The Disarmament Debate: The Fate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Harvard International Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Disarmament Debate: The Fate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty


What is the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) and what are its major goals for international arms control?

The LCNP is a research and advocacy organization in New York City. It was formed by lawyers and academics in the early 1980s at the height of concern about the Reagan Administration's nuclear war-fighting rhetoric. We advocate at Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conferences as well as UN General Assembly and Security Council proceedings, speak with diplomats and UN officials, occasionally litigate, and are deeply engaged in national and international disarmament campaigns. One such campaign is the Middle Powers Initiative, an international civil society coalition that supports countries like Brazil, South Africa, Sweden, Canada, Germany, and Egypt in their mission to persuade nuclear-armed countries to engage in reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals.

Our research and advocacy work in 2004 focused in part on the months-long process of adopting Security Council Resolution 1540, which is aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring and trafficking in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In 2001 and 2002, the LCNP and the Institute for Energy and Environment Research produced a report analyzing how the United States is undermining or rejecting treaty regimes on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, landmines, global warming, and international justice. In the 1990s, the LCNP coordinated the drafting of a model convention prohibiting nuclear weapons like the existing Chemical Weapons Convention and played a key role in the international campaign to obtain an advisory opinion on nuclear weapons from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

What, in your opinion, is the most influential international body or government involved in the nuclear disarmament debate today?

The NPT is at the core of the non-proliferation regime. Nearly every country in the world is a member, with India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea the exceptions. Many believe it is the second constitution of international security after the UN Charter. It prohibits almost all countries from acquiring nuclear weapons and subjects both commercial and research-based nuclear operations to international monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It also contains an obligation of good-faith negotiation of nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arms race applying to all states, but especially to the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, the five nuclear powers acknowledged at the outset of the treaty. The NPT balances obligations of non-proliferation with disarmament guarantees. Unfortunately, implementing disarmament is fraught with difficulty, especially in the context of certain policies of the adminstration of US President George W. Bush.

What are the Bush Administration's strengths and weaknesses regarding nuclear policy?

The problem on the disarmament side of the NPT is that since 1995, the nuclear weapon states, especially the United States, have failed to comply with the commitments that they made to implement the NPT disarmament obligation. For example, in 1999 the US Senate failed to approve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which is often regarded as the holy grail of nuclear arms control. Although nuclear weapon states have already developed and deployed nuclear weapons and used nuclear testing to do so, this was a still a body blow to the non-proliferation regime. Subsequently, the Bush Administration has rejected use of global norms and institutions to solve problems in the nuclear arena. It also opposes the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, and a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention. In 2004, the Bush Administration reversed years of commitments to a treaty to ban production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, saying that such a treaty cannot be verified and that it opposes any negotiation of an effective verifiable treaty. …

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