Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Pillars: NPT Review Conference 27 April to 22 May 2015

With the Conference on Disarmament (CD) about to adjourn until 25 May, attention is turning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Review Conference.  Every five years the NPT undergoes a major review (preceded usually by three preparatory meetings). Each review cycle culminates in a lengthy conference at which a 190 nations assess progress in implementing the treaty and decide what more needs to be done during the forthcoming 5-year period.

This self-imposed discipline of looking both back and forward is a healthy one (which the CD might do well to emulate). Looking back, the NPT parties will be be able to reflect that, subject to a successful resolution of the P5+1 negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, there has been no further proliferation of nuclear weapons these past 5 years beyond the 9 states that already possess them. Plans by a number of possessing states to modernise their nuclear arsenals—so-called 'horizontal' proliferation—will, however, cast a shadow over the review.

If there's a shadow over the non-proliferation 'pillar' of the Treaty, for many states there will be a ray of sunshine on the nuclear disarmament pillar.  This is not, however, because of sustained reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals during the review period. It is because of the development since 2010 of a dynamic aimed at augmenting the unilateral and bilateral efforts of the nuclear weapon states with multilateral negotiations of further 'effective measures' for nuclear disarmament, as required by article VI of the NPT.

This development follows the so-called 'humanitarian initiative' which has highlighted the need for renewed urgency to eliminate nuclear arms. It has also served to expose the limitations of the method preferred by nuclear weapon states of proceeding 'step-by-step' towards that goal. Multilateral steps espoused by the nuclear weapon states, in fact, remain unfulfilled or are being blocked by some of those same states or are incapable of fulfilment for so long as the chronic paralysis of the CD continues.

Two postings on UNIDIR's joint website with ILPI deal in more depth with the mutually-reinforcing pillars on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament: see



Of course, the upcoming Review Conference has many more issues on its plate. These include taking stock of the 2010 Action Plan, implementation of which has been the subject of a recent report:

'The NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report' by Reaching Critical Will (RCW).

Of relevance, too, is:

'Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015' by Gareth Evans, Tanya Ogilvie-White and Ramesh Thakur, a 'report card' on the 2009 report of the International Commission on Nuclear No-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

The two publications offer different insights into the challenges facing the 2015 review of the NPT.  But each report concludes that the prospects are 'dim' (RCW) and 'grim' (ICNND).

Tim Caughley