Originally Published 2010-06-02 00:00:00 Published on Jun 02, 2010
The Eighth Review Conference( Revcon) of the Non Proliferation Treaty ( NPT) at New York narrowly eked out a victory from the jaws of defeat before its close on May 28, 2010.
8th NPT Review Conference: A damp squib
The Eighth Review Conference( Revcon) of the Non Proliferation Treaty ( NPT) at New York narrowly eked out a victory from the jaws of defeat before its close on May 28, 2010 . Cheerleaders have been busy extolling this success which, however, consisted of little more than producing a 28 page declaration which marked no real advance over past positions .
But it would not be fair to sniff at even this toothless  result. . It was felt that this show of unity would at least start the process of rehabilitating the NPT, which had been seen  to be unravelling. The breakout of DPRK and the defiance of Iran were seen as demonstrations of the impotence of the NPT .The last Revcon in 2005 had  collapsed without an agreed statement due to Egypt’s outrage at the failure to move forward on its Middle East nuclear-arms-free zone proposal and developing nations’ anger at the United States for refusing to reaffirm disarmament pledges made in 1995 and 2000.

 A repeat of  the 2005 collapse was simply unthinkable. Neither the NWS nor NNWS were prepared to be held responsible for another breakdown.

Another factor working in favour of the 2010 Revcon was the considerable goodwill for Obama on the nuclear issue, and the widespread feeling that he needed a successful NPT Review to  encourage him to travel further along the road to the vision of a nuclear weapon free world that he had laid out in his Prague speech of April 2009 and subsequent high-profile nuclear diplomacy over the last year.

The NPT was negotiated in the 1960s to stop any further countries after the US, USSR, UK, China and France, designated as nuclear weapons states ( NWS), from building nuclear weapons. Transfers of nuclear materials and technologies to non nuclear weapons states (NNWS) were to be confined solely for “peaceful purposes” under a system of agreed safeguards and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency( IAEA).  In return, Article VI of the NPT requires that these five nuclear-weapon states should pursue nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith, with the ultimate goal of “general and complete disarmament”. And all states had the “inalienable” right to exploit  peaceful nuclear technology.

Dissatisfaction of NNWS at the persistent refusal of NWS to live up to their side of the nuclear bargain progressively sharpened acrimony at the successive NPT Review Conferences held at five year intervals as mandated under the NPT, particularly after the  Review and Extension Conference of 1995 which extended the NPT indefinitely.

A novel innovation of the 2010 Revcon was to separate the Final declaration into two parts- the first a Review of the  Operation of the NPT, which was merely noted, and the second the Conclusions and Recommendations for Follow-on Action, which was adopted by consensus. While this made for a tedious and repetitive document, it allowed steam to be let off  by reflecting stronger positions in the preambular Review, while more measured formulations which could command consensus were used in the operative part which mattered.

On nuclear disarmament, despite the hoop-la of Obama’s nuclear weapon free world epiphany, the NWS dug in their heels against any new commitments. Russia, France and Pakistan  made clear that they saw a role for nuclear weapons well beyond deterrence of nuclear weapons.. The NNWS were not able to extract a clear endorsement of working towards a nuclear weapons convention to outlaw nuclear weapons , as has been done for chemical and biological weapons, or on any time-bound programme of action for disarmament. But the price  the NWS had to pay for this hard-nosed attitude was inability to obtain endorsement of  additional IAEA safeguards protocols, the crown jewels of the IAEA for targetting undeclared nuclear facilities, as the new minimum standard for nuclear trade..

There was also no agreement,  as many NPT ideologues had hoped for, on measures to hobble NPT members like the DPRK against bolting from their NPT obligations under the withdrawal cause after benefitting from nuclear transfers as NNWS under the NPT.

Instead of these central issues, the major focus of attention was on the concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East , based on  the unrealistic hope that this could constrain Israel to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and join the NPT as a non nuclear weapons state..

 The idea had been proposed by Egypt in 1995 and indeed became one of the essential parts of the deal to extend the NPT indefinitely. But the US has prevented any progress on this for the last 15 years. To its consternation this time, Israel found  that the US did not block the proposal to hold a  conference in 2012 on setting up the zone ,and to appoint a Facilitator to consult and support on the organization of the conference.. In addition, Israel was criticized by  name for not being a party to the NPT, and for not placing its nuclear activities under international inspection. The US has since tried to placate Israel by pulling back from full endorsement of the proposal for the conference which Israel has flatly refused to attend . So the Egyptian –led move may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory, though it has certainly put Israel under pressure.

Iran  scored a diplomatic victory by getting off without being mentioned by name for noncompliance with IAEA safeguards. The reason was that Iran was prepared to wreck the conference on this issue, while the US and others were not . The Brazil – Turkey deal with Iran, which is attracting increasing support, has also blind-sided  the “Iran Six” and thrown the US off balance.

 The importance of obtaining the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) and starting negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) was strongly emphasised. There was considerable frustration at Pakistan single-handedly holding up the start of negotiations on a FMCT in the CD. The UNSG was invited to organize a high-level  meeting in 2011to support  the CD in breaking this deadlock.

 Today only Israel, India, Pakistan and DPRK are outside the NPT. Without being physically present, the shadow of all these “ outlier” countries hovered like Banco’s ghost over the NPT Revcon. NPT members are at their wit’s end on how to deal with them. Israel was sought to be pressurized with the Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. DPRK was roundly condemned and told it could never be designated a nuclear weapons state. India and Pakistan are asked to join the NPT as NNWS in the preambular Review part, but interestingly not mentioned at all in the operative Conclusions and Recommendations.

There have been periodic suggestions from international nuclear experts to recognize reality by co-opting non NPT states with nuclear weapons  through a separate protocol, with treatment akin to NPT nuclear weapon states, without necessarily designating them as such. But this seems still a bridge too far. There is considerable resentment at the preferential treatment handed out to India, expressed most loudly by Iran.

For India, the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and the endorsement of its provisions  by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA has already brought India back into the international nuclear mainstream.  Our civilian nor strategic nuclear programme are now hardly affected by the NPT, with whose overall objectives India actually agrees. The only regret is that the improved environment for nuclear disarmament was not utilised by the NPT membership to make genuine progress at the Revcon.

The writer is a Distinguished Fellow with Observer Research Foundation
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