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– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Stage Set for 2015 NPT Review Conference
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Tom Z. Collina, Lance Garrison, and Daniel Horner

Meeting for the final time before their review conference next spring, parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) gathered for two weeks at the United Nations, but were unable to adopt a common set of recommendations. This outcome could serve as a preview for the 2015 review conference, where disagreements are expected about the pace of nuclear disarmament efforts.

Enrique Román-Morey of Peru, who chaired the April 28-May 9 preparatory meeting, was unable to bridge differences and produce a consensus report on recommendations for the 2015 conference. At a May 9 press conference after the meeting ended, Román-Morey said agreement was not possible because there was not enough time to resolve key issues, such as the pace of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states and the establishment of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

The 2010 NPT Review Conference called for a meeting on a Middle Eastern zone by 2012. Although consultations are ongoing, the meeting has not taken place. In a report to the NPT preparatory meeting, the meeting facilitator, Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava, said that the participants demonstrated in the consultations their “readiness to engage, their desire to make progress and their open and constructive approach.” Nevertheless, “divergent views persist regarding important aspects” of the conference, he wrote.

Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil of Egypt said April 28 that if the meeting is not held, “no progress” on the zone “or on any other issue can be realized.” Egypt has been a primary supporter of the zone.

Román-Morey said too many nuclear weapons remain in the hands of the five countries that the treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states, and he urged those countries to “disarm in a more verifiable and transparent way than they are showing us.”

Those states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—say that they are moving toward nuclear disarmament as fast as they can.

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said April 29 at the UN that the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal was 4,804 as of September 2013, representing an 85 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since 1967. “It is indisputable that progress toward the NPT’s disarmament goals is being made,” she said.

“Is it enough? No, and the president said we want to get to zero,” Gottemoeller said May 9 to the Defense Writers Group. “It’s going to take time; it’s going to take hard work.”

No President Named

One action that NPT parties typically take at the last preparatory meeting before the review conference is the naming of the president for the review conference, but they did not do that at the recent meeting. Under the regional rotation used for such assignments, the president for next year’s review conference should be from Africa, but no African candidates have emerged, according to sources involved in the meeting.

Asked if the lack of candidates indicated pessimism about the review conference, a western European official acknowledged in a May 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today that some of the “obvious” candidates from Africa “are not exactly rushing forward.” That is partly “an indication [of] the expectation [of] how much glory could be gained in 2015,” the official said.

But he also said the lack of African candidates is an issue that has come up “in other similar processes.” He cautioned against “overinterpret[ing]” this result of the preparatory meeting.

Progress Reports

At the NPT review conferences, which take place every five years, the member states often have failed to achieve consensus on a final document. The main disagreements have occurred between states with nuclear weapons and those without them. Article VI of the treaty calls on all states to “pursue negotiations” on “effective measures” related to halting the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament, but no time frame is specified. This ambiguity has created a growing divide between nuclear-weapon states, which say they are making good progress, and non-nuclear-weapon states, which say the pace is too slow.

In an attempt to hold the five nuclear-weapon states accountable to their commitments, the final document from the 2010 review conference called on these states to report on their progress in getting rid of nuclear weapons and preventing their use. At the preparatory meeting, each of the five states submitted a progress report, which they had shared with one another in Beijing in April. (See ACT, May 2014.)

Taken together, these reports highlight that one of the challenges ahead for disarmament efforts is that the nuclear-weapon states do not always agree on how to proceed.

The United States says in its report that its policy is “to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our NPT commitments,” through a “step-by-step approach.” As a next step, Washington “is prepared to negotiate further nuclear reductions with Russia of up to one-third in the deployed strategic warhead levels” established in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), as President Barack Obama stated in Berlin last year. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

The U.S. report also says that the United States “remains open to seeking negotiated reductions with Russia in all categories of nuclear weapons,” including strategic and nonstrategic weapons.

Russia rejects bilateral negotiations in its report, saying that U.S. and Russian efforts “are no longer sufficient for further progress towards nuclear disarmament,” suggesting that the other NPT nuclear-weapon states need to be involved. In addition, the Russian report says that “it would remain difficult” to eliminate nuclear weapons “if the process is confined to only” the five NPT nuclear-weapon states, meaning that India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan might need to be involved as well.

Russia’s report states that Moscow “stands ready to further pursue verifiable and irreversible limitation of nuclear weapons in compliance with its obligations under Article VI of the NPT.” At the same time, Russia “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear and other nonconventional weapons, as well as against conventional weapons, “when the very existence of the State is under threat.”

China, whose nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the size of the U.S. or Russian stockpile, says in its report that the countries “possessing the largest nuclear arsenals bear a special responsibility for nuclear disarmament and should take the lead in reducing their nuclear arsenals drastically,” meaning that the United States and Russia need to make further cuts in the size of their arsenals before asking China to join in. Beijing also says in its report that it supports a treaty on “mutual no-first-use of nuclear weapons,” the only NPT nuclear-weapon state to do so.

All five states support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which China, the United States, and six other key countries have not ratified, thereby preventing the treaty from entering into force. The states also back conclusion of a fissile material cutoff treaty, the negotiation of which has been blocked by Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

‘Little Significant Progress’

Many non-nuclear-weapon states said they were unimpressed by the progress reports and rejected the step-by-step approach as too slow.

Alexander Kmentt of Austria said May 2 that the five reports reflect “little significant progress on nuclear disarmament” since the 2010 review conference reaffirmed commitments toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Countries pressing for progress on disarmament are supporting a series of conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. The first two conferences took place in Norway in March 2013 and Mexico in February of this year; a third is to be held December 8-9 in Austria.

The nuclear-weapon states have jointly boycotted the humanitarian conferences, with some of them expressing concern that the events could become a forum to build support for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons outright. In a sign of growing support for such a ban, the UN’s disarmament committee in New York passed a resolution last November with the support of 129 states calling for the “urgent” start of multilateral negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons and designating Sept. 26 as the international day for their “total elimination.” (See ACT, December 2013.)

In her April 29 remarks, Gottemoeller said that “[t]he United States’ deep understanding of the consequences of nuclear weapons use, including the devastating health effects, has guided and motivated our efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate these most hazardous weapons.”

In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, she said that Washington does “not support the notion of a nuclear ban treaty,” but continues to back the step-by-step process for the weapons’ elimination.