NOT unexpectedly, the Non Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) month long (from May 2 to May 27) five-yearly Review Conference failed after the US spent the entire period either arguing about procedure or demanding that disarmament obligations of nuclear weapon states were outside the scope of discussions. According to the US, only strengthening of the provisions to prevent non-nuclear states should have been discussed in the Review Conference. Even the 13-steps to disarmament decided when the non-nuclear weapon countries agreed for an indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 were sought to be negated.


A coalition of over 2000 groups from 90 countries blamed the United States and other nuclear weapons states for the failure of the Review Conference. Susi Snyder, secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom charged, “Clearly, the US delegation never wanted to strengthen the Treaty. Instead, they have spent four weeks behind closed doors refusing to recognise agreements they made 5 and 10 years ago. They have bottled up all substantive discussion by haggling over arcane procedures. They have demonstrated a lack of compromise and an unwillingness to move the global non-proliferation regime forward.”

This year is the 60th year since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were dropped. Though the cry of the Hibakusha– that this tragedy should never be repeated– has become a worldwide call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons still threaten the survival of humanity. The US, which led the war on Iraq, is now preparing for more wars; it threatens various countries with nuclear weapons and is even moving towards weaponising of space.


Thirty-five years after the signing of the NPT, the global “bargain” — that non-nuclear countries would not develop nuclear weapons, and that five nuclear-armed countries would take good-faith disarmament steps for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons — is in deep crisis. While the non-nuclear weapon countries kept their side of the bargain, nuclear disarmament of the nuclear weapons countries was, at best, meagre. Even this halting disarmament process between the US and Russia has come to a standstill after 1991-92. Other measures that increase the threat of nuclear weapons are: the US strategy doctrine (The Nuclear Posture Review), which states that nuclear weapons can be used against non-nuclear weapon countries, and even in a first strike (“preventive” and “pre-emptive” war), India and Pakistan having gone openly nuclear, North Korea withdrawing from the NPT, etc.

Meanwhile, there is an attempt by the nuclear-armed states, particularly the US, as visible before and during the Review Conference to de-link the non-proliferation part from the larger nuclear disarmament agenda. While ratcheting up the pressure on countries such as Iran for a far more intrusive fuel cycle inspection regime, even arguing for denial of peaceful nuclear energy, it is simultaneously creating a new generation of nuclear weapons like “bunker buster” earth penetrating bombs and mini nukes and initiating the “star wars” programme of militarising outer space. While demanding strict adherence to NPT for all West Asian countries, the US continues to shield Israel and its estimated arsenal of 200-300 nuclear bombs.

It is in this context that those opposing nuclear weapons- the vast majority of the people and countries of the world – must step up the pressure on all nuclear weapons countries for a time-bound plan for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. In the interim, it must also demand that nuclear weapons be de-alerted and a pledge given for no first-use against other nuclear countries and no-use against all non-nuclear armed countries. Given the role that India played in the anti-nuclear weapons campaign earlier, it is imperative that India returns to its original position and move towards a nuclear weapons-free South Asia.

With the nuclear weapons states reneging on their commitments, the de-linking of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation means asking non-nuclear weapons countries not to build the complete nuclear fuel cycle, which includes uranium enrichment and therefore nuclear weapons’ capability. Since the NPT allows for the fuel cycle to be built for peaceful nuclear energy purposes, all that is required further is one last step for conversion of the fissile material into a nuclear weapon. Therefore the pressure to amend the NPT and disallow this part of the fuel cycle. With the example of North Korea, there are also pressures to incorporate clauses that will prevent countries from withdrawing from the NPT.


The problem with a preoccupation with the non-proliferation agenda is that it does not address the reason why non-nuclear weapon states are attracted to nuclear weapons in the first place. If Israel has a monopoly of nuclear weapons in West Asia and the US demands the right to use nuclear weapons in “preventive” wars such as in Iraq, the pressure on non-weapons neighbour states to turn nuclear grows. We may condemn them for doing so, but cannot deny that it is a response to the worsening of tensions, both regionally and internationally. Condemning them is not enough; we need also to address what they perceive as their legitimate security concerns. Reacting to attempts by the US to blame Iran and Egypt and others for the failure of the NPT Review Conference, Snyder, of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom stated, “But that begs the question. Egypt, for example, has been very vocal about the importance of acknowledging past agreements and bringing Israel into the Treaty. And Iran has consistently called for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Both of these actions would strengthen the non-proliferation regime. When the US refuses to even discuss these issues, then they are the ones sabotaging the Treaty.”

In this context, to de-link the steps for nuclear disarmament from that of non-proliferation is to argue that nuclear weapons states have rights to bear nuclear arms and even use them (the current stockpile of nuclear weapons is estimated to be in the region of 20,000-30,000 wear-heads), while all others have to be abide by the original contract. In the long term, this assumes that an immoral global order of this type can be sustained indefinitely. Most countries and anti-nuclear weapons movements have strongly stressed the illegality of nuclear weapons and have urged that both parts of the original contract must be implemented. However, with the one-sided stance of the nuclear weapons states, particularly the US, there is little chance of moving on the disarmament agenda.

“There are serious concerns about the proliferation of nuclear technology. But it is impossible to prevent that proliferation while the nuclear weapons states insist on maintaining large stockpiles of weapons themselves,” noted Alyn Ware of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. “It’s like a parent telling a child not to smoke while smoking a pack of cigarettes in their face. It is not going to work…”


Reacting to this attitude of the nuclear weapons states, Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, complained that ”the nuclear weapons states continue to believe in the relevance of nuclear weapons,” contrary to the spirit of the NPT. ”We are greatly disappointed” by ”unsatisfactory progress” toward disarmament by the big powers, said New Zealand’s Marian Hobbs, speaking for a coalition of disarmament-minded states.

While the non-nuclear weapons states were looking for concrete disarmament measures from the nuclear weapons’ states, the US made it clear in the Review Conference that Iran and other non-nuclear states have to make the necessary concessions or should be denied the right to peaceful nuclear energy. It is not surprising that with the gulf remaining as wide as this, the review conference started without even being able to draw up an agreed agenda. The NPT Review failing to even draft a weak final statement was therefore not a surprising conclusion of the conference

With the failure of the Conference, one can at best echo the Canadian chief delegate Paul Meyer’s statement that if “there is a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of this Review Conference, it lies in the hope that our leaders and citizens will be so concerned by its failure that they mobilise behind prompt remedial action” The call for nuclear disarmament is not a distant dream that can be put on the back burner. Nuclear weapons are a dangerous and a persistent threat to the existence of all life on this globe. It is only the political will exercised by the global community to pursue nuclear disarmament – the complete abolition of nuclear weapons — that can eliminate this threat.