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The Story of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference

Atoms for Peace, December 1953: When President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” address to the UN General Assembly in December 1953, he proposed to share nuclear materials and information for peaceful purposes with other countries through a new international agency. That speech led to negotiations which, several years later, created the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA today has the dual responsibility of helping countries that do not have nuclear weapons to engage in peaceful nuclear programs while ensuring that they do not make nuclear weapons. The IAEA also polices the nuclear activities of member countries to ensure that those without nuclear weapons did not acquire them.

Today, the NPT is a worldwide treaty that bans all members except the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, and the United States from having nuclear weapons and commits those five states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals. The treaty provides the norm and the foundation for an international regime to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. The 187 states that subscribe to the NPT include all significant states of concern with the exception of India, Israel, Pakistan, and—arguably—North Korea. (From the Arms Control Association website)

Non-proliferation Treaty, came into force on 5 March, 1970: The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a treaty that attempts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. There are currently 189 states (countries) party to the treaty, five of which are recognized as nuclear weapon states (the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China (these five “parties” are also permanent members of the United Nations Security Council). Four other “parties” that are not part of the treaty have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. The NPT consists of a preamble and eleven articles (Excerpted and modified from Wikipedia)
Article VI of the NPT: This article states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” This article is the principal tradeoff in the NPT, in which the non-nuclear weapon states are given the promise that the playing field will be leveled by “negotiations in good faith on…nuclear disarmament.”
International Criminal Court and the NPT: When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) considered the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in 1996, the judges unanimously concluded, based upon Article VI of the NPT, that “[t]here 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.” [Emphasis added.] (Debating Article VI by David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation)

The Review Conference: The treaty is reviewed every five years in meetings called Review Conferences of the Parties to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Review Conference is tasked with evaluating how well the terms of the NPT have been implemented and to chart a path forward to tackle unfinished business. In addition, Sessions of the Preparatory Committee for the Review Conference (Prep-Com) take place each of the intervening years. Simultaneously, many events organized by independent institutions, groups of experts, think tanks and NGOs take place worldwide in order to provide reports and recommendations that complement the Preparatory Committees.
Review Conference Extended Indefinitely 11 May 1995: Even though the treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years, the signing parties decided, by consensus, to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions during the Review Conference in New York City on May 11, 1995.
May 2010 – Most Recent Review Conference: Expectations were extremely high going into the conference, but the positions of many of the nearly 190 participating countries were very far apart. States still found a way to constructively negotiate and find pragmatic approaches to defuse hot button issues such as North Korea’s withdrawal and nuclear testing, Iran’s noncompliance, prospects for a Middle East WMD Free Zone, and further progress on disarmament, any one of which could have scuttled the proceedings.
The final document included a 64-point plan for action and reflects conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions. It also outlines further steps that are necessary to reduce the number and role of the world’s 20,000 remaining nuclear weapons and increase transparency regarding those stockpiles.:
A recommitment of nations to the basic bargain of the NPT; Specific action plans on nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy; and
Proposed steps for implementing the 1995 Resolution calling for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East
(from Carnegie Endowment)

New START Treaty: An agreement between the United States and Russia calling for a reduction of nuclear weapons down to 1,500 on each side. This treaty was ratified by the US and Russia in the fall of 2010. As of July 2011, Russia is already below New START ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.
Prep-Com Meeting June 29 – July 1, 2011: Five senior officials from the original nuclear weapon states (the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China) met in Paris for the second meeting on nuclear weapons policy. Their joint press statement released today by the so-called “P5,”reaffirms the importance of the 64-point Action Plan approved at the 2010 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and specifically Action 5, which outlines further steps that are necessary to reduce the number and role of the world’s 20,000 remaining nuclear weapons and increase transparency regarding those stockpiles.
The P5 statement calls for the “swift entry into force” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its “universalization.” Reiterating the words in Article I of the CTBT that prohibit any and all nuclear test explosions and establish a “zero-yield” test ban, the P5 “called upon all States to uphold the moratorium on nuclear weapons-test explosions or any other nuclear explosion, and to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty pending its entry into force.”
Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher said on May 10 that the administration has begun to explain the administration’s case to the Senate. It will take some time to lay the groundwork for ratification, but a sustained effort can achieve Senate approval before the 2015 Review Conference.
(Arms Control Association, article by Daryl Kimball)

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