"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Strengthening the NPT: Challenges and Solutions for the 2010 NPT Review Conference
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Remarks of Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director,
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
March 31, 2010

Click here to download these remarks in .doc format.

Nearly a year ago, President Barack Obama’s campaign to confront global nuclear weapons threats started with an ambitious agenda. In April in Prague, Obama reiterated the U.S. commitment to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” beginning with renewed U.S. leadership to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, permanently outlaw nuclear testing, accelerate U.S. and global efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials, and strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Prague speech marked a significant shift away from the strategy of the previous administration and has created new possibilities for progress at the upcoming NPT Review Conference (RevCon).

Just weeks after Obama’s Prague address and days after the U.S. delegation reiterated that it recognizes the political commitments made at past NPT conferences, States Parties agreed on an agenda for work at the 2010 RevCon.

At the same time, States Parties could not agree on specific recommendations outlining a path forward to address the key items on the NPT agenda. And there is no shortage of recommendations for updating and strengthening the NPT.

The Arms Control Association has just published a detailed resource guide on the “Major Proposals to Strengthen the NPT” by our former Scoville Peace Fellow Cole Harvey with support from our ACA research team.

Our survey of proposals should make it abundantly clear that a vast majority of the 180 plus NPT States Parties actually do agree on a substantial number of practical measures that would strengthen and update the treaty. There are a number of very useful proposals that could provide the basis for agreement, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Five-Point Plan and elements from UN Security Council Resolution 1887.

And if certain difficult issues can be handled adroitly, if key states—particularly Iran—are not singled out for criticism by others and do not themselves seek to block consensus, and if the United States and a representative group of states voice support for common objectives, the conference can come together around an “Action Plan to strengthen and reaffirm the NPT.

Ideally, the “Action Plan” would be part of a final conference statement. If that is not possible, the success of the conference and support for the “Action Plan” might be measured and expressed through the Conference President’s summary report.

Major Challenges and Ways Forward for the 2010 RevCon

There are five related sets of issues that the states parties must address properly if there is to be agreement or near-agreement on an Action Plan to strengthen the NPT. Four of these are topics that have been debated in one way or another since the first NPT RevCon; another is relatively new.

1. Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Issues Relating to Withdrawal

One dominant theme at this RevCon will be the danger to the NPT from states that are under investigation for IAEA safeguards violations, are pursuing sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities, or both.

North Korea’s declared but unrecognized withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 highlights the fact that under the treaty, countries can acquire technologies that bring them to the very brink of nuclear weapons capability without explicitly violating the agreement and can then leave the treaty without automatic penalties.

Iran secretly pursued enrichment capabilities for years. While Iran’s main facility at Natanz and another at Qom are under safeguards and its capabilities are still limited, they are gradually growing. There is also the risk of unsafeguarded enrichment work and suspicion that Iran has engaged in warhead design work.

In response, a variety of proposals have been advanced that would lead to a more definitive and prompt response to cases of noncompliance and withdrawal.

Reaching agreement will be difficult in no small part because Iran will likely block agreement on any proposal, but it is important that in the very least states agree to:

  • Address without delay any notice of withdrawal from the NPT, including the convening of a special session of the states parties to discuss a collective response, and to affirm that a state remains responsible under international law for violations of the NPT committed prior to its withdrawal.

Unlike the U.S. effort at the 2005 NPT RevCon to call out noncompliant states by name, which provoked Iran and complicated efforts to reach agreement. This time around, I hope and expect that the United States and other leading actors will pursue a country-neutral approach. After all, everyone knows which states are the states of concern.

However, action before or during the RevCon by the Security Council to approve tougher, targeted sanctions against Iran could make it even more likely that Iran and some of its allies would block agreement on this issue and possibly others at the RevCon.

2. Peaceful Nuclear Uses and Safeguards

Iran’s uranium enrichment program and consideration by some states to become commercial nuclear fuel suppliers has rekindled a long-running discussion about how the proliferation of sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities—enrichment and reprocessing—can be avoided while ensuring that states may pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Several proposals have been advanced that would provide nuclear fuel or a guarantee of nuclear fuel to states that meet basic nonproliferation criteria as an incentive not to pursue their own indigenous enrichment or reprocessing capacity. However, many developing states are concerned that multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle could limit their future options and generally do not embrace this approach.

There will likely be much discussion but little progress in resolving such differences at this RevCon. At most the States Parties may agree to:

  • Continue to work together on multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle, including assurances of nuclear fuel supply, to help provide reliable fuel supplies while minimizing the risk of proliferation of sensitive fuel cycle technologies.

To avoid isolation, Iran will also seek to equate its pursuit of sensitive fuel cycle activities in defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions with the so-called “right” under Article IV of the NPT on peaceful use of nuclear energy. It is crucial that states in the nonnuclear weapons majority do not play into Iran’s strategy.

It is incumbent on states in the Nonaligned group and other to support the NPT by urging—in their own national statements—that the Iranian government: fully respond to the IAEA’s outstanding questions about its nuclear activities; to suspend its sensitive fuel cycle activities as a confidence building measure; to agree to IAEA inspections under the terms of the additional protocol; and to engage in diplomacy with the P-5 and other states to reach a prompt resolution to the crisis. Brazil and South Africa can and should play a leadership role in this regard.

Nonaligned states should join other NPT States Parties to:

  • Recognize the right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy in conformity with Articles I and II and the safeguards required under Article III and call upon all states to provide the cooperation and information necessary to verify compliance with safeguards obligations by all

    Iran’s safeguards transgressions and the ongoing investigation of Syrian nuclear activities by the IAEA have highlighted once again the importance of strengthening safeguards. While the vast majority of NPT States Parties have Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA, many have not adopted the Additional Protocol to their safeguards agreements, which would give the IAEA important additional authority to investigate undeclared nuclear activities. While many Western countries support the Additional Protocol as the verification standard, developing states generally oppose making it a legally-binding obligation.

    While this RevCon will not close such divergent views, States Parties can at least agree to make further progress toward universalization of the Additional Protocol. They should:

    • Recognize that a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) accompanied by an Additional Protocol (AP) based on the model additional protocol should be the internationally recognized safeguards standard, and call upon all states that have yet to do so to conclude and bring into force a CSA and an AP no later than 2015 and call on all states to apply this safeguards standard to the supply of nuclear material and equipment.

      3. Nuclear Disarmament

      Until recently, at least, the majority of countries felt that the five original nuclear-weapon states were not moving quickly enough to fulfill their NPT pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons and uphold their NPT-related commitments on the CTBT. The continuing possession of nuclear weapons by these states, reinforced by lackluster progress on disarmament in the last decade, erodes the willingness of certain states in the non-nuclear weapon majority to agree to strengthen the nonproliferation end of the NPT bargain.

      The conclusion of New START after less than a year of negotiations is a significant diplomatic achievement that puts the process of verifiable strategic nuclear reductions back on track. Yet, New START will still leave the United States and Russia with thousands of excess nuclear weapons. Furthermore, while the U.S. and Chinese governments officially support efforts to achieve CTBT ratification and entry into force, frustration that neither have done so nearly fifteen years since the treaty was concluded is understandably high.

      While President Obama has pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy,” and may soon announce how he intends to do so in the NPR, other nuclear weapon states could certainly do more to reduce the role and number of their nuclear weapons.

      We can expect that a number of states will draw attention to the slow pace of progress on nuclear disarmament, including some, such as Iran, who simply wish to draw attention away from themselves.

      The P-5 certainly have a better story to tell on their implementation of Article VI at this conference than they did five years ago. But there is clearly more to be done to move toward a world without nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapon states can and should jointly outline what they intent to do next.

      The following are some practical proposals for what might be included in the disarmament section of the Action Plan:

      • To boost momentum ahead of the NPT conference, Obama and Medvedev should announce their readiness to resume consultations on the next round of nuclear arms reductions. As Secretary Clinton said during her January 2009 nomination hearing, such talks should be broadened to include the verifiable elimination of all warhead types: deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic.
      • Obama and Medvedev should also invite the world’s other recognized nuclear-armed states to engage in a high- level dialogue on how to make their nuclear capabilities more transparent, create greater confidence, and move toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.
      • All five nuclear weapon states should also reaffirm their so-called unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. They should also issue “clean” negative nuclear security assurances to States Parties to the NPT in good standing with their treaty and safeguards obligations, and declare their intent to refrain from testing pending the entry into force of the CTBT.

      The five original nuclear weapon states should ideally express these and other commitments in a joint statement before the RevCon.

      There is also an opportunity for States Parties to agree on several other common steps on disarmament in a conference Action Plan:

      • Call upon the nuclear weapon states to take tangible steps to reduce the role and salience of nuclear weapons in their national security strategies;
      • Urge the nuclear weapon states not to increase the size their nuclear arsenals and to undertake concrete  action to verifiably and irreversibly reduce all types of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.
      • With respect to substrategic nuclear weapons, states should agree to begin the process of removing such weapons from forward-deployed areas and engage in negotiations leading the elimination of all such weapons. On this issue NATO member states in particular should recognize the fact that such weapons do not serve any meaningful or helpful role for alliance defense or the security of Europe.
      • Call upon all states to refrain from nuclear test explosions for any purpose and to undertake all necessary measures to bring the CTBT into force no later than 2015;
      • Urge all states to halt the production of fissile material for weapons purposes and to place all excess fissile material under international safeguards pending the conclusion of negotiations on a verifiable fissile material production cut off;
      • Urge the nuclear weapon states to transform their negative security assurances into legally-binding form;
      • Call upon all states possessing nuclear weapons to report regularly information relating to their fissile material stockpiles and the number of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in a format agreed among States Parties to the NPT.

      To be clear, nuclear disarmament is not an end unto itself. These nuclear disarmament steps will not only enhance the prospects of strengthening nonproliferation and compliance measures, but are clearly in the national security interest of nuclear weapon states and their allies.

      4. Nuclear Weapon Free Zones and the Middle East

      Support for and the creation of new zones free of nuclear weapons is a critical part of the NPT bargain. Since 2005, two such zones—covering Africa and Central Asia—have come into force, though not all of the nuclear weapon states have ratified the protocols that outline their obligations under these treaties. This brings the total number of nuclear weapons free zones to six. They cover virtually the entire southern hemisphere.

      However, the lack of progress toward a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East is a problem and will be a major issue at this RevCon. As part of the package of proposals leading to the extension of the treaty in 1995, states adopted the so-called Middle East resolution, that requests states in the region to take practical steps toward the establishment of an effectively verifiable WMD-free zone and requests all treaty members to extend their cooperation and exert their utmost efforts to that end.

      Egypt, which has championed the issue at the UN since it joined the NPT, is understandably frustrated and is seeking commitments by NPT States Parties to take tangible steps in this direction. As the current chair of the Nonaligned Movement, it has substantial leverage to press its case. Egypt has put forward a series of working papers on the topic that include specific proposals. Some of these are clearly designed simply to make a point about the one non-NPT state in the region; others are pragmatic and reasonable.

      Visible and early U.S. support for tangible steps toward a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone, such as the naming of a special envoy by the RevCon to convene states to discuss the matter is critical for progress on this matter and for the success of the RevCon.

      As a senior German diplomat writes in an article in the forthcoming issue of Arms Control Today, “Further stalling on the issue will only exacerbate the proliferation risks in the region.”

      5. Engaging in Civil Nuclear Trade with States Outside the NPT

      Since the last RevCon in 2005, the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and others pushed the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to approve an exemption for NPT holdout India from NSG guidelines that require comprehensive international safeguards as a condition of nuclear trade.

      This is fundamentally an affront to the NPT because it extends to a non-NPT state the peaceful nuclear uses benefits that have so far been reserved only for those states that meet their nonproliferation obligations. Among other things, the deal also violates the decision at the 1995 NPT RevCon to make comprehensive safeguards agreements a condition of nuclear supply and undermines efforts to universalize the Additional Protocol. It has led Pakistan to seek similar treatment and prompted Israel to argue for a criteria-based approach to civil nuclear trade with the NSG that include Israel.

      While damage has already been inflicted on the NPT regime, the United States and other key states should make clarifying statements and support language in a potential RevCon resolution that mitigates that damage and guards against further erosion of NPT principles.

      Paragraph 3 of the September 6 NSG statement says the “basis” for the India exemption includes India’s continued adherence to several nonproliferation pledges it made in July 2005 and on September 5, 2008, including continued observance of its voluntary nuclear test moratorium. India rejects any such direct linkage.

      The United States should make clear that any nuclear test explosion would lead to the termination of nuclear trade by the United States with that country. That was the position of Senator Obama and it should be the position of President Obama. As then-Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) said on the floor of the Senate in a colloquy with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on November 16, 2006, “[I]n the event of a future nuclear test by the Government of India, nuclear power reactor fuel and equipment sales, and nuclear technology cooperation would terminate.”

      The NPT States Parties should adopt common language that: reaffirms that nuclear testing anywhere is a serious threat to international security and calls on States Parties to suspend nuclear cooperation with any state that conducts a nuclear weapon test explosion for any reason or violates its safeguards agreements.


      President Barack Obama's Prague Agenda for nuclear weapons threat reduction and elimination has rejuvenated hopes that the conference will come together around a package of proposals to strengthen the treaty.  However, friction over Iran's controversial nuclear activities and a lack of progress toward one NPT-related goal—the pursuit of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone—threaten to overshadow the broad degree of support for the treaty and measures to update and strengthen it.

      U.S. leadership by example is essential but not sufficient. Updating the successful NPT for its next 40 years requires strong leadership and action by other nuclear-armed states, as well as the nonnuclear weapon state majority.