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NPT 2000 Review Conference



Report for the Abolition 2000
Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

John Burroughs, Executive Director
Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy
July 7, 2000

On 20 May 2000, the sixth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, produced the first consensus review statement since 1985 (see http://www.basicint.org/nuclear/revcon2000/Finaltext.htm). Coming five years after the treaty was extended indefinitely and the Abolition 2000 Network was founded, the outcome surpassed the low expectations coming into the Conference. No serious timebound commitments were made, and many of the agreed policies and principles are sufficiently vague so that whether progress has been achieved in coming years will be open to dispute. Still, under the influence of the New Agenda Coalition and civil society, 2000 differed from 1995 in that the Conference established a comprehensive agenda for disarmament. If the NPT Review Process is to avoid becoming an irrelevant sideshow, that agenda must now be acted upon.

The most remarked upon provision was an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapons States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states are committed under Article VI." For the first time in the 30 years since the NPT entered into force in 1970, the nuclear weapon states did not use qualifiers such as "ultimate goal" or a linkage with "general and complete" disarmament. This provision was the bottom line of the New Agenda Coalition states (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden), which took the lead in negotiating with the nuclear weapon states. Meanwhile, back in Washington, plans continue for the maintenance of large nuclear forces for the "foreseeable future". Other nuclear weapon states have similar policies at home, if not in New York.

Other "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI" include "concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems", and "a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination". These provisions reflect the demands of NGOs for marginalization of nuclear weapons through dealerting and the rejection of deterrence doctrines as the process of disarmament proceeds.

Ironically, during the Conference, diplomatic talking points released by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists revealed that US negotiators advised Russia that keeping its nuclear forces on alert is a good idea. Under "any possible future arms control agreement," the talking points say, Russia (like the United States), could maintain on "constant" alert a "large, diversified, viable arsenal", sufficient to mount an "annihilating counterattack" in response to a US first strike, regardless of any "limited" US national missile defense system. And in February, the US Defense Department 2000 report described an expanded role for nuclear weapons, "to deter any potential adversary from using or threatening to use nuclear, chemical, or biological (NBC) weapons … and as a hedge against defeat of US conventional forces in defense of vital interests". Britain, France, and Russia all also have doctrines of first use, the first two like the United States in defense of "vital interests".

Additional notable provisions of the NPT agenda include a moratorium on nuclear-weapons-test explosions pending entry-into-force of the CTBT; "increased transparency by the nuclear-weapon States with regard to their nuclear weapons capabilities"; "further reduction of nonategic nuclear weapons"; "the engagement as soon as appropriate of all the nuclear-weapon States in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons"; "the principle of irreversibility to apply to nuclear disarmament"; "the necessity of establishing in the Conference on Disarmament an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament"; and "the further development of the verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world".

Unfortunately, the Conference did not squarely address the fundamental problems of missile proliferation and defense. For example, though a Russian proposal for a global missile monitoring and non-proliferation regime pointed in the right direction, the Conference did not call for the development of a missile control and elimination regime. Instead, the Conference referred to "preserving and strengthening" the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the position adopted by the nuclear weapon states. The United States apparently believes that amending the treaty to permit national missile defense would "strengthen" the treaty!

Also, unlike the 1995 Principles and Objectives, which specifically and unambiguously set 1996 as the year by which a CTBT should be negotiated, the 2000 final document sets no clear timelines. 2005 is stated to be the year by which a fissile materials treaty should be completed, but this is tied to the consensus adoption of a program of work in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. But China, which is concerned about US plans for ballistic missile defense and may wish therefore to produce more fissile material to support an arsenal build-up, has been insisting that negotiations on a fissile materials treaty be accompanied by opening of negotiations on nuclear disarmament and on prevention of an arms race in outer space. In its closing statement, China said that the ABM Treaty is coming under great challenge and the danger of weaponization in outer space is increasing. Russia similarly stated that without the ABM Treaty, it will be impossible to make progress towards nuclear disarmament.

Other gaps in the agenda include a lack of any initiatives to respond to the overt nuclearization of South Asia and Israel’s continuing reliance on the nuclear threat, and a failure to support non-nuclear sources of energy. Instead there was a ritualistic invocation of the "inalienable right" to nuclear power, ignoring its role, openly proclaimed in some states, most recently Turkey, as the foundation for weapons programs. Regarding the final document's ambiguous identification of "sustainable development as a guiding principle for the peaceful use of nuclear energy", Germany, Austria, and Denmark each made clear that nuclear power does not contribute to "sustainable development".

Abolition 2000 was a strong presence at the Conference, organizing a rally, presenting petitions to the Chair, releasing a special NPT edition of the Abolition 2000 report card, and holding a press conference. And Abolition 2000 member groups released policy papers, participated in the NGO presentations to the diplomats (see http://www.igc.org/disarm/nptngo2k.html), and put on numerous dynamic panels, covering topics such as ballistic missile defense, the role of scientists, expanded laboratory capabilities, health and environmental effects of nuclearism, the model nuclear weapons convention, strategies for disarmament, and Russian anti-nuclear environmental activism. Several individual members of Abolition 2000 organizations served as NGO representatives on government delegations. But despite the efforts of Canada and other governments to obtain a greater role for civil society representatives in monitoring and participating in review proceedings, the Conference was able to agree only to institutionalize the practice of devoting a session of each PrepCom and Review Conference to NGO presentations.


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