Renewing the Bargain

By Lüdeking, Rüdiger | Arms Control Today, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Renewing the Bargain


Lüdeking, Rüdiger, Arms Control Today


The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime is in a state of crisis. That at least has been a leitmotif of discussions among experts during the past decade. The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference to arrive at an agreed result clearly seemed to support this notion.

Indeed, the NPT regime has been facing a risk of erosion, which is essentially twofold. On the one hand, the last decade has witnessed serious nonproliferation challenges. To this day, Iran and North Korea have not been complying with their legally binding commitments. Syria also refuses to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in solving open questions regarding its nuclear program. At the same time, there has been a perception that the fundamental disarmament obligation contained in Article VI of the NPT is not being honored. There has even been a sense of a "renaissance" of nuclear weapons and an impression that the nuclear-weapon states intend to cling indefinitely to their nuclear weapons. Finally, the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement has given rise to the concern that strategic and economic interests might take precedence over nonproliferation interests.

This state of affairs should prompt all NPT states-parties to join forces to avert an erosion of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and to maintain and strengthen the integrity and authority of the NPT. Indeed, today there are signs of a new momentum toward that end. President Barack Obama has given nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation top priority and, in his Prague speech on April 5, 2009, set out his vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world. The position adopted by the Obama administration can fundamentally change the prospects for the forthcoming NPT review conference. However, looking at some of the debates in fora such as the Conference on Disarmament and the IAEA, the overall mind-set on the part of many of the key players in the NPT context does not seem to have changed. Many discussions and arguments follow familiar and well-entrenched ideological lines. Consequently, there does not seem to be much confidence that the forthcoming review conference will achieve a successful outcome.

What will it take to achieve a successful NPT review conference?

First, the parties must have a joint vision. In his Prague speech, Obama underlined the U.S. commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons. That should be the guiding vision for the conference. Restating this ultimate goal of the NPT in a clear and unambiguous way should help to rekindle a sense of common purpose. As George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn so pointedly wrote in their 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Without the bold vision the actions will not be perceived as fair and urgent. Without the actions the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible."1

Second, there is a need for leadership. The United States is ready and willing to provide leadership. However, it is important that all five nuclear-weapon states join in this leadership role. To do so, they should embrace without qualification the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and demonstrate their commitment to fulfilling their obligations pursuant to Article VI of the NPT. This commitment could, for example, be expressed in a joint declaration submitted by the nuclearweapon states to the review conference. Such a statement could include the following elements:

* an unambiguous commitment not to produce fissile material for weapons purposes and a commitment to enter into negotiations on a nondiscriminatory, effectively verifiable, and legally binding fissile material cutoff treaty;2

* a commitment jointly to pursue nuclear disarmament by way of an incremental process leading to "global zero";3

* a commitment to existing security assurances and a readiness to explore ways of formalizing them;

* a commitment to pursue determined efforts to bringing all existing nuclear-weapon-free zones into force;

* possibly additional commitments creating confidence and implementing the "cessation of the nuclear arms race" obligation contained in Article VI of the NPT (e. …

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