The 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which closed on May 28, delivered none of the sensations that some journalists had hoped for. This should come as no surprise however, since the nuclear nonproliferation regime continues to face problems that can be solved only through a long and difficult search for multilateral consensus. These include:  

  • Difficulties in making progress towards a nuclear-free world (in accordance with article VI of the NPT);
  • Countries’ ability to withdraw from the NPT (article X of the NPT);
  • The IAEA’s lack of capacity;
  • The situation with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which, although signed 14 years ago, has still not come into force;
  • Increasing risks from the development of nuclear energy;
  • The persisting threat of nuclear terrorism;
  • The existence of countries outside the nonproliferation regime (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan).

Despite the lack of sensations, the NPT Review Conference concluded on a successful note because it managed to avoid what a number of experts had feared – namely a deep-reaching crisis in, or even the collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The international climate that emerged in the run-up to the conference helped to prevent such a scenario. The signing of the new U.S.-Russian START Treaty, disclosure by the U.S. of the size of its strategic nuclear forces (an example followed by Britain during the NPT Review Conference), and the publication of the United States Nuclear Posture Review, which states that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states party to the NPT and will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, contributed to forming this positive climate.

The international climate on this occasion differed markedly from that surrounding the previous two NPT Review Conferences in 2000 and 2005. The 2000 Conference came on the heels of Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998, while the 2005 Conference followed North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. The latest conference was also different in that the situation with Iran was somewhat calmer. The United States, mindful of the lessons of the last conference, at which it failed to obtain a collective condemnation of Iran, concentrated its major efforts on getting the other UN Security Council member states to approve the introduction of sanctions against Iran. These efforts will probably be successful, but already outside of the conference framework.

As for the results of the conference itself, one outcome is the roadmap towards a nuclear-free world, as reflected in the Final Document. The conference participants’ unanimous approval of the roadmap’s 64 points is the result as much of the conference itself as of the work of a whole number of organizations, international commissions and forums that over recent years have been actively searching for ways towards full nuclear disarmament. Yet synchronized implementation of the conference’s Final Document will be an extremely difficult task that will be impossible to carry out without engaging the countries currently outside the NPT regime (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan). This was reflected in the failure during the conference of talks on establishing a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. The talks did not succeed because Israel refused to take part.

This will remain the case in the future: any further concerted steps towards full “nuclear zero” will run up against resistance from countries outside the NPT, or from countries that are parties to the NPT but have secret plans to develop nuclear weapons, or, if they already possess nuclear weapons, to retain them. Progress towards a nuclear free world could thus spark tensions in international relations, while at the same time serving as an impetus for building international cooperation at a qualitatively new level.