I recently participated in a meeting on the Future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, sponsored by the Middle Powers Initiative at The Carter Center in Atlanta. The Middle Powers Initiative is a coalition of eight international civil society organizations, two of which have received the Nobel Peace Prize. I represented the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at the meeting, one of the founding organizations. In addition to civil society representatives such as myself, the meeting hosted diplomats from many countries. Among the participants were Marian Hobbs, New Zealand’s Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control; Senator Douglas Roche of Canada, chair of the Middle Powers Initiative; Nobuyasu Abe, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs; Ambassador Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, Brazilian Ambassador and President-Designate of the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference; former US Ambassador Robert Grey Jr.; and Ambassador Rajab M. Sukayri of the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

The participants in the consultation were mindful of the recent United Nations Report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The Report, issued in December 2004, indicated that “the nuclear non-proliferation regime is now at risk because of lack of compliance with existing commitments, withdrawal or threats of withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to escape those commitments, a changing international security environment and the diffusion of technology.” The Report found, “We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation.”

The Report further found that “if a simple nuclear device were detonated in a major city, the number of deaths would range from tens of thousands to more than one million. The shock to international commerce, employment and travel would amount to at least one trillion dollars. Such an attack could have further, far-reaching implications for international security, democratic governance and civil rights.” It was against this background of concern that the Atlanta meeting took place. Ambassador Duarte, who will preside over the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, said, “What we have to contend with at the 2005 Review Conference is a persistent and serious situation of erosion of confidence in the mechanisms of the NPT and on the ability of the instrument to survive the tests it has been put through.”

Among the major issues that were discussed were the need for the Non-Proliferation Treaty to become universal by bringing in the three nuclear weapons states that are not parties to the treaty (Israel, India and Pakistan) and bringing back North Korea; for the nuclear weapons states parties to the treaty to fulfill their obligations for good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament; for more effective safeguarding of nuclear materials and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency; and for some effective method of sanctions for violating the Treaty’s provisions.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who spoke at the meeting, pointed out, “Prospects for this year’s discussions are not encouraging. I have heard that the [Preparatory Committee] for the forthcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty talks have so far failed even to achieve an agenda because of the deep divisions between the nuclear powers who seek to stop proliferation without meeting their own disarmament commitments, and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose demands include firm disarmament commitments and considerations of the Israeli arsenal.”

President Carter also pointed to the contradictions in US nuclear policy. “The United States claims to be upholding Article VI,” he said, referring to the disarmament provision of the Treaty, “but yet asserts a security strategy of testing and developing new weapons [such as] Star Wars and the earth penetrating ‘bunker buster,’ and has threatened first use, even against non-nuclear states, in case of ‘surprising military developments’ and ‘unexpected contingencies.’”

President Carter referred to another of the contradictions in the approach to nuclear non-proliferation in addressing the issue of Iran and the Middle East: “While the international community is justified in exerting strong pressure on Iran to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there is no public effort or comment in the United States or Europe calling for Israel to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty or submit to any other restraints. At the same time, we fail to acknowledge what a powerful incentive this is to Iran, Syria, Egypt, and other states to join the nuclear community.”

There was a general sense at the meeting that the non-proliferation regime, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty that is its centerpiece, is eroding, and that some measure of success at the May 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is critical to the future of this regime. Right now the United States is choosing not to recognize the progress made at previous NPT Review Conferences on nuclear disarmament obligations. The Bush administration doesn’t want to be bound by promises made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences, promises that committed the nuclear weapons states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to make nuclear disarmament transparent and irreversible, and to an “unequivocal undertaking” to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.

The US position is throwing the prospects for the 2005 Review Conference into disarray. There was a general sense at the meeting that unless the nuclear weapons states, including the United States, stand by their previous commitments, the prospects for assuring future efforts to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation are dim. This is where we stand three months prior to the beginning of the 2005 Review Conference.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a member of the International Steering Committee of the Middle Powers Initiative.