NPT review conference 2020: prospects and challenges

By Beenish Altaf

The NPT Review Conference is held after every five years since the treaty went into force in 1970. The Review Conference is structured for the member states to review its performance and implementation for identifying the next steps in-line with the aim of treaty. The Review Conferences usually endeavor to end up with a substantive, consensus based document. It should not only be reviewing the implementation of the NPT but might also take account of new initiatives to support its aim.

However, the success of adopting such a consensus document has followed an irregular pattern up till now. Proper documents based on consensus of the member states were adopted by the Review Conferences of 1975, 1985, 1995, 2000, and 2010. However, the concluding documents of the 1980, 1990, 2005 and 2015 Review Conferences were entirely procedural. Therefore, these conferences are considered to be a failure on part of NPT Review Conferences. Review Conferences perceived lack of progress towards actual disarmament by the five NPT nuclear weapons states and the stalemate in the aim to attain a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East; an issue directly resulted in the failure to reach consensus in 2015.

More specifically, the failure to produce a consensus document at the 2015 conference led to the disappointment across the world. It was widely expected that steps would be taken for advancing the 64 point Action Plan, agreed at the 2010 conference, for promoting nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy would be agreed upon. The opposition of the United States towards a plan for convening a conference on the establishment of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone and strong differences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states on the divisive issue of disarmament prevented the participating countries from agreeing on a final document.

However, on Pakistan’s account, many Pakistani experts believe that the country’s leadership has made correct decisions on nuclear issues in the past owing to the failure of the NPT Review Conferences to produce a document with a substantive consensus. Pakistani analysts consider that the nuclear deterrent should be both ‘credible and symmetric’ with its conventional and strategic capabilities and the refinement of the nuclear capabilities should continue. Ambassador Tariq Osman Hyder, who was a member of the Oversight Board for Strategic Export Controls, said the collapse of the NPT Review Conference was a setback to the developed countries, which had projected this flawed and discriminatory treaty as the linchpin of the non-proliferation regime.

Ironically, distress between the nuclear weapons states and non nuclear weapons states is not coming to an end instead the friction over the issue of nuclear disarmament is continuously rising. Russia has apprehensions regarding proposals to limit nuclear arsenals to 1,000 warheads and views US developments in ballistic missile defense, prompt global strike as undermining strategic stability. Moscow being too critical views this global missile defense system as a security threat. Even the members of the SCO believed national security should not be achieved at the expense of the security of other states as ‘the unilateral and unlimited capacity of individual states’ or groups of states’ missile defense systems will be detrimental to international security and strategic stability.’

Apart from nuclear disarmament, proliferation of nuclear weapons is the discord of all times. Iran has been managed diplomatically in the form an agreement, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but North Korea on the other hand is being dealt totally opposite. This is a reminder that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is not a success in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

While identifying the challenges to the 2020 NPT Review Conference, the blazing issues of 2015 Review Conference have not been addressed yet, so the plausibility of the failure is there for the next Review Conference as well. Three options could be presented here to increase the probability for the 2020 Review Conference to accomplish something positive. First, it could be discussed whether the traditional focus on one final consensus document at the end of a Review Conference can be changed, so that tensions on certain topics do not block everything else as well. In other words, a consensus document could be a must outcome at the end of 2020 Review Conference for which states could go for alternative agreements beforehand. Second, new explorations are required to solve the deadlock on the aim to establish a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East. Third, the nuclear weapons states should show more willingness in accelerating their disarmament efforts, for which some strategies or tactics need to be adopted by the P5 states specifically.

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Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, an Islamabad based think tank. Her areas of research are nuclear non-proliferation and strategic issues of South Asia. She has a masters degree in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University.

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