HRN has observed and summarized a report on the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which was held between 1-26 August 2022 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
President of the 10th RevCon Gustavo Zlauvinen opening the Conference in the UN General Assembly Hall on August 1, 2022.
What is the NPT?
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is an international treaty that aims to promote international peace and security by preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices without hampering the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy . Since entering into force in 1970, 191 States parties have joined the Treaty, including five States that are recognized to possess nuclear weapons known as nuclear-weapon States, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China . In addition to these five nuclear-weapon States, there are four States that are not signatory to the NPT at the moment and which are known to possess or are believed to possess nuclear weapons, namely India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel .
The NPT has three primary pillars, being nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Universal adherence and full compliance to the NPT and its three pillars are required by all 191 States parties, including both nuclear-weapon States and non nuclear-weapons States, and are regarded as vital to avert nuclear war and to promote international peace and security. The NPT is grounded in what is referred to as a “Grand Bargain” between nuclear-weapons States and non nuclear-weapons States . Specifically, the NPT allows nuclear-weapon States to continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as they initiate negotiations towards eventual nuclear disarmament (Article 6) and do not assist non nuclear-weapon States in acquiring nuclear weapons (Article 1). Concurrently, the NPT requires that non-nuclear weapon States not acquire any nuclear weapons (Article 2).
What is the Review Conference?
Pursuant to Article 8, a review of the operation of the NPT occurs five years in meetings referred to as “Review Conferences.” The NPT’s Tenth Review Conference was scheduled to take place in 2020, however, due to the unprecedented circumstances resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tenth Review Conference was postponed and officially held August 1 to 26, 2022. As articulated by the United Nations, “The Review Conference provides Parties with an important opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the fullest implementation of the Treaty and the consensus outcomes of past Review Conferences, as well as to address emerging challenges and articulate a way forward” . Unfortunately, of the 10 Review Conferences that have taken place since 1975, only 5 Review Conferences have resulted in Final Documents that were adopted .
Final Document: Not Adopted
After four weeks of deliberations in the midst of an unstable international security context involving nuclear-weapons States, the States Parties failed to achieve universal consensus and the Final Document of the Tenth NPT Review Conference  was not adopted. In particular, the Russian Federation delegation objected to the Final Document during the last Plenary Session, which did not start until 7:18pm on the evening of August 26th, claiming that many other delegations also had objections to the Final Document and citing disagreement with five paragraphs in the text that the delegation felt were “blatantly political in nature.” Reportedly, Russia’s primary objections to the Final Document were references to the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant in Article 34. Even though Russia was never directly named in the proposed Final Document, it is known from previous open meetings that Russia wanted Ukraine to be named the perpetrator of attacks on the nuclear power plant.
After consensus amongst the States Parties could not be reached, the President of the Review Conference officially declared the Final Document not adopted, and States were given the opportunity to make statements. During these statements, the Russian Delegation further claimed that other delegations’ concern for strengthening the NPT is being used as a cover to promote their own political attitudes and priorities, and declared that “the Conference has become a political hostage to those States that for the last four weeks have been poisoning discussions with their politicized, biased, groundless, and false statements with regards to Ukraine.”
In response to Russia’s objection to the Final Document, the US, the UK, and France, which are three other nuclear-weapons States, made statements that condemned Russia’s current military invasion of Ukraine and blamed Russia as the sole State responsible for the failure of the Final Document’s adoption. China, the fifth nuclear-weapons State, made a relatively neutral statement, expressing support for strengthening the NPT and highlighting the importance of moving forward by focusing States’ energies on the 11th NPT Review Conference, which is set to take place in 2026. The vast majority of non-nuclear weapons States, particularly non-nuclear weapons States party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) , cited that the Final Document was not perfect in their views either but that nuclear-weapons States need to be open to compromise, just as non-nuclear weapons states agreed to compromise on this Final Document, in addition to actually engaging in efforts towards nuclear disarmament as required in Article 6.
Positives of the Final Document:
Though the proposed Final Document was not perfect by any means, there were two significant positive elements included in the text that were not included in previous review cycles.
First, the Final Document included strengthened references to the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons and the obligations of States to educate the general public on these consequences. Engagement of the general public with victims of the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons is specifically referenced in Paragraph 40, which reaffirmed States’ commitments to “take concrete measures to raise awareness of the public, in particular of younger and future generations, as well as of leaders, disarmament experts and diplomats, on all topics relating to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including through interactions with and directly sharing the experiences of the people and the communities affected by nuclear weapons use and testing, to know their humanitarian and environmental impact.”
Second, the Final Document recognized the importance of diversity in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation decision-making processes, particularly referencing the inclusion of women, youth, and civil society. In addition to aiming towards gender-balance within the Review Conferences, Paragraph 183 of the Final Document also endorsed “the equal, full and effective participation and leadership of women in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.” While gender perspectives in the NPT’s implementation were unfortunately not addressed in this Final Document, Paragraph 154 noted States Parties’ “call for the further integration of a gender perspective in all aspects related to implementation of the Treaty” in future review cycles. In regards to the inclusion of youth, Paragraph 42 specifically described the commitments of States Parties to “empower and enable youth to participate in formal and informal initiatives and in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation decision-making processes.” Lastly, Paragraph 43 of the Final Document committed States to promoting and enhancing “the participation of civil society, including affected communities, research centres and academia, in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation processes and in raising public awareness on the urgency and importance of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
Negatives of the Final Document:
Despite recognizing the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons, the Final Document unfortunately did not include measures on how States should effectively prevent and alleviate these consequences for victims and survivors of nuclear weapons. Likewise, despite recognizing the importance of diversity in nuclear decision-making, the Final Document only included specific provisions detailing how states could implement and achieve increased gender diversity, leaving the inclusion of youth and civil society vague, and leaving out the inclusion of other marginalized groups like People of Color.
While Russia is technically responsible for blocking the adoption of the Final Document, it must be noted that all five nuclear weapons States and their allies actively contributed to the Final Document’s lack of advancements toward nuclear disarmament and push to sign the TPNW; failure to condemn nuclear threats, which is especially relevant in today’s unstable international security context involving nuclear-weapons States; and watering down of risk reduction measures, transparency, and accountability. The deletion of the call for a moratorium on fissile materials was specifically due to China, and the weakening of the commitment of nuclear-weapons States to not threaten non-nuclear weapons States was specifically due to Russia. The removal of the call for nuclear-weapons States’ allies to reduce and eliminate the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines was specifically due to nuclear-weapons States’ allies, which continue to support the promotion of nuclear weapons.
The statement on behalf of TPNW States Parties presented by Mexico’s delegation after the Final Document’s adoption was blocked expressed what is arguably the greatest negative element of the Final Document: “it fails dramatically in implementing disarmament and Article 6.” The fact that the Final Document did not provide any benchmarks, timelines, or concrete commitments for nuclear-weapons states to make efforts towards eventual disarmament and the signing of the TPNW was due to all five nuclear-weapons States and their allies. Again, though it was Russia that technically blocked the adoption of the Final Document, all five nuclear-weapons States and their allies are complicit in continuing to possess and modernize their nuclear arsenals, which remain key components of their security doctrines, and are making little to no effort towards actual disarmament over 50 years after signing the NPT. This behavior is in direct contradiction to Article 6 of the NPT, which requires that “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to 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.” Consequently, while the adoption of the Final Document was technically blocked by Russia, all five nuclear-weapons States and their allies effectively blocked the inclusion of crucial provisions in the Final Document throughout the four weeks of the Review Conference, many of which would hold these States accountable for failing to fully comply with the NPT itself.
The Russian Delegation citing its objections with the Final Document at the Final Plenary Meeting on August 26, 2022, blocking the adoption of the Final Document.
Moving Forward: Future RevCons & the TPNW
The 11th NPT Review Conference is currently set to take place in 2026, with Preparatory Committees held in 2023, 2024, and 2025. In the meantime, the States Parties agreed to form a Working Group on Strengthening the Review Process, with the duty to, according to the UN Press, “review and make recommendations to the Preparatory Committee for the eleventh Review Conference on measures that would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, accountability, coordination and continuity of the Treaty review process” .
It must also not be forgotten that this past June, the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW resulted in the adoption of a Final Document that included development of a credible Action Plan to advance nuclear disarmament; provision of assistance to victims of nuclear use and testing; commitment to diversity and inclusion, including progressive steps on gender; and condemnation of all nuclear threats. Despite the five nuclear-weapons States intense opposition to the TPNW, 89 States are either States Parties or signatories to the TPNW, equivalent to 45% of all States, and 49 other States are identified by the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor as “other supporters” of the Treaty, bringing support for the TPNW up to 70% of all States . Consequently, while the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation decision-making process continues to be hampered and blocked by nuclear-weapons States, the TPNW is a hopeful reminder that using multilateralism and diplomacy to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is possible.
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