More Promises to Keep: 2000 NPT Review Conference
by John Burroughs


The first consensus document of an Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 15 years was adopted on 20 May 2000 at UN Headquarters in New York. The most remarked upon disarmament provision was an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI." This provision was the bottom line of the New Agenda countries (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden), which took the lead in negotiating with the nuclear weapon states.

The "unequivocal undertaking" provision seems to reflect the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in several respects. 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". Also, the reference to "accomplish" parallels the ICJ’s holding that states must "bring to a conclusion" negotiations on nuclear disarmament. And, the provision is separated from a reaffirmation elsewhere in the final document of the "ultimate objective" of general and complete disarmament. The ICJ similarly delinked the two Article VI elements.

As is usually the case with consensus documents, people were able to read into it whatever they wanted. Speaking to journalists immediately after the document was adopted, US Ambassador Robert Grey said that it "will have no more impact than it’s had in the past... It’s more of the same." However, the New Agenda representatives called it "a significant landmark" and Sen. Douglas Roche, Chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, wrote that "a new moment in nuclear disarmament has occurred."

Other notable provisions 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";

• "concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems";

• "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";

• "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";

• 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"

The Conference thus identified most of the areas in which progress is needed. However, the question remains of whether the nuclear weapons states will match these words with deeds, which seems much in doubt at the present time. Unfortunately, the Conference did not address the problems of missile proliferation and defense, for example by calling for the development of a global missile control regime. Instead the Conference adopted the position put forward collectively by the nuclear weapon states, referring only to "preserving and strengthening" the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty along with further US-Russian arms reductions through the START process.

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 treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons should be completed, but this is tied to the consensus adoption of a program of work in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. There China, which is concerned about US plans for ballistic missile defense and may wish therefore to produce more fissile material to support an arsenal buildup, 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 (see story on page 13).

Civil society, including LCNP, played an active and vibrant role at the conference. IALANA sponsored a civil society panel on the ICJ opinion, including the possibility of returning to the ICJ to compel compliance with Article VI, and distributed a summary of a model application to the ICJ. Peter Weiss spoke on the rule of law to NPT delegates during a session of the conference devoted to such presentations (see ). John Burroughs spoke on legal aspects of the disarmament obligation as part of a mini-conference organized by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (see ). IALANA and LCNP also sponsored or co-sponsored panels on South Asian nuclearization, the nuclear weapons convention, and strategies for nuclear disarmament. Alyn Ware, LCNP consultant and former executive director, served as NGO advisor on the New Zealand delegation (see story on page 10). IALANA’s new US sub-affiliate, Western States Legal Foundation, additionally sponsored panels on laboratory capabilities, personal responsibility of scientists, and Russian activism, and organized a press conference on new US weapons programs.

The final document is at ; NPT speeches and documents generally are at ; see for more analysis.


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