Nuclear Negotiations Fail in New York

Dominated by Nuclear Disarmament Debates, the NPT Review Conference Fails over the Disagreement on the Middle East

May 26, 2015

Nuclear Negotiations Fail in New York Closing plenary at the 2015 NPT Review Conference

Closing plenary at the 2015 NPT Review Conference,
Source: G. Mukhatzhanova

The 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, concluded on May 22 without adopting a final document, as the United States, supported by the United Kingdom and Canada, objected to draft text concerning the Middle East. The US move surprised some delegations, as little information about the Middle East consultations had been available during the last four weeks, and disagreements on nuclear disarmament dominated the conference (RevCon). Still, the extreme opening position staked out by Egypt “on behalf of the Arab League” at the outset of the RevCon provided ample early indication about how difficult it would be to reach consensus.

If adopted as presented by the conference president, the final document would have mandated the United Nations Secretary-General to convene a conference, by March 1, 2016, launching the negotiations on a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. Although the draft document directed all states in the region, including non-NPT party Israel, to engage in consultations to agree, by consensus, on the conference agenda, it also seemed to suggest that the conference would take place even if the states could not reach such an agreement.

In the eyes of many non-nuclear weapon states, the draft document did not give proper recognition to the initiative focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which has been the major development during the 2010-2015 NPT review cycle. The document also did not reflect the numerous calls for an international legal prohibition of nuclear weapons voiced during the conference. The proposed RevCon outcome text repeated some of the previous calls for measures such as further reductions in nuclear arsenals and review of doctrines to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, but did not introduce new measures, or add benchmarks and timelines to the action items agreed at the 2010 Review Conference.  Despite their dissatisfaction, no non-nuclear weapon state delegation appeared ready to block a consensus over the disarmament provisions.

The conference failure left many states frustrated both with the outcome and the process, exacerbating questions about the NPT’s credibility and the ability of the NPT regime to address the risks posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons.

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