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The NPT Review Conference a Small but not Insignificant Achievement


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"We have agreed on a final document. Over the past four weeks, the States Parties achieved a better understanding of each other`s positions and a clearer appreciation of the need to strengthen the main pillars of the NPT" - Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, President of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

On 28 May, 190 States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) adopted a final document at its 8th Review Conference (RevCon) held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 3 - 28 May 2010. The RevCon provided an opportunity for states parties to assess progress in strengthening the NPT's three mutually reinforcing pillars: furthering the goal of nuclear disarmament; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapon technology; and, preserving the right of states to the peaceful uses of nuclear power (for example for energy and medical purposes), as well as addressing the threats to nuclear security. The NPT, which entered-into-force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995, is the world's most widely adhered to multilateral disarmament agreement and is often referred to as the cornerstone of the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime.


Conferences to review the implementation of the NPT's provisions and to agree on measures to strengthen it have been held at five-year intervals since 1975. There was immense pressure for this conference to produce a final document given that the 2005 RevCon failed to reach any substantive agreement and left many states parties questioning the integrity of the NPT regime. In contrast to the negative environment generated during the last RevCon, the first two weeks of the 2010 RevCon displayed a positive atmosphere following numerous general statements from states parties committing themselves to restoring confidence in the NPT and in the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons. However, the real work started in the third week when States Parties negotiated the text of draft papers produced by the three main committees set up to review the implementation of the Treaty's provisions relating to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, disarmament and international peace and security (Main Committee I), safeguards and nuclear-weapon-free zones (Main Committee II), and, the inalienable right of all states parties to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination (Main Committee III). It was hoped that this RevCon would produce a final document that would clearly layout the way forward for the next review cycle from 2011 - 2015.

During the first week of the conference, the Institute for Security Studies made a statement on behalf of a number of non-governmental experts from countries belonging to the New Agenda Coalition. In the statement, we listed key issues that we wanted the conference to address. Although the list was not meant to be a scorecard to determine the success or failure of the conference, we felt that if the final document did not adequately address these issues, the future of the NPT itself would in all likelihood be in jeopardy.


The section below summarises how some of these key issues were addressed in the final document. It is important to note that several other important issues were also mentioned in the final document, such as the need for the urgent entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the need for the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament to start its programme of work after more than a decade of inactivity.

One of the most important issues for this RevCon was finding concrete agreement on ways to implement the resolution on the Middle East. The so-called Middle East Resolution refers to the decision made in 1995 that all states in the region join the treaty and put their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The resolution also required all states in the region to work toward a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons, as well as other weapons of mass destruction, and called on all NPT States Parties, in particular the nuclear weapons states, to support this goal. After weeks of negotiation - in a largely secretive ‘subsidiary' body - it was finally agreed that the "UN Secretary-General and the co-sponsors (the US, Russia and the UK) of the resolution, in consultation with the States of the region, will convene a Conference in 2010, to be attended by all States of the Middle East". The use of the word ‘all' was done deliberately to include Israel, a country that is not currently party to the NPT and is suspected of having nuclear weapons. The final document also urges Israel, India and Pakistan to join the NPT and for the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea to rejoin the NPT - all as non-nuclear weapon states.

Another key issue for this RevCon was to ensure that a preparatory process is established to explore the legal, technical, institutional and political measures required to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapons-free world. This follows the decision in 1995 that nuclear disarmament should be achieved through a ban on nuclear weapon testing, a ban on the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes, and systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons, with the ‘ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons.'

One civil society proposal, which has the support of a number of states parties and the UN Secretary-General, is a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC). A NWC would declare the possession, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons illegal (in the same way that the Biological Weapons Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention totally ban biological and chemical weapons respectively). The final document makes reference to states parties' taking note of new proposals and initiatives from the UN Secretary-General, governments and civil society, such as negotiations on a NWC or an agreement that would mutually reinforce the NPT. This is certainly encouraging for those in civil society who have long argued that the NPT is not adequate in addressing the urgent issue of nuclear disarmament. However, many states parties argue that such an initiative could undermine the NPT.

The internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle remains another contentious issue for many states parties to the NPT. For civil society, it was thus crucial that the final document insist that future discussions on the issue should involve all stakeholders, with the IAEA playing a key role, in order to ensure the creation of a non-discriminatory global model for the supply of nuclear fuel. The final document successfully addressed this issue by underscoring the importance of continuing discussions in a "non-discriminatory and transparent manner under the auspices of the IAEA".

The NPT review cycle currently lacks a follow-up mechanism to oversee the state of implementation between RevCons. This often leads to inaction on key issues, such as the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East that was only addressed 15 years later at the 2010 RevCon. Although the suggestion was made that the outgoing President of the 2010 RevCon and his bureau could constitute the core of such a mechanism, the final document disappointedly only "encourages the past and incumbent Chairs to be available for consultations by the incoming Chair, if necessary". However, the document recommends that a dedicated staff officer should be added to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in order to support the NPT's five-yearly review cycle. Although these initiatives are certainly a step in the right direction, both require voluntary financial contributions from states parties. In addition, hiring one person within the UN to address all the issues of states parties to the NPT is not a substitute for a proper implementation support body.

Even though the 2010 RevCon did manage to address some of the concerns of states parties and civil society, it is difficult to really determine whether the Review Conference was successful. Although the RevCon did produce a final document, many compromises were made, especially by non-nuclear weapon states. As negotiations progressed, it became clear that the five nuclear weapon states came to the RevCon with clear positions in mind and were not prepared to compromise on certain key issues. Most concerning was their insistence that any reference to timeframes for disarmament be removed from the final document. Although disappointed that the Conference had not produced a stronger outcome, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) promised to maintain pressure on the nuclear-weapon states to make real progress in eliminating their nuclear arsenals over the next few years.

The success of the 2010 RevCon will be determined by states parties' commitment to implementing the action plan outlined in the final document and the next five-year review cycle may perhaps be one of the most challenging for the NPT.


Written by: Amelia Broodryk and Noel Stott, Researcher and Senior Research Fellow, Arms Management Programme, ISS Pretoria

Note: - _ednref1The list of members of the New Agenda Coalition and the statement can be found at the following link:



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