NPT Review Conference Finds Consensus, Issues Document

By Rice, Matthew | Arms Control Today, June 2000 | Go to article overview

NPT Review Conference Finds Consensus, Issues Document


Rice, Matthew, Arms Control Today


DEFYING PREDICTIONS OF gridlock, the states party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) achieved consensus May 19 on a final document for the 2000 NPT review conference, reflecting broad compromise on the issues of disarmament and universal adherence to the treaty. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the agreement as "a significant step forward in humanity's pursuit of a more peaceful world...free of nuclear dangers."

A consensus document was a "hope" rather than an expectation, as U.S, representative Ambassador Norman Wulf stated April 21. The conference opened with widespread criticism of the slow pace of disarmament measures, including the U.S. Senate's October 1999 rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the UN Conference on Disarmament's (CD) inability to begin negotiations on a fissile material ban, and the failure of START II to enter into force. Non-nuclear-weapon states, joining Russia and China, also expressed great concern over the fate of arms control in the wake of a presumed U.S. decision to deploy a national missile defense system at the expense of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Russian ratification of START II and the CTBT on the eve of the conference did not dull the criticism by non-nuclearweapon states. The members of the New Agenda Coalition, a group of states demanding faster progress toward disarmament, argued that "the total elimination of nuclear weapons is an obligation and a priority and not an ultimate goal."

While only two of five previous review conferences have produced consensus documents, many observers placed particular importance on reaching a successful conclusion to this conference, which was the first since the treaty's indefinite extension in 1995. Through a long final week of negotiation, the states-parties reached compromise, producing a document that includes stronger language on both disarmament and the Middle East than ever before. (See p. 28.)

Disarmament

While the final document made no commitment to a time frame or specific disarmament measures, the New Agenda Coalition did secure stronger language on disarmament. The five nuclear powers, eager to allay other states-parties' frustration, committed to an "unequivocal undertaking...to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals" and acknowledged a "principle of irreversibility."

This was a much stronger formulation than had been accepted at the 1995 conference, at which the nuclear powers agreed to "reaffirm their commitment...to pursue in good faith negotiations on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament." At the 2000 conference, the nuclear-weapon states also committed to reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, "concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems," and a "diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies."

The conference urged, as it did in 1995, the completion of negotiations on a fissile material cut off treaty in the CD within five years. Progress toward this goal has been stymied by the CD's failure to agree on a program of work, primarily because of U.S.-Chinese disagreement over negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. (See p. 27.)

The final document also made brief reference to the ABM Treaty, calling for the preservation and strengthening of the ABM Treaty as a "cornerstone of strategic stability. …

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