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May 19, 2021
Remarks by ACA's Peter Crail on The NPT Review Process
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The NPT Review Process: Renewing Momentum for 2015

Remarks by Peter Crail, Research Analyst, Arms Control Association, at the ASAN Institute for Policy Studies ASAN PLENUM 2011: Our Nuclear Future Conference
Panel: Evaluating the 2010 NPT Review Conference (Summary)
June 13-15, Seoul, South Korea

The 2010 NPT Review Conference was a major accomplishment. Overcoming multiple obstacles, the Conference reaffirmed the value of the NPT to international security by reiterating prior commitments to strengthen the treaty in 1995 and 2000, and by agreeing to a modest but forward-looking plan of action on the treaty’s three pillars.

Although the final document could have been stronger in many areas, the States Parties left the treaty in a better place than before the conference.

To a large extent the success of the conference was due to the positive momentum going into the meeting, allowing states parties to build upon recent successes in spite of challenges that have remained, or increased, since the collapse of the 2005 Review Conference. Much of this momentum came from a reinvigorated commitment by the United States to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons, a development many Review Conference participants recognized. Also important was the willingness of states to tackle new proliferation challenges, including issues related to nuclear security.

But the true measure of success of an NPT Review Conference is not just a matter of arriving at agreement on a final document. What matters is whether states can individually and collectively meet their commitments by meaningfully reducing the number and salience of nuclear weapons and by preventing their further spread.

Looking Forward

So one of the critical questions now is: what should be done looking forward to 2015 that will provide similar momentum to help the next conference strengthen the NPT? In this regard, the 64-point action plan of the 2010 Review Conference final document is important. The extent to which states will remain confident in the regime will depend largely on the extent to which NPT members follow-through on the steps they committed to pursue last year.

In my view, there are three sets of actions that will likely prove most important to the health of the NPT and to ensuring success in 2015:

  1. Advancing progress on nuclear disarmament by all nuclear-armed states;
  2. Improving the our ability to detect and deter proliferation; and
  3. Implementing the Resolution on the Middle East.

Nuclear Disarmament

The NWS have a key role to play in generating momentum towards a successful 2015 conference by following through on the commitments made in 2010.

Action 5 of the 2010 Review Conference final document presents both an important opportunity and measuring stick for progress on disarmament due to its wide-ranging nature and its call for a progress report at the 2014 PrepCom.

Many of the specific items called for in Action 5 will require steps to be taken by the United States and Russia.

Both still need to lead on deeper nuclear reductions, which does not require agreement on a new treaty in the near term to do so. The continued deployment of 1,550 strategic warheads far exceeds the requirements of nuclear deterrence in the post-Cold War era. Russia is already below New START warhead levels and should continue the ongoing process of retiring old strategic systems. Washington should incentivize and reciprocate this process by furthering its own reductions, recognizing that its existing nuclear missions can still be met with numbers below New START.

In order to address nuclear weapons stockpiles “of all types” and “regardless of their location,” NATO should acknowledge, as part of its Defense and Deterrence Posture Review due to be completed next year, that the 180 or so forward-deployed U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are not necessary for deterrence purposes and indicate its readiness to withdraw those weapons if Russia takes reciprocal measures.

Other NWS have important roles to play too.  The five countries should regularize the discussions held last September and to be held later this month with a view to increasing transparency regarding their nuclear weapon stockpiles, and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies.

Another key measure of the progress made on disarmament heading into 2015 will be the CTBT. NPT parties agreed last year that the NWS should ratify the CTBT “with all expediency.” On March 29, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon reiterated the Obama administration’s support for prompt U.S. ratification and entry into force, and Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher said last month that the administration has begun to explain the administration’s case to the Senate. It will take some time to lay the groundwork for ratification, but a sustained effort can achieve Senate approval before the 2015 conference.

Meanwhile, the United States is not alone. Beijing has said for many years that it had begun the ratification process and it should also seek to conclude that process with the expediency agreed in 2010.

Strengthening Proliferation Barriers

Just as greater progress needs to be made on disarmament, the safeguards regime needs to be strengthened, and all states need to take proliferation risks seriously.

The most important step NNWS can take in this regard is to ratify the additional protocol and support the principle that the protocol is the new safeguards standard with a view to reaching agreement on that principle at the 2015 conference.

The position held by some NNWS that they will not adopt or promote additional nonproliferation measures unless there is further progress on disarmament is a counter-productive approach that only increases reluctance on the disarmament front and abandons the principle that preventing proliferation is an important goal in its own right.

Perhaps more importantly, NNWS have every reason to be concerned about states that disregard their safeguards responsibilities. After all, the vast majority of NNWS are in compliance with their own safeguards agreements, and the few countries that violate those commitments only serve as spoilers for those following the rules.

The best way for NNWS to defend the inalienable rights enshrined in Article IV is to vigilantly protect against those seeking to abuse it.

The IAEA has highlighted for years the refusal of both Iran and Syria to cooperate with its investigations, and both have been found in noncompliance with their safeguards obligations. The agency should be given both the legal tools and the political backing to uncover the extent of any illicit nuclear activities.

More broadly, the understanding reached in 1995 that the peaceful use of nuclear energy should be pursued “in conformity with articles I, II, as well as III of the Treaty,” should be reaffirmed during the next review process. It is through the confidence built by safeguards that countries show that they are in compliance with their article II obligations.

NPT parties should also reaffirm the safeguards requirement to provide early design information regarding the construction of any new nuclear facilities, rejecting any unilateral reinterpretation of that responsibility.

The Middle East Resolution

The agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East WMD-Free zone was critical to the success of the 2010 Review Conference. Building on that decision will no doubt be vital to maintaining confidence in the regime in 2015.

In that light, merely holding the conference is not enough to show that progress has been made; nor should we expect the conference to chart a path to the zone’s establishment in one meeting. There is, however, plenty of room in between.

The most important contribution such a conference can make is the initiation of a process, with identified follow-on steps, to further discuss both definitional issues regarding elements of the zone and potential early confidence-building measures. For instance, all states should recognize that interim steps such as ratification of the CTBT, would contribute to regional stability and reduce nuclear dangers.

Naturally, the challenges to merely hold a conference will need to be surmounted before then. The attendance of all relevant countries will be crucial to any positive outcome, and the participants will need to ensure that there is an atmosphere conducive to constructive discussion, rather than an attempt to isolate Israel. Indeed, the 1995 Resolution creates obligations for all countries in the region to take “practical steps towards” a zone free of WMD and the means to deliver them, as well as refraining from actions that would preclude that objective. Unless such comprehensive responsibilities are recognized, the conference will be a wasted effort.

Building on Success

Last year NPT members reinvigorated the treaty that lies at the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime. But strengthening that regime is not simply a matter of agreements made every five years. What matters is what states do to carry out those agreements. Over the next four years, states will need to build on their latest success, and generate the momentum that can carry forward the disarmament and nonproliferation agenda once again in 2015.