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  • Affiliation : Member, International Advisory Board, International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastroph
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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Crashing at 50?

Tariq Rauf

The first of July 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening for signature of the landmark Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This treaty is the world’s most important multilaterally negotiated international treaty on global nuclear governance. Of its 193 States parties, 188 have permanently renounced nuclear weapons and have accepted and implement intrusive on-site verification and inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on their exclusively peaceful nuclear activities. For their part, five nuclear-weapon States – China, France, Russian Federation, UK and US – have undertaken a binding obligation to reduce and eliminate all of their nuclear weapons.   

Golden anniversaries usually are occasions for celebration of the past 50 years and for hope for a better future.  Unfortunately for the NPT, all signs point to a looming disastrous failure at the next conclave, review conference, to be held in 2020 at UN headquarters in New York. The main reasons being the failure: (a) of the nuclear-weapon States to fulfill the NPT’s nuclear disarmament commitments; and (b) to establish a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the region of the Middle East.

The obligation for nuclear disarmament emanates from Article VI of the NPT from the very day of its signing that was reaffirmed and defined by consensus agreement among all NPT States at the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT review conferences. In fact, in 1995, the NPT was extended in force indefinitely on the basis of recommitment to nuclear disarmament and this was defined as an “unequivocal undertaking” at the 2000 NPT conference. In 2000 and 2010, all NPT States present agreed to “13 practical steps” and an “action plan”, respectively on nuclear disarmament. However, despite substantial reductions in nuclear weapons by the five nuclear-weapon States there still exist nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons and nearly 2,000 metric tonnes of direct weapon use nuclear materials in their arsenals.

As for the Middle East WMD-free zone, the commitment to its achievement was part and parcel of the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. In 2010, NPT States agreed to convene an international conference on this matter in 2012 with the participation of all States of the Middle East region, including that of Israel, which stubbornly has never signed the NPT. The high hopes of the regional States were dashed when the US, the principal backer of the 2012 Middle East conference unilaterally backed out, leading to the collapse of the 2015 NPT review conference. Though the details and reasons are too complex for this narrative, suffice it to say that the international community is on notice that if no concrete progress is achieved by April 2020, the NPT review conference on its fiftieth anniversary in 2020 is doomed to failure.

Increasingly NPT States are blaming the “strengthened review process” for their own failings to make compromises, to implement previously agreed commitments, their inability to engage in interactive discussions on substantive matters, their proclivity to submit verbose reports and working papers, and for insisting on inordinately lengthy reports from the PrepCom sessions and the main committees at review conferences. No effort has been made by NPT States to resolve duplication of issues in main committees, to focus on agreed accounts of the period under review in review conferences and to agree on practical forward-looking recommendations that have some chance of being implemented. This blame game regarding the review process has resulted in some patently silly proposals such as shortening the PrepCom from 10 to 5 working days, reducing the length of review conferences, replacing five yearly review conferences with an annual conference, calling for complex verbose reports on implementation of the 2010 “64 actions” despite such reports costing around US4 10,000 per page, eliminating agreed outcome documents from review conferences, and refusing to opt for shorter focused outcome documents of PrepComs as was put forward by the chair of the 2014 PrepCom. On the other hand, this author’s long-standing calls for a “Statement on the State of the NPT” to be issued at each PrepCom session has been heeded by the chairs of the 2017 and 2018 PrepComs as they each prepared the “Chair’s Reflections” assessing and commenting on the general state of affairs pertaining to the NPT.

To conclude, NPT States now need to get their act together, find a common purpose and focus, and fully implement the strengthened review process with the aim of agreeing on parsimonious outcome documents that nonetheless cover all-important matters relating to the Treaty. Furthermore, NPT States need to bridge their growing differences on nuclear disarmament, the nuclear weapon prohibition treaty, and the Middle East WMD zone with a view to working for an agreed positive outcome in 2020 to strengthen the integrity and authority of the Treaty as well as its full implementation and achieving universality. The forthcoming meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin, as well as the Singapore Summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, reflect a much-needed change from contemporary practice of cutting off dialogue with adversaries and small movement towards seeking difficult diplomatic negotiations to important international security matters.

Personal comments by Tariq Rauf, Alternate Head of the IAEA NPT Delegation 2002-2010; Senior Advisor to Chair of Main Committee I (Nuclear Disarmament) 2015 NPT RevConf and Senior Advisor to Chair of 2014 NPT PrepCom, and Delegation Advisor at the 2017-2018 NPT PrepComs.


Yaderny Kontrol, Issue 6 (500), 2018