The Review Conference: Looking back, looking forward

After four weeks of debate and confusion, the eighth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended on 28 May 2010 with the adoption of a final document, making this conference only the fourth such meeting to do so since the treaty’s entry into force in 1970.

Most headline-grabbing of all, states parties agreed that a conference to further the goal of a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East—involving all states in the region—should be held in 2012. Reaffirming the ‘urgency and importance of achieving universality of the treaty,’ the final document also called on the three de-facto nuclear-weapon states of Israel, India and Pakistan to sign up to the pact.

Highlighting ‘the importance of Israel’s accession to the treaty’ elsewhere in the document immediately prompted a critical response from the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv. Iran was not mentioned in the Final Document (predicably since its presence at the conference meant it could block consensus). ‘Given the distorted nature of this resolution, Israel will not be able to take part in its implementation,’ it said in a statement released shortly after, casting a shadow of doubt over Israeli participation not just at the 2012 meeting but in any other efforts to translate the Middle Eastern NWFZ from a 15-year-old idea into reality.

The last issue of Trust & Verify (no. 128) identified eight issues that could be usefully addressed by the NPT’s 189 states parties during their month-long gathering: universalization of the safeguards-strengthening Additional Protocol; the rights of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate suspected weaponization activities in non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS); funding and staffing of the Agency; information-sharing between states; non-compliance with Article III (the safeguards article) of the NPT; the link between Article III non-compliance and the right to produce nuclear energy; and last, but by no means least, the need for the ongoing development of capabilities to verify compliance in the realm of nuclear disarmament. Which of these, then, made it into the final text?

The Additional Protocol did, for one. The final document noted that the implementation of measures specified in the Model Additional Protocol of 1997 ‘provides, in an effective and efficient manner, increased confidence about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a state as a whole’. It further noted that numerous states were today of the view that Additional Protocols have become an ‘integral part’ of the IAEA’s safeguards system. All states yet to bring an Additional Protocol into force were encouraged to do so as soon as possible. Howerer, taking that step is a ‘sovereign decision’, the document said, in what essentially amounts to a recognition of the resistance of many firm hold-outs and the difficulty of any attempt to make the Additional Protocol a compulsory obligation on NPT parties.

On weaponization, the final document was silent. But on IAEA finances and human resources, recommendations were more forthcoming. It called on all states parties to ensure that the IAEA ‘continues’ to have ‘all political, technical and financial support’ necessary for it to effectively fulfil its safeguards responsibilities. The conference also encouraged all states in a position to do so to make contributions to the Agency’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, a US-led programme to raise $100m over the next five years. It urged all parties to encourage ‘national, bilateral and international efforts to train the necessary skilled workforce needed to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy.’

Furthermore, in a statement not far removed from T&V128’s assertion that information-sharing between states and the Agency was ‘essential’ to the proper functioning of the safeguards system, the 2010 conference document recognized ‘the need for enhanced international cooperation and coordination among states parties.’ Highlighted in particular were the collaborative efforts between states and the IAEA in the fight against illicit nuclear trafficking.

T&V128 also raised the issue of non-compliance with Article III of the NPT. At present, the extent to which non-compliance with safeguards equals non-compliance with Article III is not entirely clear, especially since many safeguards violations are seen to be of only minor proliferation concern. However, while welcoming the fact that 166 states parties have to date brought comprehensive safeguards agreements into force, and urging the 18 hold-outs to do so ‘without further delay’, the final document’s tackling of compliance concerns was noticeably more muted. States parties with concerns over safeguards non-compliance ‘should direct such concerns, along with supporting evidence and information’ to the IAEA for it to ‘consider, investigate, draw conclusions and decide’ what action (if any) was necessary.

Far more notable—and significant—was the inclusion of an understanding that the ‘inalienable right’ of NPT parties to develop nuclear energy was dependent on a state being in conformity with Articles I, II and III of the treaty. According to the letter of the NPT, the right to produce nuclear energy—a clause often cited by Iran in relation to its suspect nuclear activities—is contingent on compliance with Articles I and II (which prohibit the development of nuclear weapons). In the final document of the sixth review conference in 2000, however, that right was tied to Article III compliance as well. Were that to have been a legally-binding amendment to the treaty, a state in non-compliance with Article III (not always an unambiguous matter) would lose its right to produce nuclear energy. The reaffirmation of Article III conditionality—as called for in the last issue—is a welcome inclusion to this conference’s final document.

Away from non-proliferation, the final point raised in T&V128—namely, the need for the further development of disarmament verification capabilities—also found its way into the conference document, perhaps unsurprisingly given the revival of serious discussions of nuclear disarmament witnessed over the last few years. ‘All states agree’, it said, ‘on the importance of supporting cooperation among governments, the United Nations, other international and regional organisations and civil society aimed at increasing confidence, improving transparency and developing efficient verification capabilities related to nuclear disarmament.’ And in particular, the conference flagged the joint efforts of the UK and Norway ‘in establishing a system for nuclear warhead dismantlement verification.’ VERTIC—which participated in these efforts as an independent observer—is to release its report on the so-called UK-Norway Initiative later this year.

In all, many of the issues raised in the last edition of T&V featured in some manner or other in the outcome document that nearly didn’t emerge after last-minute disagreements over Israel surfaced between Arab states and the US. And while weaponization went unmentioned, pronouncements on the Additional Protocol, effective support to the IAEA, verified nuclear disarmament and the link between safeguards and nuclear energy are all welcome for the renewed emphasis on verification that they bring.

Effective verification is crucial to the working and continued viability of the NPT; if this final document is anything to go by, that is a point that all parties, large and small, nuclear and non-nuclear alike, recognise as the truth.

David Cliff
Research Assistant

David joined VERTIC’s Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament Programme as a Research Assistant in May 2010. He holds a BA in Geography and an MA in International Affairs, both of which he studied for at the University of Exeter.