The 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference: Views from the Asia-Pacific
The Pulse

The 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference: Views from the Asia-Pacific

The 10th Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, more commonly known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is underway now at United Nations Headquarters in New York after much delay. Expectations of a successful outcome to the talks are low. But at this particularly sensitive NPT RevCon how should “success” be defined, and how can nations achieve what observers might consider a positive result?

Prominent APLN members from Australia, Mongolia, and Japan share their hopes and fears for this year’s NPT RevCon.

John Tilemann

Senior Associate Fellow at APLN

The NPT Review Conference: The Measure of Success

Given the increasingly uncertain international security environment, many observers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) predict the forthcoming but long delayed Review Conference will be a failure. This expectation can readily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also begs several questions about what constitutes success and failure of a Review Conference.

Our starting points needs to be recognition that the NPT is the most successful ever global international arms control and security instrument. This success explains the intensity of demands to make it fully effective.

Article VIII of the NPT provides for five yearly reviews of ‘the operation of this Treaty with a view to assuring that the purposes of the Preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realised’. It provides no guidance on how the review is to be structured yet alone the form of any outcome.

The conduct of these reviews has evolved over time, as has the ambition for their outcomes.  To date, five review conferences have adopted a substantive final document, four have not.

But to use the labels ‘success’ and ‘failure’ for these alternative outcomes is misleading. International conferences are hugely complex processes: the NPT review process involves 191 member states and a host of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations and a broad ranging agenda involving matters of grave international concern. The practice that Review Conference outcomes are adopted by consensus means that just one state can withhold agreement. Given the complexity and importance of the issues, the absence of consensus does not necessarily denote disarray or weakness. Every Review Conference involves massive preparation for the best possible outcome: whether final consensus is achieved or not, this work is not wasted – and the review required by the treaty has been conducted. Often large segments of a final document do attract consensus but fall prey to another operating principle of many international conferences, NPT Review Conferences included, that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

Against this background, agreement of a final document to the 10th NPT Review Conference will be a very inadequate indicator of the NPT’s success. A better measure is the observation that in fifty years only one state, North Korea, has withdrawn from the treaty citing events which have ‘jeopardized its supreme interests’ – as provided for in Article X of the Treaty.

Tuya Nyamosor

Former Foreign Minister of Mongolia

Easing Great Power Rivalry:  First Step in the Step-by-Step Approach

As the 10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) gets underway, the “international security environment,” invoked by the nuclear-weapon-states to oppose the nuclear weapons ban, keeps worsening. Ironically, it is the geopolitical rivalries between and among those same nuclear-weapon-states (with added tensions involving nuclear-armed states) that engender this much deplored deterioration of the international security and undermine international cooperation – including on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

With so much ink spilled over the years about ways to strengthen the NPT and achieve nuclear disarmament, with the many benchmarks and practical steps agreed, decisions and resolutions adopted, and commitments made, the reality today is that the danger of nuclear weapon use is greater than at any time in the past. It is all too clear that without some stabilization in great power relations the obligations under the NPT will remain unfulfilled in the foreseeable future.

It is therefore important to devise ways and mechanisms, regional and otherwise, to promote dialogue and look for off-ramps to avoid disastrous head-on collisions. As the UN Secretary-General has put it succinctly, the world is “on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction.” The current NPT Review Conference should be pivotal in steering the wheel in the right direction to avoid falling into that (nuclear?) abyss.

Marianne Hanson

Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Queensland, Australia

The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is facing its most critical Review Conference this month. As if existing difficulties (outlined in my piece in January) were not enough to contend with, recent developments have only added to the pressure being placed on this regime.

First is the highly dangerous war in Ukraine, where Russia has raised the spectre of using nuclear weapons, and where some – mistakenly, I believe – argue that Ukraine shows that states should never give up their nuclear arsenals. (As Maria Rost Rublee argues, ‘the suggestion that Ukraine should have kept its Soviet-era nuclear weapons is a counterfactual fantasy that groans under the weight of its technical, political and strategic assumptions.’)

But the war has also led to a recognition of nuclear dangers in a way that previous NPT RevCons and other meetings have not been able to achieve, and this heightened awareness can help non-nuclear weapon states to reinforce the complete unacceptability of threatening any use of nuclear weapons.

Another development of concern is the blasé way in which the UK, US and Australia are proceeding with plans to acquire nuclear propelled submarines, most likely using highly enriched uranium, regardless of domestic and international opposition and heedless of the damage this can do to the NPT regime. The regime is already seen as highly discriminatory, and preferential treatment given to Australia will only reinforce the view that, yet again, the big (Western) boys call all the shots, and they are willing to bend the rules for another (Western) “mate”, Australia.

Australia should be shoring up the non-proliferation regime, not setting risky precedents and angering non-nuclear states already resentful of the attitudes, double-standards, and actions of the nuclear weapon states and their allies.

Tatsujiro Suzuki

Vice Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA), Nagasaki University, Japan

What we expect from the NPT Review Conference

Due to the Ukraine crisis, the gap between Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) as well as gaps between NWS (with nuclear umbrella states) and Non-nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) have widened. The prospect for reaching consensus among NPT member states is dim. Still, we need to get some positive outcome from the 2022 NPT Review Conference in order to keep the NPT alive and well. Here are my expectations for what NPT Review Conference could achieve:

  1. Nuclear weapons should never be used (nuclear war should never be fought): This rare joint statement by the leaders of five nuclear weapon states must be reconfirmed. Imminent threats now exist as Russia threatens to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The risk could also be imminent in Northeast Asia and South Asia. It’s essential for the international community to agree that nuclear weapons must never be used again. Let Nagasaki be the last.
  2. Reducing Risk of nuclear weapons: Under a severe security environment, like in Ukraine, nuclear weapons could be inadvertently used. The international community should discuss and agree on specific measures to reduce such risks. A “no-first-use” policy could be agreed among all five nuclear weapon states, or a “nuclear hotline” could be established.
  3. Protection of civilian nuclear facilities against attack: Russian attacks on civilian nuclear power plants in Ukraine raised serious safety/security concerns. It’s a violation of Geneva Convention. But attacks against other nuclear facilities are not prohibited by the Convention. We need a consensus that military attacks against civilian nuclear facilities should be prohibited and protection of civilian facilities should be enhanced, including safer management and swifter disposal of fissile materials.

In addition, consensus among parties that the NPT must be kept alive with or without a final document. This is my wish list (minimum).

Finally, I would like to see a positive contribution from Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida gave a speech on the Opening Day outlining the “Hiroshima Action Plan”: 1) maintaining the principle of no use of nuclear weapons, 2) enhancing transparency of nuclear weapon programs, 3) continue decreasing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, 4) securing nuclear non-proliferation and promotion of civilian uses of nuclear technology, and 5) promoting greater understanding of the realities of nuclear weapons through Japan’s “Youth Leaders Fund” bringing young leaders to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those are all good ideas, but they’ve been said many times before. No specific initiatives have been taken by Japan itself except #5. Japan can do more to contribute to global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by 1) endorsing “no-first-use” policies, 2) expressing support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and 3) minimizing fissile materials.

Japan, as the only victim of nuclear attacks and a leader in civilian nuclear energy development, could contribute to global peace in these ways.


Image: UN Photo/Loey Felipe