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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 2000 Review Conference:
Turning Point on the Road to Nuclear Disarmament?

Western States Legal Foundation
Information Bulletin: Winter/Spring 2000

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly called the NPT, aimed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons by brokering a deal between the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and the Non Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The NWS pledged to end the nuclear arms race and move toward disarmament, while the NNWS pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons. As an incentive, the NNWS were promised assistance with research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes “without discrimination.” Each NNWS also agreed to accept “safeguards” under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. These safeguards do not apply to the NWS. The Treaty defined a NWS as one which had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to Jan.1 1967, thus effectively limiting membership in the exclusive “nuclear club” to the U.S., the Soviet Union (and its successor state, Russia), the U.K., France and China.

The NPT was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. Its initial duration was 25 years. In 1995 it was extended indefinitely, with a review conference to be held every five years. Nearly every country in the world -- 187 in all -- is a signatory to the NPT, with four exceptions: Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan. At the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, there were deep divisions between the NWS and many of the NNWS about the terms for extension of the treaty. The NNWS felt that the NWS had not lived up to their part of the bargain: that the nuclear arms race had not ended, as claimed by four of the five NWS (excluding China) and that the nuclear weapon states are not demonstrating a meaningful commitment to disarmament. Essentially, they felt that the NPT was being used by the NWS as a mechanism for perpetuating a hypocritical international double standard. The U.S. and its allies insisted on indefinite extension. In order to make the deal palatable to the NNWS the extension decision was coupled with a package containing nonbinding Principles and Objectives for Nonproliferation and Disarmament and a strengthened review process.

In the “Principles and Objectives” document the NWS reaffirmed their commitment, as stated in NPT article VI, to pursue in good faith negotiations on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. Several measures were specified to demonstrate this commitment and to move towards nuclear disarmament, including negotiation of a Comprehensive Test Ban by 1996, “immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiation of a ban on production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons use, and “the determined pursuit by the NWS of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons, and by all States of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Also adopted was a call for universal adherence to the treaty and progress towards establishment of a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological. This was directly primarily at Israel, an undeclared NWS. In order to join the treaty, Israel would be required to give up its nuclear weapons and open its nuclear facilities to international safeguards and inspections. (The same conditions now would apply to India and Pakistan.)

Because of the special close relationship between Israel and the world’s leading nuclear power, the U.S., the Middle East proposal has emerged as one of the areas of deepest division between the NWS and the NNWS, and especially between the U.S. and the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM).

The Strengthened NPT Review Process

When the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995, the extension decision was coupled with a package including a strengthened review process establishing annual preparatory committee (“PrepCom”) meetings in between each five year review conference. The first “PrepCom” meeting took place at the United Nations in New York in April 1997. Much of what happens at the PrepComs substantively is manifested primarily in procedural decisions, for example those concerning how time for debate will be allotted and what issues should receive special attention in future PrepComs and at the five year Review Conferences, for which the PrepComs set the agenda.

The First PrepCom: Calls for Nuclear Disarmament and Nuclear Weapons State Resistance

At the 1997 PrepCom, a number of NNWS pushed for special attention for nuclear disarmament. There had been important developments manifesting broad support for nuclear weapons elimination in the period between the extension of the NPT and the first PrepCom, including the historic opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of nuclear weapons use. The Court delinked the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament from the obligation, also found in Article VI, to achieve comprehensive ("general and complete") disarmament, and held unanimously “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

The NWS resisted any attempt to give special attention to disarmament matters with the U.S. claiming that adequate progress was being made through unilateral steps and bilateral negotiations towards reductions, although tens of thousands of nuclear weapons still remained in superpower arsenals. Douglas Roche, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament (currently a Canadian Senator) summarized the disappointing proceedings:

Far from helping to fulfill the NPT (or even staying neutral), the Western NWS are actively working to impede discussions and negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is their outright rejection of the ICJ advisory opinion that is the most stunning manifestation of their disregard for world opinion against nuclear weapons... The Western NWS use every diplomatic trick to stifle discussions and inhibit even those governments that want to move forward. It is not too strong to state that the U.S., the U.K., and France are bullying the non-nuclear weapons States, which are themselves not united and give every appearance of being fearful of the economic consequences of pushing the NWS too hard.

PrepCom 1998 and After: NPT Deadlock and a New Arms Race in South Asia

The first PrepCom had raised doubts about the commitments that the NWS had made in 1995 to obtain extension of the NPT. The second PrepCom, held in Geneva in May 1998, showed that those doubts were more than justified. Characterized by continued intransigence on the part of the Western NWS on all disarmament-related matters and followed closely by nuclear weapons tests by both India and Pakistan, the second PrepCom and its aftermath were an unambiguous warning to the world that the nonproliferation regime was in danger of unraveling.

China, one of the original NWS, initially broke ranks with the other NWS, harshly criticizing the other NWS (and by implication, the U.S. in particular) forcontinuing to develop high technology weapons, antiballistic missile systems, and other weapons using outer space, and for using nonproliferation mechanisms primarily to pursue military advantage. In the end, however, China joined the other NWS in a broad statement generally endorsing nuclear disarmament as a goal, and linking it to the need for progress on general disarmament. The other weapons states continued to claim sufficient progress through negotiations among themselves, rejecting all calls for broader multilateral disarmament negotiations in any forum, and criticizing as unrealistic any time-bound framework for disarmament.

The U.S. Continues to Block Special Attention for Middle East Nuclear Weapons Issues And Disarmament

In addition, the United States continued to block proposals for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, and even for measures which would allow special attention for the issue at the review conference. The United States took this position despite its assent to language endorsing nuclear weapons free zones in the Middle East and other “regions of tension” in the 1995 “Principles and Objectives” document, a statement by the treaty parties key to gaining agreement by the NNWS to extension of the NPT. Consistent refusal by the U.S., France, the U.K., and Russia to agree to measures which would promote substantive debate on this and other priorities identified in the Principles and Objectives statement, including nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI, further undermined confidence in the workability of the “enhanced review” process which had been an essential element of the renewed NPT bargain.

The 1998 PrepCom ended at an impasse, with no discernible progress and little hope that the next PrepCom would be different. Within days, both India and Pakistan conducted rounds of nuclear weapons tests, jarring the world with the prospect of a new nuclear arms race in South Asia, and demonstrating just how significant the immediate effects of continued lack of progress towards nuclear weapons abolition could be.

John Holdren, the Chair of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences, noted after the May 1998 nuclear weapons tests by India and Pakistan that

It is not obvious that more leadership and less hypocrisy from the United States and the other established nuclear-weapon powers would have tipped the balance against testing in these two countries, given the tensions and domestic political pressures in play there. But it ought to be plain that the intransigence of the major weapon states in relation to their own nuclear arsenals strengthens the hands of pro-nuclear-weapon factions in threshold states everywhere, weakening the case against these weapons and providing an additional push toward proliferation. If we do not admit this and move finally to correct it, we markedly increase the chances that the recent nuclear follies will not be the last.

There can be little doubt that the continued possession of many thousands of nuclear weapons, along with the expenditure of billions of dollars annually to build new, more sophisticated nuclear weapons research and production facilities by the United States (through the “Stockpile Stewardship” Program) and similar, more modest nuclear weapons research programs being pursued by the other NWS has made it clear to the rest of the world that the NWS do not intend to give up their weapons anytime soon.6 It also appears, as Holdren suggested, that this nuclear business as usual attitude has indeed provided arguments for the elites of threshold, now nuclear, states to justify the legitimacy of their own nuclear ambitions. Following India’s round of nuclear weapons testing, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated in response to a question from a reporter regarding U.S. insistence that India sign the CTBT that

We have made our stand on the CTBT very clear. We have indicated our readiness to discuss certain provisions of the treaty on a reciprocal basis. But, taken as a whole, the CTBT is discriminatory because it allows nuclear weapons states with advanced technology capabilities to continue their nuclear weapons programme. And so also is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There is no question of India accepting any treaty that is discriminatory in character. No one should have any illusions on this score.

1999: New Tensions Among the Nuclear Weapons States and New Proposals for Progress on Disarmament

At last year’s PrepCom, held in May in New York, the stalemate continued, and in some respects worsened. During the run-up to the PrepCom, a U.S.-led NATO had commenced a massive air war against Yugoslavia without U.N. Security Council sanction and over the objections of fellow NWS China and Russia. This followed a short but intense U.S.-U.K. bombing campaign against Iraq in February, also over Russian and Chinese objections. The United States also was publicly discussing deployment of a national defense system and sharing of ballistic missile defense technology with Japan. Both China and Russia expressed grave concerns about continued U.S. development of missile defenses and high-tech “conventional” weaponry, particularly given an apparent intention to use overwhelming force outside the U.N. framework, either unilaterally or within a NATO now willing to act outside the boundaries of its member states. The combination of continued lack of substantive movement by the U.K., the U.S., and France, and rising tensions among the original NWS, made progress on the disarmament issues central to the NPT deadlock seem less likely than ever.

The New Agenda Coalition: Influential NNWS Push for Progress on Nuclear Disarmament

Against this background, a growing number of states aligned themselves with substantive proposals for progress on disarmament. The New Agenda Coalition, consisting of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, made a statement delivered by Brazil and joined by a number of other states noting that “the pace of efforts to implement all the obligations of the NPT is faltering,” and that “as a consequence, negotiations on the measures required to achieve the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons are in serious deficit.” The New Agenda Statement focused particular attention on the nuclear weapons states:

Of profound concern is the lack of evidence that the nuclear-weapon states consider their treaty obligations as an urgent commitment to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons consistent with the Article VI obligations and the 1995 Principles and Objectives. On the contrary, the continued possession of nuclear weapons has been re-rationalised. Nuclear doctrines have been reaffirmed....

The indefinite extension of the NPT does not sanction the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons. We must be absolutely clear about that. We must not enter the next millennium with the prospect that the retention of these weapons will be considered legitimate for the indefinite future.

The New Agenda statement stressed that “It is inherent... in any treaty based on mutually agreed obligations that no one group of states can determine independently the pace with which the obligations of that treaty are implemented,” and called for measures which would form “the elements of a process of irreversibly ridding the world of nuclear weapons for all time,” measures which would “be realistic and achievable.” The New Agenda group did not endorse any single set of negotiations or framework, calling for progress in both bilateral and multilateral efforts, but did endorse such concrete short-term steps as de-alerting of nuclear weapons, reduction of reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons, and a “legally binding instrument” concerning “use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States parties to the NPT, so-called Negative Security Assurances.”

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) issued a statement proposing a more specific negotiating framework, calling for elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework and for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (i.e. treaty) as the appropriate instrument. In addition, the NAM continued to press for special attention to both disarmament and Middle East Issues at the Review Conference.

Looking Towards the 2000 NPT Review: the Hard Questions Remain

Despite the evident gravity of the situation and broad discontent with their lack of progress on disarmament, at the 1999 PrepCom the western NWS continued to resist all efforts to focus additional attention on these issues at the 2000 Review. At the last minute, rather than risk a total breakdown, the NPT parties agreed to forward a Chairman’s Paper to the review conference which essentially papered over the unresolved conflicts. The Chairman’s paper is a list of 61 paragraphs, covering a range of issues, proposed by a variety of states, and not agreed on -- essentially a laundry list. The hard procedural questions were pushed forward for resolution at the Review Conference itself.

What will happen this year, at the first 5 year review of the NPT’s operation since its indefinite extension? There is a real concern that some countries, frustrated by the failure of the NWS to uphold their end of the bargain, could decide withdraw from the Treaty. Indeed Mexico, for one, has warned: “Should [NPT nuclear disarmament obligations] not be fulfilled, we would need to review our continuation as party to the Treaty....”

Again, Douglas Roche:

“The NPT stalemate, crucial as it is to the hopes for a viable non-proliferation regime in the 21st century, is itself part of a larger world struggle today. Nuclear weapons, like the Kosovo war, are about the rule of law. How will international law be imposed in the years ahead: by the militarily powerful determining what the law will be, or by a collective world effort reposing the seat of law in the United Nations system?

Already, only a decade after the end of the Cold War, the hopes for a cooperative global security system have been dashed on the rocks of power. The trust, engendered during the early post-Cold War years, is now shattered. New arms races are underway.

It would be the height of folly to sweep under the rug this unpleasant turn of events. It would be equally folly to think that the rest of the world is powerless against the NWS....

The world is staring into an abyss of nuclear weapons proliferation. The danger of the use of nuclear weapons is growing. The recognition of this should galvanize intelligent and committed people - in both governments and civil society - to action.”


1. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament, NPT/CONF,1995/L.5, 9 May 1995.

2. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) is a grouping of nations, established in 1961, which sought to remain neutral during the Cold War. The NAM today describes itself as “the voice of the developing world.” Its membership has grown to 113 states from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

3. Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, General List No.95 (Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996) p.37.

4. Douglas Roche, “An Analysis of the First Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2000 Review of the Non- Proliferation Treaty,” 1997.

5. John P. Holdren, "Nuclear Proliferation and United States Responsibilities," May 29, 1998, June 2, 1998, quoted in “The Nuclear Challenge: Reducing The Political Value of Nuclear Weapons For The Twenty-first Century,” House of Commons of Canada, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade Report No.7, 1998.

6. On the potentially destabilizing impacts of the U.S. stockpile stewardship and management program generally, see generally A. Lichterman and J. Cabasso, “A Faustian Bargain: Why ‘Stockpile Stewardship’ is Fundamentally Incompatible with the Process of Nuclear Disarmament,” Western States Legal Foundation 1998; on the direct proliferation risks of stockpile stewardship technologies, see C.E. Paine and M.G. McKinzie, “Does the U.S. Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program Pose a Proliferation Threat?” Science and Global Security, 1998, Vol. 7, p.151.

7. Interview with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee India Today, May 25, 1998.

8. New Agenda Statement, delivered by Ambassador Luiz Tupy Caldas de Moura of Brazil, May 12, 1999.

9. Ambassador Sergio Gonzalez Galvez, Undersecretary of Foreign Relations, Mexico, before the International Court of Justice, Verbatim Transcript, November 3, 1995, p.68.

10. Douglas Roche, Report/Analysis of NPT PrepCom III, 1999.



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