Coaxing Success Out of
the Failed NPT Review
May 27, the shadow of Hiroshima
spread ominously from the United Nations headquarters over the entire
the seventh review conference of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty
member states to the treaty were under a mandate -- defined by the NPT
and by the outcomes of the two previous reviews -- to prevent the
nuclear weapons around the world and to hold the nuclear weapon states
accountable to their disarmament obligations. Instead, they found
caught in a tangle of procedural challenges from which they were unable
extricate themselves over an entire month.
the first two weeks of the four-week conference were wasted in attempts
approve the agenda. The third week evaporated in disagreements over the
of the three working committees. The final week was dominated by the
watching the clock run out.
When it did, the fact that there was no
on how to strengthen the treaty was overshadowed by the realization
nuclear peril -- already growing more urgent by the day -- had been
ignored while the diplomats argued over punctuation and footnotes.
failure to achieve consensus, however, should not be seen as a lack of
agreement on what needs to be done. The vast majority of NPT member
support the practical steps toward nuclear disarmament to which they
in 2000: entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,
a fissile materials ban, increased
investment in verification technologies, international controls over
nuclear fuel cycle, and fulfillment of the "unequivocal undertaking"
by the nuclear weapon states to eliminate their arsenals, among others.
also recognize that the non-proliferation goals of the treaty are
from the disarmament goals. They said so
in speech after frustrated speech during a month of general debate, and
offered dozens of substantive proposals that were never given a formal
a kind of shadow conference, comprising non-governmental organizations,
municipal officials, and experts in international law and disarmament
from Daniel Ellsberg to Robert McNamara, ran parallel to the
"official" review, adding the voices of civil society to the demands
for full compliance with the NPT. Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima presented an
emergency appeal to ban nuclear weapons by 2020 that has been endorsed
hundreds of other mayors around the world. Yoko Ono spoke emotionally
need for nuclear disarmament to the delegates gathered in the General
who had just been given petitions with millions of signatures calling
abolition of nuclear weapons. Hundreds of hibakusha -- the survivors of
atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- came to the review as
the horror of nuclear war. Indigenous
peoples who have been the principal victims of nuclear weapons testing
production demanded disarmament as a form of social justice. Medical
descended upon Times Square to educate pedestrians about the
nuclear war, while youth from many countries showed more leadership
than the diplomats and politicians who were sequestered in the dank and
basement of the UN.
so much desire by so many people to do the right thing, what went
wrong? At the
end of the day, the review collapsed over one issue: the refusal of the
States to build on the foundations for disarmament that were laid in
2000, or even to acknowledge that those foundations exist.
The Bush administration boasted of progress
in reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons in slick publications that
mention the CTBT or the other practical steps to which the US had made
commitments. Such claims rang hollow given the permanent role for
weapons described in US security policy, the administration's push for
nuclear-armed bunker busters and missile defenses, and the indefensible
argument that nuclear weapons in "good" hands are acceptable and even
necessary, while they must be kept out of "evil" hands at all costs.
The other member states may have been willing to compromise on details
implementation; they refused to endorse a cynical revision of history
self-serving double standard.
Bush administration may attempt to spin the meaning of the failed NPT
suit its distaste for multilateral negotiations and for the UN as an
institution. This would be akin to a teenager breaking the lawnmower
telling his parents that he can't cut the lawn because the lawnmower
work. One cannot deliberately "break" a consensus-based decision
making process and then claim that multilateralism does not work. The
a few other countries exploited the vulnerabilities of consensus
making to advance narrow, but comparatively minor, agendas does not
the world's largest nuclear superpower. The US exploited the process
clear purpose of retaining and modernizing its nuclear arsenal, while
deny that option to others.
medical analogy is hard to avoid: had the US delegation been a
the Earth its patient, we would have just witnessed a case of global
malpractice with a potentially fatal outcome.
failure of the NPT review is a tragedy. That it happened in the 60th
anniversary year of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an outrage. The challenge
civil society and for the overwhelming majority of countries that left
frustrated and angry is to find new and more effective ways to ensure
compliance with the NPT and to rid the world of nuclear weapons before