From 8-19 April 2002, States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met at the United Nations in New York for the first Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) meeting to the 2005 review conference of the treaty. This was the first meeting of the States parties to the NPT since the 2000 Review Conference at which the Thirteen Practical Steps to Implement Article VI Obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty were adopted. While the NPT is the most universal arms control regime, there are serious problems facing its survival as the cornerstone for nuclear disarmament.


The issue of reporting sparked heated debate during the meeting. In the final consensus document of the 2000 Review Conference, the States parties agreed to “regular reports, within the framework of the strengthened review process for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, by all States parties on the implementation of article VI and paragraph 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament”, and recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 8 July 1996.” However, at the Prep Com, the nuclear weapons states, led by the US, resisted the idea of a standardized procedure that was put forward by Canada and advocated by many other countries.

While reporting would be a means to ensure that States are more transparent and accountable for their actions, the US argued that reporting should be left to the determination of individual States parties. Ambassador Javits of the United States delegation stated, “Engaging in technical or legal interpretation of the [13] steps [agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference in the Final Document] individually or collectively would not, in our judgement, be a useful exercise. The question that should be before us on Article VI is not whether any given measure has or has not been fulfilled, but rather: is a nuclear weapon state moving toward the overall goal? For the United States, the answer is an emphatic yes.”

While the reduction of large nuclear stockpiles that were built up during the Cold War is certainly welcomed, the nuclear weapons States must not simply limit their reporting to these reductions while ignoring specific commitments they made in the context of the NPT. It is a complete hypocrisy for the nuclear weapons States on the one hand to claim that they are fulfilling their obligations to eliminate nuclear weapons by making large reductions in strategic stockpiles, while on the other hand taking no action to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. In fact, the nuclear weapons States continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, modernize nuclear arsenals and develop new nuclear weapons.

The US Nuclear Posture Review

Many statements made by delegations expressed concern, whether explicitly or indirectly, with the US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that leaked to the media in March 2002. Fears about US plans and the future of the NPT were heightened when the US said during its opening statement that it only “generally” agrees with the conclusions of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

Despite commitments to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons, the NPR reaffirms the role of nuclear weapons in US national security policy. In the past, nuclear weapons have been viewed as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons. However, the NPR reveals that the US intends to integrate nuclear weapons into a full spectrum of war-fighting capabilities, including missile defenses. The NPR unveils that nuclear weapons are no longer weapons of last resort, but instruments that could be used in fighting wars. States at the NPT Prep Com also raised concerns about the possible resumption by the US of full-scale nuclear testing and plans to develop and deploy new “earth-penetrating” nuclear weapons.

The NPR contains contingency plans for using nuclear weapons against seven states — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Russia and China — constituting a disturbing threat in particular to the named states and in general to international peace and security. Contrary to long-standing US assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear States, five of the named states for which the US has contingency plans are non-nuclear states. As Reverend Joan Brown Campbell noted in a Middle Powers Initiative presentation, when the US reserves to itself the right of first strike, it gives up the moral high ground and the right to tell other nations to give up their weapons of mass destruction.

Counter-proliferation or Prevention?

After 11 September, there has been an effort to divert attention from key issues facing humanity to the war on terrorism. However, in the post-11 September environment there remains an opportunity to address the prospect of terrorism from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in a way that deligitimizes their use. There is a legitimate concern about WMD and missile proliferation. However, the only way to ensure that WMD do not reach terrorists is to abolish them and their means of delivery.

Serious concerns were raised about US plans to deploy missile defenses. Despite agreeing to preserving and strengthening the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 2000 Thirteen Practical Steps document, the US delivered formal notification to the States of the former Soviet Union on 13 December 2001 that it will withdraw from the treaty in June 2002 in order to proceed with the deployment of missile defenses. While the stated purpose of missile defenses is to defend against missile attacks, it is unlikely that they could do so effectively. The deployment of missile defenses will only produce instability and insecurity in critical regions of the world, including in North East Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia. Additionally, the inherent link between the deployment of missile defenses and the weaponization of outer space means that withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will allow the US to research and develop space weapons and space-based weaponry using technological overlaps from missile defenses.

Regional Issues

In light of the current conflict in the Middle East, many delegations condemned Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and failure to join the NPT. There was also concern that no action has been taken by the States parties to promote the achievement of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, nor the realization of the goals of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East.

There was little talk about India and Pakistan, despite the escalating conflict between the two nuclear rivals in the last several months. Neither India nor Pakistan has joined the NPT. The US called on all four non-NPT parties — Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan — to show restraint in their nuclear programs and to “protect against the proliferation of technology and materials to others seeking nuclear weapons.”

NGOs and the NPT

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are playing an increasing role in the NPT process that is largely reflective of a more globalized world. During the Cold War, States were the primary actors in the world. However, today, groups and individuals are playing greater roles. The challenge for NGOs is to increase their role in the NPT process and at the same time to reach beyond the governmental process to the people. As UN Undersecretary for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala noted in his address during the Middle Powers Initiative presentation on the first day of the Prep Com, there is a need to reactivate civil society on the nuclear issue because of the complacency and apathy that set in after the Cold War.

At the Prep Com, NGOs were given one meeting of the session to deliver 14 prepared statements on issues related to the NPT. Following the presentations, there was a roundtable for NGOs and delegates to exchange information. Several delegations complimented the NGOs on the level of expertise and professionalism in both the presentations and in the literature that NGOs brought to the Prep Com. NGOs also held a number of panel presentations outside of the Prep Com.


The time leading up to the 2005 NPT Review Conference is critical. NGOs bear great responsibility to raise awareness in civil society about the issues facing the survival of the non-proliferation regime and efforts towards eliminating nuclear weapons. NGOs also must transform the discussion of nuclear abolition into a dynamic of action by urging individuals everywhere and non-nuclear weapons States to put pressure on the nuclear weapons States to fulfill their obligations of verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament.


Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Briefing Book on the Status of Nuclear Disarmament

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Importance to Disarmament Efforts

Chairman’s Factual Summary of the NPT 2002 Prep Com

NGO Presentations at the NPT Prep Com

Reaching Critical Will NGO Shadow Report to the Prep Com

Thirteen Practical Steps to Implement Article VI Obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty