FYSA on NPT Review Conference
By: Sharon Squassoni
Diplomats from member states of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) just wrapped up a monthlong meeting at UN headquarters in New York for the ninth review conference (Revcon) of the treaty. Every five years since 1970, when the treaty entered into force, representatives gather to evaluate progress in three areas (the so-called three pillars of the NPT): nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This year, the conference ended in acrimony, with a third of the members citing “a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap and a moral gap.”
The big hurdles were: a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)–free zone in the Middle East, and the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Since the parties’ failure to hold a conference on the WMD-free zone was well-known—they have been “working” on this unsuccessfully for five years—the only surprise was how far Egyptian diplomats pushed to demolish the process. Calling for the resignation of the Finnish ambassador leading the process, they also demanded to hold the conference with or without Israel, without agreement on an agenda, and without discussion of regional security concerns—all prerequisites for Israel (a nonparty to the NPT) and the United States.
Nuclear disarmament is always a contentious issue, but the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the three recent conferences held on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, raised expectations higher than before. Nuclear weapon states, not surprisingly, did not support much beyond their traditional step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament.
The 2015 Review Conference ended without a consensus document, but the NPT will survive. Key developments to watch for include a reduction in U.S.- Russia tensions and a resolution of the joint comprehensive plan of action on Iran’s nuclear program. In any event, diplomats still have the ambitious agenda set by the 2010 review conference as a guide for moving forward.