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April 23, 2010

The NPT Review Conference and Nuclear April: How to Put It All Together
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The upcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York will bring with it the usual international politicking, but this time, folks are much more likely to actually listen.  Good news and bad news. 

Every five years delegates meet in New York to review the NPT—after deciding in 1995 to extend the life of the treaty indefinitely.  This year’s session follows the roll-out and signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia, the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, and the commencement of the U.S. – led Nuclear Security Summit.  All good policy initiatives that advance U.S. national security and demonstrate progress on our NPT commitments.  That’s the good news.  The bad news, is that a small minority of observers have convinced themselves that the saliency of these initiatives hinge on the success of the NPT RevCon.  While the conference will be an important opportunity to work toward strengthening the global nonproliferation regime, it will not and should not be a yardstick for determining the strength of U.S. nonproliferation policies.

The 2010 RevCon was never going to be a smashing success.  Long-standing disagreements on hot-button issues have continually threatened consensus documents at the United Nations—a trend which has not dramatically subsided this year.  The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference is also still fresh in the minds of some.  In the lead-up to the 2005 conference, the Bush administration invaded Iraq under false pretenses, signaled it would not seek to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, reversed the U.S. position on pursuing a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, withdrew from the ABM Treaty, sought funds for tactical nuclear weapons—bunker busters—that weapon commanders in the field never asked for, and signed a three-page bilateral agreement with Russia that contained no verification measures.  On top of that, by the time the conference rolled around, the international climate had dramatically eroded.  North Korea had withdrawn from the treaty, questions over Iran’s nuclear activities were on the rise, and the A.Q. Khan network had been uncovered.  Cole Harvey and the Arms Control Association spell it out:

In January 2003, North Korea declared it would withdraw from the NPT, ejected IAEA inspectors, and resumed work related to the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.  Weeks later, it became known that Iran had been secretly pursuing nuclear activities for years, including work on a large uranium-enrichment complex at Natanz, in violation of its IAEA safeguards obligations. Less than a year later, in early 2004, U.S. officials revealed that the head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been operating a clandestine nuclear technology supply network that provided key components to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The revelations about the Khan network and the interdiction of a ship bound for Libya with centrifuge components led to the admission by Tripoli of its own secret nuclear weapons program and a decision by Libya to dismantle that program in exchange for the promise of normalized relations with the West.

…The four week-long conference closed in New York on May 27 without any consensus document assessing the state of the treaty, let alone a plan to strengthen it.”

With this kind of history, heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s continued defiance, and a host of other ailments, challenges to the nonproliferation regime abound.

There is no silver bullet that will fix the entire nonproliferation regime.  Steps taken by the Obama administration are essential to strengthening the global regime and addressing proliferators such as Iran.  But the ability, or inability, of these policies to instantly cure the long-troubled review conference should not detract from the Administration’s smart, comprehensive approach.  The Arizona duo will almost surely assert otherwise.   But judging policies that are less than a month old on their ability to alter the course of the upcoming NPT Review Conference (and the multitude of issues accompanying it) is shortsighted.  The administration’s nuclear policies are essential to our national security—and should be regarded as such, regardless of the specific outcome of the review conference. The NPT Review Conference is part of the Administration's approach to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime and confronting Iran—not the judge of it. 

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It is just a matter of time before Iran gets nuclear weapons.

The NPT conference is not about any one country but it is all about how our NPT members and our collective responsibilities works out to prevent the proliferation of dangerous and vulnerable nuclear material and technology. This will also motivate others as well to fight along with them and get the work done.

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