A step forward

Print edition : June 10, 2000

The Final Document adopted by the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty marks a definitive progress on the disarmament front by the five nuclear weapon states.


FOR the 2000 Review Conference (RevCon2K) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), May 19, the last day of the conference, was a 40-hour day. As a consensus for the Final Document was once again threatening to elude, the clock was stopped at 10 minutes to midnight on May 19. The draft Final Document was ready only by 3 p.m. on May 20.

Since 1985, because of the long-standing disagreement between the nuclear weapon states (NWSs) and the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWSs) over the fulfilment of disarmament obligations by the former under Article VI of the Treaty, the parties to the NPT have never managed to come up with a final document in any of the earlier RevCons. And if the first RevCon after the indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995 went the same way, the apprehensions of some of the NNWSs - especially Malaysia - that the 1995 decision meant a loss of the only leverage that they had to achieve total nuclear disarmament would have been rendered real.

Indeed, the failure of the NPT lies chiefly in its inability to implement Article VI in any effective manner in the last 30 years. After the Treaty's indefinite extension, the situation has only deteriorated with nuclear weapons continuing to underpin the security policies of the NWSs - the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) emerging policy of nuclear sharing, the national missile defence (NMD) programme of the United States (in apparent contravention of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty), the continued deployment of tactical nuclear weapons by some NWSs, thousands of weapons remaining still on hair-trigger alert, continued research on weapons design and modernisation, and so on.

Abdallah Baali (left), the Algerian Ambassador to the United Nations and President of the NPT Review Conference, is congratulated by delegation members on May 20 at the United Nations after the Security Council agreed to eliminate nuclear arsenals, as part of new disarmament agenda approved by 187 countries.-OSAMU HONDA/AP

On his part, Conference President Ambassador Abdellah Baali of Algeria was determined to produce a consensus document since major stumbling blocks had been successfully overcome by his clever brokering of compromises. A consensus seemed tantalisingly close. It was an Iraq-U.S. stand-off over the inclusion in the Final Document, at the behest of the U.S., of references to Iraqi non-compliance with its Treaty obligations that threatened to pull the RevCon2K down. Convinced that a compromise could be brokered on this, Ambassador Baali had the conference clock stopped and achieved what he wished in longest Friday ever.

The Final Document is thus a product of flexibility - a euphemism for compromise - shown by both the NWSs and the NNWSs. Most significantly, in terms of language used, there would seem to be a definitive progress on the disarmament front by the five NWSs. The relevant statement in the Final Document, eventually endorsed by the NWSs, goes beyond the initial non-committal stand taken by them in their joint statement of May 1. However, it still does not reflect any real or legally binding commitment (as required by the advisory opinion given by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 1996) on their part to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

But the fact that there is a joint statement by the NWSs at all is a surprise and an achievement of sorts, especially in the context of deep political divisions between some of the nuclear powers over the ABM Treaty, the NATO expansion and so on. The RevCon2K declaration, to which the NWSs are party, says that there should be an "unequivocal undertaking by the NWSs to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals". This is widely seen as a step forward. How this "unequivocal undertaking" is actually translated into practice in the run-up to the next RevCon five years hence remains to be seen.

The original joint statement of the NWSs said: "We remain unequivocally committed to fulfilling all our obligations under the Treaty (and)... we reiterate our unequivocal commitment to the ultimate goals of a complete elimination of nuclear weapons and a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." This was not acceptable to the NNWSs. Both the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) - consisting of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden - considered this as mere quibbling. The NAC, formed in 1998, was a significant political force at the Conference and played an important role in whatever may be regarded as the positive outcome of the RevCon2K.

One problem in the joint statement for the NNWSs was that the language turned the clock back to the time before the ICJ gave its advisory opinion which went beyond Article VI's language (of pursuing negotiations in good faith). According to the ICJ, there existed a legal obligation that nuclear disarmament must be pursued and brought to a conclusion without conditions or linkages with general and complete disarmament. The NWSs' statement put nuclear disarmament back into the distant context of total worldwide disarmament. Interestingly, at one stage, the French representative at the conference even suggested that the NWSs' current position was, in fact, a step forward in that it was now an "unequivocal commitment" as against an "equivocal commitment" earlier.

In the course of the forthcoming review period 2000-2005, the NAC wanted the NWSs to "engage in an accelerated process of negotiations". It wanted the disarmament process to be more transparent, irreversible and accountable. The NAC also proposed several interim steps - precluding the use of nuclear weapons in their defence doctrines, de-alerting and removing of warheads from delivery vehicles, reducing and eliminating tactical nuclear weapons, transparency, removing fissile material from weapons programmes and so on.

The wording in the final document in respect of Article VI was a negotiated compromise between the NWSs and the NAC. It reflects the strength of the NAC's negotiatory and diplomatic skills in forcing some of its key proposals, which were being initially rejected by the NWSs, into the conference document. An important component of the NWSs' statement is the declaration that all their weapons are de-targeted; that is, none of them are targeted against any country, a point which the Final Document has highlighted. Although this may not amount to much because missiles can be targeted within a matter of minutes, it is significant.

Noting that "despite the achievements in bilateral and unilateral arms reduction, the total number of nuclear weapons deployed and in stockpile still amounts to thousands", the Final Document has expressed deep concern over the continued risk for humanity from the possible use of these nuclear weapons. Taking cognisance of the ICJ's advisory opinion, the conference agreed that the NWSs should implement the following practical measures to achieve nuclear disarmament:

* further unilateral efforts by the NWSs to reduce their nuclear arsenals;

* increased transparency by the NWSs with regard to their nuclear weapons capabilities and the implementation of agreements pursuant to Article VI;

* further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons, based on unilateral initiatives, and as an integral part of nuclear arms reduction;

* concrete agreed measures to reduce further the operational status of nuclear weapons system;

* a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in the security policies;

* the engagement, as soon as it is appropriate, of all the NWSs, in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.

The NAC has also managed to get a few of its other proposals, such as invoking the principle of irreversibility to nuclear disarmament and arms control measures, into the final document. This is considered significant by commentators such as Rebecca Johnson who believe there is a tendency to use dismantled fissile material in new weapon systems. The conference has also endorsed the proposal for establishing an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament in the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CoD) something which the U.S. was quite opposed to.

The conference also reiterated the imperative of achieving universal adherence to the NPT by getting the non-signatories (Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan) to accede to the Treaty, implementation of the strengthened safeguards (the so-called 93+2 protocols) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), enforcement of export controls on dual-use technologies and transfer of nuclear technologies under full-scope safeguards in accordance with NPT, to NNWSs and countries that are not party to the NPT, the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a moratorium on test explosions pending the CTBT's coming into force, the early conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) under CoD and so on. These are necessary measures to achieve nuclear disarmament, it said. It has also endorsed the proposal made by the U.N. Secretary-General to convene a major international conference to help identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers. This proposal will be considered at the next RevCon in 2005.

Negotiations under CoD have, however, been deadlocked owing to the stand-off between China and the U.S. arising from the U.S. proposal for a space-based NMD system. As a result, negotiations on the ban on fissile material production have not got off the ground. The NWSs' statement on this aspect was more equivocal, yielding to the Chinese position. The declaration in the Final Document too reflects this position. China has held that CoD negotiations on the fissile material ban would depend upon the CoD evolving a "programme of work" that would include a committee on "prevention of arms race in outer space", an idea which has so far been rejected only by the U.S. For China, "the prevention of weaponisation of outer space is a task even more urgent than the FMCT negotiations".

One finds a specific mention of a need to agree upon a "programme of work" in the Final Document. The implication here, according to observers, is that this concession to China is at the price of the latter's silence on U.S.'s missile plans during the NPT Conference. Interestingly, Russia too would seem to have not stressed on it perhaps owing to backroom negotiations. It remains to be seen what the CoD, which has begun its negotiations on May 25, arrives at by way of a "programme of work".

The RevCon2K also called for an early entry into force of Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START-II) - made easier by its ratification by the Russian Federation but still requires U.S. ratification of the 1997 protocols - and the conclusion of START-III negotiations between the U.S. and Russia "while preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons, in accordance with its provisions". (The START-II of 1993 mandates the reduction of warheads on long-range missiles of each side to 3,500 by 2003 and eliminate multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicled (MIRVed) Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). START-III negotiations, which should now begin at the forthcoming U.S.-Russia summit, would mandate further reductions in strategic arms after START-II comes into force.) While the call to preserve the ABM Treaty is to be welcomed, the "strengthening of ABM Treaty" part could be variously interpreted, particularly by the U.S. arguing for amendments to it to enable it to deploy an NMD system.

Another aspect that the NAC has been able to push through is the need for transparency, though in a limited manner, in the NWSs' declarations of their weapon capabilities. China had opposed this except as part of instrumentalities of agreements pursuant to Article VI and the Conference's final agreement to transparency is in this sense. China's argument in this regard had been articulated by Ambassador Sha Zukang. Reiterating China's no first-use policy and its reservations about participating in arms control negotiations, Sha said that the NNWs' and the NAC's demand on transparency of China's holdings could not be met because "a superpower which rampantly intervenes in other countries' internal affairs, and wilfuly resorts to force, is continually improving its first strike capability". Under such circumstances, he said, "it is neither conducive to their own security nor in the interests of global strategic balance and stability to ask the small or medium sized nuclear countries to take transparency measures".

The 1995 decision on West Asia which, on the insistence of the Arab states, called for bringing Israel under the NPT umbrella, was an important component of discussions in the RevCon2K under the conference discussions on Regional Issues. The subject of Israel came up in the Conference discussions on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in West Asia. The Final Document reflects the view of many parties to the NPT demanding that Israel accede to the Treaty and place all its nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards regime. Endorsing the peace process in West Asia, the conference has called upon all states in that region "that have not done so, without exception, to accede to the Treaty as soon as possible and to place all their nuclear facilities under the full-scope safeguards of the IAEA". It has named Israel as a hold-out state in the region by quoting its reference in the report of the U.N. Secretariat on the Implementation of the 1995 decision.

IN the wake of the nuclear tests in 1998, India and Pakistan, two of the four countries that are not party to the NPT, was named in the Final Document under the section dealing with non-proliferation and regional issues. Deploring the nuclear tests, the Conference has categorically declared: "Such actions do not in any way confer a nuclear weapon state status or any special status whatsoever." This was a point which was emphasised at the Conference by NWSs, especially the U.S., in very strong terms.

Calling upon both India and Pakistan to undertake measures set out in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1172 of June 6, 1998 - which include cessation of nuclear tests, of the manufacture of nuclear weapons and of deployment of delivery systems and missiles and of production of fissile material for nuclear weapons - it has urged both the countries to accede to the NPT as NNWSs and to place all their nuclear facilities under the IAEA's full-scope safeguards. It has also called upon both the countries to strengthen the respective export control measures over technologies, material and equipment that can lead to nuclear proliferation. In accordance with the pledges made by both the countries, it has urged both to sign and ratify the CTBT.

On the non-military applications of nuclear energy, the conference has re-affirmed the "inalienable right of all parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with the Articles of the Treaty". However, the Document has failed to reflect the apprehensions of some NNWSs' such as Iran that extraneous considerations of proliferation and possibilities of diversion are used by countries such as the U.S. to prevent their access to nuclear energy technology. The Document did not include any assurances or guarantee provisions for NNWSs access to technologies for peaceful purposes.

While from the standpoint of most of the parties to the NPT, the above declarations in the Document constituted significant success, albeit limited as regards Article VI, even this could have fallen by the wayside if the last-hour U.S.-Iraq stand-off had not been deftly handled. In this, Baali had employed the services of the Canadian Ambassador Christopher Westdal to strike a deal. As May 19 extended by another 16 hours, the U.S. delegation apparently became concerned about rumours that, having conceded a great deal on the disarmament front, the U.S. was all along planning for a failed conference and was looking for a scapegoat in Iraq for wrecking the RevCon.

Unfortunately, while most delegations agreed with noting the IAEA's statement that it had been unable to confirm Iraq's compliance with its NPT obligations, it was felt that the reference would be proper under the section dealing with safeguards rather than under the section dealing with regional issues. Many also felt that the appropriate place to raise the issue would be the U.N. Security Council. There was also concern that the U.S. was using Iraqi non-compliance as a counterweight to Egypt's argument that Israel must be named as a non-adherent to the Treaty. In the end, following high- level interventions from Robert Einorn and John Holum, the U.S. agreed to a form of wording that Iraq was also prepared to accept: "... recognising that since the cessation of IAEA inspections in Iraq on December 16, 1998, the IAEA has not been able to provide any assurance of Iraq's compliance under Security Council Resolution 687."

However, the statement by the Iraqi representative after the acceptance of the Document by the conference is indicative of the spirit in which the consensus has been arrived at on various issues. Rather than any real breakthroughs on any front, most notably on the disarmament aspect, it was the generally felt need to move ahead that seemed to have led to the consensus. The representative said that Iraq fully complied with the NPT and there was no justification for including Iraq on the Conference agenda, nor was there a basis for inclusion of the reference to the Security Council Resolutions on Iraq which had nothing to do with the mandate of the Conference. "Iraq was aware of the historical significance of the Conference, as well as the need to maintain the achievements of the Conference, and had thus decided not to oppose consensus concerning the paragraph. However, Iraq did wish to express its reservations to the paragraph," he said.

After it was passed, similar reservations were expressed by others with regard to other declarations in the document. But the parties felt that it would be more appropriate to help the regime move forward, however little, rather than let it slide back or remain deadlocked as before.

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