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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: June 11, 2010 NO. 24 JUNE 17, 2010
An Ending and a New Start
The 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference is a milestone for international arms control efforts



The 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) at the UN headquarters in New York from May 3-28, in many analysts' eyes, was a glorious epilogue for the past year.

At the conference, the 189 member nations to the NPT approved a 28-page final document that advanced a realistic path to achieve the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

RevCons have been held at five-year intervals since the NPT came into force in 1970. Each conference sought to come up with a final document that would assess the implementation of the NPT's provisions and make recommendations on measures to make it stronger.

The 1995 RevCon adopted an indefinite extension of the NPT. In 2000, the parties successfully agreed on a 13-point action plan as a final document.


OPENING OF THE CONFERENCE: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN headquarters in New York on May 3 (SHEN HONG) 

But, at the 2005 RevCon, mainly because of the Bush administration's objections, even compromising on the conference agenda became a hard task, and a final document was unable to be reached.

And this year's conference has demonstrated a number of distinctive features:

Positive atmosphere

Upon assuming office, U.S. President Barack Obama officially advocated the concept of "a world free of nuclear weapons" in Prague in April 2009.

Following his Prague speech, a series of historic events took place. In September 2009, the UN Security Council held a summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and unanimously adopted Resolution 1887. With this resolution, the Security Council seeks "a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the NPT."

On April 6, this year, the U.S Department of Defense released a new strategic document—the Nuclear Posture Review. Two days later, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to reduce stockpiles of deployed strategic nuclear weapons and set new procedures to verify the weapons each country possessed.

On April 12-13, the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington, D.C. It concluded with a comprehensive communiqué and a practicable work plan, which laid foundations for future cooperation.

In addition to these events, many countries and non-governmental organizations have made tremendous efforts to push forward the "nuclear weapon-free" process. For instance, Britain published two policy papers on nuclear disarmament.

Japan and Australia jointly established the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, which published a practical report for global policymakers. Ireland, Sweden, Norway and other nations allied to the United States also showed support for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Global Zero, the most active NGO in nuclear disarmament, held two meetings in Paris attended by distinguished experts and political leaders.

China has also been actively involved in this process. President Hu Jintao attended both the UN Security Council's summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament last year and the Nuclear Security Summit in April this year. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in August last year. At these meetings, they articulated China's policies and proposals on nuclear arms control issues.

Right direction

The 2010 RevCon moved in the right direction by treating the NPT's three pillars as a whole, especially linking disarmament and non-proliferation again.

The NPT regime has an inherently discriminatory nature: Some states can have nuclear weapons while others cannot. Nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful use of nuclear energy are the NPT's three pillars, with each one linked to the others.

If nations with nuclear weapons cannot fulfill their nuclear disarmament and elimination obligations under Article VI, adhering to non-proliferation obligations will be meaningless for nations without nuclear weapons.

But this basic logic has been ignored in the last decade. The Bush administration enforced a unilateral security policy and took stress off non-proliferation issues. This practice hurt the NPT regime badly and made proliferation worse, as evidenced by North Korea and Iran.

The Obama administration reversed this worrying trend. In his closing remarks at the Nuclear Security Summit, Obama said, "Leadership and progress in one area reinforces progress in another... When the United States fulfills its responsibilities as a nuclear power committed to the NPT, we strengthen our global efforts to ensure that other nations fulfill their responsibilities."

On May 6, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council told the 2010 RevCon: "We reaffirm our enduring commitment to the fulfillment of our obligations under Article VI of the NPT and our continuing responsibility to take concrete and credible steps towards irreversible disarmament."

Those constructive statements and activities may appease the discontent of nations without nuclear weapons. This effect of demonstration is exactly what the United States wants. In its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States placed "preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism" atop its nuclear agenda for the first time.

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