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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit

Cole Harvey

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution seeking “to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” Sept. 24, endorsing many of measures laid out in President Barack Obama’s April 5 speech in Prague. (See ACT, May 2009.) The resolution also lays the political groundwork for strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime and tightening nuclear export controls. It also demands that Iran and North Korea comply with their obligations under previous Security Council resolutions.


In a key nonproliferation provision, the council asserted its right to determine if a case of noncompliance with the NPT constitutes a threat to international peace and security and emphasized its “primary responsibility” in addressing such a threat.

The council did not name any particular country in this regard, but the resolution expresses concern at “the current major challenges to the nonproliferation regime” and recalls prior resolutions that address the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. The resolution demands that the “parties concerned” comply with their obligations under international law.

“This is not about singling out individual nations,” Obama said. “It is about standing up for the rights of all nations who do live up to their responsibilities.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the strongest statement on noncompliance, recalling that Iran and North Korea have ignored Security Council resolutions for years. He urged the international community to bring greater pressure to bear on those two countries.

“There comes a moment when stubborn facts will compel us to take a decision,” he said, according to a UN translation. “Let us not accept violations of international rules…. There will come a moment one has to agree and take sanctions.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown similarly said it was time for the council to consider “far tougher sanctions” on Iran. By contrast, Presidents Hu Jintao of China and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia did not mention Iran or North Korea in their statements.

The council further called on all states to implement an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The 1997 Model Additional Protocol provides the agency with greater inspection authority than it has under the standard safeguards agreements signed with NPT parties, improving the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.

The council noted that the protocol and the more basic Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement constitute “essential elements” of the IAEA safeguards system. Additionally, the council urged states to take measures that would allow the export of nuclear technology and material only to those countries that have an additional protocol in place. Many non-nuclear-weapon states are reluctant to see the protocol made mandatory and prefer that it remain a voluntary measure.

The council also endorsed a series of measures that would make it more difficult for states to abuse the NPT by importing nuclear material or technology for ostensibly peaceful purposes, only to withdraw from the treaty or covertly develop a weapons program. The resolution encourages exporter states to establish a right to demand the return of all nuclear material and technology if the receiving state withdraws from the treaty or is found by the IAEA to be in noncompliance with its responsibilities. The supplier state should also have the right to demand the return of any special nuclear material—plutonium or enriched uranium—produced through the use of imported material or technology, the resolution says.

Similarly, the council urged states to require, as a condition of nuclear supply, agreements that IAEA safeguards should continue to apply to any imported material and technology even if the receiving state terminates its agreements with the IAEA.

The council promised to address “without delay” any state’s withdrawal from the NPT and affirmed that a withdrawing state remains responsible for any violations of the treaty committed prior to withdrawal.


The resolution calls for further progress on nuclear disarmament, while welcoming the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Russia to replace the expiring START. The resolution calls on all states, not just parties to the NPT, to pursue negotiations on “effective measures” related to disarmament. India, Israel, and Pakistan are not parties to the NPT, while North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003. All four are nuclear armed.

The council also called on all states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an early date and to conclude negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Forty-four specified states, including the United States, must ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force; the United States and eight others in that group have not done so. The Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament agreed in May to begin negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) but has been stalled by procedural wrangling. Both the CTBT and FMCT are considered crucial steps on the road to nuclear disarmament by the non-nuclear-weapon states.

The resolution also “welcomes and supports” efforts to conclude nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, saying that such zones help realize the objective of nuclear disarmament. Six such treaties are currently in force, covering Africa, Antarctica, Central Asia, Latin America, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. The creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East has been a long-standing goal of the NPT community, formally endorsed at the 1995 review conference.

The council also recalled statements issued by the five nuclear-weapon states in 1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.

Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

The resolution briefly addressed the third pillar of the NPT, encouraging states’ efforts to develop peaceful nuclear industries that adhere to “the highest international standards for safeguards, security, and safety.” The council underlined states’ “inalienable right” under the NPT to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy, while noting that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State-Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder.”

The council also expressed support for multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle. There have been several proposals, including for the creation of a fuel bank administered by the IAEA, to ensure that countries can have assured access to uranium-enrichment services without constructing enrichment facilities on their own territory. The IAEA Board of Governors has been unable to reach agreement on putting any of these proposals into action (see page 24). The council urged the IAEA board to agree on a plan of action “as soon as possible.”

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, addressing the summit, warned that a number of states have mastered uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation technology and that any of them could develop nuclear weapons “in a short time” if they withdrew from the NPT. In order to close off the fuel cycle route to nuclear weapons, ElBaradei stated that the “ultimate goal should be the full multinationalization of the fuel cycle as we move towards nuclear disarmament.” ElBaradei, who is scheduled to step down from his post at the end of November, has been a strong advocate of multinationalization.

Historic Meeting

The resolution was adopted at a rare summit-level meeting of the Security Council, chaired by Obama. The meeting was attended by the heads of state or government of all but one of the 15 members of the council; Libya sent Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, its permanent representative to the United Nations. “With the unanimous agreement today,” Brown said after the vote, “we are sending a united and unequivocal message that we are committed to creating the conditions for a world free from nuclear weapons.”