Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 1 May 2008

NPT: Right of reply?

This week, the second preparatory meeting for the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) got off to a smooth start in Geneva, although following on from a pretty rocky PrepCom in Vienna last year.

Perhaps the start was a little too smooth considering the release of information last week from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on the Israeli destruction of a Syrian facility last year. The CIA has identified, for public display, the facility as having been a secret reactor similar to those built most recently by North Korea. Not unnaturally, a number of states referred to the CIA disclosures expressing concern and requesting clarification. Syria responded with a “Right of Reply” statement at the end of the day in which it denounced the CIA’s allegations as lies and falsehoods.

On Tuesday, Iran went on the “full spectrum compliance” attack. Singling out The USA, France and the UK, Iran accused “certain nuclear weapons states” as being in non-compliance with their obligations particularly with the provisions of Articles I, IV and VI of the NPT. These three articles form the three “pillars” of the NPT and so, said Iran, the future of the Treaty has thus been put at stake. France in particular was a focus of Iran’s concerns quoting President Sarkozy when he reiterated that France’s nuclear forces are a key element in European security. Iran accused France of manipulating intelligence and creating fear in order to promote programmes that the French people would not otherwise support.

The UK’s decision to go ahead with the next generation of the Trident submarine was mischaracterized by Iran, which cast it as in contravention of Article VI of the NPT and setting back global efforts to bolster nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Well, the UK was not going to sit back and take this on the chin, particularly given the country’s new push on nuclear disarmament and the joint disarmament laboratory initiative with Norway, announced in Geneva a few weeks ago. And so a right of reply was duly sought and delivered.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the first day was not in the Palais des Nations but over the road at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy at a meeting marking the 40th anniversary of the NPT. Thanks to an excellent group of speakers, this seminar in gave shape to the real discussions around the NPT – or rather the real discussions that ought to be happening in the NPT. As Professor William Potter of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) put it:

“I am not sanguine about the state of the NPT. In part, this perspective is shaped by the surreal quality of the debates that too often characterize the NPT Review Process, as well as the complacency I observe about pressing nuclear dangers. More often than not, for example, the core nuclear proliferation and disarmament challenges are neglected while we haggle over procedural issues. In this regard, we are too inclined to define "success" of an NPT Prep Com as the avoidance of major disputes even if that means shunting aside the most serious proliferation challenges we face and embracing a lowest common denominator approach. To do so may allow ambassadors from Geneva to pass along the problem to their successors at the next PrepCom or Review Conference. That approach, however, also runs the very real risk of making the NPT review process irrelevant. I believe very strongly that if we continue to conduct business as usual and fail to agree on meaningful recommendations to the 2010 Review Conference, these is a real possibility that a number of states will conclude that the 1995 package of decisions and one resolution is no longer viable or worth defending.”
I share this view. More on the NPT later.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s blogs on the first NPT PrepCom in Vienna in May 2007 can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right. Photo of NPT meeting chamber by John Borrie.


Statements and other documents from the NPT PrepCom can be found at its official website here. As of posting, the Syrian and UK ‘right of reply’ statements were not available.