Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Can’t Win for Losing

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (more commonly known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) has long been considered, along with the concept of deterrence, as the strongest bulwark we have against nuclear war. Briefly, the states that had developed nuclear weapons prior to the treaty were allowed to keep them as long as they promised (without being bound to a deadline) to work toward disarmament. Meanwhile, states without nuclear weapons were to refrain from developing them, but would be entitled to nuclear energy.

Like deterrence, the NPT’s reputation is over-rated. That said, at the UN headquarters in New York City from April 27 through May 22, the NPT Review Conference (RevCon) is beingheld for the ninth time since the treaty entered into force in 1975. In a Los Alamos Study Group bulletin, Executive Director Greg Mello underscores the fundamental problem with RevCon.

Any final document with commitments undertaken by the NPT Parties at this RevCon requires consensus of the Parties.  This … means that the RevCon … like all eight preceding meetings over the past 40 years, will produce no binding disarmament measures.

With regards to that consensus, Mello quotes Dominique Lalanne for the Armes nucléaires STOP and the French International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

At the end of each Review Conference a document is submitted for “consensus” approval. … The opposition of a single State prevents a consensus and blocks adoption of the final document.

But “if no agreement comes out of it, the Conference is considered a ‘failure’. It is clear that Nuclear States will not accept a consensus that would” call for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons that would “supplement Article VI of the NPT … which provides for nuclear disarmament.”

Thus, you can see that, on the face of it, the NPT is a success because a consensus is reached. But, because it doesn’t commit nuclear states to a disarmament timeline, RevCon’s “success” is actually a failure.

Nevertheless, some arms control groups are okay with this. Mello writes:

Strangely, there are many experienced NGOs attending this RevCon which still imagine, or pretend, that the nuclear weapon states – the five states within the NPT and the four states outside it – will, within the foreseeable future, negotiate a comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty.  This is an entirely futile hope.  All nuclear weapon states are by definition hostile to effective disarmament diplomacy.

We cannot help but conclude … that anybody who wants nuclear weapon states to be involved in disarmament diplomacy is in effect helping that diplomacy fail.

By way of conclusion, Lalanne again:

So the call we make to Non-Nuclear States is quite simple: “To highlight the urgency of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, reject the final consensus of the NPT Review Conference unless it specifically sets out full disarmament as an objective, with a binding timetable. And after the ‘failure’ of this Conference convene the international community to implement the ban treaty.”