IPI on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

This 50-page paper is based on a series of roundtable meetings at IPI, building up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference starting May 3rd in New York.
Since June 2009, IPI has held consultations with member states and United Nations experts to discuss the implementation of the NPT’s three main objectives: promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, preventing the diversion of nuclear materials to weapons, and committing states to engage in disarmament.

These briefing notes aim to promote a more constructive discussion on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament by providing analyses of the issues at stake and suggesting areas of common ground. They focus on a set of key topics for the 2010 Review Conference:

– Nuclear Power and the NPT
– Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
– Nuclear Disarmament
– Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones
– North Korea and the NPT
– Iran and the NPT

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Nuclear Power and the NPT
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  • Given growing global energy demands and concerns about climate change, many analysts predict a substantial growth in reliance on nuclear power, and in nuclear power plant construction. Many also expect that such an expansion would pose significant proliferation challenges.
  • New reactor construction over the next decade will be concentrated in countries that already have nuclear power programs, nearly all of which are NPT members in good standing. Eight states plan to build nuclear plants for the first time in the next decade. All are NPT members in good standing.
  • Therefore, if the risk of state-level proliferation associated with an expansion in nuclear power cannot be discounted, it may not be as high as is frequently implied. The main proliferation risks (theft and illicit trade in nuclear materials) associated with a growth in nuclear power may be based largely outside the purview of the NPT.
  • Nonetheless, it will be essential to assure that NPT commitments continue to be met in a verifiable fashion, and that the IAEA has the resource and authority to carry out its mission. Key issues at the NPT Review Conference will include the adequacy of existing Safeguards Agreements; the terms and conditions of export control regimes; and whether there can be any limits on the development of indigenous fuel cycle capabilities.

Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
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  • Proposals to multilateralize the nuclear fuel cycle date back to the 1950’s, but they acquired new salience beginning in 2003.
  • Most proposals that have emerged since 2003 are focused on guaranteeing the supply of nuclear fuel to states against a cut-off in supply for reasons other than proliferation concerns.
  • States hold a range of views on these fuel supply proposals, and only two proposals have been actively considered by the IAEA Board of Governors.
  • One of these, a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel at Angarsk, in Russia, was recently agreed between the IAEA and Russia.
  • The Board of Governors has also discussed an LEU fuel bank that would be held by the IAEA, with financing from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and several governments.
  • Although decisions about fuel supply are not formally within the remit of the NPT review process, the question has mirrored larger debates about nonproliferation and disarmament and it is sometimes perceived as an effort to erode Article IV rights. It may arise in that context at the Review Conference.

Nuclear Disarmament
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  • The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide (23,000) is currently less than half of the level reached at the end of the Cold War. The US and Russia hold together more than 95% of the global stockpile, including 2,200 and 2,780 deployed strategic warheads respectively.
  • To achieve further progress states will need to establish: (1) a verification process to monitor the reduction and dismantlement of nuclear weapons, (2) an enforcement system to ensure implementation and deal with cases of non-compliance, (3) security and stability conditions where countries will trust that they can safely reduce and ultimately eliminate their weapons.
  • Each of these steps raises difficult and complex challenges. Chances to address them successfully will depend on the ability of states to develop cooperative security relationships.
  • US President Obama’s commitment to a “world without nuclear weapons” and the conclusion of the US/Russia New START Treaty have created a more positive context. Yet further concrete progress needs to be achieved in order to establish a new dynamic.
  • The existing frameworks of negotiations, at the UN and between nuclear-weapon states, have their respective advantages and limitations, among the latter are the protracted delays for multilateral agreements to enter into force. At this stage, the prospect of agreeing on a more radical approach seems remote.
  • A wide range of steps should be pursued to combine treaty negotiations and voluntary initiatives on reductions of nuclear weapons, as well as increased efforts to prevent the emergence of additional nuclear-armed states.

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones
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  • Five nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) cover territory in most of the Southern Hemisphere and in Central Asia.
  • Over 100 states have ratified the NWFZ treaty for their region; another 24 have signed but not ratified.
  • Nuclear weapon states recognized by the NPT have not fully ratified the protocols to most of the treaties. Nuclear armed states that are outside the NPT are also outside the NWFZs.
  • The key issues for NWFZs and for the NPT Review Conference are the extension of the geographic coverage of the zones, including to the Middle East, and the gaps in ratification of NWFZ treaties and of their protocols.

North Korea and the NPT
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  • The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) became an NPT State Party in 1985, but announced in 2003 that it would no longer be bound by the Treaty. Since that time, negotiations over the North Korean nuclear program have not resolved the dispute between the DPRK and the international community.
  • North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 and in 2009. Subsequently the Security Council adopted two Chapter VII resolutions condemning the tests and imposing sanctions.
  • Both the DPRK’s withdrawal from the NPT and its nuclear weapon tests constitute significant challenges to the NPT regime.
  • Issues of particular concern in the NPT Review Conference will be the status of the DPRK within the NPT; the adequacy of the NPT’s rules governing Treaty withdrawal; and the ability of the international community to require compliance with NPT terms.

Iran and the NPT
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  • Since the disclosure in 2002 of its clandestine nuclear program, Iran has been repeatedly found in breach of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and Subsidiary Arrangements, by conducting nuclear activities which it had not declared to the IAEA and by failing to declare the construction of nuclear facilities.
  • The IAEA Board and the Security Council have both required Iran to take steps to restore confidence in its nuclear program. Some progress was achieved in the first years of the crisis. But since 2006 Iran has ignored these calls, despite proposals for a long-term arrangement and enforcement measures taken by the Security Council.
  • The Iranian program represents a major challenge to the NPT as the IAEA has reported “consistent and credible” information on its possible military dimensions. A further deterioration of this situation (including risks that other countries engage in similar activities or that Iran withdraws from the NPT) would deeply weaken the Treaty.
  • The Review Conference cannot ignore the issues raised by the Iranian crisis. But discussions on this topic will be particularly complex, given the links to larger questions such as Article IV rights and the Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone.