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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
April 2015
Edition Date: 
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Cover Image: 

Finding a Way Out of the NPT Disarmament Stalemate

April 2015

By Lewis A. Dunn

On the eve of the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, there is a stalemate on nuclear disarmament issues between the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-weapon states. 

That stalemate is typified by controversy over the new focus of the non-nuclear-weapon states on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons; lack of agreement among NPT parties on how best to advance nuclear disarmament, heightened by widespread frustration with the slow pace of achieving the nuclear disarmament goals of Article VI of the NPT; and the attraction of calls to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states. The review conference is an opportunity for all NPT parties to agree on a way forward to break this stalemate and advance cooperatively the treaty’s goal of nuclear disarmament. 

The NPT Disarmament Stalemate

Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, president of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, chairs the closing session of the meeting on May 28, 2010, at the United Nations. The conference’s final document included a 64-point “action plan on nuclear disarmament.” (UN Photo)The final document of the 2010 review conference “expresses [the conference’s] deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”[1] There have been three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, in Oslo in March 2013; in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014; and in Vienna in December 2014. Non-nuclear-weapon states have signed statements in NPT and other forums expressing deep concern about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. The goals of the participants in these conferences have varied. Some want to highlight nuclear risks and encourage action to reduce them, others want to energize the NPT nuclear disarmament process, and still others want to delegitimize nuclear weapons and create support for a new international treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons and to abolish them. 

None of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) attended the Oslo and Nayarit conferences. Concern about the agendas of the conferences, uncertainty about the goals of the conferences’ organizing countries and some participants, and questions about these conferences’ practical effect in reducing nuclear risks contributed to those decisions. The UK and the United States participated in the Vienna conference; both stressed their understanding of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. Despite the refusal of China, France, and Russia to participate in the Vienna conference, the humanitarian impact initiative shows no signs of simply fading away. 

Differing approaches to advance nuclear disarmament. Following their February conference in London, which was their most recent meeting under the so-called P5 process,[2] the five nuclear-weapon states declared that “a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament that promotes international stability, peace and undiminished and increased security for all remains the only realistic and practical route to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”[3] Strong arguments can be made to support a step-by-step approach. 

This approach has produced significant reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles and their delivery vehicles since the height of the Cold War. Although the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) regrettably remains to be ratified by China and the United States, a very robust moratorium on nuclear testing now exists. As called for by the 2010 NPT action plan,[4] the P5 process is now well established. Its annual conferences and ongoing expert working group discussions are producing initial results, including greater transparency and better mutual understanding of how each of them thinks about nuclear weapons through the development of a “Glossary of Key Nuclear Terms.”  

Successful pursuit of nuclear disarmament also needs to reflect political and strategic conditions. Otherwise, the result is likely to undermine global security, increase nuclear dangers, and create conditions for further proliferation, including by undermining established nuclear security relationships that still make an important contribution to nonproliferation. 

Political and strategic conditions occasionally permit identification and pursuit of specific priorities. For example, at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the parties called for negotiation of a CTBT by the end of 1996. Motivated by that commitment, NPT nuclear-weapon states made the difficult decisions needed to meet that deadline. Although the treaty is not yet in force, this accomplishment greatly strengthens today’s moratorium. By contrast, agreement on a comprehensive set of predefined actions and associated timelines would sever the connection between progress on nuclear disarmament and the conditions required for that progress.

Many actions remain necessary to establish the building blocks of sustained, stable, and secure nuclear disarmament. Essential political, security, institutional, and technical foundations remain very weak or entirely lacking for a world without nuclear weapons.[5] Consider one critical example: despite some progress, the verified reduction, dismantlement, and elimination of nuclear warheads still presents unsolved conceptual, technical, and security challenges. In other cases, building blocks are themselves stepping-stone agreements that would bring NPT parties closer to a world without nuclear weapons, whether such agreements were negotiated bilaterally between the United States and Russia or multilaterally among all NPT parties. The additional one-third cut in Russian and U.S. deployed strategic nuclear weapons proposed by President Barack Obama exemplifies the former; multilateral negotiation of a treaty limiting production of fissile material for nuclear weapons exemplifies the latter.[6]

Nonetheless, the nuclear-weapon states have not provided a detailed explanation of the step-by-step approach. They also have failed to offer their vision of the nuclear disarmament future. Individual leaders have proposed specific steps, such as Obama’s speeches in 2009 in Prague and in 2013 in Berlin. Neither individually or collectively, however, have the nuclear-weapon states articulated their goals for how a step-by-step process would continue to develop across such critical nuclear disarmament dimensions as numbers of deployed and nondeployed nuclear weapons, the roles of nuclear weapons in security strategies, the safety and security of these weapons, alert levels and decision-making governing use, nuclear modernization and acquisition of new nuclear capabilities, and transparency of past and ongoing nuclear activities. 

Some non-nuclear-weapon states allied with the United States have supported the step-by-step approach, including at the Vienna conference, even while calling for greater nuclear disarmament progress. Many of these states also have emphasized, as did Australia, speaking for 20 countries during the 2014 UN General Assembly First Committee session, that “the hard practical work necessary to bring us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons must still be done. We need to work methodically and with realism if we are going to attain the necessary confidence and transparency to bring about nuclear disarmament. There are no short cuts.”[7] 

For many non-nuclear-weapon states, however, emphasis on a step-by-step approach at best is not convincing and its effectiveness remains to be demonstrated. At worst, the approach is seen as an excuse for lack of action by the nuclear-weapon states. Reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons and the end of the nuclear arms race after the Cold War are welcomed, but viewed as too little, too slow, and too limited against the full Article VI nuclear disarmament agenda.[8] One result has been growing frustration and a loss of confidence by the non-nuclear-weapon states in the nuclear-weapon states’ commitment to nuclear disarmament. Increasingly, some NPT parties now call for new approaches to advance nuclear disarmament. 

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a 12-member group that includes U.S. allies and nonaligned countries, has called for “future multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, particularly after the next bilateral United States-Russian disarmament round has been achieved.”[9] The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as a whole has long argued for negotiation of a time-bound framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. The six countries of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) have proposed that the 2015 review conference “call for the elaboration of a clear, legally binding, multilateral commitment to achieving nuclear disarmament.”[10] As envisaged by the NAC in its working paper on Article VI, this new multilateral instrument would define and create the “effective measures” for nuclear disarmament for which Article VI calls. The paper highlights four options for that new instrument, including a nuclear weapons convention “setting out general obligations, prohibitions and an effective basis for time-bound, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament.” It also acknowledges “that other options may suggest themselves or be suggested.”[11] Similarly, Austria spoke for many non-nuclear-weapon states at the conclusion of the Vienna humanitarian impact conference when it “call[ed] on all states parties to the NPT…to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”[12]

Cooperative, multilateral nuclear disarmament action has an important role to play. Yet, negotiation by all NPT parties now of a new, legally binding, multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament is much more likely to dissipate than to strengthen energies needed to implement Article VI and to take practical steps to minimize the risk of nuclear weapons use. By contrast, it is increasingly important to build on the P5 process and bilateral dialogue to bring China further into a continuing global nuclear disarmament process. Russia’s expressed concerns about China’s nuclear capabilities already are a political and psychological brake on more-ambitious bilateral U.S.-Russian reductions. U.S. uncertainties about China’s developing nuclear posture also could well increase, given public reports that China has begun testing technologies to place multiple warheads atop ballistic missiles. Multilateral cooperation also will help to create a shared vision of the nuclear disarmament future and to put in place the building blocks to achieve that vision. Ultimately, for the reasons that support a step-by-step approach, a treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons is better seen as a closing step, not a next step, in the nuclear disarmament process. 

A nuclear weapons ban without the NPT nuclear-weapon states? In the most far-reaching rejection of the step-by-step approach, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and outside experts now argue that like-minded non-nuclear-weapon states, with NGO support, should begin negotiations to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons even without participation of the nuclear-weapon states. Their models are the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. A few countries, NGOs, and outside experts led international negotiations to ban those weapons on humanitarian grounds; over time, the major producers and possessors joined the agreements.[13] 

So far, non-nuclear-weapon states have not endorsed negotiations without the participation of nuclear-weapon states. Different reasons are at work: fear of damaging the NPT, hope that the nuclear-weapon states will yet agree to negotiate a new legal instrument implementing Article VI or at least to accelerate progress significantly under the step-by-step approach, and the uncertainties and risks associated with a go-it-alone approach. 

The latter caution is justified. Given the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons, the landmines analogy is not applicable. The NPT nuclear-weapon states have made clear that they will not participate in new negotiations to make nuclear weapons illegal and that they will not join a nuclear weapons ban or convention negotiated without them. Without the nuclear-weapon states, pursuit of a ban would have no practical payoff for achieving the goals of the humanitarian impact movement. Equally important, negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban without those five states would be more likely to weaken than to strengthen the NPT. The treaty’s effectiveness would be undermined because going outside of the NPT would make it politically more difficult to press the nuclear-weapon states to deliver on their nuclear disarmament commitments, and they very likely will be less psychologically inclined to do so. The treaty’s legitimacy would be undermined by very likely claims by some advocates that a new treaty is necessary because the nuclear-weapon states are not prepared to honor one of the basic bargains at the core of the NPT. Pursuit of a ban without the nuclear-weapon states also would trigger a deeply contentious confrontation between non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-weapon states and among the non-nuclear-weapon states that support and those that oppose that approach. Together, these developments could well spill over to undermine the treaty’s other goals of nonproliferation and stable use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

Breaking the Stalemate

One possible approach to breaking the stalemate would combine commitment by all NPT parties to rebuilding cooperation in pursuit of nuclear disarmament; creation of new processes of cooperative engagement between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states—that is, sustained dialogue and collaboration for the purposes and via the mechanisms described below; agreement by all NPT parties on some priority nuclear disarmament building blocks, whether necessary foundations or stepping-stone agreements, that they would seek to put in place between the 2015 and 2020 review conferences; and intensified action by the nuclear-weapon states in the P5 process to reduce to an absolute minimum any risk of nuclear weapons use and to sustain a strong and perpetual global nuclear taboo. 

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks on December 8, 2014, in Vienna at the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)

A shared commitment to cooperative nuclear disarmament action. The final documents from the 2000 and 2010 review conferences affirmed “the unequivocal undertaking of the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI.” Yet another reaffirmation of that “unequivocal undertaking” almost certainly will not suffice to restore the confidence of the other NPT parties. At a minimum, the nuclear-weapon states should use the upcoming review conference to articulate a more detailed explanation of the logic of the step-by-step approach. It also is time for them, individually or together in the P5 process, to offer their vision for the nuclear disarmament process. Their support for a new process of cooperative engagement among all NPT parties would back up these statements with actions. 

At the review conference, the non-nuclear-weapon states should reaffirm their support for cooperative nuclear disarmament within the NPT framework. They need not step back from the humanitarian impact initiative, now an established part of the nuclear disarmament landscape. China, France, and Russia should follow the UK and the United States in joining that process. Cooperative pursuit of nuclear disarmament does not require the NAC and other like-minded NPT parties to drop their call for defining “effective measures” under Article VI, although there will be different definitions offered among all NPT parties.

One important way to demonstrate commitment to cooperation would be for all non-nuclear-weapon states to make clear that they do not support negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban or comparable new legal obligation without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states. Another could be to join a commitment by all NPT parties to work cooperatively to establish the political, security, institutional, and technical building blocks of sustained nuclear disarmament progress.

Cooperative engagement between NPT nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. New means are needed to institutionalize a continuing process of cooperative engagement on nuclear disarmament among the NPT parties. This new process would complement today’s NPT review process. 

The purpose would not be engagement for engagement’s sake, but rather the pursuit of a wide-ranging and solution-oriented agenda. First, cooperative engagement should focus on why more-rapid pursuit of nuclear disarmament remains elusive. There are very divergent views among NPT parties on this matter. It is in the interest of all parties to debate and understand the logic behind each other’s views. 

Second, a main goal of cooperative engagement should be to reach agreement among NPT parties on the political, military, institutional, and technical building blocks of sustained nuclear disarmament progress and, to the extent practical, to recommend actions to establish them. As sketched below, there is room here for creative thinking and actions by the nuclear-weapon states, non-nuclear-weapon states, and both in collaboration. 

Third, the agenda for cooperative engagement should provide continuing opportunities for all NPT parties to identify, debate, and seek agreement on a mutually shared vision of the next steps toward nuclear disarmament. Even if agreement cannot be reached now, it is time for a full exchange on how to define and pursue the “effective measures” called for by Article VI. 

Finally, cooperative engagement should encourage and support actions to establish the regional and international security conditions to advance toward a shared nuclear disarmament vision. Sometimes, creating those conditions will be the responsibility of the countries most concerned, as with reversing today’s slide toward political-military confrontation between Russia and the United States or, quite differently, realizing the vision of the top leaders of China and the United States of creating a new type of cooperative major-power relationship. In other cases, however, many countries can contribute politically, diplomatically, and economically, most importantly in addressing regional proliferation challenges in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia. 

To institutionalize cooperative engagement, proposals for a new UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament—that is, a group with membership open to interested countries—offer a possible starting point. The open-ended working group that met in 2013 had a wide-ranging, substantive, and productive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues. A new working group might meet periodically during the 2015-2020 review cycle. 

The nuclear-weapon states declined to participate in the earlier working group. To enhance the prospects for participation, it would be helpful to find ways to reassure them about the mandate of such a group, the way it will do its work, and the requirement for consensus for any recommendations. Similarly, careful consideration should be given to the name of any new working group. 

The U.S.-proposed International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification also should be part of a solution-oriented process of engagement among NPT parties. As stated by Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, the partnership is intended “to further understanding of the complex challenges involved in the verification of nuclear disarmament, and to work to surmount those challenges.”[14] An approach that features collaborative exploration and development by all NPT parties of verification concepts, procedures, and technologies, within the limits set by the NPT’s legal obligation not to assist proliferation, recognizes that no single country has a monopoly on good ideas. The acceptability and legitimacy of eventual solutions would be stronger for such an approach. Working together also would help to build habits of cooperation. All NPT parties should seize this opportunity. 

Increased interaction with the P5 process by the non-nuclear-weapon states should be part of cooperative engagement. The London conference in February broke important new ground by providing for outreach to the non-nuclear-weapon states after the conference. A next step would be to create a subgroup within the P5 process for dialogue with the non-nuclear-weapon states. Membership could be drawn from past review conference officers from cross-cutting NPT groups such as the NPDI and the NAC and from the NAM. 

Other possibilities for cooperative engagement could be explored at the review conference. A group of governmental experts on nuclear disarmament could be established at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). With the CD deadlocked and unable to begin work on any issue, this group could address the full set of political to technical issues of nuclear disarmament. Its purpose would be to pave the way for later action at the CD or elsewhere. Better use also could be made of the strengthened NPT review process, perhaps allocating a new type of “special time” at each of the three preparatory committee meetings for reports and discussion of the work accomplished in the preceding new processes. 

Wang Qun of China and Grigory Berdennikov of Russia have a discussion at the conference of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states in London on February 4. Wang and Berdennikov were the heads of their respective delegations at the conference, which is part of the so-called P5 process. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)Priority actions for nuclear disarmament building blocks. The activities suggested as part of cooperative engagement all would use today’s nuclear disarmament lull to lay the groundwork for progress later. Building on the 2010 action plan, the NPT parties should seek agreement on a few priority actions to pursue between the 2015 and 2020 review conferences to strengthen the building blocks of nuclear disarmament. 

First, the review conference should call for intensified work within the P5 process on the verification and transparency requirements of nuclear disarmament. This activity would complement the new international partnership and help address one of the most critical technical foundations for nuclear disarmament progress, including for a necessary next phase of Russian-U.S. nuclear reductions that should include the verified elimination and dismantlement of nuclear warheads. Follow-on work in the P5 process on the nuclear glossary also will pay off in strengthening a shared conceptual foundation for later multiparty actions. The review conference also could call for the five nuclear-weapon states, either individually or together, to report their vision of the nuclear disarmament process to the 2019 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2020 NPT Review Conference. 

Second, the review conference should call for continued work by the group of governmental experts established by the UN secretary-general on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. This group has explored and clarified issues related to a future treaty. Limits on fissile material production for nuclear weapons are fundamental to further nuclear disarmament. For that reason, the review conference also should call for the completion of negotiations of such a treaty by 2020, whether in the CD or elsewhere. A commitment by all nuclear-weapon states to national moratoriums on producing fissile material for nuclear weapons would add momentum. At the least, all five states could announce at the review conference that they are not now producing such material. 

Third, the review conference should reaffirm the 2010 action plan’s emphasis on the importance of compliance with the treaty’s nonproliferation obligation and call on all NPT parties to support actions by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Security Council to resolve outstanding compliance concerns. In part, such a reaffirmation would show support for full implementation of any negotiated agreement between Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1, assuming agreement is reached. It also would signal the NPT parties’ support for IAEA efforts to resolve its concern about Iran’s possible nuclear weaponization activities. More broadly, nonproliferation compliance remains a vital security condition for nuclear disarmament progress. Creating confidence in the abilities of international institutions to address today’s compliance issues can build longer-term confidence in international institutions’ ability to ensure compliance in a nuclear-disarmed world. Without such confidence, the risks of nuclear disarmament will be thought too high by nuclear-weapon states.[15] 

Intensified cooperation among the nuclear-weapon states to minimize the risk of nuclear weapons use. In their joint statement after their February conference, the nuclear-weapon states in the P5 process “reiterated their shared understanding about the severe consequences of nuclear weapon use and underlined their resolve to prevent such an occurrence from happening.” At the review conference, the nuclear-weapon states should describe their continuing actions to address concerns about nuclear use raised in the humanitarian impact conferences. They also should affirm their intention to deepen engagement among themselves as part of the P5 process and individually to minimize the risk of nuclear use and to strengthen the global nuclear taboo, pending the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.

As a first step, how to avoid any use of a nuclear weapon should become a regular focus of the agenda of meetings under the P5 process. Discussion could focus on generic pathways to nuclear use and actions that the nuclear-weapon states, individually or together, could take to prevent any use. In addition, governmental experts from the five countries also should meet periodically to identify areas for cooperation to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. Cooperation could cover areas such as heading off a possible terrorist nuclear incident and preventing escalation in a regional proliferation crisis. As part of their internal deliberations, the nuclear-weapon states also could seek agreement on their own “code of nuclear conduct.” The code’s purpose would be to define agreed safety and security standards, the most stable operational and decision-making practices, and guidelines for behavior in peacetime and in crisis, again pending the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. These actions would demonstrate the five states’ commitment to practical and effective measures to address concerns at the heart of the humanitarian impact initiative. 

Stepping Up to the Challenge 

Breaking today’s NPT nuclear disarmament stalemate will not be easy. Taken together, the four elements suggested here—a commitment to cooperation, creating a new process of cooperative engagement, agreement to pursue some priority nuclear disarmament building blocks between the 2015 and the 2020 review conferences, and action by the nuclear-weapon states to minimize the risk of nuclear weapons use—are a package that offers one possible way out of that stalemate. Difficulties and obstacles exist among the nuclear-weapon states and among the non-nuclear-weapon states. Reaching agreement, moreover, would not resolve today’s substantive obstacles to near-term nuclear disarmament progress, typified by Pakistan’s blocking the beginning of negotiations at the CD on a fissile material cutoff treaty, Russian rejection of U.S. proposals for new strategic nuclear reductions, or the hurdles facing U.S. CTBT ratification. 

One wild card or another still could block an overall consensus final document at the review conference. Nonetheless, all NPT parties have an important stake in breaking today’s NPT nuclear disarmament stalemate. At the upcoming review conference, all parties should step up to the challenge and find a way out of that stalemate.


Lewis A. Dunn, who served as U.S. ambassador to the 1985 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, is a principal with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAIC or any of its sponsoring organizations.


ENDNOTES

1. 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document, Volume I, Part I,” NPT/Conf.2010/50 (Vol. I), 2010, p. 19 (hereinafter 2010 NPT Review Conference final document).

2. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes as nuclear-weapon states also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

3. See Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Joint Statement From the Nuclear-Weapon States at the London P5 Conference,” February 6, 2015, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/02/237273.htm

4. 2010 NPT Review Conference final document, p. 21 (Action 5). 

5. See George Perkovich and James M. Acton, “Abolishing Nuclear Weapons,” Adelphi Paper, No. 396 (September  2008), http://carnegieendowment.org/files/abolishing_nuclear_weapons_debate.pdf

6. For other examples of such proposed building blocks, see Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Building Blocks for a World Without Nuclear Weapons: Working Paper Submitted by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine,” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP 23, April 15, 2014. 

7. John Quinn, “Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons” (statement, UN General Assembly First Committee, October 20, 2014), http://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmamentfora/1com/1com14/statements/20Oct_Australia.pdf

8. NPT Article VI states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict international control.” 

9. See Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Nuclear Disarmament Post-New-START: Working Paper Submitted by the Members of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates),” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP.9, March 17, 2014. 

10. See Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Nuclear Disarmament: Working Paper Submitted by Ireland on behalf of Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, as Members of the New Agenda Coalition,” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP.25, April 17, 2014. 

11. See Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Working Paper Submitted by Ireland on Behalf of the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa),” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP.18, April 2, 2014. 

12. Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration, and Foreign Affairs, “Austrian Pledge,” December 9, 2014, http://fundipau.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/HINW14_Austrian_Pledge.pdf

13. See Patricia M. Lewis, “A New Approach to Nuclear Disarmament: Learning From International Humanitarian Law Success,” ICNND Paper, No. 13 (January 2009), http://www.abolitionforum.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/A-New-Approach-to-Nuclear-Disarmament_Learning-from-International-Humanitarian-Law-Success.pdf

14. Rose Gottemoeller, “The Vision of Prague Endures” (speech, Prague, December 4, 2014), http://www.state.gov/t/us/2014/234675.htm

15. See Perkovich and Acton, “Abolishing Nuclear Weapons.”

The upcoming NPT review conference is an opportunity for all NPT parties to break the current stalemate over the treaty’s goal of nuclear disarmament and to agree on cooperative measures that move the world toward that goal.

Previewing the NPT Review: An Interview With U.S. Special Representative Adam Scheinman

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Daryl G. Kimball

Adam Scheinman took office as President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation on September 22, 2014. Over the past 15 years, he has held nonproliferation positions in the Department of State, the White House, and the Department of Energy.

Adam Scheinman (second from right), President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, participates in a conference on South Korea’s Jeju Island on December 4, 2014. (U.S. Department of State)Scheinman spoke with Arms Control Today in his office on March 6. The conversation focused on preparations for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which begins on April 27 in New York. Scheinman discussed the outlook for the conference and provided some details on the U.S. view of the measures needed to preserve and strengthen the treaty.

The interview was transcribed by Jennifer Ginsburg. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Thank you for doing this. It’s the day after the 45th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force, and very appropriately, we’re speaking to you about the upcoming review conference.

Just to set a little historical context, in the run-up to the 2010 review conference, there were a number of positive events, such as the negotiation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START], the UN Security Council summit-level meeting on disarmament, and President Obama’s Prague address on a world free of nuclear weapons, that provided some momentum going into the conference. The conference then produced a detailed consensus action plan[1] to strengthen the treaty. Now, in the run-up to the 2015 review conference, you have been in touch with officials from many of the countries that will be there. How would you characterize the atmosphere among the parties as a whole or in various groups in the run-up to this conference?

Scheinman: I would say that the attitude of most governments is one that’s very supportive of the NPT. It’s clear that support for the treaty is deeply rooted in the international community and among governments, as well as among regional groups. The approach that governments are taking has been serious and constructive. There are clearly many differences among the parties on some of the key issues within the treaty, including nuclear disarmament and some of the regional concerns, but I think we can expect differences in a global treaty of this sort and especially one that includes states with nuclear weapons and those without nuclear weapons.

ACT: And overall, do you think the NPT is in good health?

Scheinman: I think the treaty is in good health. There are certainly tensions within the treaty, but the treaty has lived with these tensions for its full 45 years. It has endured review conferences that have produced agreements and final documents as well as those that haven’t. We’ll certainly work toward an agreement in 2015. That’s the approach we’ll bring to the review conference, and I think others will too. We’ll just have to see how it plays out in New York.

ACT: We’re going to come back to some of the points you raised, but just generally, is there clarity about what states can strengthen and implement in the NPT’s provisions and how they can do that? Do you have specific goals to strengthen the treaty at this point?

Scheinman: Well, yes. We would like to encourage countries to pursue a pathway to nuclear disarmament that is sustainable. All countries wish to see that. There are differences, though, on how fast we can get there and what conditions have to be in place in order to achieve it. Those differences will have to be addressed at the review conference as we work through the debate and toward a final document. We do have in mind a number of steps that preserve but also enhance the action plan that was agreed in 2010, and we’re prepared to deal with all of those issues at the review conference.

ACT: You mentioned coming to an agreement and the final document. As you know, a common measure of the success of the NPT review conferences is whether the parties are able to reach agreement on a final document. Do you think that’s likely this time around, and what, in the view of the United States, would make the conference a “success”?

Scheinman: Well, I wouldn’t want to give odds on whether we’ll have a successful review conference. We do have in place a review conference president, Ambassador Taous Feroukhi from Algeria, who is very active. She’s putting together her team, chairs of the various committees, and possibly subsidiary groups if we have them, and she has consulted widely. That’s an important first step. The question of whether we can achieve a consensus—as I said, we will certainly work toward a consensus final document—will require that countries not pursue extreme agendas or place unrealistic demands on the treaty. If countries come to the conference prepared to pursue compromise and agreement, I believe we will get a final document. If countries are unwilling to bend on positions that are stridently held, then certainly the prospects are dim.

ACT: Do you have a sense—are you expecting people to come in with strident, inflexible positions? Is that the body language that people are showing in your discussions with them? What is your expectation?

Scheinman: I think it’s a little too soon to know whether this conference will or won’t produce a final document. This will be a negotiation. All review conferences, in essence, are a negotiation of the final document. We’ll have a better sense once we’re into the proceedings as to whether a compromise can emerge. At this stage, our approach is to clarify our positions on various NPT issues, both challenges and possible remedies. Other countries and groups are in a similar place. As I noted, our preference would be to achieve a consensus document, but that is not the only measure of success or of broad support for the treaty.

ACT: What are the messages that the United States is bringing to the review conference on the three pillars of the NPT?

Scheinman: We seek to advance implementation across all three pillars of the treaty. These are mutually reinforcing objectives; we don’t see one as more or less important than the other. We don’t accept the argument that progress in one area is an absolute condition for progress in another. These are objectives that should go forward together—nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. That is the approach we take. We’ll consider all good ideas that advance each of those pillars and build on the action plan that was agreed in 2010.

It’s worth noting that the action plan that was adopted in 2010 was unprecedented in the NPT review process. We don’t seek to dispense with it five years after it was agreed; we’d like to ensure that it is preserved and that states give serious thought to ways to carry its implementation into the future. This was never intended to be a five-year checklist or that we would start fresh in 2015. We will continue to advance it where there is agreement to do so.

Jaakko Laajava (center), the Finnish diplomat who is the facilitator for the planned conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, speaks on April 29, 2013, in Geneva to a meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. (Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Photo)ACT: Are there specific measures or additional actions that you are seeking support for from the other nuclear-weapon states and from the non-nuclear-weapon states? In the context of the action plan, you had mentioned some things you were planning to do to preserve and enhance the action plan. If you could be a little more specific.

Scheinman: Well, yes. On nuclear disarmament, the president has said we are prepared to go farther in reducing nuclear weapons through negotiations with Russia on another one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. That offer remains on the table, and NPT parties could acknowledge it as a possible next step. The president has also said that we would like to see the now 70-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended forever. We think that’s a reasonable principle for NPT parties to endorse in 2015. The CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] is not in force globally; we think it should continue to have encouragement given its long tie to the NPT’s disarmament goals. Fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT] negotiations have not seen the light of day; we would like to see the NPT membership give that renewed encouragement.

With respect to nonproliferation, we’d like to ensure that the additional protocol is seen as a global priority and, together with comprehensive safeguards agreements, as a standard for verifying Article III of the NPT, the safeguards requirement. We also think that more than 10 years now after North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT, it’s time for NPT parties to agree on steps that could be taken to prevent abuse of the withdrawal provision of the treaty.

We’d like to see the peaceful uses pillar receive the attention it deserves. Too often, it’s a forgotten third leg of the stool. We think that’s a mistake because the majority of states-parties benefit directly from peaceful uses and technical assistance. The peaceful uses initiative was announced in 2010. We’d like to see it continue for another five years; it’s been a very successful tool for expanding peaceful uses in the developing world. There are recent actions that have been taken on nuclear safety and security since 2010 that could be reflected in a final document. So, there’s plenty for NPT states-parties to focus on in terms of new work.

ACT: That’s a good outline of many of the issues that will be discussed, so let’s come back to some of these to go into a little more depth. Over the past several months, a number of serious observers have been warning about the risks for this review conference and for the NPT if there is not faster progress on the Article VI disarmament commitments. A few days ago, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane noted, “[T]he vast majority of non-nuclear weapon States do not view the Action Plan as an open-ended goal.” You said you don’t see it as a series of steps that have to be accomplished in five years, but many other states also come back and say it’s also not an open-ended goal. Kane argued that it’s “incumbent upon the nuclear-weapon States to outline how they propose to reach the final destination” of a world free of nuclear weapons “in the shortest possible time.”[2] So you mentioned that President Obama’s offer for a further one-third reduction in U.S.-Russian strategic arsenals below New START levels is still on the table. Is there any degree of support from the Russian side at this point? Are there any common steps that the United States and Russia might be prepared to commit to in the future with respect to their 2010 action plan commitment to pursue and accelerate steps on nuclear disarmament?

Scheinman: I think there are a couple of points there. One is, “Can one put a time limit, or a schedule, to the elimination of nuclear weapons?” and the answer is “no.” The answer is no because, number one, the conditions to get to zero are extremely demanding; it’s not just a matter of political will of the states that have nuclear weapons. Security conditions have to be in place, and no one can predict with any precision, for example, when Russia will come to the table on negotiations, nor can we predict when the regional conflicts that have given rise to proliferation in other parts of the world will be resolved. It’s just not a reasonable prospect, and that is why the president said that nuclear disarmament is the goal but it’s going to take time, it’s going to take persistence, and we have to pursue it along a trajectory of concrete, achievable steps. We can’t leapfrog to the last step before other steps are in place. That’s just not a practical alternative.

In terms of specifics on U.S. and Russian reductions, I can tell you that our offer remains on the table and that we have said we’re prepared to work with Russia on the full range of strategic stability issues, addressing all of the various concerns that Russia has raised. We hope that Russia will accept the offer. Even better if they accept the offer before the review conference, but I don’t know if they will.

ACT: You mentioned the FMCT and the United States’ disappointment that the negotiations have not begun. That’s of course due in part to the fact that the Conference on Disarmament [CD] has not been able to agree to a work plan for quite some time. Given that situation, is the United States considering or are other states considering exploring new venues for those discussions or negotiations on an FMCT or other ways to move forward? In other words, might we expect some new ideas on how to unblock the FMCT negotiations in the next few weeks at the NPT review conference?

Scheinman: Well, some progress has been made on an FMCT through a UN group of governmental experts, which is holding its final meeting this month and will make its report later this year. We think there have been very good discussions on aspects of an FMCT in that group, and we hope this work continues. That’s a small step, but a useful step nonetheless.

We have made clear our disappointment with the holdup on FMCT negotiations and noted our readiness to support FMCT negotiations that involve the key states. The reality is that all of the key states sit in the Conference on Disarmament, so it’s difficult to conceive of another venue that would not be affected by the same problems that have been preventing FMCT negotiations from starting in the CD. So, it’s not clear that there is a feasible alternative venue that would work. We continue to believe that it would be far better for states to deal with their problems with a treaty in the context of negotiations and not hold up negotiations.

President Barack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague on April 8, 2010. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)ACT: When you say “key states,” do you mean the nine states that have nuclear weapons programs, or would that also include states that have fuel cycle programs but are not weapon states?

Scheinman: I’m referring minimally to states that have nuclear weapons.

ACT: You said that disarmament can’t have a specific timeline and you and others have talked about the step-by-step approach, so can you say what the steps are that are involved in that approach? And do the other nuclear-weapon states agree about those steps? We’re referring specifically to the recent statement at the P5 conference that was issued in February about the step-by-step approach.[3]

Scheinman: I think all five NPT nuclear-weapon states support the principle of a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament. The precise sequencing may reveal some differences, but in general terms, I think we all view it in a similar way, in that there is still work to be done in terms of reductions by the United States and Russia, since these two states hold 90 percent of nuclear weapons in the world. That is why the president has called for a further bilateral reduction, in negotiations with Russia. Following that round of cuts, perhaps at that point we’re at a level where discussions among all five NPT nuclear-weapon states may make sense. But for the time being, we’re at levels that are still too high to consider a P5 negotiation. That’s not a credible next step for today, but is a step down the road.

In terms of multilateral actions, there’s clear agreement on pursuing CTBT entry into force and an FMCT as measures to limit stockpiles in the nuclear arms-possessing states. I would just stop on FMCT to say that often it’s overlooked and seen as an agreement that perhaps would have been valuable 20, 30 years ago. Of course, it’s been on the NPT agenda for the entire life of the NPT. I think it’s a mistake to view it as a throwaway of sorts because it’s inconceivable to my mind that the five nuclear-weapon states would support an arms control negotiation among the five in the absence of a legal cap, a verified cap on fissile material production. And of course, it’s a measure to bring in states outside of the NPT. So, it’s absolutely essential as a next step but unfortunately overlooked.

We’ve also pursued signature and ratification of the protocols to nuclear-weapon-free zones. This is something the administration sought actively since the Prague speech. It’s a means of providing a legal negative security assurance to non-nuclear-weapon states. Non-nuclear-weapon states have said they have a legitimate interest in obtaining such assurances, and we agree that states that abide by their NPT commitments ought to have that assurance. We signed the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone [Treaty] protocol in May, and we’re working actively to be in a position to sign the Southeast Asia zone protocol soon.

ACT: What is the holdup on that? That seemed on the verge of completion for a while.

Scheinman: We negotiated a revised protocol in 2011 and were preparing to sign it at the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] meeting in the summer of 2012 when it became known that some of the P5 states make statements at signing, or in the case of the United States, we make statements at ratification. These are national statements to clarify positions on a treaty or protocol provision. Some could be considered reservations; some are simply interpretive statements that don’t meet the threshold of a reservation. This is standard P5 practice for the zones; every zone treaty protocol the P5 states have signed has been accompanied by such statements. They’re not out of the ordinary, but they surprised the ASEAN states. It’s been very slow work trying to engage and resolve these concerns with the ASEAN states, but we’ve continued to work at it. I was just in Southeast Asia earlier this week to keep the dialogue moving. We are making progress and hope to be in a position to sign at some point soon.

ACT: On the steps the United States needs to take to approve the protocol to the other nuclear-weapon-free zones in Central Asia, a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific, Africa, could you just update us briefly on the status of preparations to bring those to the Senate for consideration for advice and consent?

Scheinman: The two that you mentioned, for Africa and the South Pacific, were sent from the White House to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, so they’re on the treaty priority list. As for the Central Asia zone, we intend to also submit the package [of documents] to the Senate soon. Of course, if we’re able to sign the Southeast Asia protocol before the review conference, which I don’t currently expect, we’ll try to get that package sent to the Senate as soon as possible. We hope to be in a position to brief staff and members of the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee soon.

ACT: You mentioned the CTBT a couple of times. It’s also a treaty before the Senate for consideration for advice and consent. It’s also been one of the treaties that has been part of the NPT’s history since 1968, 1970. What can you tell us about what the United States, Russia, China, and the other nuclear-armed NPT member states are doing to reinforce the CTBT, to advance entry into force, pending action by the United States, by China, and the other Annex II countries?[4] What might we expect the P5 states to commit to, to encourage at the NPT review conference in this regard?

Scheinman: Well, I think all P5 states are firmly supportive of the CTBT, even if all five have not brought it into force. In every P5 statement to the NPT and in the six P5 conferences we’ve held to date, support for the CTBT is clear; that’s point number one. Number two, we have increased our technical work on CTBT verification-related issues, including in Vienna.[5] P5 experts have been meeting on CTBT-related topics, and we’d like to see that pace of activity pick up. And three, we each have our own domestic responsibility to pursue ratification. In our case, the president of course is clearly committed to supporting the CTBT, but we will not take the treaty to the Senate unless we know we have support from a sufficient number of members. At this stage, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller has been very busy traveling around the country and building the case for U.S. support for CTBT. It’s a treaty that would advance our national security interests and advance global security.

ACT: You talked about the steps everyone supports, but you said there might be some differences among the P5 on sequencing, so can you give us an illustrative example? What’s the kind of difference that exists?

Scheinman: Well, the simple example is the United States is prepared and has been prepared to pursue further nuclear reductions with Russia. Russia is not prepared to pursue such reductions today.

ACT: On the P5 process, the five nuclear-weapon states have had six meetings since 2009. What are the results of this P5 process?

Scheinman: Well, in summary, the process has been very constructive in our view, not in terms of short-term or immediate deliverables necessarily, but in terms of the long-term investments we’re making in a process that supports arms control actions that the five could take together. To this stage, the process has encouraged dialogue on nuclear transparency, verification, and strategic issues. We’ve used the process to brief the United Kingdom, France, and China—the three states that have yet to be involved in nuclear arms control reductions—on New START verification. We’ve briefed each other on various aspects of our nuclear posture, so it’s a dialogue that’s beginning to take form. In terms of tangible outcomes, the process has encouraged greater transparency among the five, including through agreement on a standard reporting framework, which we each used to report to the NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in 2014. We each expect to update our reports at the 2015 review conference.

We will also complete a first edition of a glossary of nuclear terms that will be distributed at the 2015 review conference. This, to many, sounds insignificant. But to our thinking, this is needed to lay the groundwork for eventual P5 talks on nuclear arms control. We hope that subsequent editions of the glossary will look at terms or concepts that are more specific to arms control.

ACT: Will this process continue?

Scheinman: Yes. The P5 statement following the London conference made note that France is prepared to host the seventh conference. We don’t have a date quite yet, but clearly after the review conference.

ACT: But continuing into the foreseeable future?

Scheinman: Yes.

ACT: What are the next steps? What’s on the agenda for the upcoming five years or perhaps even beyond that?

Scheinman: Well, as an immediate step, we would like to see further work done on a nuclear glossary. We would like to see additional technical work on arms control verification; this could mirror the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification that Undersecretary Gottemoeller announced a couple of months ago.[6] That partnership will involve nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states. Similarly, the five could pursue transparency actions with nonweapon states. We plan to host a group of officials from nonweapon states at the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories at the end of March. And of course, as the P5 group, we plan to use these conferences as a venue to consult and coordinate on key NPT issues, including dealing with some of the regional challenges and priorities for strengthening the NPT.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at the State Department on August 9, 2013, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)ACT: To talk about some specific issues and areas, the talks on Iran’s nuclear program are ongoing and presumably will be part of the backdrop for the review conference. What impact might they ultimately have, through either success or failure, on the NPT regime?

Scheinman: Well, there are two levels of impact. One is on the review conference itself, and the second, more generally, is on the NPT. In terms of the review conference, it seems fairly straightforward. If there’s a framework deal in hand by late March, with details to be negotiated subsequently by June, then we can expect that the impact on the review conference would be positive. If the talks collapse and we’re into another cycle of escalating tensions, then the impact will be quite negative. I think it would be very difficult to imagine a review conference ending in a consensus final document if the P5+1 talks with Iran[7] collapse in late March.

I certainly can’t get into any details on the discussions with Iran. We’re hopeful the negotiations will produce a successful outcome. In terms of impacts on the nonproliferation regime, we’re of course very concerned about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons because of the potential for much greater proliferation and instability in the Middle East. Should the talks collapse and Iran restart its nuclear program without constraint, then I think the impacts on the nonproliferation regime would be very, very negative over the next two, five, 10 years.

ACT: One aspect of the agreement that the P5+1 and Iran are trying to reach has to do with enhanced monitoring and verification. In November 2013 in the interim agreement, they specifically identified the additional protocol as one of the things that should be a part of any comprehensive agreement related to Iran’s program. Given how long the NPT states-parties have been discussing enhanced monitoring and verification, how would—if there is a P5+1 agreement with Iran, how do you think that might positively reverberate with the effort to universalize the additional protocol and enhance the IAEA’s [International Atomic Energy Agency’s] authority?

Scheinman: Well, again I can’t discuss aspects of the negotiation. As a general point, an agreement with Iran that includes strict verification measures will naturally have a positive influence on nonproliferation efforts.
Support for the additional protocol is not dependent on Iran; that support exists now. We’re up to 124 states now with an additional protocol in force, and the number of states without one that have any significant nuclear activities is increasingly small. I don’t know that a positive resolution of the Iran issue will lead all of the states that have yet to accept the additional protocol to proceed with one. Several of those states reject an additional protocol for political or regional reasons unrelated to Iran or the example set by others.

ACT: You mentioned the additional protocol. In Iran’s case, there would almost certainly be some measures beyond that. Is there a possibility that that would set a standard for nonweapon states with fuel cycle programs or specific ways of monitoring centrifuge programs or something like that?

Scheinman: No. I think this is a negotiation and an approach that’s specific to Iran. We haven’t taken the position that whatever comes out of the talks should be the new standard for nonproliferation or safeguards.

ACT: One of the key commitments of the 2010 NPT Review Conference was to hold a conference in 2012 on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other nonconventional weapons, but the conference has not taken place. What are the obstacles at this point?

Scheinman: The principal obstacle, at this point, is the difference of view on an agenda for the conference. But I think it’s worthwhile to take a half step back because, since 2010, we have exerted huge diplomatic efforts to bring the regional states together to reach agreement on terms for this conference. We’ve had five regional meetings involving Arab states and Israel. Israel has attended each session and at a high level. Iran has attended one of these sessions. We hope to have a sixth meeting before the review conference or soon after.

The regional consultations have been constructive. Each side has a better appreciation for the views and concerns of the other. There is still a substantive gap, but in terms of how far we’ve come to advance the process and to zero in on differences on an agenda, we’re actually not that far off. But to reach agreement will require that both sides come to the next consultation prepared to draft an agenda that allows each to discuss issues deemed important to the achievement of a zone.

ACT: What are the United States and the other conveners[8] and other involved states doing to broker that compromise? Are you encouraging meetings? Are you presenting your own versions of proposals that would address the countries’ concerns?

Scheinman: We discuss the full set of issues that might be addressed at a conference through the regional consultations and any other diplomatic opportunity we have, whether that’s individually or as a collective group of conveners. The pathway to a conference is agreement of the regional states. They have to bear the responsibility to carry negotiations forward, to seek compromises, and to speak to each other directly. They can’t negotiate through facilitators and conveners. This process will only work if the regional states are engaging directly and take responsibility for reaching an agreement. That’s what we encourage.

ACT: With or without the conference, what agreements, treaties, or initiatives would the United States like to see the states in the region pursue to reduce nuclear-related risks?

Scheinman: Our focus at this stage is on reaching an agreement to hold a conference. The conference itself can start a process that might consider additional actions that states in the region would be prepared to take. It could span across the full range of weapons of mass destruction- or military-related issues. But the first step is the most important step because without it, there’s no prospect for advancing arms control in the region. We think this process can have real value because there has been no forum to discuss regional security issues involving states in the Middle East for almost 20 years since the Arms Control and Regional Security process collapsed in the mid-1990s.

ACT: Shifting to another region, you talked earlier about North Korea and the [NPT] Article X issue. In 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT, applying the provisions of Article X in a way that some countries found questionable. The five nuclear-weapon states, in a statement at their conference in London in February, “expressed the hope” that the review conference would reach agreement on language concerning the “potential abuse of the exercise of the right of withdrawal” under Article X. What is your current assessment of the prospects for such an agreement?

Scheinman: I’m hopeful that if we have a consensus document, it will include recommendations on the issue of withdrawal. There has been, I would say, an emerging view that this is an appropriate issue for NPT parties to address and to take a common position on. There have been working papers in the NPT process by a variety of different groups, including the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative—which includes states that are in the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as those with a more Western orientation—and we see common themes emerging throughout all of these initiatives. The P5 holds a shared view of how NPT states-parties might deal with this issue, and so from a political standpoint, I think the time is right to seek consensus on arrangements that all NPT states-parties can support.

ACT: In the view of the United States, what would such an agreement need to cover? What would it need to include to be meaningful and supportive of the NPT?

Scheinman: As a matter of principle and international law, NPT states-parties should acknowledge that any state that violates the treaty and then withdraws from it should remain accountable for those violations. There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card with respect to the Article X withdrawal provision. We don’t intend to rewrite, amend, or in any way revise the right of states to withdraw from the treaty. It’s a question of what are the appropriate consequences for a state that abuses its withdrawal right, either because, in the case of North Korea, it violated the treaty and then announced that it was departing, or it leaves the treaty and then uses peaceful nuclear supplies to pursue a military program. There are steps that can be taken, whether that involves consultations among NPT states-parties, action by the UN Security Council, verification activities that can be called for by the IAEA Board of Governors, and actions that nuclear suppliers can take to require permanent safeguards or cut off supply for states abusing the withdrawal right.

ACT: Before we go to your final thoughts on issues we didn’t cover, I’d like to ask a broader question about the treaty. This is the 45th anniversary of the entry into force. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons. It’s often said that the NPT has, over the decades, reduced the risk of nuclear weapons, but many of the things we’ve discussed today are discussed every five years. Progress in terms of addressing these issues has been slow and difficult.

Looking at this more broadly, do you think that the mechanisms that currently exist to help adapt and evolve the treaty to meet new challenges are adequate? Can it keep up with the times? Are there some adjustments to the mechanisms by which the states-parties look at the core provisions and look at ways of adjusting other than the current review process? Does that have to be considered in order for the NPT to survive another 45 years?

Scheinman: I would say that, number one, there’s a tendency to define the NPT by a few failures or serious knocks on the regime experienced over the years. I think that’s a mistake. We should instead try to define the treaty by its successes, which are far more impressive than its failures, which are serious and of course have to be addressed for the long-term health of the treaty. But by and large, countries meet their obligations, and the security benefits, the developmental benefits, the peaceful use benefits that accrue to states are many. Most countries understand this; they embrace it, they accept it, and that’s why I think support for the treaty is deeply rooted in the international system.

It is certainly possible to imagine a better NPT, but for me, it would be an American perspective of a better NPT, and it probably wouldn’t square with the perspective of other countries. If we sought to replace the NPT and start a new negotiation, it would never close because of the disagreements on nuclear disarmament and perhaps on approaches to countries that are not in the NPT. The NPT is the best we have; we’ve made good of it, and hopefully we can continue making better of it.

The mechanisms to strengthen the treaty are available, and they are in place. Some are treaty based, some are international organization based, and some are coalition based, like the Proliferation Security Initiative and other initiatives that have emerged over the last 10 years. The question is how we make best use of the mechanisms available. The additional protocol doesn’t need to be revised; it needs to be adhered to. Safeguards should be adhered to globally. The UN Security Council is available to deal with threats to international peace and security.

The Security Council should act when cases come to it. The Conference on Disarmament is available for states to negotiate disarmament measures. Countries should take advantage of that resource as well. Regional treaties exist; they should be fully implemented.

So, I think the mechanisms are in place. But we live in the real world, where politics and the security interests of countries intrude on implementation of global instruments, and as a result, we do our best with what we have. I think we’re doing pretty well.

ACT: Thank you very much.


ENDNOTES


1. For the 64-point action plan, see 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document, Volume I, Part I,” NPT/Conf.2010/50 (Vol. I), 2010, pp. 19-29.

2. Angela Kane, “NATO and the Future of Disarmament” (keynote address, NATO weapons of mass destruction conference, Doha, Qatar, March 2, 2015), p. 4, https://unodaweb.s3.amazonaws.com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/02/nato-qatar-2014.pdf.

3. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of States, “Joint Statement From the Nuclear-Weapon States at the London P5 Conference,” February 6, 2015, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/02/237273.htm. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and therefore are sometimes known as the “P5.”

4. Annex 2 to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty specifies 44 countries whose ratification is required to bring the treaty into force. Eight of those countries have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.

5. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization is headquartered in Vienna.

6. Rose Gottemoeller, “The Vision of Prague Endures,” (speech, Prague, December 4, 2014), http://www.state.gov/t/us/2014/234675.htm; Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State, “An International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification,” December 4, 2014, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/234680.htm.

7. The six-country group negotiating with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program is known as the P5+1 because its members are China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

8. Under the terms of the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the conveners of the conference are the UK, Russia, the United States, and the UN secretary-general.

Getting to Know Ray Acheson

April 2015

Interviewed by Jefferson Morley

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, addresses the UN General Assembly First Committee on October 23, 2009. (Courtesy of Mary Wareham)“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that introduces Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

With her black nail polish and eyebrow ring, Ray Acheson does not fit the stereotype of a veteran arms controller. As director of the Reaching Critical Will (RCW) project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), she has spent a decade doing disarmament work in the UN system. 

Arms Control Today caught up with her in the crowded offices of RCW in New York City. The interview, conducted by Jefferson Morley, has been edited for length and clarity.

Forgive me if it’s tiresome, but I have to ask: Any relation to Dean [Acheson, the U.S. secretary of state from 1949 to 1953]?
No, no relation. I do get the question all the time, though.

I guess the question really is, do you have arms control in your family DNA?
Not at all, no. I was born in Toronto, went to school at the University of Toronto. My father manages a box factory in Canada.

When did you know you would make a livelihood out of arms control work?
There wasn’t any one single event. When I was in high school, I read anything I could get my hands on, lots of political theory, lots of [Noam] Chomsky. When it was time to choose what I was going to do at university, I picked peace and conflict studies because I thought that was a way to keep engaging the readings that I was really interested in.

My very first internship was with Randy Forsberg. I was exposed to the anti-nuclear movement through her, through her stories of what she was doing in the 80s.

The RCW website talks about the evolution from the women’s perspective of WILPF in 1915 to a gender analysis perspective of 2015. What is the meaning of that evolution?
Arms control really isn’t an issue to do with biology as much as socialized norms and constructions and roles and that sort of thing. We’ve actually written a paper on this: It’s my favorite title for any paper I’ve written: “Sex and Drone Strikes.” It’s looking exactly at this construct—for example, using males of a certain age to equal “militant” or a “combatant.” From a gender analysis perspective, this really reinforces the concept of violent masculinities, that if you are a man, you’re a militant. “Innocent civilians” has come to mean women and children and the elderly. The whole concept has excluded men, so it makes men more expendable.

What are you most proud of that RCW has done?
We led WILPF’s advocacy on the Arms Trade Treaty. We managed to secure a legally binding provision on gender-based violence. At the beginning, we were getting questions like, “What does gender-based violence have to do with the arms trade? I don’t get the connection.” By the end, we had a hundred states saying that it had to be in the treaty and it had to be legally binding.

The world still faces the reality of huge nuclear arsenals. Do you ever just get daunted?
I’m challenged by it to be even more effective. The biggest thing that I am working on now is trying to get states to negotiate a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. That has been extremely exciting to work on.

Are you encouraged that we now have mainstream political figures like George Shultz coming out for getting to zero?
It was useful but also distracting because it made people feel that this is going to happen and we don’t have to do anything. That was true with [President Barack] Obama’s Prague speech as well. People felt like yes, the U.S. is going to be a leader on this and then, as you’ve seen, that has not panned out at all. It sort of sucked energy away.

What creates energy in your work and your organization?
For me, I guess it’s a sense of injustice. Nine countries have nuclear arms and threaten the rest of us every single day. I think we can do something. The alternative is saying it’s all too big, it’s all too complicated, so we might as well not even try. You might as well try. Life is in trying.

With her black nail polish and eyebrow ring, Ray Acheson does not fit the stereotype of a veteran arms controller. As director of the Reaching Critical Will project of the WILPF, she has spent a decade doing disarmament work in the UN system. 

Russia Completes CFE Treaty Suspension

April 2015

By Kingston Reif

Russia is suspending its participation in meetings of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty Joint Consultative Group (JCG), according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 10.

The announcement marks a further pullback from the treaty that Moscow had largely abandoned in 2007. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

In a March 11 interview with Interfax, Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, said Moscow’s suspension was not due to the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations resulting from Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“The issue was long overdue, long before the Ukraine crisis, before the current state of affairs in our relations with the West,” Ulyanov said.

According to Ulyanov, the United States “had forbidden its allies to discuss any substantive issues at the JCG. In those conditions there was not much sense in continuing our participation in the JCG.”

The CFE Treaty, signed at the end of the Cold War on Nov. 19, 1990, eliminated the Soviet Union’s overwhelming quantitative advantage in conventional weapons in Europe by setting equal limits on the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that NATO and the Warsaw Pact could deploy between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains.

The treaty was designed to prevent either alliance from amassing forces for a blitzkrieg-type offensive, which could have triggered the use of nuclear weapons in response.

Russia suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty in 2007, claiming it was responding to NATO member states’ decision to condition their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty on the resolution of a dispute over Russian military deployments in parts of Moldova and Georgia. But Moscow continued to participate in the consultative group, saying that it hoped that dialogue could lead to the creation of an effective, new conventional arms control regime in Europe.

Beginning in 2010, the Obama administration sought to resolve the CFE Treaty dispute through the development of a draft “framework” for new negotiations to strengthen the treaty regime. But the talks stalled, and in November 2011, the United States announced that it “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia.

Ulyanov told Interfax that Russia would be unlikely to return to compliance with the CFE Treaty. The accord, created when the Warsaw Pact was still in existence, is “anachronistic” and “absolutely out of sync with the present realities,” he said.

Russia is suspending its participation in meetings of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty Joint Consultative Group (JCG), according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 10.

Chlorine Attacks in Syria Condemned at UN

April 2015

By Jefferson Morley

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution March 6 condemning the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria’s civil war and threatening action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical arms are used again. The measure was endorsed by 14 of the 15 council members, with Venezuela abstaining.

Later in March, amid reports of another chlorine attack on the town of Sarmin in northwestern Syria, Syrian authorities, including President Bashar al-Assad, denied using the widely available chemical as a weapon of war.

The Security Council noted that the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had expressed “serious concern” about the findings of an OPCW investigative team, which concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine attacks had killed people in three Syrian villages from April to August 2014. (See ACT, October 2014.)

In the Security Council debate, Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said that although he supported the resolution, only the OPCW could determine violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He said Russia did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter without attempts to confirm the use of chemical weapons. Chapter VII authorizes the Security Council to take measures “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

French ambassador François Delattre said the council could not remain idle in the face of violations of Resolution 2118, which endorsed an OPCW Executive Council plan for destroying Syrian chemical weapons and “[u]nderscore[d] that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons.” Delattre declared France ready to take measures under Chapter VII of the charter.
Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom said the resolution put the Syrian regime on notice that the further use of chlorine would trigger additional action by the council.

The OPCW investigation and the UN Security Council resolution did not specify the party that used chlorine in the 2014 attacks, but Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, observed that, among the parties in the Syrian civil war, only the Assad regime has the capabilities to deploy and use chlorine weapons. The regime must be held accountable for its actions, which constitute a violation of international law, Power said.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution March 6 condemning the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria’s civil war and threatening action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical arms are used again.

Cluster Munitions Kill 13 in Ukraine

April 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Russian-backed separatist forces and beleaguered Ukrainian government troops traded cluster munition attacks in January that killed 13 civilians, according to reports received by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe and confirmed by Human Rights Watch.

In one reported attack in Artemivsk, a government-controlled city near Donetsk, a woman and a boy were killed on a playground. In Komsomolske, a village about 40 kilometers southeast of Donetsk, a father and his 10-year-old son were killed as they walked on a street in the late evening.

In a March 25 interview, Human Rights Watch investigator Ole Solvang said he was “highly confident” that both sides in the Ukraine conflict had used the deadly air-dropped explosives that indiscriminately spray sharp bomblets over a wide area in a single blast.

The Ukrainian military denies using cluster munitions in crowded urban areas. Separatist forces and the Russian government have categorically denied use of cluster of munitions in the Ukraine conflict. Neither Ukraine nor Russia is a signatory to the global treaty banning the use of cluster munitions.

Solvang said that he had presented information gathered from witnesses and authorities in seven towns to the representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and military prosecutors.

As for the attacks emanating from rebel-held areas, Solvang said the perpetrators could not be identified. “Were they from rebel forces or from Russian forces operating in rebel-held areas? We don’t know,” he said.

Russian-backed separatist forces and beleaguered Ukrainian government troops traded cluster munition attacks in January that killed 13 civilians, according to reports...

Pakistan Test-Fires Longer-Range Missile

April 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Pakistan last month tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that officials in Islamabad say has a range that makes it capable of reaching targets in all of India and parts of the Middle East.

A Shaheen-3 was test-fired into the Arabian Sea on March 9, the officials said. The Shaheen-3 is a medium-range ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 2,750 kilometers, according to Pakistani officials. Earlier versions of the missile had an estimated range of 2,500 kilometers with a nuclear payload.

Lt. Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat, the director of the strategic plans division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority, said on March 9 that the successful test was a “milestone of historic significance.”

He said the purpose of the test was to validate “various design and technical parameters of the weapon system at maximum range.”

While rival India recently has focused on developing long-range systems, including the Agni-5, which has range of 5,000 kilometers, Pakistan has focused its ballistic and cruise missile activities on shorter-range systems. (See ACT, October 2013.)

In February, days after India’s most recent test of the Agni-5, Pakistan tested an air-launched cruise missile, the Raad. It is a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of about 350 kilometers and incorporates “stealth capabilities,” according to a Feb. 2 release from the Inter Services Public Relations office, a press branch of Pakistan’s military. Pakistan has been developing the Raad for the past several years.

Hayat said the Feb. 2 test was a “major step toward strengthening Pakistan’s full spectrum minimum credible deterrence.”

Pakistan last month tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that officials in Islamabad say has a range that makes it capable of reaching targets in all of India and parts of the Middle East.

Iran, P5+1 Said to Be Close to Deal

April 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Secretary of State John Kerry (left), UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (center), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talk after Hammond made a statement about their meeting on recent negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program in London on March 21. (Brian Snyder/AFP/Getty Images)Iran and six world powers were close to reaching a framework agreement that defines Iran’s nuclear activities and lays out a path for sanctions relief, but two areas must be resolved first, an official involved with the talks said as the negotiations entered a critical stretch late last month.

Defining the parameters of Iran’s research and development program on advanced centrifuges and determining the sequence of sanctions relief remain the primary obstacles to a framework deal, the official said in a March 19 interview. He characterized the differences in approach on these issues as “serious but resolvable.”

Iran and the six countries known collectively as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met March 15-20 in Lausanne, Switzerland, The talks broke for four days and resumed in Lausanne on March 25. They were continuing as Arms Control Today went to press.

Last November, when Iran and the P5+1 agreed to extend talks on a comprehensive nuclear deal, the parties announced that they would try to reach a framework agreement within four months and complete a comprehensive deal, including technical annexes, by June 30. (See ACT, December 2014.)

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the P5+1 is concerned that Iran could choose to develop nuclear weapons.

At a March 21 press conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Lausanne for the talks, said the two sides had made “substantial progress” toward an agreement but that “important gaps remain.”

Also on March 21, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that there is “nothing that cannot be resolved” and that the progress made during the week at Lausanne can be the “foundation for a final agreement.”

Kerry said he had spoken by telephone with the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers and was going to London for consultations with his counterparts from France, Germany, and the UK. He said he then would return to Lausanne to “determine whether or not an agreement is possible.” Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif returned to the Swiss city when the talks resumed on March 25.

Consultations were necessary because the P5+1 countries have different views on sanctions relief, according to the official involved with the talks.

Kerry did not directly address that point, but said that the United States and its partners are “united in our goal, our approach, our resolve, and our determination” to reach a deal that ensures that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

The disagreement among the members of the P5+1 relates primarily to when the UN Security Council sanctions are lifted, said the official involved with the talks.

Iranian officials have said they would like to see the UN Security Council sanctions, which they claim are illegal, removed early in an agreement. The P5+1 countries, however, have said they prefer to keep some of the sanctions in place and lift them later.

Various statements by officials from P5+1 countries seem to indicate that some of them favor suspension of some of the sanctions early in the agreement, while others do not. Suspension would keep the sanctions in place, but the measures would not be enforced.

In the past, officials from P5+1 countries have tied removal of sanctions to completion of the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into Iran’s past nuclear activities, including those with possible military dimensions.

The UN Security Council first placed sanctions on Iran in 2006, after the IAEA referred Iran’s case to the council. The IAEA said Iran was not providing it with the information and access it needed to declare that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Advanced Centrifuges

Defining the limits of Iran’s research and development program is the key remaining gap on the technical side of the negotiations, said the official involved with the talks.

The P5+1 officials say they want to limit research, testing, and development of advanced centrifuge machines, which enrich uranium more efficiently. This is based on the concern that testing and development of advanced machines could allow Iran to move quickly toward enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels or that Iran could begin stockpiling advanced machines and quickly pursue a nuclear weapons program after the limits imposed by an agreement expire.

Iranian officials have stated in the past that it is their intention to shift to more-advanced centrifuges that operate with greater efficiency and therefore use fewer machines to provide fuel for the Bushehr power reactor in the future

Iran is currently enriching uranium to reactor grade, or less than 5 percent uranium-235, using its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Iran currently has nearly 19,000 IR-1 machines installed, of which about 10,200 are operating. But the IR-1 model is inefficient and crash prone.

Currently, Iran is working on several advanced centrifuge models—the IR-2M, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-6S—at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz.

Technical Expertise

Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sit across from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right) and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, in Geneva on February 22 before a discussion of the future of Iran’s nuclear program. (U.S. Department of State)U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, attended both rounds of Lausanne talks. Both are involved in assessing the proposals for limiting and monitoring Iran’s nuclear program under a deal.

Moniz has joined the talks only in the past two months, but his agency has played a role in the negotiations since they began in the fall of 2013, a senior U.S. official told reporters on March 17.

The official said that the Energy Department has analyzed a variety of technical aspects of the agreement, including Iran’s breakout capabilities under different scenarios.

Breakout is the amount of time it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium, which would be 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to more than 90 percent U-235, for one bomb.

Currently, Iran could break out in two to three months, according to U.S. officials. Kerry and the U.S. negotiators have said that time will be extended to 12 months or more under the deal.

The U.S. official said that Energy Department laboratory experts and nongovernmental experts have been involved in reviewing the technical analyses.

Iran and six world powers were working to resolve two issues that are critical to reaching a framework agreement that defines Iran’s nuclear activities and lays out a path for sanctions relief.

Senate to Consider Corker’s Iran Bill

April 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on March 10. Corker has introduced legislation that would give Congress the option of holding a vote on the nuclear deal that the United States and five other countries are negotiating with Iran. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The Senate is moving forward on legislation President Barack Obama has threatened to veto because it may prove harmful to negotiations with Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program.

The bill, authored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), would give Congress the option to vote on any agreement that the Obama administration and its five negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) reach with Iran.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill April 14, according to a March 19 press release from Corker and Sen. Robert Menendez (R-N.J.). Corker is the committee chairman, and Menendez is its ranking member.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said on Feb. 28, after the bill was introduced, that Obama would veto the bill because it would complicate the efforts of the negotiators in the final weeks of the talks.

Negotiators from Iran and the six world powers were trying to reach a framework agreement by the end of March. The deadline for completing a comprehensive nuclear deal is June 30 (see "Iran, P5+1 Said to Be Close to Deal).

Although the agreement will not be a treaty, which requires the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification, Corker said on March 3 that given the importance of the nuclear deal, Congress should “weigh in” on the agreement.

As of March 27, the bill had 21 co-sponsors. In addition to Corker, 12 Republicans have joined the bill, as have eight Democrats, including Menendez, and one independent.

The legislation requires the president to submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days while the deal is under review. Congress can vote to approve or disapprove the agreement during that time or take no action. If Congress votes to approve the deal or takes no action, implementation of the agreement begins.

Under the provisions of the bill, the sanctions cannot be waived unless the president has certified that Iran is not involved in any acts of terrorism. Critics of the bill argue that the provision is misguided because Iran’s support for terrorism is outside of the scope of the negotiations.

The administration would be required to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the agreement. If Iran were not complying with the terms of a deal, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to reinstate sanctions on Iran.

Recent actions have threatened the support for the legislation from several of its co-sponsors, who expressed concern that Iran is becoming a partisan issue.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of 47 Republican senators to sign a letter to Iranian officials on the nuclear deal, talks to reporters about the letter at the U.S. Capitol on March 10. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)On March 9, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iranian officials warning that the next president or Congress could interfere with the implementation of any nuclear agreement. The letter, authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), said that because the deal will be an executive agreement, which is not legally binding, “[t]he next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a co-sponsor of the Corker legislation, said in a March 10 speech on the Senate floor that he wants Congress to have a role in the nuclear agreement. But Congress must act responsibly, and “the actions of the last few days have frankly shaken that confidence because we have seen what appears to be an effort to gain political and partisan advantage from this gravest of national issues,” he said.

In another March 10 Senate floor speech, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the bill, also spoke out against what he said was partisan action on the legislation. Kaine cited a controversial March 3 address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which Netanyahu said the deal being negotiated would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu without consulting the White House, an approach that led Democrats to charge that the speech was a partisan maneuver.

Kaine said Republican Senate leaders had sought to exploit Netanyahu’s speech by attempting to move the Corker bill straight to the Senate floor for a vote, bypassing the committee process, the week after the speech.
Kaine said that the “carefully worked-out bipartisan bill…was hijacked basically” and the move to bypass the committee process was meant to “embarrass the Democrats.” He said that Congress has to pull back from the “brink of irresponsible and partisan action” because the stakes of the deal are too high. Congress should not act to “tank a deal” before it is reached, he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said it is “not about partisan politics [but] about world order.”

The Senate is moving forward on legislation President Barack Obama has threatened to veto because it could scuttle nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Slow Progress on Middle East Zone Decried

April 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario attends a meeting of the Commission for the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on August 8, 2014. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Image)Middle Eastern states are frustrated by the slow pace of consultations on an agenda for convening a conference to begin discussions on creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the region, an Egyptian official said last month.

At the upcoming review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the states in the region will “express their discontent,” an Egyptian official told Arms Control Today in a March 12 e-mail.

NPT review conferences are held every five years. The upcoming conference is scheduled to run from April 27 to May 22 in New York.

At the 2010 review conference, the parties agreed to convene a conference by 2012 on establishing the WMD-free zone. Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were named as the conveners of the conference. The agreement on the conference on the WMD-free zone was key to reaching consensus on the final document of the review conference. (See ACT, June 2010.)

Because the parties were unable to agree on an agenda for the conference in 2012, it was postponed, and no new date has been set. (See ACT, December 2012.)

The Egyptian official said the failure to make progress demonstrates the “unbalanced commitment” to the NPT. He said the nuclear-weapon states are too focused on nonproliferation and do not put enough emphasis on supporting the zones. Article VII of the treaty says that member states can conclude treaties to “assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.”

Countries have already formed nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia.

In a March 13 e-mail, Chen Kane, Middle East projects director and senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Arms Control Today that much of the blame for the failure to implement the 2010 decision lies with the Middle Eastern states. The prominence of the issue at the 2015 review conference will depend on how much the NPT parties are willing to let the topic of the zone be central to the discussion and “hijack” the conference, she said.

Kane, a former official with the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said it is not up to the NPT review conference to “decide and implement” a regional issue.

Ongoing Consultations

Since 2012, the facilitator of the planned conference on the Middle East, Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava, with the support of the conveners, has held five consultations with the countries in the region aimed at reaching consensus on an agenda for the conference. The last consultation was held in June 2014. The Arab League member states and Israel have attended every meeting. Iran was present only at the first consultation in October 2013.

The Egyptian official said Iran is not attending because of nuclear talks with the international community (see "Iran, P5+1 Said to Be Close to Deal") but remains supportive of the zone and is “regularly briefed on the consultations.”

The official said that “Israel and the Arab League have fundamental differences” on how to move forward on an agenda.

Kane said that the consultations have been a “very important process” because the regional states are discussing the issue for the first time. But the zone will “only be established through direct negotiations amongst the regional states” and cannot be imposed, Kane said.

Given the “strategic and technical complexities” of negotiating a WMD-free zone, Kane suggested that, to make progress, Middle Eastern governments could establish a group of experts to “identify where negotiations need to begin.”

Steps for the group could include examining the objectives, requirements, standards, and possible procedures for verification of such a zone and identifying confidence-building measures, she said.

Other Zones

Guidelines for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones laid out by the UN Disarmament Commission in 1999 recommend that the NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States—be consulted during the establishment of zones.

The guidelines also recommend that the five states ratify legally binding protocols to the treaties that respect the establishment of the zone and prohibit the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons against states within the zone.

Only the Latin American and Caribbean zone protocol has been ratified by all five states. Little progress has been made since 2010 on ratifying the protocols to the other nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties.

France and the UK ratified the protocol for the Central Asian zone in November 2014 and January 2015, respectively.

None of the five states have yet signed the protocol to the Southeast Asian zone, despite repeated commitments to do so. In a March 6 interview with Arms Control Today, Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, said the United States is “working actively to be in a position to sign the Southeast Asia zone protocol soon.”

Middle Eastern states are frustrated by the slow pace of progress toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

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