Originally Published 2015-05-26 00:00:00 Published on May 26, 2015
The recently concluded NPT review conference ended without a consensus document. While there is need for the NPT member states to resolve their differences sooner rather than later, the impact of the absence of a final document need not be overstated.
2015 NPT Review Conference ends without an Outcome Document

The 2015 NPT review conference, which began on April 27, 2015 at the UN Headquarters in New York, ended on May 22, with NPT member states unable to reach consensus on an outcome document. The NPT review conferences have ended without a final document thrice in the past, including in 1980, 1990 and 2005. According to reports, the NPT member states could not reach consensus over a final document due to differences on the establishment of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (MEWMDFZ). Making Israeli nuclear programme the focus of the review conference, Egypt, along with its partners from the Middle East and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), in the first week of the review conference, had proposed a regional conference, to be convened by the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, which bans weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. According to the Egyptian proposal, the conference was to be convened with or without Israel's participation and there were to be no discussion on regional security. Israel, participating as an observer after a gap of 20 years, strongly objected to the proposal and argued that "such a conference should deal with all regional security problems... rather than the nuclear issue alone." Israel also demanded that "any such conference be conditioned on all participating countries agreeing on the agenda," - a demand that Egypt had rejected in the original proposal, to begin with. Over the weeks into the review conference, the Israeli concerns over the Egyptian proposal grew as the developments started resembling the procedures of the 2010 NPT review conference. In 2010, Egypt had proposed a similar conference banning WMDs in the Middle East. Due to tremendous pressure, the US had allowed the call for such conference to be included in the outcome document of the 2010 NPT review conference and that regional conference was scheduled to be held in 2012. Although the 2012 regional conference never took place, Israel remained concerned that a similar call may get included in the outcome document of the current NPT review conference. This Israeli concern was further accentuated by the fact that the US has been facing relentless pressure on the disarmament front and that there was possibility of Washington giving in on the MEWMDFZ issue to ease some of that pressure. In her remarks at the end of the NPT review conference, the US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller stated that the US was "prepared to endorse consensus on all other parts of the draft Final Document," and it is "unfortunately the language related to the convening of a regional conference to discuss issues relevant to the establishment of a Middle East zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems is incompatible with long-standing policies." This statement captures the importance of Israel to the US, which made Washington block the outcome document. On nuclear disarmament, while NPT members had eventually agreed on the final text to be used in the outcome document, there has been objection registered by the non-nuclear weapons states on the use of language. Indeed, the differences between the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) on approach to nuclear disarmament have grown significantly over the last five years. On the one hand, NWS reminded the NPT member states of the significant reduction in numbers of nuclear weapons that has been undertaken as a part of their "step-by-step" approach to nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, NNWS continued expressing their frustration over the speed of progress made by NWS in this regard, stressing on the need to ban these weapons. During the 2015 NPT review conference, NWS reacted sharply against the draft text proposed by NNWS for the outcome document as it included some forward-looking commitments for nuclear disarmament, which were "unacceptable" to all five NWS. On the meeting of May 11, 2015, the NWS protested against this draft text, and argued that it "does not provide a basis for consensus." Instead, NWS proposed the use of language, such as "non-use of nuclear weapons forever," in the outcome document. NNWS, meanwhile, demanded that most, if not all, of the draft text submitted by them should be retained and called for further strengthening of the forward-looking commitments on nuclear disarmament. In a statement given by the representative of South Africa, it was noted that Treaty's indefinite extension in 1995 was "based on the historic bargain that NWS will disarm, whilst others will not proliferate." On the language proposed by NWS, South African representative noted that the use of "forever" seemed to reflect that the NWS wished to retain nuclear weapons indefinitely. Reminding NWS of the commitment made in the Prague Speech and at the Global Zero campaign, the South African representative also spoke at length about the conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, last of which was held in Vienna in December 2014. This initiative has gained significant traction over the last three years, with 158 states participating at the Vienna conference. While the NPT member states could not reach consensus on the final document, around 107 member states, recognising the legal gap in the NPT on nuclear disarmament, agreed to endorse the Austrian Humanitarian Pledge to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. The end of the NPT review conference without an outcome document is likely to impart further momentum to this Humanitarian Initiative and could further increase the differences between NWS and NNWS over the approach to nuclear disarmament within the framework of the NPT. The call for a regional conference to discuss a MEWMDFZ has been labelled as the reason for the lack of consensus over an outcome document. But the difference between NWS and the NNWS on NPT's approach to nuclear disarmament has widened further and had its role in the conclusion of the 2015 NPT review conference without a consensus outcome document. Expressing his disappointment, UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon also noted that it was the difference on the future of nuclear disarmament, along with that on the MEWMDFZ, which caused the 2015 NPT review conference to end without a consensus document. Both the calls for nuclear disarmament and for the MEWMDFZ, however, have remained the subjects of contention at the NPT review conferences for a long time. While differences among NPT member states over these issues have grown over the years and while there is a need to resolve these differences at the earliest, impact of the absence of a consensus outcome document at the 2015 NPT review conference should not be overstated.

The writer is a Junior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

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Mairi Dupar

Mairi Dupar

Mairi Dupar Senior Technical Advisor Climate and Development Knowledge Network ODI

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