Reviving Nuclear Disarmament:

A Vision or a Reality

A Report on the 1st week of the Seventh Review Conference of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, 2-27 May, 2005

Vijay Mehta


Over 1,780 NGO’s from all around the world, including 100 Mayors from 60 cities descended into New York to participate in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon). Close by the UN building, in the Dag Hammarskjold plaza there was a presence of Peace Wall in the form of bricks, chanting of prayers and beating of drums by religious groups at the Ralph Bunche Park (probably not heard by the delegates sitting too cosy in the General Assembly).

The conference was preceded by a fitting march officially estimated at 45,000 activists. The march ended in Central Park, where prominent peace activists spoke of the dire consequences of another nuclear catastrophe. On Sunday 1 May, thousands of people from some 120 countries had marched through New York to call for a nuclear weapon free world, together with the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a brave number of 'hibakusha' - atomic bomb survivors.

Activists from all corners of the world from Malaysia to Europe to the Pacific Islands shared a stage with dozens of musical and cultural acts, overlooking throngs of people sprawled out on the lawn or interacting with educational booths set up around the area’s perimeter.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 60 years of living with its after effects, 30 years after the Vietnam war and the suffering inflicted by Agent Orange, 15 years after the Gulf War and the debilitating effects of depleted uranium, confirms that suffering from radioactive contamination stays long after its initial impact. The radioactive material is detected all over the world in various eco-systems, even in samples deep in the ice in the North Pole. We still live in a world where a tiny group of people can quickly destroy all life in the world.

The conference was opened by Sergio Duarte, President of the NPT 2005 Review Conference. Despite months of consultation leading to the RevCon, there was still no agenda. Some of the speakers highlighted the current challenges to NPT.


Current challenges of NPT
The United Sates says that Iran and North Korea have exploited loopholes in the NPT to pursue nuclear weapons programs and threaten world stability. Iran, in repeated statements affirmed its right under the NPT Article IV to continue it nuclear enrichment program to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran pointed out, at the hypocrisy of the international community for being singled out while Japan is allowed to use nuclear energy and is not criticized for doing so.

The new nuclear states of Pakistan, India and Israel have fewer then 100 weapons each and remain outside the treaty and continue to develop and modernise their nuclear arsenal threatening international peace and security. North Korea now claims to have developed nuclear weapons, and US intelligence agencies estimate that Pyongyang has enough fissile material for 2-8 bombs and has a readiness to test its capability.

If the United States continues its current nuclear stance, over time, substantial proliferation of nuclear weapons will almost surely follow. Some, or all, of such nations as Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Taiwan will very likely initiate nuclear weapons programs, increasing both the risk of use of the weapons and the diversion of weapons and fissile materials into the hands of rogue states or terrorists.

The Bush administration’s nuclear program, alongside its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), will be viewed, with reason, by many nations as equivalent to a U.S. break from the treaty. It says to the nonnuclear weapons nations, "We, with the strongest conventional military force in the world, require nuclear weapons in perpetuity, but you, facing potentially well-armed opponents, are never to be allowed even one nuclear weapon."

As the seventh review conference of the NPT states parties opened in New York on May 2, 2005, two very different attitudes were on display. Though lip-service was paid to the NPT as the "cornerstone" of nonproliferation, the great hall of the General Assembly, which should have been packed with the representatives of nearly 190 states parties, was half empty. By contrast, hundreds of NGOs and representatives of civil society, including elected Mayors and officials from cities and towns around the world, queued for hours to get into the United Nations building because they wanted to bear witness to the vital importance of eliminating nuclear weapons.

On Monday, the newly-elected President of the Review Conference, Ambassador Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil, admitted that there was still no agreement on an agenda for the conference. Duarte pushed for the agenda to be agreed by the end of the week and exhorted states to show "genuine cooperation, wisdom and enlightened statesmanship".

Meanwhile, the conference elected various officials by silent acclaim and began its 'General Debate' of national and group statements. Again, there was a marked contrast between the compelling urgency of the speeches delivered by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, and the first 12 statements, which can be accessed directly from These came from a range of different positions and some were delivered by senior Government Ministers. Though many tried to be positive, there was an air of defeatism, as if most delegations were just going through the motions. The salient issues were checked off one by one, with some differences of emphasis or characterisation, but very little was offered that could give hope of the kind of "bold", constructive decisions that Mr Annan had called for.

The Secretary-General's Vision

The most effective speech of the day was that of the UN Secretary-General. To jolt states out of their complacency, he had them imagine "a nuclear catastrophe in one of our great cities": was it terrorism, an act of aggression or an accident? Depicting the impact - not just the obvious annihilation and pain of those directly affected, but the less thought-about implications for hard-won freedoms and human rights, development and trade (such as accompanied the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington) - he posed the question we would have to ask ourselves, "Could I have done more to reduce the risk by strengthening the regime designed to do so?". He acknowledged that the states would view the NPT's challenges and tasks differently, and called on the states to "recognise all these truths... [and] to agree that they are all too important to be held hostage to the politics of the past. And I challenge you to acknowledge that they all impose responsibilities on all states." Secretary-General Annan then identified a number of actions:

i) strengthen confidence in the integrity of the NPT and work out how to address violations and withdrawals.

ii) make compliance measures more effective. In this regard he called for the Model Additional Protocol to be universalised and made the new standard for verifying compliance.

iii) reduce the threat of proliferation not only with regard to states, but also non-state actors, including the "universal obligation on all states to establish effective national controls and enforcement measures".

iv) get to grips with the "Janus-like character of nuclear energy". He commended the IAEA Director-General for working to advance consensus on how to manage the fuel cycle.

The S-G went further, calling for prompt negotiation of an Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), reaffirmation of the moratorium on nuclear testing and to early entry into force of the CTBT; dealerting of all nuclear weapons; further irreversible reductions to bring warhead numbers down to hundreds, not thousands... "But you must go further. Many states still live under a nuclear umbrella, whether of their own or an ally. Ways must be found to lessen, and ultimately overcome, their reliance on nuclear deterrence."

Before closing with a quote from Robert Oppenheimer, the S-G concluded "our world will not come close to this vision if you accept only some of the truths that will be uttered during this conference. As custodians of the NPT, you must come to terms with all the nuclear dangers that threaten humanity".

IAEA Priorities

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei gave a comprehensive and detailed overview of the situation from the point of view of the agency charged both with promoting nuclear energy and overseeing safeguards to prevent nuclear weapons programmes. These included:

i) ridding the world of nuclear weapons; "zero tolerance" for new states developing nuclear weapons; and supporting peaceful uses of nuclear energy;

ii) strengthening the IAEA's verification authority;

iii) "better control over proliferation-sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle: activities that involve uranium enrichment and plutonium separation;

iv) securing and controlling nuclear material;

v) show firm commitment to nuclear disarmament - "as long as some countries place strategic reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent, other countries will emulate them... we cannot delude ourselves into thinking otherwise";

vi) verification efforts should be backed by more effective mechanisms for dealing with non-compliance - "the Security Council must consider promptly the implications for international peace and security, and take the appropriate measures";

vii) address the security concerns of all.

96 delegates from States Parties gave their contributions to the conference for the rest of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Review Conference continued to plod on through its poorly attended General Debate, even as the prolonged lack of an agenda threatens the continuance of the Conference itself. While President Duarte acknowledged that some progress has been made on particularly sticky points (without divulging further details), the time remaining for serious work is running out.

New Zealand’s Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Marion Hobbs, speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), called for stricter adherence to the 13 Practical Steps, including entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), verification and irreversibility, as well as universalisation of the NPT and strengthening of and support for Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs).

Japan's Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, devoted several paragraphs to what it called "a direct threat to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia", calling on the NPT RevCon to deliver a clear message to the DPRK that it must return to the Six Party Talks without preconditions, "completely dismantle all of its nuclear programmes, including its enrichment programmes, subject to credible international verification". South Korea's Deputy Minister, Chun Yung-woo, castigated the NPT's "inherent limitations" and bluntly argued that "the Korean peninsula suffers from diminished security because of the miserable failure of the NPT to contain the nuclear spectre".

The General Debate perfectly demonstrated the type of polarization that has mired so much of the international disarmament machinery. On one side of the spectrum, there are States such as Sweden, South Africa and Indonesia, which remain determined to use the Review Conference to strengthen the disarmament commitments under the treaty and accelerate the implementation of agreements already reached. For these countries, which are equally worried about proliferation of nuclear weapons, they rightly understand, as South Africa noted, that "those who rely on nuclear weapons to demonstrate and exercise power should recognize that such dependence on weapons of mass destruction only serve to increase insecurity rather than promote security, peace and development."

On the other side of the spectrum, there are States such as Poland and South Korea, which failed to even mention the word "disarmament" in any substantive way. After espousing support for a laundry list of non and counter -proliferation measures such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Poland called upon the Conference to "avoid our energy being wasted on petty and secondary issues." Then there are other delegations, such as Slovakia, which, while viewing the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference as "highly relevant and of particular importance," continue to prioritize nonproliferation of nuclear weapons as an issue "at the very top of the international danger list."

To make matters worse, we have also seen some significant backtracking and weakening of expectations of our international disarmament and nonproliferation regime. Almost a year after the US announced that it no longer supports the previously agreed upon Shannon Mandate as a basis for negotiations of a Fissile Materials Cut Off Treaty, we hear more and more delegations dropping references to the need for this treaty’s verifiability, such as Kyrgyzstan, Poland, China, Russia and Slovakia.

Still no agenda for the NPT Review Conference, despite the best efforts of the President, Ambassador Sergio Duarte, who had hoped to get the agenda agreed by Wednesday. The problem still appears to be the 'chapeau' of paragraph 16 of the agenda, which is viewed as providing an overarching context for allocating issues to be discussed in the three main committees. In a nutshell, the United States opened the can of worms at the 2004 PrepCom by trying to have reference to the 2000 consensus final document downgraded. By the time a formula was found that the United States and advocates of compliance with the 2000 agreements could both accept, Iran objected to an additional phrase promoted by the US and European Union referring to subsequent developments. Iran feared that making this part of an overarching chapeau would legitimise the emphasis some countries are putting on Iran's nuclear programme, particularly its years of failure to declare to the IAEA that it was building uranium enrichment facilities.

Although not necessary for adopting the agenda, it is also understood that no agreement has been reached on establishing subsidiary bodies to address specific issues, such as (to name a few that have been floated as possibilities) practical nuclear disarmament steps, negative security assurances, nuclear safety and security, or the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.

General Debate

During the first three days, the NPT Conference has now heard some 58 of the expected 90-plus national and regional/group general statements. Many major players have spoken, including the United States, Russia, China, Japan, the New Agenda Coalition (collectively and singly), the European Union, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the CARICOM states, South Pacific Forum, Iran and a number of other states from the Middle East. Though Germany and several European countries have given national statements in addition to being associated with the EU, France and Britain have not yet spoken - reportedly waiting until Britain's polling stations close on Thursday.

While many issues are being checklisted, a few are coming to the fore as of particular importance to a large number of states, though it is not yet clear whether the level of concern will translate into agreement or conflict. Most worryingly, unlike in 1995 and 2000, the third day has come and gone without any electrifying statement or innovative approaches, such as those put forward in 1995 by South Africa and in 2000 by the New Agenda Coalition. These had pointed ways forward and contained the basic ideas, tools, substance and even strategies to help the President steer each of those previous review conferences to substantial successes.

Because the United Nations for the first time in NPT history is providing a timely and easily accessed posting of all statements (and, indeed, webcasts) on its website at it is not necessary to give a comprehensive summary.

The UK’s position on de-alerting

In their efforts to be fair to the nuclear weapon states, a number of parties - notably Sweden and the New Agenda Coalition - have commended Britain for taking its nuclear weapons off alert. This is not strictly the case. In 1998, the UK announced a 'reduced notice to fire', and in 2000, confirmed that its weapons were now de-targeted (the latter being a commitment undertaken with the rest of the P-5). As UK officials have been at pains to explain that reducing the notice to fire from hours to days is not de-alerting: it is an operational procedure relating to command and control and not a physical procedure relating to the weapons. Though to be welcomed as a marginal improvement on the cold war posture, this does not amount to de-alerting because it can be reversed at a moment's notice.

It has further been explained that de-alerting the UK nuclear weapons would not be practical because it is necessary to the UK's doctrine of deterrence that when Trident goes to sea, the warheads are firmly attached to the delivery missiles and that they are in an ever-ready condition to be targeted and fired as soon as the order is given. Under reduced notice to fire, however, the UK anticipates taking a leisurely few days to transmit and act on any order to annihilate the chosen target with a nuclear strike, unlike during the cold war, when they expected that such decisions would have to be extremely fast. Therefore, though the UK delegation has no doubt been basking in the commendations it has been receiving on de-alerting from states such as they are not yet fully deserved.

Enhancing the NPT's decision-making powers

Most notably, given its position on the proliferation front line, South Korea joined Ireland, Canada, Sweden and a growing number who advocate giving the NPT more powers for enforcement, including annual meetings and 'emergency' powers.

Conference President Duarte concluded the third day of General Debate at the NPT with an announcement that he was unable at that stage to elaborate on negotiation developments, specifically on the formulation of the agenda. With 56 speakers down and 40 more to go, it is possible that at the current rate, the General Debate may conclude earlier than envisaged and the real work of the Conference will begin.

The statement made by The Bahamas on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) recalled the optimism that emanated from the 2000 meeting, an optimism that has yet to make an appearance at this Review Conference thus far. However, at this very early stage, Austria was quite right to not just speak of the challenges to the NPT regime, but to also set a challenge to the States Parties in New York to prove the pessimists wrong about the potential for action on nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and a successful Review Conference.

Brazil asserted that there is no excuse for the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons or their development and acquisition, emphasizing that a balance must be struck between action on the disarmament obligations of the nuclear weapon states and the nonproliferation obligations of the Non Nuclear Weapon States. Brazil stressed that "further strengthening of safeguards should be assessed in the light the wider disarmament and nonproliferation context."

Saudi Arabia recalled a report tabled at a previous NPT PrepCom in Geneva on steps that should be taken to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East (NPT/CONF.2005/PC.11/30), maintaining that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is a major obstacle to peace in the region, as well as a threat to international peace and security.

Other statements delivered on day 3 included Bahrain, Greece, Hungary, Venezuela, The Holy See, Samoa on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Group, Guatemala, Chile, Syria, Qatar, Spain, Croatia, Moldova, Tunisia, Yemen, Belgium, and Myanmar, which are all available on the very useful website of the UN’s NPT website.

While statements are being read in the General Assembly Hall, NGOs divide their time between listening to governments and to experts and other officials attending the conference. Over 100 mayors have come to New York to monitor the proceedings, and on wednesday they held a lunchtime event in the General Assembly. The public gallery was full of NGO representatives and the press, while the conference floor, where the government representatives sit behind their country’s nameplates, was virtually empty. Mayor Itoh of Nagasaki held up a picture of his city on August 9 1945 and said that the majority of the world’s citizens, including 66% of US citizens surveyed, want the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and called on States to take action in the name of their own citizens to end the nuclear age.

The Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mayor Akiba and Mayor Itoh, presented more than 8 million signatures to President Duarte calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Yoko Ono, the artist survivor of the Tokyo fire bombings during World War II, closed her statement by saying that, "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality. Imagine Peace". They were also calling for "Vision 2020" - negotiations on the complete abolition of nuclear weapons to be concluded and in the process of full implementation by 2020.

Four days into the Review Conference (and after a year of global consultations), agreement on an agenda has still not been reached.

The Main Committees have not yet begun, as they were preliminarily scheduled to do on Wednesday. New York-based diplomats are wondering whether their colleagues in their capitols should even bother to come to New York at all, since nobody knows when, or if, substantive work will ever commence.

While the General Debate meanders on, with States expressing various levels of support for key unresolved issues such as negative security assurances, the nuclear fuel cycle, the CTBT, NGO participation, a FMCT and other important measures to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, the diplomatic power team from Brazil continues to sandpaper the rough edges of disagreement in attempts to obtain that ever elusive goal: consensus on a program of work.

We hear they’re almost there. Though by the close of the session on Thursday, still no official word on agreement has been given.

The main point of contention thus far has focused on how to reference the Final Documents of past Review Conferences, or whether to mention them at all, since the US has been loathe to mention the historic agreement of 2000.

So what will this highly anticipated agenda look like? Will the 2000 Final Document, and the 13 Steps contained within it, be excluded all together? Will States parties have given up the struggle to ensure that past hardwon agreements focus and direct future negotiations? Will enough time be spent on critical issues of the Treaty, without subsidiary bodies established to focus the diplomats’ attention on them?

One thing should remain clear, however. If the agenda is a watered-down version of the type of framework that would have best guided this Conference, we– States parties and NGOs alike– must not allow a vague agenda to portend a similarly vague Final Document.

At some point, we must collectively ask ourselves: at what cost agreement? At what point does negotiation devolve into capitulation, all in the name of agreement?

If language specific references to crucial disarmament agreements are indeed dropped, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the agreement of 2005 is one of our strongest, and most accountable yet.

Some of the workshops I attended were as follows:

  1. Rejecting the Logic of Counter-Proliferation (CND)
  2. Reviving Nuclear Disarmament in the Nonproliferation Regime (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation)
  3. How to make the NPT Review Conference Successful (Middle Powers Initiative)
  4. Fanning the Flame of Tolerance: The Role of the Media (UN-DPI)

State Parties, NGOs and citizens of the world must work towards the three main pillars of the NPT (Total and General Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, Peaceful use of Nuclear Energy) by implementing the following:

  1. Universal adherence of the Treaty and 13 Practical Steps for the abolition of nuclear weapons
  2. Moratorium on nuclear testing and early entry into force of CTBT
  3. Universal compliance of Model Additional Protocol of IAEA
  4. Striking a balance between disarmament and non-proliferation
  5. De-alerting and de-activating of all nuclear weapons & effective mechanisms for non-compliance
  6. Strengthening of safeguards and support for nuclear weapon free-zones
  7. Prompt negotiation of a FMCT
  8. Work on overcoming reliance on nuclear deterrence and set a timetable for the reduction of nuclear warheads.
  9. Work on a vision of collective security based on the recommendations of the UN High-level Panel Report on Threats, Challenges and Change
  10. Working towards development and security which are inextricably linked to the nuclear agenda.

In the absence of a consensus agreement on the agenda, President Duarte adjourned the meeting early on Friday, and announced the suspension of the Conference until Tuesday, 10 May.

However, on 12 May the agenda was agreed. Ambassador Sergio Duarte of Brazil, said the adoption of an agenda after a week and a half of protracted negotiations was but a "tiny first step" and that parties to the accord still had to untangle other procedural knots before talks on the "real issues" before the meeting could move forward in earnest.

"The agenda agreed yesterday evening tries to address the concerns of everyone," Ambassador Duarte said at a press conference. "That's what diplomacy is all about - still, it's just a first step, the next step is the organization of work and items must be allocated to the main committees." Those discussions might continue into the weekend, he added.

At the end of yesterday's meeting of the State parties, he had read a statement based on the negotiations, which said: "It is understood that the review will be conducted in the light of the decisions and the resolution of previous Conferences, and allow for discussion of any issue raised by State Parties."

Ambassador Duarte said this formulation met the concerns of delegations who had stressed that the decisions of past review conferences - particularly those of 1995 and 2000 on a nuclear weapons-free Middle East and "13 practical steps" toward disarmament - not be diminished in any way. It had also addressed the concerns of those who believe that the Conference should be able to discuss recent developments, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, safeguards, verification and compliance.

Considered a landmark agreement, the 35-year-old Treaty seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology, foster the peaceful use of nuclear energy and further the goal of general and complete disarmament. Under the pact, nations without such weapons pledge not to pursue them, in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear-weapons States - the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China - to negotiate toward getting rid of them.

Asked if the NPT was still valid with countries like Iran, Israel, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), India and Pakistan outside its purview, Ambassador Duarte said the accord was still significant because 188 other parties had not taken that path.

Many States had spoken about Israel during the general debate and many had also discussed the DPRK's withdrawal from the NPT, Ambassador Duarte noted. As soon as the parties agreed on a way in which they can discuss the "real issues" on the agenda, he expected more discussion along those lines.

This was a "painful and protracted process," he said, adding that the issues were known, but the Conference was tied up with procedural matters. The nuclear "have-nots" have long been saying that the rhythm and the pace of measures undertaken by the five recognized the nuclear countries have not been satisfactory. Non-nuclear States had been pointedly asking for movement on that issue.

"But if we don't discuss the substance of the Treaty and keep discussing the formulation of the agenda, we won't get there," the Ambassador said.


Tadastoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima, told the protesters gathered at the Heckscher ball fields in Central Park to listen to live music and a long slate of speakers: ‘There is nothing normal, natural or necessary about nuclear weapons. They’re a deadly cancer on the planet that need to be removed.’

We should take heed of the words, Robert McNamara, former US Secretary of State, recently said in the article Apocalypse Soon (Foreign Policy) that he believes the United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is ‘immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous.

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