An April 28-May 9 meeting of states-parties to prepare for the 2010 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference marked a significant change in tone from previous meetings. Although ideological differences persisted and some rhetorical clashes took place, many of the 106 states-parties attending the Geneva meeting made specific and constructive proposals to improve implementation of the NPT, raising the prospect of achieving some consensus going into the 2010 meeting.
For decades, non-nuclear-weapon states have complained that nuclear-weapon states have not done enough to move toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, as required by Article VI of the NPT. In past sessions, the nuclear-weapon states have concentrated on brushing off such criticism as unwarranted. This year, however, some discussed new arms control initiatives or possibilities, but without backing away from decisions to maintain or modernize their nuclear arsenals.
French Ambassador Jean-François Dobelle April 28 discussed the eight-point action plan first presented by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 21. (See ACT, April 2008.) Among other things, he urged the United States and China to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and called on all nuclear-weapon states to dismantle nuclear testing sites. Dobelle also called for negotiations on a treaty banning short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground missiles but did not elaborate on this proposal. Last October, the United States and Russia similarly called for "imparting a global character" to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, November 2007.)
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, sought to portray itself as a "disarmament laboratory." In an April 30 debate, John Duncan, the head of the British delegation, pointed particularly to the work the British government is carrying out with other states-parties and research institutes to explore the verification of future disarmament steps. (See ACT, May 2008.)
In a point echoed by many other delegations, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov on April 28 stated that Moscow deems it necessary "to make the process of offensive strategic arms reduction and limitation predictable, transparent, irreversible, and accountable." Antonov referred to commitments by the United States and Russia made at an April 6 summit between President George W. Bush and outgoing Russian President Vladmir Putin to reach a legally binding agreement following the expiration of the START treaty at the end of 2009. (See ACT, May 2008.)
Antonov indirectly called on NATO states to end nuclear sharing arrangements by stating that Russia's "initiative to concentrate nuclear weapons within the territories of the nuclear weapons states" would make it possible "to expand to the utmost the areas completely free from nuclear weapons."
The United States is the only nuclear-weapon state to still deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of non-nuclear-weapon states. In July 2007, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists reported that about 350 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are deployed in Europe. Under NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, 140 of these weapons would still be assigned for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, none of which have their own nuclear arms. These weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime but can be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
Finland, speaking also on behalf of Austria, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine, called for "central storage" of tactical weapons and argued that these types of weapons should be covered by a post-START treaty. Indonesia was more explicit in criticizing NATO's nuclear policies and supported "any actions to remove and dismantle tactical nuclear weapons from the territories of [non-nuclear-weapon states] that are members of NATO." Even NATO member Belgium called on the nuclear-weapon states to reduce tactical nuclear weapons unilaterally and codify such reductions in a verifiable agreement.
In a May 2 statement, Christopher Ford, U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, claimed that Washington stands "today at the forefront of the international community's attempts to ascertain how one might move toward a post-nuclear-weapons world." But Ford also defended Bush administration plans to invest in new types of weapons. Even though Congress has cut funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program in the past two years, Ford maintained that the new warhead "could provide opportunities to reduce further the size" of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons and argued that it would also help the United States "to meet its deterrence needs." (See ACT, January/February 2008.)
Still, for the first time since the 2000 review conference, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement. Compared to their previous statement, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States considerably weakened disarmament commitments, for example by not repeating a reference to their "unequivocal commitment" to the goal of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Yet Ford, in a May 20 interview with Arms Control Today, called the statement "significant" and pointed out that China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States previously had issued such statements only at review conferences. The statement reiterated their "enduring commitment" to the fulfillment of disarmament commitments and noted "that these obligations apply to all NPT states-parties." Agreement was only possible in the final minutes of the meeting and at the price of omitting from the statement discussion of contentious issues, such as the potential entry into force of the CTBT, which the Bush administration opposes.
In an indication of the differences still separating states-parties, early entry into force of the CTBT and negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty were on the top of the list of disarmament priorities of most states-parties, particularly the non-nuclear-weapon states. In addition, many non-nuclear-weapon states called on the nuclear-weapon states to be more open with regard to nuclear weapons holdings. Thus, the New Agenda Coalition, which consists of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, suggested a "reporting mechanism for national arsenals" of nuclear weapons, which would require nuclear-weapon states to declare the current status of their nuclear arsenals, future plans for reductions of those arsenals, and measures to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons. In a national working paper, Japan also suggested specific steps the nuclear-weapon states should take to improve nuclear weapons transparency and to ensure the irreversibility of disarmament steps and their verifiability.
Germany suggested a dual-track approach to achieve progress on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation that included 12 specific measures, dubbed a "New NPT Implementation Baseline." Norway presented the five principles and 10 recommendations that came out of the Feb. 26-27 international conference it had supported in Oslo on "Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons."
South Korea suggested a review of the 13 disarmament steps agreed on by the 2000 review conference, arguing that some of them "were rendered moot or inadequate," pointing out that such a review "does not mean in any way to exonerate [the nuclear-weapon states] from their obligation of implementation." Among the commitments agreed to in 2000 were entry into force of the CTBT, conclusion of a fissile material cutoff treaty, irreversible nuclear reductions and entry into force of START II and START III, concrete measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems, further reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons, and secure disposition of excess fissile material.
Focus on Nonproliferation
Ongoing negotiations to settle disputes about Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs were at the center of debates on nonproliferation, but unlike previous meetings, these discussions did not paralyze the proceedings.
Nonetheless, Iran, which has repeatedly been censured for its nuclear program by the UN Security Council, pushed back. Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri on April 29 argued that Tehran "has resolved all the outstanding issues" listed in the work plan concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and argued that "a few countries" who have accused Iran of violating its safeguards obligations have "wasted the IAEA's resources and capabilities." Iran alone submitted seven of the 40 working papers presented to the meeting, which some participants saw as an attempt to divert attention away from its own nuclear program.
Israel's Sept. 6 attack on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility and U.S. allegations of North Korean assistance to Damascus received some attention. Canada was one of the few delegations stating its concern about "recent information that may point to illicit nuclear cooperation between [North Korea] and Syria, and calls on both countries to cooperate fully with the IAEA to clarify the situation," as Colleen Swords, assistant deputy minister of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, said April 28.
"The clandestine Syrian nuclear program, and not the response to it, is the problem of key relevance to the NPT," Ford argued in the Arms Control Today interview.
In his April 28 statement, Ford repeated U.S. allegations that North Korea aided Syria in the construction of the facility (see ACT, May 2008), stating that "one can only be alarmed" that North Korea collaborated with Syria "to construct a nuclear reactor in that country, a reactor not intended for peaceful purposes." Other delegations were more careful, but Ford when speaking to Arms Control Today claimed that the United States was tougher on Syria because "we had the advantage of knowing what had actually happened in Syria."
Syrian Ambassador Faysal Hamoui in his April 29 statement during the general debate did not mention the Israeli attacks on Syrian territory but rejected allegations that it was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons several times during discussions, using his right of reply to specific allegations that it was involved in clandestine nuclear activities.
U.S. plans to enter into a nuclear cooperation agreement with India also were criticized during the debate on nonproliferation. (See ACT, April 2008.) The movement of nonaligned countries, which has 116 of the 188 NPT states-parties as members, repeated its demand for a "complete prohibition of the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices and the extension of assistance in the nuclear, scientific or technological fields to states that are not parties to the treaty." India, Israel, and Pakistan have never joined the NPT and do not have comprehensive safeguards on their nuclear facilities. In 1995, NPT states-parties endorsed the principle of full-scope safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.
Charting the Way Forward
Some observers believe that the lack of open conflict during the preparatory committee is due to the fact that this meeting did not have to take any decisions, as it is the second of three meetings to prepare for the 2010 review conference.
Nonetheless, agreement was not complete. Thus, there was no consensus to give a summary of the meeting written by Ukrainian chairman Volodymyr Yelchenko any formal standing by attaching it to the formal report of the conference. Iran was one delegation objecting to the chairman's summary, which it criticized as being unbalanced. The United States was also unhappy with the chairman's draft but did not oppose it. In the Arms Control Today interview Ford critized the summary for downplaying criticism of Iran and Syria that had been voiced at the meeting "even to the point that it failed to mention the North Korea-Syria connection" and not adequately reflecting information presented by the nuclear-weapon states on arms control measures. Ford told Arms Control Today that the United States "would have preferred to have a chairman's summary formally attached to the report, as is customary, but in the end it's more important that such a summary exist than it take particular form." The European Union by contrast in its closing statement called the meeting's outcome "satisfactory" and praised the chairman for his efforts.
States-parties did agree to hold the next preparatory committee meeting in New York on May 4-15, 2009. That decision was possible only after the chair had allayed concerns by some delegations, including Iran's, that its diplomats might be refused visas by U.S. authorities by stating that he had been assured in consultations that access would be facilitated in accordance with diplomatic procedures. Next year's meeting will be chaired by Ambassador Boniface Guwa Chidyausiki of Zimbabwe, whose nomination had been contentious because of the political crisis in that country. The 2009 meeting is widely expected be more difficult because states-parties will have to take a number of decisions to prepare for the next NPT review conference, which is now scheduled to take place in New York from April 26 to May 21, 2010.