10th Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference: Background and Resources

For Immediate Release: Dec. 15, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 x107; Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, 202-463-8270 x113

In less than a month, hundreds of diplomats representing the states parties to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with representatives from civil society, will convene Jan. 4-28 for talks that will shape the future of the international nuclear arms control regime at a time when the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear competition are growing.

The conference caps a five-year cycle of meetings in which states-parties review compliance with the NPT and seek agreement on steps to advance the treaty’s main goals: preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons and sensitive nuclear technology and halting and reversing the nuclear arms race and advancing nuclear disarmament. This review conference occurs a quarter-century after state parties agreed on the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference.

The conference, which was been delayed due to the pandemic, arrives as tensions between the United States and Russia and between the United States and China are worsening and as they are each accelerating programs to modernize and upgrade their deadly arsenals.

As a result, a central issue at this Review Conference, the treaty’s 10th, will likely be the failure of the nuclear-armed states parties to meet their NPT Article VI disarmament obligations and the many of the specific disarmament-related goals outlined in the action plan that was adopted at the 2010 Review Conference.

Although the United States and Russia agreed earlier this year to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until early 2026, negotiations on a follow-on agreement or agreements have yet to begin. This week, a group of U.S., Russian, and European experts outlined a set of recommendations on how the two counties can achieve progress. Whether the five NPT nuclear-armed states will agree to commit to specific action steps to address this “disarmament deficit” is not clear.

Other issues could prove to be contentious. These include how to advance the goal of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Divisions on that issue led the United States to block consensus on a final conference outcome at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

While there will likely be strong support from NPT states parties for the ongoing talks to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts to maintain adequate monitoring of its sensitive nuclear activities could not only complicate talks on the JCPOA, but it could become a flashpoint at the NPT conference.

To make progress, the NPT Conference will need to recognize but also avoid unnecessary debate over the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force earlier this year. Supporters of the TPNW, which include some of the strongest backers of the NPT, note that the new treaty complements the NPT and is a good-faith contribution to their disarmament commitments. The NPT nuclear-weapon states unsurprisingly oppose the TPNW, which calls into question their continued reliance on the threat of using weapons of mass destruction in the name of their national security interests.

As of now, it is not clear who will represent the United States at the conference. President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. delegation to the NPT meeting, Adam Scheinman, has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate due to opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Another open question is whether, as with past NPT Conferences, is whether the president or secretary of state will address the opening of the NPT conference to describe in more detail the United States’ vision for reducing the existential threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.


News and Analysis


Fact Sheets

Official Conference Documentation and Speeches