Despite striving hard in order to achieve its core objective – to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons’ technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament; it seems like the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is still in the beginning phase of its implementation. The Tenth NPT Review Conference; postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 restrictions was held from 1st to 26th August, 2022 at the UN Headquarters in New York but after four weeks of intense negotiations, the member states failed to reach consensus on any “substantive outcome”. It is important to highlight here that the Ninth NPT Review Conference in 2015 was also ended without any consensus between the member states.
The Conference ended late at night on Friday, 26th August, 2022 without an outcome document because Russia objected to text about its control over Ukrainian nuclear facilities. On Thursday, 25th August, 2022, H.E. Gustavo Zlauvinen, the Ambassador of Argentina and President of the Tenth NPT Review Conference, released the final version of the Conference’ outcome document. During the last plenary session, Russia objected to that final document over paragraph 34 and claimed that many delegations had objections to the text. Russia also accused other states of politicizing the Conference. “If there is a wish to find some common ground, we are willing to work on this further but if delegations do not wish to do this, then there can be no consensus”, the head delegate of Russia said.
On that occasion, the UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said while giving statement to the press, “the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has highlighted the need for dialogue to reduce the nuclear threat after the member states failed to reach consensus at a conference to review the landmark Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Secretary General expressed disappointment that the member states were unable to reach consensus on a “substantive outcome” and to capitalize on the opportunity to strengthen the 52 years old treaty and advance its goals”. He further added, “while the Secretary General welcomed the sincere and meaningful engagement by the member states and the fact that the Conference recognized the NPT as the “cornerstone” of the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime, he regretted that it was unable to address the pressing challenges threatening the global collective security. The fraught international environment and the heightened risk of nuclear weapons being used, by accident or through miscalculation, demand urgent and resolute action”. Dujarric further explained, “the Secretary General appeals to all the member states to use every avenue of dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation to ease tensions, reduce nuclear risk and eliminate the nuclear threat once and for all. A world free of nuclear weapons remains the United Nations’ highest disarmament priority and a goal to which the Secretary General remains firmly committed”.
Zlauvinen told the journalists that he was frustrated that the member states did not adopt an outcome document by consensus. “I knew that the prospects will be “very slim”, even before proceedings started”. He further added, “the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year has exacerbated tensions and we knew that the war in Ukraine is going to cast a shadow on the Review Conference. The final plenary meeting was delayed and later suspended for several hours due to the last-minute negotiations, particularly with the Russian delegation, as they were unable to agree to the text unless very important changes were to be introduced in the language with regard to the situation of the Ukrainian nuclear facilities under Russian control”. However, Zlauvinen believed that overall, the Review Conference had been meaningful. “The delegations engaged in discussions on very complex issues and the lack of an outcome document did not diminish their work. It is like we had a movie for four weeks, but we couldn’t take a picture at the end of the movie, however, not having the picture of that doesn’t reflect that the movie didn’t exist”, he said. On that occasion, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, also addressed the journalists. Like the Secretary General, she was also disappointed at the outcome. “The final draft was, of course, not a perfect document. We all know that but the vast majority of the member states felt that it will still be in the interest of the international community” she expressed. “Our challenge now is to make sure that we will start from here and if we will redouble our efforts; undoubtedly, I am sure that our efforts for nuclear disarmament will be reinvigorated”.
Between 1965 and 1968, the NPT was negotiated by the “Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament” – a UN sponsored organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Opened for signature in 1968, the treaty entered into force in 1970. Even though, the treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years, but later on, the NPT member states met in the “Review Conference” in New York City, on 11th May 1995 and agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely. In accordance with the core obligation of the NPT, the non-nuclear-weapon states are agreed that they will never acquire nuclear weapons. In exchange, the NPT nuclear-weapon states will share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology while to pursue the nuclear disarmament, aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. As per the initially drafted “Article VIII (Paragraph 3)” of the NPT, a review of the operation of the Treaty is must after every five years. In this regard, the next “NPT Review Conference” will be held in 2026. This provision was reaffirmed by the member states at the “NPT Review and Extension Conference (1995)” and the “NPT Review Conference (2000)”.
As of August 2016, 191 states have become parties to the treaty including the world’s five nuclear states – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China, making the NPT the most widely adhered to multilateral disarmament agreement. North Korea acceded in 1985 but never came into compliance and announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, following detonation of nuclear devices in violation of NPT’s core obligations. Beside this, India, Pakistan and Israel have never accepted the NPT. India and Pakistan openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons while Israel is deliberately ambiguous regarding its nuclear weapons’ status. At the time the NPT was proposed, there were predictions of 25 to 30 nuclear weapon states in the next 20 years, therefore, several additional measures have been adopted to strengthen the NPT and the broader nuclear non-proliferation regime in order to make it difficult for the states to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons. These measures include the export controls of the “Nuclear Suppliers Group” and the enhanced verification measures of the “International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)”.
However, contrary to it, critics argue that the NPT is unable to stop the proliferation of the nuclear weapons or the motivation to acquire them because as per the confirmed reports, the five authorized nuclear weapons states, who are members of the NPT, still have approximately 13,400 warheads in their combined stockpile. Even that several high-ranking officials within the United Nations have said that they are unable to stop states from using nuclear reactors to produce the nuclear weapons. Looking towards this whole scenario, though somehow effective in exercising its core obligation; the overall progress of the NPT seems ineffective. As vivid from the outcome of its Tenth Review Conference and previous Conferences, what will be the future of NPT, it certainly cannot be predicted.
Author: Waqar Ahmad Khan
The Author is a columnist, whose columns are regularly published in English and Urdu on different news websites. The author mostly writes on contemporary affairs, international and national politics, history, social issues, and Islam.