Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference Outcome a Warning Sign, Say Arms Control Experts

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference Outcome a Warning Sign, Say Arms Control Experts

For Immediate Release: May 22, 2015 

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270, ext. 107Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy (202) 463-8270, ext. 102Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270, ext. 104

(Washington, D.C.)--After four hard weeks of statements, working papers, and negotiations, diplomats at the 2015 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference could not overcome deep differences over the slow pace of action on nuclear disarmament and, in particular, on the process for convening a conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.  

"The inability to reach a consensus document at the 2015 NPT Review Conference with an updated action plan is a wake up call that can and should spur more effective action and leadership on the part of responsible NPT member states," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which has tracked the progress of treaty implementation since the first review conference in 1975. 

"Even if agreement had been reached, the final draft document was, at best, a roll-over of the disarmament and nonproliferation commitments that were agreed to in 2010," said Kimball. 

Middle East WMD-Free Zone Divisions

In a statement from the floor this evening, U.S. Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, along with the representatives of the U.K. and Canada, said they could not support the revised proposal for pursuing a conference to discuss the Middle East zone issue outlined in the draft final conference document. Gottemoeller said the United States is willing to resume the process to hold a zone conference on the basis of the 2010 framework, if there is willingness do so by key parties in the Middle East, particularly Egypt, which had advanced a controversial proposal on the issue 

In 2010, the NPT Review Conference agreed to a practical approach to discuss the issues and conditions necessary to achieve a WMD-free zone in the Middle East  starting with a meeting among states in the region. Due primarily to differences between Egypt, the Arab League, and nuclear-armed Israel over the agenda, that meeting has not been held. The dispute carried over into the 2015 Review Conference. 

"In order for the long-awaited, formal talks on a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction to begin, top leaders in Cairo and Jerusalem will need to agree on a broad agenda and process that takes into consideration Israel's interest in discussing regional security dimensions, and the Arab states' interest in discussing the nuclear problem," said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy for the Arms Control Association.

"In the meantime, all states can and should take specific actions to adhere to the Chemical Weapons Conventions, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and enhanced safeguards, to build confidence and security in the region," suggested Davenport.

The Divide on Disarmament

There was an absence of consensus on other issues. Representatives from several nonnuclear weapon states expressed dissatisfaction with the nuclear disarmament-related elements of the draft final document, citing the lack of benchmarks for progress.

"The conference also put on display the growing frustration of the non-nuclear weapons majority with the slow pace of action on disarmament by the nuclear-armed states, their costly and counterproductive nuclear weapons modernization programs, and dangerous nuclear doctrines. The conference also demonstrated the widespread concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and the need to act with greater urgency to eliminate nuclear dangers," Kimball said.

In 2010, the NPT nuclear weapon states pledged "to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament," including "all types of nuclear weapons" as well as toward entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

Since the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), however, further progress on disarmament has been stalled due to the severe downturn in U.S.-Russian relations and differences among the key nuclear-armed states on the way forward. There has been no action toward CTBT ratification by the United States, China, and other key states.

"Unfortunately, the five acknowledged nuclear weapon states came to this conference without new ideas or proposals for meeting their NPT obligation to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons and the risks they might be used. The fact that there are tensions between the big powers does not excuse them from their solemn, legally-binding obligations to accelerate work to fulfill their NPT Article VI disarmament obligations, which are fundamentally in their own security interests," Kimball added.

"The disappointing Review Conference outcome will likely add to the growing frustration of the non-nuclear weapons majority with the slow pace of action on disarmament by the nuclear-armed states, and their costly and counterproductive nuclear weapons modernization programs," said Kingston Reif, director of disarmament policy for the Arms Control Association.

Moscow and Washington are pursuing costly nuclear modernization programs that would maintain force levels that greatly exceed their nuclear deterrence requirements. Moscow is designing a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry up to 10 warheads. Earlier this month, we reported that the United States is seeking 1,000-1,100 new, nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles which is part of a larger nuclear sustainment plan that could cost $1 trillion over the next three decades. China is continuing to modernize and expand its nuclear forces. The Department of Defense announced this month China had begun to deploy multiple warheads on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.  

"These actions are out of step with the step-by-step disarmament process these states claim to support," Reif said.

Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative 

"The Conference did, however, demonstrate the widespread realization and growing concern about the catastrophic humanitarian risk of nuclear weapons use and the need to act with more urgency to reduce those risks and accelerate progress toward global zero," Reif said. 

A group of 159 states endorsed a statement issued at the conference stating that it "is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances."  

Since December of last year, 107  states have endorsed a document developed by Austria known as the "Humanitarian Pledge," which calls on states "to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons."  

Ways Forward

"There is clearly an need for a more robust exchange of pragmatic proposals for reducing and eliminating nuclear risks and creating the conditions for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the draft conference document suggested a potentially useful way forward: an 'open-ended working group' to be established by the UN General Assembly to 'elaborate effective measures for the full implementation of Article VI of the treaty,'" Reif said.   

"All states should take this opportunity seriously and use it as a forum to bring forward realistic, actionable ideas," Reif said. 

"While a legally binding prohibition on nuclear weapons possession and use will eventually be necessary to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, it is important to recognize that pursuing a such a ban at this time-as some states demand-will, unfortunately, not effectively compel the nuclear-armed states to fulfill their disarmament obligations and engage in the multilateral talks that are necessary to move us to the next stages in the disarmament process," Kimball said.

"In the coming months, Russia, the United States, and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states must find new ways to get back on track or risk the fracturing of the NPT regime," Kimball warned. 

"Among other steps, Moscow and Washington could announce they will accelerate the pace of their New START reductions, begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START and in a way that would take into account other strategic weapons systems.. China could announce it will freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs. This could help create the conditions for a series of high-level summits and serious negotiations on multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament involving leading nuclear-armed and nonnuclear-weapon states," Kimball suggested.

"Appropriately enough, the April 2 framework agreement between six world powers and Iran on a comprehensive agreement to curb Iran's sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities was widely praised as a positive and important contribution to nonproliferation by many states at the NPT Review Conference. If finalized and implemented, the Iran nuclear deal would strengthen the NPT and push a nuclear-capable state in the region back from the brink of nuclear weapons," Davenport said. 

"The 2015 NPT Review Conference does not signal the end of the NPT, which remains vital to international security, but it reveals a lack of political will and creativity that undermines the treaty's effectiveness. Without fresh thinking and renewed action on the 70-year old problem of nuclear weapons, the future of the NPT will be at risk and the possibility of nuclear weapons use will grow," Kimball warned. 

"We strongly encourage President Barack Obama to recommit his administration to jumpstarting progress on the plan of action toward a world free of nuclear weapons that he first outlined in 2009 in Prague, that the UN Security Council endorsed in resolution 1887 in 2009, and that all NPT states committed to at the 2010 Review Conference," Kimball said. 

"Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation is a global enterprise and the United States is indispensable to the effort," he said.


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.