Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Meeting Sputters

Article excerpt

After four sterile weeks, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference ended May 27 as it began, with competing agendas, widespread distrust, and no consensus on next steps for stopping the spread of or eliminating nuclear weapons.

Egypt and the United States emerged as the main protagonists at the New York gathering, but their disputes reflected age-old splits among the 189 treaty members on how best to realize the accord's visionary goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Still, the flssures seemed to widen and spread at the conference as some of the 150 attending states-parties, particularly Egypt and the United States, demonstrated little inclination to compromise or move beyond positions held prior to the May 2 start of the once-every-five-years event.

Many governments expressed their frustration and regret about the fruitless outcome of the conference and echoed the sentiment of UN secretary-General Kofi Annan that the statesparties had "missed a vital opportunity to strengthen our collective security against the many nuclear threats to which all states and all peoples are vulnerable." Still, despite the pervasive disappointment with the conference, governments refrained from suggesting that it imperiled the treaty, at least for now.

Conference president Sérgio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil told Arms Control Today June 9 that states-parties are "progressively drifting apart" on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues. He cautioned that, if this trend continues, the future of the treaty could be cast into doubt.

The divergence among states-parties stems in large part from tensions between the nuclear-weapon haves and have-nots over how to implement the treaty's dual obligations: the five statesparties possessing nuclear weapons-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-are supposed to work toward giving them up, while all other states-parties have pledged to forgo acquiring them.

Discontent among the have-nots with what they judge as the nuclear-weapon states' paltry progress toward nuclear disarmament has always been palpable, but the grousing has swelled since the 1995 NPT Review Conference. The non-nuclear-weapon states complain that the nuclear-weapon states have not pursued the disarmament measures to which they committed that year as part of a bargain to extend the treaty indefinitely. Specifically, the non-nuclear-weapon states protest the Bush administration's exploration of new and modified types of nuclear weapons, opposition to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. All these moves contravene a package of 13 disarmament steps agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference by the United States and all other NPT states-parties. (see ACT, June 2000.)

At the same time, U.S. pique with the have-nots has also risen because of its view that they have shown insufficient willingness to take to task some of their brethren, notably Iran and North Korea. Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has declared itself a nuclear-weapon power. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded nearly two years ago that Tehran had pursued clandestine nuclear activities that Washington charges are evidence of an illicit weapons program.

The mutual disenchantment between the have-nots and the nuclear-weapon states, particularly the United States, manifested itself at the conference in prolonged battles over procedural issues-including adoption of an agenda-that consumed almost the first three weeks of the conference. (see ACT, June 2005.) The remaining time proved too short for the states-parties to overcome their differences on substantive issues, such as how to dissuade future withdrawals from the treaty or balance a state's access to nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes with sufficient guarantees that it is not secretly seeking nuclear arms. …