The story line adopted by many NGOs in the immediate wake of the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was one of “empty promises.”[i] But now, with broad expressions of disappointment out of the way, observers increasingly point to the achievements.

A primary accomplishment was avoiding the disaster of the 2005 Conference – no small thing. But there were others.

The final document,[ii] agreed to by consensus, is divided into two parts, with the first being the Conference President’s report on the discussions. It notes issues of general agreement and other issues favored, if not by all, then by a majority of states. This overview is followed by a set of conclusions and recommendations (referred to as the Action Plan) with 64 actions. States Parties accepted both parts as the official final document. The President’s overview is taken to accurately reflect the sense of the meeting, but the proposals and measures included there are not politically, and certainly not legally, binding. Action Plan (AP) measures, on the other hand, represent firm commitments made by all States parties.

Much of the disarmament language in both parts of the final document is familiar and aspirational. The pledge to “achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” (AP, Section I.A.i) may raise suspicions of “empty promises,” but, on the other hand, it was the complete absence of such pledges that earned the 2005 Review Conference the label of “disaster.”  And this time, the final document reaches beyond platitudes.

A Nuclear Weapons Convention

As already noted here (May 31), the most prominent and far-reaching action is in support of “the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.” But another notable breakthrough is the final document’s clear affirmation of a nuclear weapons convention. Some might put this in the category of aspirational statements, but the fact that it got any mention at all is significant.

While the idea of a nuclear weapons convention (NWC) has wide public appeal, some governments which support the idea in principle, including Canada, argue that now is not the time. They say that more of the specifics of nuclear disarmament – e.g. a test ban and a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes – need to be in place before a convention is doable. But others argue that the convention is precisely what is needed to guide the disarmament yet to come.

It is the latter view that prevailed at the Review Conference. In “noting” Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s disarmament  proposals, the Conference drew special attention to his call to “consider negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or agreed framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification” (para 82). In that context the final document concludes that “the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, which a majority of States parties believe should include specified timelines” (para 83).

The Action Plan itself includes an indirect reference to a convention: “The Conference calls on all Nuclear Weapons States to undertake concrete disarmament efforts and affirms that all States need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.” The reference to a framework is immediately followed by another reference to the Secretary General’s support for negotiations toward a convention or a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments (AP, Section B.iii).

As a result, there is now an informal mandate for supportive governments and civil society to convene consultations to thoroughly explore the focus, scope, verification, and other elements relevant to a nuclear weapons convention.

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Notes

[i]Thalif Deen, “UN Nuke Meet Ends with Good Intentions and Empty Promises,” Inter Press Service, 29 May 2010. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51634.

[ii] The final document as approved (NPT/Conf.2010/L.2) is available from Reaching Critical Will at: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/revcon2010/DraftFinalDocument.pdf.

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