The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signatures in 1968 and entered into force in 1970.[i] Despite its name, the NPT sought not only to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, but also, in Article VI, called for good faith negotiations for an end to the nuclear arms race at an early date, for nuclear disarmament, and for general and complete disarmament. The treaty also had provisions for review conferences to be held at five-year intervals and for an extension conference to be held 25 years after the treaty entered into force. The purpose of the extension conference was for the parties to the treaty to decide by a majority vote whether the treaty should be extended indefinitely, for a period or periods of time, or not at all.
The decision on extending the NPT was an important one. As the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference approached in the spring of 1995, there was considerable discussion and lobbying with regard to the best course of action for the future of the treaty. The nuclear-armed states parties to the treaty (US, Russia, UK, France and China) wanted an indefinite extension of the treaty, which would preserve their favored (but still highly dangerous) position under the treaty as nuclear weapons states to possess nuclear arms while prohibiting other states from doing so. Some civil society groups, particularly those that favored arms control measures over disarmament, supported the position of the nuclear weapons states for indefinite extension of the treaty.
On the other hand, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, as well as dozens of other civil society groups working on nuclear disarmament, took note of the general lack of effort and progress by the nuclear-armed parties to the treaty in fulfilling their Article VI nuclear disarmament obligations for good faith negotiations for ending the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. Given this, these organizations favored some version of an extension for periods of time, and for the periodic extensions to be contingent upon clear progress toward nuclear disarmament made by the nuclear-armed parties to the treaty. We saw this as a unique opportunity to put pressure on the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their nuclear disarmament obligations under the treaty, rather than continuing indefinitely to ignore those obligations, as they had done for the first 25 years of the treaty’s existence.
I represented the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, which was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Along with other NGO representatives, we lobbied the non-nuclear weapons countries not to go along with the indefinite extension of the treaty being argued for by the nuclear weapons states and their allies. I remember that Canada took a leadership role in promoting an indefinite extension of the treaty, seemingly as a relatively benign cover for the position of the nuclear weapons states, particularly the United States.
Together with Bas Bruyne from the Netherlands, I prepared a lobbying paper calling for limited extensions of the NPT, which we distributed at the conference. Here is a portion of the argument that we made:
The end of the Cold War has brought us to a crossroads in human history. An important choice will be presented by the NPT Extension Conference in April-May 1995. The world community has the choice to continue on the path of the present two-tier structure of states which possess nuclear weapons and states which do not, or to take a different path.
The declared nuclear-weapons-states seem intent upon perpetuating the two-tier structure of nuclear weapons “haves” and “have nots.” These states are lobbying for an indefinite extension of the NPT. If they are successful in their efforts to gain a majority of parties to the NPT to support an indefinite extension, they will assure a continuation into the indefinite future of the two-tier structure of states. They will also assure that their special privileges and powers in the world community will be undergirded by their continued ability to possess nuclear arsenals.
The likely result of such a world order is that more and more states will aspire to and eventually attain the status of nuclear-weapon-states. Non-nuclear-weapons-states will find many compelling rationales for providing their own national security in the same manner as the nuclear-weapons-states, that is, with nuclear weapons as instruments of policy and warfare.
As we approach the 21st century, the needs of global security stand in stark contrast to Cold War conceptions of national security. Throughout the Cold War, a small number of states justified the possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons by treating such weapons as essential to their security. With the Cold War ended, an imperative has arisen to place national security interests within the framework of common security interests. The pursuit of national security by nuclear deterrence is increasingly unable to guarantee that the collectivity of people’s needs are met on national, regional, or global levels.
The policies that underlie the principle of nuclear deterrence are part of the analytical framework that puts national security above global security. Nuclear weapons, which seemingly provide security for the nations that possess them, in fact threaten the security of all nations, including those that possess them. The security of the whole must not be undermined by such dangerous and outmoded policies. There is no logic to do so, for if the security of the whole is breached, so is the security of the part. If global security is threatened, so is the security of all nations.
If the goal of the international community in the 21st century is common security, then the goal of abolition of nuclear weapons must be taken seriously. At no time since the beginning of the Nuclear Age have conditions in the world been more suitable for developing and implementing a realistic plan for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
No possible justification exists for providing some nations of the world with special privileges and not others. In practice, the NPT has provided for such special privileges by holding declared nuclear-weapons-states and non-nuclear-weapons-states to different standards. Nuclear-weapons-states have been allowed to possess and further develop their nuclear arsenals, while non-nuclear-states are prohibited from developing and possessing nuclear weapons.
The NPT makes sense only as an interim agreement, and not as an agreement that extends indefinitely into the future assuring the two-tier structure of states. In fact, if Article VI of the NPT is to be taken seriously, then the Treaty by its own terms is of limited duration, lasting only until the “good faith” negotiations of the declared nuclear-weapons-states are successful in achieving nuclear disarmament. Thus, there is no possible condition which would justify an indefinite extension of the NPT.
Since the declared nuclear-weapons-states have already gone on record as seeking an indefinite extension of the NPT (which could be interpreted to mean that they are satisfied with the status quo and do not intend to fulfill their Article VI promise to negotiate nuclear disarmament), it is up to the non-nuclear-weapons-states party to the NPT to oppose an indefinite extension and support a limited extension contingent upon the declared nuclear-weapons-states’ fulfilling their obligations under Article VI.[ii]
As the days of the conference wore on, it became more and more evident that the indefinite extension was likely to prevail. A few of us from civil society groups favoring limited extensions began drafting an Abolition 2000 Statement, which became the founding document for the Abolition 2000 Global Network. Key drafters included Jackie Cabasso, Alice Slater, John Burroughs and me. The statement called for the completion of negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention by the year 2000. Some 60 civil society groups, disappointed by the way the NPT extension conference was developing and fearing the indefinite extension would prevail, met in the United Nations cafeteria and adopted the statement calling for nuclear weapons abolition and establishing the Abolition 2000 Global Network.
I continue to think it is one of the best such statements ever produced. Its opening paragraphs state:
A secure and livable world for our children and grandchildren and all future generations requires that we achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and redress the environmental degradation and human suffering that is the legacy of fifty years of nuclear weapons testing and production. Further, the inextricable link between the “peaceful” and warlike uses of nuclear technologies and the threat to future generations inherent in creation and use of long-lived radioactive materials must be recognized. We must move toward reliance on clean, safe, renewable forms of energy production that do not provide the materials for weapons of mass destruction and do not poison the environment for thousands of centuries. The true “inalienable” right is not to nuclear energy, but to life, liberty and security of person in a world free of nuclear weapons.
We recognize that a nuclear weapons free world must be achieved carefully and in a step by step manner. We are convinced of its technological feasibility. Lack of political will, especially on the part of the nuclear weapons states, is the only true barrier. As chemical and biological weapons are prohibited, so must nuclear weapons be prohibited.[iii]
In the end, the delegates to the NPT Review and Extension Conference adopted an indefinite extension by consensus. There was not even a vote on the matter. The US and the other nuclear-armed countries were ecstatic. They would be able to maintain the status quo without having checks on their progress in negotiating in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. Another outcome of the conference was a resolution drafted by the US, UK and Russia calling for a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In nearly a quarter century since then, nothing has come of this resolution but frustration for the Arab states, and Israel remains the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal.
I have participated in many NPT Review Conferences and their Preparatory Committee meetings since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, but I’ve never experienced as much lost opportunity as occurred at that particular crossroads of the NPT in the aftermath of the Cold War, when there was a real opening to put continuing pressure on the nuclear-armed states party to the treaty to fulfill their nuclear disarmament obligations.
The latest breakthrough on nuclear weapons abolition occurred in 2017 when 122 members of the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).[iv] Once again, civil society organizations were in the forefront of the lobbying efforts, in the form of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN),[v] which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for attaining support by UN member states for the creation of the TPNW and for the new treaty’s adoption. Unfortunately, the nuclear-armed countries, led by the US, have made it clear that they do not and will not support this new treaty. The treaty, which is now gathering signatures and ratifications, will enter into force 90 days after its 50th ratification or accession is deposited with the United Nations. It is moving steadily toward this goal with the continuing support of ICAN and its more than 500 civil society partner organizations.
[i] United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs: https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/text/
[ii] Krieger, David and Bas Bruyne, “Preventing Proliferation by Nuclear Weapons Abolition: Supporting a Limited Extension of the NPT.” Nuclear Proliferation and the Legality of Nuclear Weapons. Eds. William M. Evan and Ved P. Nanda. New York: University Press of America, Inc., 1995.
[iii] Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons: http://www.abolition2000.org/en/about/founding-statement/