The 2010 NPT Review Conference: Will President Obama Show “Good Faith”?

President Obama standing in a Prague square on an April day in 2009, by a telecast speech to millions of people around the world, raised their hopes by stating: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

This call by American and many other world leaders has been echoed for decades since World War II’s first explosion of a nuclear bomb, revealed its tremendous destructive powers.  In fact, The United Nations General Assembly’s very first resolution in January 1946 called for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.”  In 1968, this global wish was given  serious hope by the signing of The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Two years later, in 1970, the Treaty came into force after all the State signatories to the treaty also obtained their national legislative ratifications.  NPT is the only and the largest multilateral treaty on nuclear non proliferation and disarmament.  With 188 state signatories, it is only four countries (India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan) short of the full UN membership.


On the one hand, the primary purpose of the five states, stakeholders to the treaty, the powerful “nuclear haves” which also correspond to the Five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, has been to stop the race of other countries going nuclear and prevent further proliferation.  That they have achieved with relative success; NPT in its first thirty years was very successful in not letting any new member country to proliferate. Further, the countries with known nuclear weapons programme in an advanced stage, such as Brazil and South Africa, once members of NPT abandoned their respective nuclear weapons programmes. In the last decade however, we witnessed the proliferation case of North Korea while Iran has been lately also on that threshold.

On the other hand, for the rest of stakeholders to the Treaty, the majority 183 nuclear “have-nots”, their primary stake is “the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament”, by means of “good faith”, undertaken in Article VI of the NPT. Ironically, this commitment primarily applies to the nuclear “haves”, since they are the holders of nuclear arsenals which they must get rid of.  The “haves-nots” promise refers to their commitment not to seek or produce such weapons.

The Treaty founders assumed the NPT would have completed its mission in twenty five years; hence the quarter of a century expiration clause entering into force in 1970. However, the mission was not accomplished in time. At the 1995 Five Year Review Conference, the nuclear “have-nots” proved their loyalty to the Treaty by making another major concession to the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS): to extend the Treaty indefinitely, no termination date provided. As their part of the bargain, in the final joint statement, the NWS party to theTreaty agreed to some major steps in escalating the Article VI disarmament clause and taking concrete steps in implementing it.

The substantial Package of Decisions, output of the 1995 Conference, included Decision 4 Section (C):

“The determined pursuit by the Nuclear Weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of elimination of those weapons.”

In the course of time, the interpretation of Article VI became a legal issue: for example, should the NWS anticipate a “general disarmament” before their “nuclear disarmament”, or does “good faith” in doing something, really means doing it, in other words transforming words into deeds? The International Court of Justice (ICJ) located in The Hague, Holland, took up the issue. The Judges of the World Court in their Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996 unanimously ruled:

“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.”

Clearly the stage was set: the legal commitment to nuclear disarmament was once and for all clarified!

The peak in the NPT’s history was the Review Conference of 2000, where the planned commitment toward disarmament was further reinforced, and agreed upon by all the members of the Treaty in its 13 Points Declaration, transforming the 1995 Package of Decisions in concrete further steps towards achieving disarmament, including the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), banning of “the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons use” under the Conference on Disarmament, and more transparency and frequent reporting, by member states.

In addition, the 2000 Declaration put emphasis on “an unequivocal undertaking by the Nuclear Weapons States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.” In other words, the NWS were reminded of their obligation to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

2000-2010: The NPT Enters a Decade of Crisis

The decade following the 2000 NPT Review Conference proved to be one of crisis for the Treaty. The US Senate rejected the CTBT Treaty, which President Bill Clinton had signed. President Bush’s Administration policy was not in favour of the CTBT. George Bush decided not to pursue its ratification. The planned Conference on Disarmament activities scheduled to take place in Geneva were never held. No progress on the ban on production of fissile materials was made and no other multilateral treaties on “irreversible nuclear disarmaments were initiated; contrary to the provisions of the 2000 agreements.

In the first decade of the 21st century, not only the “good faith” committed toward nuclear disarmament by the NWS in Article VI was not translated into action, but in fact the nuclear “haves” went in the opposite direction: they announced plans to bolster their nuclear arsenals.

The United States Department of Defense declared ‘needed improvements’ in the quality of its nuclear weapons and their gradual replacement. Following suit, RussianP resident Dmitry Medvedev revealed major upgrade plans of the Russian Federation’s nuclear weapons arsenal by 2020; and in London, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that it would be “unwise and dangerous” for the United Kingdom to get rid of its weapons in such an uncertain world, and that London would keep and possibly upgrade its Trident nuclear submarines.

The NPT regime in the decade 2000-2010 was weakened on another front: a crack appeared in its non-proliferation regime. The NPT had been relatively successful in controlling the spread of nuclear arms among its non-nuclear-weapons states. However, in 2003, the world witnessed North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ tests. Under pressure, Pyongyang found it easier to step out of the NPT, thereby terminating its Treaty obligations.

The other proliferation challenge to the NPT is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, similar to North Korea, might cross the line into becoming a Nuclear Weapons State. The Iranian regime, being surrounded by US occupying forces to its east (Afghanistan) and to its west (Iraq), and within easy reach of its arch enemy (Israel), may very well decide to go nuclear. After all, a current belief in the conduct of international relations is the premise that once your country goes nuclear, no country dares to invade.

The other major hurdle for Nuclear Weapons States party to the Treaty – which they have not been able to resolve for the past 40 years – has been the challenge of bringing in the four NWS that are not party to the Treaty and thus make NPT universal. India, Israel, and Pakistan did not join the NPT at its onset in 1968, nor did they join the Treaty in its 40 years of existence. (North Korea as explained above stepped out).

Dr. Hans Blix, the ex Swedish foreign minister and ex head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), headed an independent Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). His Commission’s final report released in 2006 expresses the vital role these free wheeling nuclear states have in the success of any nuclear disarmament process and expresses concern over their growing nuclear arsenals. The Commission on WMD reports that Israel, with its nuclear arsenal estimated in the hundreds, may have already surpassed the UK in numbers of nuclear warheads. The existence of these nuclear state countries outside ofthe Treaty severely undermines the viability of the NPT for two reasons. First, after forty years, the Treaty’s member states have failed to bring in the other three nuclear states under its umbrella and make it universally binding. Second, North Korea makes a precedence, where a member state violated NPT rules, proliferated and then simply abandoned the Treaty. The double failure for NPT in relation to this group is therefore not only the Treaty’s inability to integrate and dissolve this group of NWS outside of the Treaty, but also letting its members to increase as well.

The next five-year NPT Review Conference, scheduled for May this year, burdened with all the above described challenges, seems to be heading for the same fate as its predecessor 2005 Review Conference, where not only did the nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” failed to conclude an agreement, but they failed even to issue a joint statement.

After the crises of the last decade, it seems the non-compliance of the Permanent Five and how serious they are about their “good faith” is now out in the open. Are Nuclear Weapons States of the Treaty really serious about disarmament? Will they take concrete steps to implement the previously agreed Decision 4 Sec (C) of the 1995 and the 13 Points of the 2000 Review Conferences agreements? Can they herd together, the Nuclear Weapons States outside the NPT into it, and thus make a future nuclear disarmament universal?

SomeThoughts for the Way Ahead

Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament are two sides of the same coin. Their successes (or failures) are inter-dependent. Although the NPT has both components, it seems biased toward its minority members, who are the Nuclear Weapons States promoting the goal of non-proliferation. It appears, in view of the lack of concrete advances in disarmament, that the minority Permanent Five members, while stopping other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons within the NPT’s framework, are simply ignoring the wishes of the Non-Nuclear-Weapons States, regarding nuclear disarmament.

The limited reversible nuclear arms reduction achievements of the past forty years,mostly by the United States and Russia, have occurred as a result of bilateral agreements or unilateral actions.  As the Chinese retired Major General and now security expert Pan Zhenqiang points out, these US and Russian limited arms reductions of the past have mainly been a matter of convenience related to shedding the economic and security burdens related to the highly inflated nuclear warhead numbers of the Cold War era, without affecting the striking capabilities of their respective countries. In fact, whereas the number of nuclear weapons has decreased, the quality, potential destructive power and precision of the remaining arsenals have increased! If, after North Korea, Iran goes nuclear, this might touch off a whole series of new countries going down the same path. Inescapably then, the NPT will see the breakdown of the non proliferation regime.

Therefore, I would argue that the forthcoming NPT Review Conference will fail to provide an agreement regarding concrete steps toward disarmament. In fact, all the future review conferences will also fail as long as the NPT, in the eyes of its key stakeholders, namely the Permanent Five, is seen merely as a nuclear arms control regime rather than a nuclear disarmament treaty. For the NPT to produce results the “disarmament” clause of Article VI must be transformed into concrete actions. To start with, the output of the 2000 Review Conference, that is, the Thirteen Steps Action Plan must be implemented.

The United States as the most powerful economic and military power in the world, and as the only NPT member-state which had actually used nuclear weapons in the past must assume responsibility and leadership. This is a NPT Review Year! It provides a golden opportunity for President Obama’s chance through his personal engagement to this pressing global securityissue, to revive the Treaty from being merely a non proliferation and arms control regime, to directing it to its main objective of universal nuclear disarmament.  This year’s Review Conference is President Obama’ s chance to show his and America’s “good faith” in  the NPT, and start delivering on the US commitment of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

* Mr. Shahriar M. Sharei is the Vice President of the Democratic World Federalists.




Hits: 2315



Lecturer in British History and Literature, Ionian University, Corfu, Hellenic Republic
written by Dr.William Mallinson, February 22, 2010 

Good on you, Mr. Sharei, for reminding us again of the most worrying factor in human relations.NPT, MBFR,SALT etc.:these acronyms seem to have legitimised rathger than criminalised nuclear weapons, surely one of Mankind’s most evil inventions to date.I’m afraid that with Israel(armed by the US,Britain,Norway(I think)and France( its Jewish Prime Minister, Mendes-France was particularly pro-Israel), Pakistan and India and India refusing to play ball,the situation could get worse.I fear that insecurity, greed and pride are the main enemies.Nevertheless, thanks.


written by Mohsen Nejad, March 04, 2010 

Great Artivcle.


LLM cnadidate Public International Law
written by Amina Mohamud, March 07, 2010 

Your article raises an interesting question on the “good faith” clause of Article VI in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The topic of NPT is also on the news this week.
One wonders how the nuclear weapon states are going to implement the “good faith” issue when there is an increase in the budgetary allocated for FY 2010-2011 for nuclear programs around the world. For example the US budget proposal for 2011 adds $36 billion in new federal loan for the construction of new nuclear plants; France is increasing its national budget for “civilian-purpose nuclear energy” to offset its need for alternative energy resources.
There is no indication that Obama’s speech in Prague and his being a Nobel Peace Laureate will change anything meaningful in the nuclear arsenals in the near future, the most urgent security policy in the USA is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to unstable states and to terrorists.

The NPT review meeting in May 2010 in Washington DC will represent the classical “prisoners dilemma”.

March 7, 2010.