made in the context of the NPT. China spoke out April 28 against proposed U.S. research and development on low-yield nuclear weapons “aimed at probable battlefield use and the policy of lowering [the] threshold of use of nuclear weapons.” (See ACT, June 2003.)

In response, the United States highlighted the strategic reduction strides it made with Russia by signing the Moscow Treaty in May 2002. Wolf broadly addressed complaints from other countries by countering, “[I]t is not credible to argue that we are not on a steady downward path toward the goals of Article VI,” the NPT treaty section that outlines the goal of disarmament for the nuclear-weapon states. Later in the conference, the United States and Russia issued a joint statement on the Moscow Treaty, which noted that the agreement “is an important link in the chain of agreements in the area of strategic offensive arms reductions.” Yet, the New Agenda countries—including Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden—questioned “whether the legacy of the Cold War has really been left behind.” They added, “Reductions in the numbers of deployed strategic nuclear warheads are not a substitute for irreversible cuts in, and the total elimination of, nuclear weapons.”

The New Agenda Coalition also called the past year “an inauspicious one for the NPT in general and for the issue of nuclear disarmament in particular.” Collectively, they offered a draft protocol on negative security assurances, which would ensure that nuclear-weapon states would not use their nuclear forces against non-nuclear-weapon states unless such a state attacked in alliance with a state possessing nuclear weapons. Citing the 2000 NPT Review Conference final document, which calls for nuclear weapon states to explore a legally binding agreement on negative security assurances, the coalition of governments suggested that their framework should be negotiated and later appended to the NPT.

Molnár stressed that the states-parties approved procedural reports at the PrepCom, but the meeting’s format did not require agreement on a substantive report of the debate; the delegates probably would have been unable to achieve consensus on such a report. But the third PrepCom meeting, set to take place April 26-May 7, 2004, at UN headquarters in New York, is expected to make every effort to produce recommendations by consensus that will be used to structure the 2005 NPT Review Conference. The divisive stances among states-parties during this year’s meeting “does not bode well for the future,” Molnár said.




Posted: June 1, 2003