Averting Total Collapse: The NPT Review Conference

Considering the fact that the 2005 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference was a failure, the 2010 conference can at least claim to have partially rehabilitated the non-proliferation mechanism of the treaty, however weak it may be, thus averting a collapse. But the overall lack of progress was so clear that the conference could at best only claim that it caught up with the positions of 1995 and 2000. It provided few specific guidelines, let alone timelines, to evaluate progress in 2015. There is a similar frustration about the lack of any time frame for nuclear disarmament by the Nuclear Weapon States, in spite of their declaration of commitment, which has become so routine and repetitive to instil any confidence.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference was held in New York from 3 to 28 May 2010. The adoption of a final document by the conference pulled back the treaty from the brink of collapse where it had reached in 2005. But it made little progress with regard to the core issue of nuclear disarmament. Unable and unwilling to break out of the pattern of an apparently insincere reiteration of declarations of so-called commitments and to move on to actions, the conference failed to take even preliminary steps for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), a proposal for which there has been broad international support. Nor could it even consider any timeline for nuclear disarmament by the “Big Five” who also occupy the permanent nuclear-armed chairs in the UN Security Council. As long as these states and alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) continue to give pre-eminence to nuclear weapons in their doctrines and strategies, serious questions will remain about the possibility of nuclear disarmament and even the usefulness of the treaty.

At five-year intervals, the parties to the NPT meet for a review conference. In 1995 on the 25th anniversary of the treaty, the parties had extended the treaty indefinitely with promises from the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) that they would pursue “systematic and progressive efforts” for nuclear disarmament. Five years later in 2000, the parties to the treaty reiterated their promises of 1995. These included “an unequivocal undertaking by the NWS to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament”. When the review conference was held in 2005, the parties were deadlocked, could not agree on a final document and thus the conference ended in failure pushing the treaty to the verge of collapse.

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