"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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The INF Treaty and New START Crisis and the Future of the NPT



Remarks by Daryl Kimball on behalf of NGO Representatives and Experts to the 2019 NPT PrepCom for the 2020 Review Conference at the United Nations in New York.


The INF Treaty and New START Crisis and the Future of the NPT

Statement of NGO Representatives and Experts
to the 2019 NPT Prep Com for the 2020 Review Conference,
United Nations, New York

May 1, 2019

Since the NPT was signed 50 years ago, the United States and Russia have engaged in nuclear arms control negotiations and concluded strategic arms control and reduction treaties that have lowered tensions, reduced excess nuclear stockpiles, increased predictability and transparency, and helped to reduce the nuclear danger.

While the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles has been significantly reduced from their Cold War peaks, the dangers posed by the still excessive U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and launch-under-attack postures are still exceedingly high.

Today, each side can launch as many as 800 thermonuclear weapons in a first strike within about 20 minutes of the “go” order from either president. Each side would have hundreds more nuclear weapons available in reserve for further counterstrikes. The result would be a global catastrophe.

As then-presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev noted in their 1985 summit statement: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Further progress on nuclear disarmament – or in the very least active negotiations to that end – by the United States and Russia is at the core of their NPT Article VI obligation to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Disarmament leadership from the United States and Russia, which possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear firepower, is also critical to the essential task of engaging the world’s other nuclear-armed states in the global enterprise to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.

As we approach the NPT’s 2020 Review Conference, it is the considered view of a wide range of nongovernmental experts and organizations that the world’s two largest nuclear-armed states need to:

  • engage in serious talks to facilitate the extension of New START by five years, as allowed for in Article XIV of the Treaty;
  • reach an agreement that prevents deployments of destabilizing ground-based, intermediate-range missiles; and
  • resume regular, high-level talks on strategic stability to reduce the risk of miscalculation.

Failure by the U.S. and Russian leadership to take these steps would represent a violation of their NPT Article VI obligations and would threaten the very underpinnings of the NPT regime.

Unfortunately, relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest point since the mid-1980s, and their dialogue on nuclear arms control has been stalled since Russia rejected a 2013 offer from President Obama to negotiate further nuclear cuts beyond the modest reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Worse still, the two sides have not resumed their strategic stability talks since the last session was held in Helsinki in late-2017, and the future of two of the most important nuclear arms control agreements – the INF Treaty and New START – are in grave doubt.

The INF Treaty

In February, Washington and Moscow suspended their obligations under the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty after failing to resolve their compliance dispute. Barring a diplomatic miracle, the United States is on course to withdraw from the treaty on August 2. The collapse of the INF Treaty opens the door to new and even more dangerous forms of missile competition.

Russia may deploy more of its 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles, which the United States and NATO have determined are treaty noncompliant, and Russia has threatened to convert a sea-based cruise missile system for ground launch. For its part, the Trump administration has begun developing new, “more usable” low-yield nuclear warheads for use on D-5 submarine-launched strategic missiles, and the administration has announced that it will begin testing – before the end of this year – new ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missiles, which have been prohibited by the INF Treaty. Ukraine, a party to the INF Treaty, has suggested it might pursue INF missile development.

Whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems are destabilizing because of their very short time-to-target capabilities afford little or no warning of attack.

Instead of a dangerous pursuit of such INF missile deployments, this conference must strongly encourage the INF states parties to refrain from deploying intermediate-range, ground-launched missiles and urge Moscow and Washington to engage in talks designed to produce a new INF-missile control arrangement.

For example, NATO could declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any currently INF Treaty-prohibited missiles in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory. This would require Russia to move at least some currently deployed 9M729 missiles.

The U.S. and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be offered additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk. 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed Europe as part of the Aegis Ashore system.


Meanwhile, the START agreement, which verifiably caps each side’s strategic deployed arsenals to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 strategic delivery systems, will expire in February 2021 unless extended or replaced.

Without a positive decision to extend New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers for the first time since 1972. The risk of unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition, and even more fraught relations, would grow.

In a March 2018 interview with NBC, President Putin voiced interest in an extension of New START or even possibly further cuts in warhead numbers. In April 2018, the Trump administration announced it is pursuing a “whole-of-government review” about whether to extend New START. In 2017, shortly before he became the U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton publicly called on President Trump to terminate New START.

New START clearly serves U.S. and Russian security interests. The treaty imposes important bounds on the strategic nuclear competition between the two nuclear superpowers.

Failure to extend New START, on the other hand, would compromise each side’s understanding of the other’s nuclear forces, open the door to unconstrained nuclear competition, and undermine international security.

Fortunately, the treaty can be extended by up to five years (to 2026) by a simple agreement by the two presidents—without complex negotiations and without further approval from the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma.

An agreement to extend New START requires the immediate start of consultations on key issues of concern to both sides.

Russia has raised concerns about the verification of the conversion of some U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems to conventional roles. The United States, for its part, has understandably suggested that new Russian strategic nuclear weapons systems, including the Status-6 nuclear-armed, long-range, torpedo and the proposed nuclear-propelled, long-range cruise missile, should be accounted for under New START.

If both sides are willing to engage in a professional dialogue relatively soon, these issues can be addressed in a mutually agreed manner either before or soon after a decision to extend New START is taken.

New START extension would also provide additional time for Trump, or his successor, to pursue negotiations on more far-reaching nuclear cuts involving strategic and tactical nuclear systems, an understanding about the limits of U.S. strategic missile defenses, and limitations on non-nuclear strategic strike weapons that both sides are beginning to develop.

A Core Issue for NPT 2020

These issues must be central issues for this preparatory conference and all NPT States Parties before the 2020 Review Conference.

Some delegations claim that before progress on nuclear disarmament can be achieved, the right environment must be established. Such arguments overlook how progress on disarmament has been achieved in the past and can be achieved today.

Such arguments should not be allowed to distract from a disappointing lack of political will to engage in a common-sense nuclear risk reduction dialogue.

In reality, the current environment demands the resumption of a productive, professional dialogue between representatives of the White House and the Kremlin on nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The urgency of these problems also demands that all NPT states parties, as part of their own solemn legal responsibilities to uphold the NPT and advance their Article VI goals. NPT states parties should:

  • press Presidents Trump and Putin to relaunch the dialogue on strategic stability;
  • pledge to reach early agreement to extend the New START agreement; and
  • refrain from pursuing deployments of INF-prohibited missile systems in the European theater (or elsewhere) that produce a dangerous action-reaction cycle.

We strongly urge each delegation to emphasize these priority steps to ensure key states remain in compliance with the NPT and sustain progress toward the attainment of all of the treaty’s core goals and objectives.

Endorsed by:

Alexey Arbatov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (academician), head of the Center for International Security, Е.М. Primakov Institute for World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Member of Parliament (State Duma) in 1993-2003 and former deputy chair of the Defense Committee, member of the Soviet START I delegation

Dr. Christoph Bertram, Director, International Institute of Strategic Studies 1974-1982, Director, German Institute for International and Security Studies (SWP) 1998-2005

Dr. Bruce Blair, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton; Co-founder, Global Zero, Former Member, Secretary of State International Security Advisory Board

Des Browne, former UK Secretary of State for Defence

Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School**

Joseph Cirincione, President, Ploughshares Fund

Lisa Clark and Reiner Braun, Co-Presidents, International Peace Bureau

Thomas Countryman, former acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Chair of the Board of the Arms Control Association

Tarja Cronberg, Chair of the Peace Union of Finland and as a former member of the European Parliament

Jayantha Dhanapala, Ambassador, former UN Under-Secretary-General for

Disarmament Affairs, President 1995 NPT Review & Extension Conference, former

President Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs

Sergio Duarte, President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and Global Affairs, former UN high representative for disarmament, President of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, and a member of Brazil’s delegation to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee talks on the NPT

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Dr. Joseph Gerson, President and CEO, Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security

Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute, and UN Representative of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates

John Hallam, People for Nuclear Disarmament Human Survival Project, and Co-Convener, Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group

Dr. Ira Helfand, Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, U.S. Department of State, and Founder of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Angela Kane, Senior Fellow, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-proliferation, former United Nations Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament

Dr. Catherine M. Kelleher, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and the Secretary of Defense’s representative to NATO

Ambassador (ret.) Laura Kennedy, former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association*

Michael Krepon, Co-founder, The Stimson Center

Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator (Ret.), President, The Lugar Center

Dr. Victor Mizin, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Science, former Soviet/Russian diplomat

Prof. Götz Neuneck, Chair German Pugwash and Council Member Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Ali Nouri, President, Federation of American Scientists

Olga Oliker, Director, Europe Program, International Crisis Group**

Jungeun Park, Secretary General, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (RoK)

Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the Russian Federation

Amb. (ret.) Steven Pifer, William J Perry Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University**

Dr. William C. Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Guy C. Quinlan, President, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Susi Snyder, Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager, PAX (Netherlands)

John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World, and Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Greg Thielmann, former Director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Sir Adam Thomson, Chief Executive, European Leadership Network

Aaron Tovish, Executive Director, Zona Libre

Hiromichi Umebayashi, Founder & Special Advisor, Peace Depot Inc. Japan

Rick Wayman, Deputy Director, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary for Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending,

Friends Committee on National Legislation

*Statement coordinator

** Institution listed for identification purposes only

Country Resources:

Renewing Waivers for Nuclear Projects with Iran Serves U.S. Interests



Failure to grant the sanctions waivers detailed in the 2015 Iran nucelar deal would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increases the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse.


Volume 11, Issue 7, April 29, 2019

A critical decision in the long-running effort to block Iran’s potential path to nuclear weapons is just days away. The Trump administration must decide by May 2 to renew sanctions waivers allowing required nuclear cooperation projects with Iran detailed in the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal to continue or let the waivers lapse. Failure to grant the waivers would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increase the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse. Tehran is already threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA and, more seriously, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) after the United States announced April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers to states seeking to purchase Iranian oil.

When the Trump administration first issued the 180-day nuclear cooperation waivers Nov. 5, it stated that allowing these projects to go forward would “impede Iran’s ability to reconstitute its weapons program and lock in the nuclear status quo until we can secure a stronger deal”—a clear acknowledgement that the U.S. benefits from these crucial nonproliferation projects.

The waivers were necessary after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran–despite Tehran’s clear record of compliance—and withdrew from the accord in May 2018. Had the Trump administration not issued the waivers, the United States could have penalized foreign entities involved in the nuclear projects for conducting legitimate work required by the JCPOA and endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231.

Despite the fact that these nuclear cooperation projects help to reduce Iran’s nuclear weapons potential, the White House may allow the waivers to expire in order to try to ratchet up the pressure on Iran even further. Six Republican Senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo April 9 encouraging the Trump administration to allow the waivers to lapse in order to put additional pressure on Tehran. These members of Congress and some officials within the Trump administration appear to believe that the United States can coerce Iran’s leaders into a new set of negotiations designed to produce a “stronger deal” that addresses Iranian regional activities that Washington views as destabilizing and requires Tehran to capitulate to all U.S. demands on the country’s nuclear program. So far, this strategy has only isolated the United States and damaged Washington’s credibility.

In an April 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Pompeo said the decision regarding the nuclear cooperation projects is “complicated,” but did not indicate if the waivers would be renewed. Reportedly, Pompeo favors granting the waivers, but Iran hardliners in the National Security Council are opposed to renewal.

Failure to renew the waivers for JCPOA-related nuclear cooperation projects will not advance the Trump administration’s plan to maximize pressure on Iran in pursuit of a mythical “better deal,” which appears to be a thinly disguised call for regime change. Rather, it would be an own goal that sets back U.S. nonproliferation priorities and compounds Trump’s irresponsible decision to jeopardize the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions. It also risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the EU) in violation of the deal by preventing them from meeting obligations under the agreement to assist Iran with certain nuclear projects, thus giving Iran a further justification to abandon the agreement.

Jeopardizing Critical Nonproliferation Projects

If the Trump administration does not issue the waivers, it will put at risk critical projects that serve U.S. and international nonproliferation and security interests, particularly the conversion efforts at the Arak reactor and the Fordow facility, a former uranium enrichment site.

Arak: Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak posed a proliferation risk that the United States and its negotiating partners sought to mitigate with the nuclear deal. If Iran had completed the reactor as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for an estimated two nuclear weapons per year.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran removed the calandria, or core, from the Arak reactor, filled it with concrete, and committed not to undertake any additional work at the site based on the original design. The IAEA verified the removal of the calandria and continues to monitor the reactor site. In addition, Iran committed to modify the reactor so that, when operational, it would produce a fraction of the necessary plutonium for a nuclear weapon on an annual basis.

Iran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years, preventing Tehran from accumulating several years’ worth of plutonium and then reprocessing it into a form suitable for nuclear weapons. The JCPOA established a working group “to support and facilitate the redesign and rebuilding” of the Arak reactor. (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraph 5.1.) China agreed to lead the work with the United States providing critical support verifying the design. When the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, the UK took over the U.S. role.

If China is prevented from fulfilling its contract on the Arak work, Iran may decide at some point to restart construction on the reactor, perhaps based on the original design. If Tehran were to go down that path, it would pose a proliferation risk and provide Iran with a source of plutonium, which when separated, could be used for nuclear weapons.

However, once the reactor is converted, it would be more difficult and time consuming for Iran to use it for weapons purposes or to revert back to the original design. Given the nonproliferation benefits of modifying the Arak reactor and the risks of Iran returning to its original plan for the reactor, supporting and allowing conversion efforts to continue clearly serves U.S. interests.

Fordow: A similar argument can be made for the Fordow site. Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, Iran was enriching uranium to 20 percent uranium-235 at Fordow. While 20 percent uranium-235 is still far below the 90 percent considered weapons grade, it poses a greater proliferation risk as it is easier to increase enrichment from 20 percent to 90 percent than it is to move from 3.67 percent (reactor grade and Iran’s current limit under the JCPOA) to 20 percent.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium and having any nuclear material at the Fordow facility for 15 years. Iran also had the reduce the number of centrifuges at Fordow from about 2,700 first generation IR-1 machines to 1,044. Of the 1,044 centrifuges, two cascades (348 centrifuges) will be used for stable isotope production.

The JCPOA stipulates that Iran will convert the facility into a “nuclear physics, and technology centre ” and encourage international collaboration in certain areas of research. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section H, Paragraph 44.) The IAEA is also permitted daily access to the site under the JCPOA and the deal notes that Russia will assist with the conversion efforts.

Turning Fordow into a nuclear physics center, reducing the centrifuges at the site, and using a portion of them for stable isotope production serves U.S. and international nonproliferation interests. It significantly reduces the risk that Iran will reconstitute the facility for uranium enrichment and, by having a regular Russian and IAEA presence at the site, it provides greater assurance that if Iran were to begin to transition Fordow back to a uranium enrichment plant, the international community would quickly be alerted to that fact.

Additionally, the Fordow facility is located within a mountain that would render it nearly impossible to destroy using conventional military means. A military strike is not a viable option for addressing Iran’s nuclear program should Tehran exit the JCPOA and resume more troublesome nuclear activities, and it is more likely to incentivize the country to pursue nuclear weapons. But the invulnerability of Fordow to a strike underscores the importance of retaining the JCPOA and preventing the proliferation risk that would come if Iran were to reconstitute uranium enrichment at the Fordow site.

Other Projects: Additional JCPOA-supported projects that could be impacted if the United States does not grant waivers include the transfer of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel to Iran for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which produces medical isotopes, and Russia’s assistance at the Bushehr nuclear power reactor.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to import limited quantities of fuel enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 under IAEA monitoring for the TRR. The P4+1 are required by the deal to assist Iran in obtaining the fuel. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section J, Paragraph 60.) If Tehran is unable to purchase the 20 percent material, it could lead Iran to resume enrichment to that level, which poses a far greater proliferation risk than the 3.67-percent uranium-235 limit that Iran is required to abide by for 15 years under the JCPOA.

At Bushehr, Iran’s sole civil nuclear power reactor is fueled by the Russians. Russia also removes the spent fuel. Sanctioning Russian entities involved in the operation of the reactor and the spent fuel removal risks incentivizing Iran to increase its enrichment capacity to fuel that reactor, again posing a greater proliferation threat.

Additionally, these projects, particularly the conversion of Fordow to a stable isotope production and research center and the modifications of the Arak reactor, are tangible benefits for Iran that incentivize its continued compliance with the nuclear deal. Currently, as a result of Trump violating the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions, Iran’s economy has suffered, and foreign entities have withdrawn from the Iranian market. Nevertheless, research and development activities like the Fordow and Arak projects still provide Iran with benefits and incentives to remain in the agreement.

Putting U.S. Partners and Allies in Violation of the JCPOA

In addition to halting projects that benefit U.S. security and nonproliferation objectives, failure to grant the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the deal in violation of the agreement.

The impact of halting nuclear cooperation differs from the impact of foreign entities exiting the Iranian market in order to avoid being penalized under U.S. sanctions reimposed by Trump. Reimposing sanctions put the United States in violation of the JCPOA, but the deal does not guarantee Iran any particular level of economic benefit or require the P4+1 to guarantee that companies will do business with Iran. Therefore, the decision by companies to sever contracts with Iran did not abrogate P4+1 commitments under the deal.

However, unlike the economic sanctions, certain nuclear cooperation projects are required by the JCPOA and have been endorsed by the UN Security Council. If entities involved in these projects halt work out of fear of being sanctioned and the P4+1 are unable to meet their obligations to assist with these projects, it risks putting them in violation of the deal.

On Fordow, Annex III of the JCPOA states that “the transitioning to stable isotope production of two cascades will be conducted in a joint partnership between the Russian Federation and Iran, on the basis of arrangements to be mutually agreed upon.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section C, Paragraph 7.1.) Russia’s work at Bushehr would also be at risk if the Trump administration does not issue a waiver. In addition to providing fuel for the reactor and removing spent fuel, Rosatom, Russia’s state-run energy organization, is currently working on an additional two reactor units at the site.

If the United States does not grant a waiver allowing Russia’s state-run energy organization Rosatom to continue working at Bushehr and Fordow, it will put Moscow in the difficult decision of deciding between meeting its explicit commitments under the JCPOA and risking U.S. penalties or violating the nuclear deal.

Similarly, Annex III of the JCPOA states that the Arak working group “will provide assistance needed by Iran for redesigning and rebuilding the reactor” and agree upon steps to provide an “assured path forward to modernize the reactor.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraphs 5.1; 5.5.)

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the primary entity involved in the Arak reactor redesign project and the CNNC and Iran agreed upon a contract in 2017 for the initial phases of the work. However, despite receiving a wavier in November, Iran has raised concerns about the pace of work at Arak, as CNNC reportedly considers the guidance provided by the Trump administration on the waiver to be vague and insufficient. Given CNNC’s global reach and ambitions, the company is likely adverse to any risk of sanction by the United States and would be unwilling to continue the project without a waiver.

There are additional implications for revoking the waivers beyond the nuclear deal with Iran. Rosatom, for instance, is involved in a number of nuclear cooperation projects with U.S. entities. If Washington refuses to grant the waivers allowing legitimate work under the JCPOA to continue, Rosatom and others could choose to retaliate by terminating projects with U.S. based entities. That could inhibit competitiveness of the U.S. nuclear industry and adversely impact their operations.

The General Nonproliferation Value of Nuclear Cooperation

Beyond the nonproliferation and JCPOA-compliance benefits of issuing the waivers, there is value to encouraging and supporting additional nuclear cooperation projects suggested in Annex III of the agreement. Unlike the work at Arak, Fordow, the TRR, and Bushehr, these projects are optional, yet fulfilling them would have significant nuclear security and safety benefits. Additionally, it would continue to provide greater transparency into Iran’s civil nuclear activities.

Iran currently operates two reactors, the TRR and the Bushehr reactor, and has ambitious plans to expand its nuclear program for energy generation. Yet Iran lags behind international standards and best practices for nuclear safety and security. Iran is not a party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment, nor the Nuclear Safety Convention. Iran also does not publish its nuclear regulatory practices, so it is difficult to determine if Tehran is meeting international standards for governing its civil nuclear activities. Annex III of the JCPOA encourages cooperative work to address these critical gaps on nuclear security and safety, including measures such as strengthening emergency preparedness, training and workshops on nuclear safety and security, the establishment of a nuclear safety center, and assistance to strengthen physical protection at nuclear facilities.

Cooperative work on several of these areas is already underway. The EU-Iran high-level seminars on nuclear cooperation have begun the initial phases of constructing a Nuclear Safety Center and assisting Iran with updating its regulatory frameworks to reflect international best practices. This work is proceeding and does not appear, at this time, to be impacted by U.S. sanctions.

This type of assistance project benefits not only Iran, but the entire region. A nuclear incident, caused either by accident or an intentional act of sabotage, would have an impact beyond Iran’s borders. It is in the best interests of Middle Eastern countries, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, that Iran’s nuclear activities are safe and secure. Without the JCPOA, or if the United States aggressively targets entities involved in legitimate nuclear cooperation, it is unlikely that these projects will continue.


Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions was irresponsible and unjustified. If the Trump administration refuses to renew the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue it would compound his dangerous decision to abandon the agreement.

Supporting nuclear cooperation with Iran benefits U.S. nonproliferation priorities and national security. It also allows the remaining parties to the deal to meet JCPOA requirements. Additionally, these projects provide greater insight and transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities and can provide important safety and security benefits.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?

A U.S. initiative to define a better environment for nuclear disarmament threatens to undermine the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.

April 2019
By Paul Meyer

Few would contest that the regime built on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is currently going through a rough patch, to put it mildly. Long-simmering frustrations with the lack of progress in fulfilling the treaty’s Article VI commitment on nuclear disarmament erupted in recent years in the form of a broadly based humanitarian initiative leading to the 2017 conclusion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A protester in Sydney in 2018 urges Australia to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty has highlighted public dissatisfaction with the pace of nuclear disarmament. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)The new treaty has posed a major challenge to the status quo. Backed by 122 states at the time of its adoption, the treaty has now garnered 70 signatures and 22 ratifications, with 50 ratifications needed for the pact to enter into force. Some nuclear powers, particularly the United States, have begun new initiatives to try to maintain their control over the direction of NPT activity.

The prevailing nuclear orthodoxy of the NPT community, which relied on the treaty’s five nuclear-weapon states to set the scope and pace of disarmament commitments, has been contested by a super majority of NPT members. These reformers have opted for an alternative path to nuclear disarmament by means of a treaty that rejects and stigmatizes nuclear weapons and the doctrines of nuclear deterrence associated with them. In so doing, they have opened up a fissure within the NPT membership that has put the nuclear-weapon states and their nuclear weapons-dependent allies into the role of a dissident minority, albeit one that possesses the very weapons the reformers seek to eliminate.

This schism will not be readily repaired. On one hand, there are the non-nuclear-weapon states, which have lost faith in the hollow and self-serving pledges of the nuclear-weapon states regarding nuclear disarmament. These states are using the prohibition treaty to embrace a new doctrine. On the other hand, there are the Old Believers who continue to espouse the hallowed texts from decades of NPT meetings that promise nuclear salvation through the so-called step-by-step approach to disarmament. In the NPT context, this has meant increasingly ritualized calls for entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which still needs eight ratifications, including the United States and China; the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) within the Conference on Disarmament, a more than 20-year fantasy; and further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of possessing states, a goal undermined by the juggernaut of nuclear force modernization speeding in the opposite direction.

For the United States, the high priest of nuclear orthodoxy, the developments of the last few years have proven disconcerting. The negotiation and completion of the prohibition treaty represents an affront to U.S. authority. With its nuclear-weapon state counterparts, the United States found it easy to denounce this heresy and to press France and the United Kingdom to do likewise.

At the same time, it was difficult to continue to promote the virtue of the step-by-step approach in the face of the contradictory evidence as to its efficacy. This situation has led some in Washington to conclude that a change in tack was required, a discreet modification of the liturgy to deploy during the upcoming NPT services.

A New Approach to Create an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament

The new approach was manifested in a working paper entitled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament” submitted by the United States to the second preparatory committee meeting for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, held in Geneva in 2018. The United States has recently decided to rename the initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), replacing an empirical term such as “conditions” for the vaguer and more subjectively determined concept of “environment.” The rationale behind the original paper remains the same and its initial paragraph sets out the essence of the problem it perceives with respect to nuclear disarmament: “If we continue to focus on numerical reductions and the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons, without addressing the real underlying security concerns that led to their production in the first place, and to their retention, we will advance neither the cause of disarmament nor the cause of enhanced collective international security.”1 In order “to get the international community past the sterility of such discourse,” the working paper recalls that the United States has previously “spoken in broad terms of the need to create the conditions conducive for further nuclear disarmament” and now “seeks to lay out some of the discrete tasks that would need to be accomplished for such conditions to exist.”



The paper refers to several steps in a wide range of political-security fields ranging from greater acceptance of existing best practices at the more modest end of the spectrum, such as the adoption of an additional protocol to a country’s safeguards agreement based on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Model Additional Protocol, to fundamental transformations of interstate relations at the ambitious end, such as “a world in which the relationships between nations, especially major powers, are not driven by assumptions of zero-sum geopolitical competition, but are instead cooperative and free of conflict.” In between are conditions on altered threat perceptions, reduced regional tensions, diminished nuclear capabilities, enhanced transparency, comprehensive verification, and effective compliance enforcement measures.

A focus on conditions facilitating nuclear disarmament is not a novel element. Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s celebrated April 2009 speech in Prague invoking the need to move toward a “world without nuclear weapons,” NATO was moved to incorporate these ideas into its authoritative 2010 Strategic Concept. This primordial policy document was adopted at the Lisbon summit in November of that year and is still in force. In it NATO’s leaders state, “We are resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the [NPT], in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”2 On the surface, this stance seems aligned with the NPT and its nuclear disarmament goal, but the alliance has never defined these conditions or how it will contribute to their creation. In more recent years, NATO communiqués have stressed that “progress on arms control and disarmament must take into account the prevailing international security environment. We regret that the conditions for achieving disarmament are not favorable today.”3

The New York signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)This stance, however expedient for allies, ignores the reality that the international security environment was hardly any better during the Cold War, yet the alliance made great efforts with considerable success to devise agreements to reduce arms and promote cooperation. Nine years after the Strategic Concept, there is still no more wisdom regarding what NATO deems to be the essential conditions for nuclear disarmament
and how it is helping to achieve those conditions.

No NPT Article VI commitments to cessation of the arms race and to nuclear disarmament are conditioned by the considerations cited in the U.S. paper. At one point, the paper even acknowledged that this “new focus” will require commitments going beyond those embodied in the NPT. Although no author is identified on the U.S. paper, it bears the hallmarks of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford, an official who has served with distinction under Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Fortunately for those trying to assess the significance of the new departure represented by the CEND initiative, Ford elaborated on the concept in December 2018 remarks about the 2020 NPT Review Conference.4

Ford traced the evolution of the CEND concept to deliberations leading up to the February 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review report and the subsequent preparation of the working paper submitted to the NPT Preparatory Committee in April 2018. “This new initiative aims to move beyond the traditional approach that had focused principally upon ‘step-by-step’ efforts to bring down the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but that did so in ways that did not provide a pathway to address the challenge of worsening security conditions, did not address nuclear build-ups by China, India and Pakistan, and did not provide an answer to challenges of deterrence and stability in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and that had clearly stalled,” says the paper.

A Rejection of the Step-by-Step Approach

The significance of this appraisal of the effectiveness of the traditional approach on disarmament cannot be overstated. Ford is essentially saying that it has failed and it is time to move beyond it because it has been unable to deliver on earlier NPT review conference agreements, including the CTBT’s entry into force, FMCT negotiations, further reduction of the nuclear-weapon state arsenals, and a diminished role for nuclear weapons in strategic policies.

In addition to this core failure, the traditional approach does not provide a means of countering the current deterioration of security conditions or for addressing the nuclear build-ups of nuclear-armed nations not party to the NPT. According to Ford, a new discourse is required that is “both more realistic than these traditional modes of thought and more consonant with the security challenges facing the real-world leaders whose engagement is essential for disarmament.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford is spearheading the U.S. initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” (Photo: Paul Morigi/Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)Such a major departure in disarmament diplomacy would normally have been a product of extensive prior consultation with affected allies and partners, but there is no public evidence that this has occurred. Indeed, this new doctrine pulls the carpet from underneath U.S. allies and partners who have dutifully been affirming the superiority of the step-by-step approach to fulfilling the NPT’s nuclear disarmament obligations. Particularly in the context of the diplomatic struggle over the humanitarian initiative and the development of the prohibition treaty, the U.S. nuclear dependents have faithfully argued the merits of the step-by-step, or progressive, approach to achieving nuclear disarmament. One illustration was given at the UN General Assembly First Committee last fall on the part of 30 non-nuclear-weapon states allied with the United States through NATO or bilateral accords. These states declared, “We are firmly committed to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free-world and believe it is best pursued through a progressive approach consisting of pragmatic, inclusive and effective steps.”5

Similarly, the most recent Group of Seven consensus statement on nonproliferation and disarmament asserts, “[W]e support further practical and concrete steps in the fields of nuclear arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation.”6 Even the United States and its nuclear-weapon partners France and the United Kingdom remained rhetorically committed to the step-by-step approach until recently. For example, a 2015 explanation of a vote at the First Committee delivered on behalf of the three by the UK ambassador stated, “To create a world without nuclear weapons that remains free of nuclear weapons, however, disarmament cannot take place in isolation of the very real international security concerns that we face. We believe that the step-by-step approach is the only way to combine the imperatives of disarmament and of maintaining global stability.”7

It would seem that “the only way” is receiving a radical reinterpretation in Washington, one that will cause considerable diplomatic heartburn for those allies who have long asserted that the step-by-step approach is the sole viable path toward nuclear disarmament. The attachment of most non-nuclear-weapon states to this position lay in part to the authority these steps had as a result of their inclusion in a succession of consensus outcomes of NPT review conferences, notably those of 1995, 2000, and 2010. The steps could also be assessed more objectively than the general formula of the disarmament commitment in NPT Article VI.

To abandon this approach and its measurable benchmarks in order to embrace the vague and subjective criteria of the new environment discourse will be a difficult policy pill to swallow for those allies who have doggedly supported the mainstream, NPT-centric prescription for achieving nuclear disarmament. It will be particularly difficult for those non-nuclear allies who face significant domestic constituencies disappointed by their governments’ rejection of the prohibition treaty that will press for tangible indications that the step-by-step approach is yielding results. Although supporting a progressive approach toward nuclear disarmament has a positive ring to it, expectations will necessarily build for its proponents to demonstrate actual progress, which is unlikely in the current circumstances. This movement of the policy goalposts also will complicate prospects for success at the 2020 NPT Review Conference, an outcome ardently sought by the non-nuclear-weapon states, especially in the wake of the failed 2015 review conference.

A Problematic Model for Operationalizing the Concept

It is not only the doctrinal switch that Ford has introduced that may prove problematic, but also his concept as to how this new environment discourse is to be operationalized. His model for a Creating the Conditions Working Group is the earlier International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, a U.S.-initiated process launched in 2014 that currently has some 25 participating states. The partnership has been geared to studying the verification procedures and technologies that would need to be developed to support nuclear disarmament. Its first phase ended in 2017 with the identification of 14 steps key to the nuclear weapons dismantlement process, and a second phase is currently underway with a view to tabling a final report at the 2020 NPT Review Conference. The partnership reached out to a variety of states, but a majority of its members are U.S. allies. Russia and China, which initially attended partnership meetings as observers, are apparently no longer participating.

In Ford’s view, the working group would consist of 25 to 30 countries “selected on the basis of both regional and political diversity” but filtered by a prior commitment to the new approach. States would be invited to comment on the “key issues that, if addressed effectively, could improve prospects for progress on nuclear disarmament” on the basis of the 2018 U.S. paper intending to agree on such a list as an “initial deliverable” for the working group. Ford envisages the establishment of up to three subgroups to be assigned a specific functional topic and with co-chairs “chosen from among states and individuals most able to provide constructive contributions.” Washington presumably will be making these choices because Ford states that the United States will organize and staff an executive secretariat to oversee the exercise. It is projected that planning for the new working group will be underway by the time of the NPT preparatory committee meeting this month and the working group will be fully operational before the 2020 review conference.

Such a “made in the USA” concept for implementing a multilateral effort is likely to meet resistance from several quarters, most notably from the non-allied nuclear-weapon states but also from partners that may fear that the enterprise will be too controlled and its areas of inquiry too constrained by U.S. preferences.

After decades of espousing practical measures for disarmament, non-nuclear allies will be sensitive to charges that the CEND initiative represents a huge distraction from the effort to achieve measurable progress in achieving the existing disarmament commitments agreed by all NPT parties. With its implication that little can be done in terms of progress on disarmament obligations until a broad spectrum of conditions are met, the CEND initiative risks being viewed as a talk shop disconnected from the disarmament process in which states are discussing how a conflict-free halcyon future for the world can be realized.

Conclusions and Alternative Recommendations

Those concerned with the NPT’s fate will not find the new U.S. approach reassuring. Not only does it undermine years of consistent allied support for an approach to nuclear disarmament grounded in the NPT and the political commitments made in successive review conferences, it suggests that these allies have been unrealistic and mistaken in their policies. By proposing that the agreed NPT benchmarks on nuclear disarmament should be ignored in favor of developing a new list of conditions that would facilitate an eventual disarmament progress, the United States is raising the bar on such progress and linking it to transformations in the international security landscape far removed from NPT-specified obligations.

To have a diplomatic strategy that offers some prospects of bridging the acute differences among NPT members at the 2020 review conference, the United States and other nuclear-weapon states should consider several measures.

Instead of investing in the new working group process with its attendant risks, they must ensure that any new mechanism to support the NPT is grounded in the actual legal and political commitments of the treaty. This could include an open-ended working group of NPT parties to examine the impediments to progress in realizing the specific nuclear disarmament-related steps agreed within the NPT process. Such an initiative would be rooted in the collective results of previous NPT proceedings and could be presented as such rather than as a quixotic pursuit of benign relations among states.

An effort should be made to accept the proposals developed over the last years to enhance transparency as part of a strengthened NPT review process, as agreed when the treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995. Although many non-nuclear-weapon states have called for greater transparency from the nuclear-weapon states, the carefully considered proposals of the 12-member Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) merit special attention.8 Not only are these proposals relevant and substantive in themselves, but cooperation with the NPDI group, which comprises supporters and opponents of the prohibition treaty, would make diplomatic sense in any broader effort to repair the rift within the NPT. NPDI members include several prominent and influential NPT parties, and for the nuclear-weapon states to persist in their dismissal of their constructive contribution is only going to further sap any bridge-building efforts at the review conference.

The results of the work undertaken by the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification should be introduced into the review conference in a manner that suggests that it will facilitate actual nuclear disarmament steps. Demonstrations on how these verification approaches can be applied to real-world dismantlement of surplus nuclear weapons and fissile material would go a long way toward proving that the partnership is more than an interesting academic endeavor.

The nuclear-weapon states should tamp down their anti-prohibition treaty rhetoric in the lead-up to the review conference. It might be satisfying in a debating club context to denounce treaty supporters as engaging in “magical thinking” or “conditions-blind” absolutism, but the 122 states that have expressed support for the prohibition treaty are all NPT parties whose support will be necessary to arrive at any substantive consensus outcome for the 2020 review conference. A more respectful and diplomatic discourse is in order.

Finally, the greatest positive contribution to the NPT review conference would be tangible demonstrations by the nuclear-weapon states, particularly the United States and Russia, of their commitment to nuclear disarmament by means of further reduction of actual arsenals, the exercise of restraint in any modernization plans, and the resumption of strategic dialogues and cooperative arms control arrangements.

For friends of the NPT, the lead-up to the 2020 review conference is fraught with difficulties, none more significant than the chasm that has opened between varying concepts of effectuating NPT obligation on nuclear disarmament. Although out-of-the-box thinking is always welcome in disarmament diplomacy, it should be based on the cumulative legal and political commitments of the NPT, the most universal agreement on nuclear affairs. Demonstrating compliance with these commitments is the surest route for reinforcing the NPT’s authority during this period of crisis. To ignore this approach risks creating the conditions for nuclear disaster rather than nuclear disarmament.



1. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018.

2. NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation,” n.d., para. 26, www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted November 19, 2010).

3. NATO, “North Atlantic Council Statement on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” September 20, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/us/natohq/news_146954.htm

4. Christopher Ashley Ford, “The P5 Process and Approaches to Nuclear Disarmament: A New Structured Dialogue,” Remarks to Wilton Park conference, December 10, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/rm/2018/288018.htm.

5. “Statement on the Progressive Approach,” October 18, 2018, http://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/

6. Group of Seven, “G7 Statement on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,” April 11, 2017, http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/foreign/170411-npdg_statement_-_final_.pdf.

7. “Explanation of Vote Before the Vote by Ambassador Matthew Rowland, UK Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament on Behalf of France, the United Kingdom and the United States,” November 2, 2015.

8. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Proposals by the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to Enhance Transparency for Strengthening the Review Process for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.26, April 11, 2018.


Paul Meyer is a fellow in international security at Simon Fraser University and a senior fellow at The Simons Foundation in Vancouver, Canada. He served in an array of international security positions during a 35-year diplomatic career with the Canadian Foreign Service.


The Future of the Nuclear Order

Visionary leadership is needed to renew the bargain between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear nations.

April 2019
By Rebecca Davis Gibbons

Foreign policy pundits have bemoaned the unraveling of the post-World War II international order in recent years, describing threats to the multilateralism and liberalism enshrined in postwar institutions. An often overlooked component of that structure is the global nuclear order, which, like other parts of the postwar system, was created for magnanimous and selfish aims: reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons for all and serving the interests of the world’s most powerful states.

Amb. Elayne Whyte Gómez, permanent representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations at Geneva, and president of the UN conference that negotiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, speaks to the media in July 2017. (Photo: Eskinder Debbie/UN)Today, the global nuclear order is also at risk of unraveling. Taken for granted for too long, the nuclear order requires visionary leaders with the same foresight as the postwar order-makers to undertake bold measures in search of a renewed bargain between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear nations.

Challenges to the Global Nuclear Order

The long-established global nuclear order, as scholar William Walker has explained, comprises two linked systems of order. First, there is the “managed system of deterrence,” by which the nuclear powers, mainly the United States and Soviet Union and later Russia, have pursued deterrence and stability in a rule-bound system, such as with arms control agreements. Second, there is the nuclear nonproliferation order, in which many states have agreed not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for specific benefits.1

Both systems are faltering. Within the deterrent order, U.S. and Russian leaders are failing to maintain traditional arms control treaties and increasing the salience of nuclear weapons. Pointing to Russian cheating, the United States has announced it will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August, and Russia is following suit. The current U.S. administration has not yet shown an interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after it is set to expire in 2021. As restrictions are being lifted, Russia and the United States are exploring destabilizing weapons advancements. Last year, President Vladimir Putin announced a series of new nuclear military capabilities, including a nuclear torpedo and a nuclear cruise missile, neither of which is constrained by current arms control agreements.2 In recent weeks, the United States announced plans to test previously banned intermediate-range weapons after its INF Treaty withdrawal is complete.3

The nuclear nonproliferation order is in no better shape, primarily due to the pace of nuclear disarmament.4 Reflecting this concern, 122 nations, but nary a nuclear-weapon state, voted in July 2017 to adopt a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Making the argument that nuclear weapons use is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, these states and their civil society partners have sought to stigmatize nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.5

U.S. and Russian plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals further exacerbate tensions with non-nuclear nations, as many believe the two powers are not adhering to their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligation to pursue negotiations toward disarmament. With one side viewing nuclear weapons as inherently immoral and the other seeing nuclear deterrence as a way to maintain security for itself and its allies, there appears to be little space to bridge this divide until the nuclear possessor states move toward nuclear reductions and disarmament.

To make matters worse, NPT parties will this month begin the final preparatory committee meeting before the treaty’s review conference next year, when they will be reminded that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1995 decision to extend the treaty indefinitely. The United States and many of its allies pushed hard for indefinite extension in the 1990s, while some non-nuclear-weapon states sought a more limited 25-year extension, recognizing they would lose leverage over the nuclear states if the treaty were extended permanently. Current nuclear trends surely cause many states to regret the 1995 decision.

The divisions among the NPT community and between the United States and Russia are difficult enough, but they will have to be addressed in a world markedly different than the Cold War period when the two nuclear orders were established by the two superpowers. China, the second-largest economy in the world, is modernizing its military, including its nuclear arsenal, but has little experience in the negotiations and transparency required by nuclear arms control treaties. Other states are rising as well, indicating an emerging multipolar world. Finally, the rise of information technology has eased high-speed communication around the globe, allowing for individuals and groups to connect and coordinate for a variety of purposes, including advocacy. The reach and influence of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
is evidence of this relatively new form of power.

Short-Term Forecast

The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force. Although this milestone warrants celebration, important work remains. It is unlikely the NPT, the cornerstone of the nonproliferation order, will face a mass exodus of states soon; but without change, it will likely suffer a slower but no less consequential death. Lower-ranked officials will come and give routine speeches at NPT meetings, but little of importance will happen because states will not prioritize the treaty. The NPT will no longer be a vehicle for states to discuss important issues of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology. It will calcify in a manner similar to the UN Conference on Disarmament, which has not completed a treaty in more than 20 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin review a military honor guard during Putin's visit to Beijing on June 8, 2018. The two leaders appear unlikely to participate in a U.S. initiative to identify barriers to nuclear disarmament. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)Disagreement over the pace of disarmament is at the heart of the current NPT divide. In December 2018, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, argued that the U.S. arsenal has come down to such low numbers that the traditional step-wise nuclear reductions of the past are no longer prudent. Instead of further reductions, the United States seeks to work with other states to identify the obstacles to disarmament and address them. The plan, now called “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), is for working groups of 25 to 30 states each to meet and explore ways to overcome specific challenges. At the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting, the United States issued a working paper that identified a set of goals that Washington argued would enable further arms reductions.6 These included denuclearizing North Korea, addressing regional tensions and conflicts, establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, achieving universal compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and improving transparency surrounding nuclear doctrines and arsenals.7

The goal of solving global conflicts to establish more amenable conditions for future disarmament is laudable, but there are significant challenges inherent in the working group approach. With the current administration’s rejection of multilateral strategies, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement, U.S. leaders are not in the best position to lead a multilateral effort.

Furthermore, there is the question of who will participate in the CEND meetings. Will these working groups include the diverse membership the United States seeks? As the CEND initiative was presented as an alternative to the nuclear prohibition treaty, it would not be surprising if prohibition treaty proponents choose not to participate. After all, the prohibition treaty and the CEND process take conflicting normative approaches to nuclear weapons. For the prohibition movement, these are immoral weapons at odds with international humanitarian law—possession has no justification. In contrast, underlying the CEND initiative is the idea that these weapons are necessary and appropriate tools of deterrence as long as certain geopolitical conditions exist.

In addition, it is difficult to imagine China and Russia engaging productively in this new approach. Both states regrettably have already left the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), the organizational model for the CEND process. The partnership is undertaking important work addressing the many technical and political challenges of future nuclear warhead verification. China and Russia send an unfortunate message by choosing not to attend future meetings.

It seems probable that only the United States and its allies and partners will participate in the CEND work. If so, the approach will worsen divisions that already strain the nuclear order. Surely, the United States is not in an enviable position. On one side, to those seeking a nuclear weapons ban, the CEND initiative looks like a way for the United States to appear to make progress on disarmament without taking meaningful steps toward nuclear reductions. On the other hand, Washington appears to lack partners for a real arms control discussion, as demonstrated by the Russian and Chinese decisions to skip IPNDV meetings. One step in the right direction would be for the United States to seek a five-year extension on New START. This is the least the United States can do to keep the deterrent order on life-support until there is an opportunity to work constructively with Russia again.

Envisioning the Next Nuclear Order

The preservation of the nuclear order will not succeed without the type of dedicated and visionary leadership that led to post-World War II arrangements. Although near-term prospects are dim, a reinvigorated nuclear order will require current and emerging global powers to create a renewed consensus that addresses the challenges to the deterrent order and the nonproliferation order. In broad strokes, this new consensus includes a widened circle of nuclear nonproliferation state-leaders to reflect changing power dynamics, a renewed and more credible commitment to reducing nuclear dangers, and strategic dialogues to reduce risk and mitigate conflict among nuclear weapons possessors.

A sustainable nuclear order for the 21st century must accommodate changing global power dynamics. Based on economic projections, China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia are anticipated to be among the top powers by 2050, with India and China expected to surpass the United States by gross domestic product by 2030.8 Emerging powers should be invited and encouraged to assume leadership roles within a renewed nonproliferation order. This change should not be too difficult; just as the United States and the Soviet Union sought to limit the number of nuclear weapons possessor states for strategic reasons,9 so too will rising powers prioritize proliferation as their interests become global. Nonetheless, without encouragement, these powers may continue to rely on the United States to hold the line on proliferation as it has since the end of the Cold War. U.S. leaders can assist China and India by consulting on past and present U.S. nonproliferation diplomacy and encouraging greater transparency about their nuclear arms. The interests of Indonesia and Brazil also must be weighed in any new consensus. Indonesia has long been a proponent of nuclear disarmament and led the charge for 25-year rolling extensions at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. Brazil was one of the last states to join the NPT, doing so in 1998. Its late accession reflects Brazil’s complicated relationship with the nuclear nonproliferation order. Most recently, Brazil has refused to conclude an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, but it was an important leader in the negotiations toward the nuclear prohibition treaty.

Together, the established and emerging global powers should pledge publicly to work together in a political process to promote nuclear nonproliferation. The new consensus should accept the IAEA Model Additional Protocol as the global safeguards standard and add constraints on any additional sites for enrichment and reprocessing. These sensitive technologies were not mentioned in the NPT text, and some states have claimed it is their “right” under the treaty to possess such technology for peaceful uses. A new consensus should reject this idea while credibly committing to providing a wide range of civilian nuclear technology, including access to enriched uranium for peaceful uses through the global marketplace with additional assurances through global fuel banks.

In a renewed nonproliferation consensus that brings India into the leadership of the nonproliferation order, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan should be included in meetings and discussions as nuclear weapons possessor states. This de facto expansion of possessor states in a new nuclear nonproliferation order could only occur alongside a commitment by all nuclear weapons states to play a role in the deterrent order by reducing the role of nuclear weapons, seeking risk reduction measures, making significant nuclear reductions, and eventually pursuing disarmament. Incorporating all current nuclear weapons states into this political process matters because none of them should be able to avoid these commitments.

To make these commitments more credible after decades of broken promises, the nuclear possessor states should develop a sequence of steps, beginning with further U.S. and Russian reductions, that would put them on a path toward strategic stability and a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. These steps could include changes in nuclear posture, such as removing nuclear weapons from high alert levels over time and separating warheads from delivery vehicles. In addition, the new steps could be made within a context in which nuclear weapons, conventional strategic weapons, and missile defenses are all on the negotiating table.10 Exclusively focusing on strategic nuclear weapons will not be effective. The more powerful nuclear-armed states could offer inducements in the form of aid to the other nuclear states to keep them participating in the process.

While working through these complex strategic issues, the major powers should identify and mitigate the conflicts that underlie their perceived need for nuclear weapons. In this way, the CEND initiative represents an important idea but one that requires buy-in from the highest levels of leadership in all nuclear weapons states. During this process, all states would contribute to improving verification technology and protocols for a world with many fewer nuclear weapons. Furthermore, as states dismantle weapons or down-blend nuclear weapons-grade fuel, they should keep meticulous records of the activities so the information would be useful in a future disarmament process.11

All of the above sounds far-fetched in the current geopolitical environment, but one factor that could help push forward a new nuclear consensus is the nascent norm against nuclear weapons possession. The still emerging norm could increasingly affect the thinking of citizens around the world as they become concerned about the loss of traditional arms control agreements, the development of new nuclear weapons, and new arms races. Beginning a process of greatly reducing the number of nuclear weapons would be much easier for leaders if their citizens thought possessing such weapons were wrong.

Crafting the NPT was challenging for the two Cold War-era superpowers. Developing a renewed bargain in a more multipolar system, even a tacit one that is political in nature and does not necessarily require new treaties, will be much more difficult. The leaders of the relevant states must be motivated to make a generational commitment to major changes to sustain the nuclear order. This is a task on par with addressing global climate change; it is a job for visionary leaders. Of the many challenges inherent in this process, maintaining momentum through executive leadership changes is one of the toughest. There is no hard and fast way for leaders to tie the hands of their successors, but by engaging the public and seeking its buy-in for the process, leaders increase the chance that their successors will continue moving forward.

Some U.S. leaders may reject the notion that a new nuclear order is needed. They may be happy to be free of the NPT disarmament obligation if the treaty collapses. After all, some already see it as merely a convenient fiction that helps maintain the NPT and reduces proliferation pressures. Yet, rejecting the commitment to disarm and losing the nonproliferation order risk a world in which capable states perceive fewer constraints on pursuing proliferation activities. In other words, even if one thinks the treaty’s disarmament requirement is a convenient fiction, it cannot last in perpetuity. It is not feasible to expect states to remain non-nuclear-weapon possessors without a disarmament commitment, a promise that has existed for 50 years. The disarmament movement would be further catalyzed by the United States and other nuclear-weapon states walking away from the commitment to negotiate eventual disarmament.

These tasks are immense. A world with multiple rising powers, a declining superpower, and influential civil society activists is one in which new political bargains will be difficult to forge. Even the most compelling leaders will be challenged by these order-sustaining projects. Yet, not taking up the challenge to adapt the nuclear order to new political realities means an increasingly nuclear-armed world in which nuclear war and nuclear accidents become more likely.



1. William Walker, “Nuclear Order and Disorder,” International Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 4 (October 2000): 703–724.

2. For a broader discussion of the breakdown of the nuclear order, see Steven E. Miller, Robert Legvold, and Lawrence Freedman, “Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: Nuclear Weapons in a Changing Global Order,” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2019, pp. 19–26, https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/2019_New-Nuclear-Age_Changing-Global-Order.pdf.

3. Robert Burns, Associated Press, “U.S. Plans Tests This Year of Long-Banned Types of Missiles,” March 13, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/ea243a96bc254378ba92f1e3e8761389.

4. For example, see Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “Our Deep Divide Over Nuclear Disarmament,” The Hill, December 11, 2018.

5. Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “The Humanitarian Turn in Nuclear Disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 1–2 (2018).

6. Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States,” NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018.

7. For more on this approach, see Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “Can This New Approach to Nuclear Disarmament Work?” War on the Rocks, January 23, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/can-this-new-approach-to-nuclear-disarmament-work/.

8. Of course, long-term economic forecasting is an uncertain enterprise. For one recent study of the future economic order, see “The Long View: How Will the Global Economic Order Change by 2050?” PricewaterhouseCoopers, February 2017, https://www.pwc.com/world2050.

9. On the argument that great powers care more about nuclear proliferation than other states, see Matthew Kroenig, “Exporting the Bomb: Why States Provide Sensitive Nuclear Assistance,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 103, No. 1 (2009): 113–133.

10. A number of organizations and analysts have considered how such reductions could take place. See for example, the Deep Cuts Commission, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Global Zero, and the work by James Acton and George Perkovich at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. For a treatment of U.S.-Russian reductions, see Justin Anderson and Darci McDonald, “Deter and Downsize: A Paradigm Shift for Nuclear Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, March 2017, pp. 15–20.

11. Sebastian Philippe, discussion with author, March 2019.


Rebecca Davis Gibbons is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, where her research focuses on nonproliferation and the movement to prohibit nuclear weapons.



Deep Divisions Challenge NPT Meeting

Persistent tension between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states threatens to undermine the last preparatory meeting before the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

April 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Long-standing disputes about nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament show no signs of easing as nations meet in April for the final preparatory meeting before the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, oversees the U.S. initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” (Photo: Paul Morigi/Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)The 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee will meet from April 29 to May 10 in New York. Although Shahrul Ikram, permanent representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, was originally slated to chair the meeting, he has been replaced by Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid, the Malaysian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Despite recent efforts to make progress on the treaty’s core contentious issues, including nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, deep divisions remain and have worsened in some ways.

Topping the list of issues dividing NPT parties is the pace of disarmament by nuclear-armed nations. Since 2018, the United States has sought to advance a controversial disarmament initiative, U.S.-Russian relations have further deteriorated, and nuclear-weapon states remain frustrated by the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

At the 2018 session of the preparatory committee, the United States outlined its new approach to nuclear disarmament in a working paper titled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament.” (See ACT, June 2018.) The approach was renamed “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND), Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a conference in Washington in March, after some states raised concerns about the word “conditions.”

The U.S. initiative calls for convening working groups with representatives from 25 to 30 regionally and politically diverse states, according to Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, who described the plan in December 2018 remarks. Ford said implementation planning for the working groups would begin by the 2019 session of the preparatory committee and the groups would be “in full swing” by the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

The United States insists the approach is a good-faith effort to advance disarmament under challenging security conditions, but several states are skeptical.

“International security will not be advanced, nor the treaty preserved, by nuclear-weapon states creating doubt about their intention ever to fulfill their disarmament obligations,” New Zealand representative Dell Higgie told the preparatory committee on April 23, 2018.

Many states have expressed interest in taking part in the initiative, a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 21. The Netherlands announced in January that it would host an expert conference in Geneva on April 15 to “stimulate the dialogue initiated by the U.S. NPT working paper.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-Russian relations have continued to worsen since the 2018 session of the preparatory committee, particularly highlighted by the U.S. announcement that it intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August. Poor U.S.-Russian relations caused turmoil at the 2018 meeting, as Russia criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral agreement that capped Iran’s nuclear activities, and the United States accused Russia of using chemical weapons and violating the INF Treaty. Still, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) held a successful meeting in Beijing in late January, Thompson said.

The 2019 preparatory committee session will be the second NPT meeting since the July 2017 adoption of the nuclear prohibition treaty. Seventy nations have signed the treaty, and 22 have ratified it, nearly half of the 50 ratifications needed for the pact to enter into force. At the 2018 preparatory committee meeting, France and Russia devoted paragraphs of their statements to condemnation of the treaty, while dozens of states welcomed its adoption. Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament, claimed that states supporting the prohibition treaty tried to “undermine the NPT.” To clarify, the State Department official told Arms Control Today that “we do not intend to make opposition on the TPNW the centerpiece of our approach to disarmament” at NPT meetings and that the United States will focus instead on promoting CEND.

Another long-standing point of contention among NPT parties is the pursuit of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

At the 2019 preparatory committee meeting, this debate will be affected by a new U.S. approach and a UN conference later this year. The United States introduced a divisive working paper at the 2018 NPT meeting that encouraged promoting conditions conducive to a zone and stated that the “NPT review cycle cannot be the primary mechanism for progress” on the zone.

The Non-Aligned Movement, the African Group, and the Arab League pushed back in statements at the 2018 meeting, contending that the NPT was indefinitely extended in 1995 in part due to a pledge to establish the zone. The State Department official said that “some Arab states sought to misrepresent the paper as an effort to impose additional preconditions,” arguing that the U.S. approach “remains the most viable and productive way ahead.”

In November, the UN secretary-general will convene a conference in New York to make progress on creation of the zone, Rafael Grossi, Argentine permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the likely chair of the 2020 review conference, told a Washington meeting in March. The UN General Assembly First Committee approved the UN conference in an October 2018 resolution, although the United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted against it and 71 others abstained. (See ACT, December 2018.)

A rare point of agreement among NPT states surrounds the issue of the right to peaceful nuclear energy for all NPT states. At the Washington meeting, Grossi emphasized the positive contribution of the right to nuclear energy and suggested convening regional working groups and involving stakeholders from the nuclear industry and regulators leading up to the 2020 review conference.

Some experts, however, have expressed concern that some NPT states could object to a focus on nuclear energy as a diversion from making progress on disarmament or the WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, December 5, 2018

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran will give the European Union more time to work out the details of its Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), destined to facilitate trade with Iran, but said that Tehran will not “wait forever.” While Iran remains in compliance with the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that Tehran will abandon the agreement if it is no longer in the country’s best interest. The SPV, announced by EU foreign policy...

Unmet Promise: The Challenges Awaiting the 2020 NPT Review Conference

It is time for a clear commitment by all parties to the common objective of achieving nuclear disarmament, says
a former UN disarmament chief.

November 2018
By Sérgio Duarte

On July 16, 1945, the first experimental detonation of a nuclear device, known as the Trinity test, was conducted in the Nevada desert. Less than a month later, the vast power of this new technology was employed twice in war. Since then, nuclear weapons have continued to proliferate, bringing the current number of possessor nations to nine, as the international community has sought to slow or reverse that course.

Sérgio Duarte speaks at the August 2017 Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs held in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs)This article describes the multilateral process that resulted in the adoption 50 years ago of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the treaty’s gradual acceptance by the overwhelming majority of the international community despite the permanence of divergences about its objectives and concerns about its credibility. What follow is a discussion of the role played by the successive five-year review conferences and an argument that the “enhanced review process,” adopted in 1995, has contributed to clarifying positions and concerns but has not yet produced consensus on a binding commitment by all parties to achieve the common objective of nuclear disarmament. The unfinished task before the 2020 NPT Review Conference is to help pave the way to a world without the threat of nuclear weapons.

The question of nuclear weapons nonproliferation was considered by the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) from 1965 to 1968 in response to a request by the UN General Assembly. By then, five nations had successfully obtained a nuclear weapons capability, and there was considerable and well-grounded concern that others would follow.1

Multilateral Process

Established in 1962 to succeed the short-lived Ten-Nation Disarmament Committee, the ENDC was composed of five members from the Warsaw Pact (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union), five members of NATO (Canada, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States), and eight nations (Brazil, Burma, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, and the United Arab Republic, later succeeded by Egypt) that did not belong to either military alliance. Its permanent co-chairs were the representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union. France chose not to occupy its seat on the committee, although it maintained unofficial consultations with other members.

The UN Charter does not mention nuclear weapons, as it was concluded about three weeks before the Trinity test. The first General Assembly resolution, however, adopted on January 24, 1946, established a commission “to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy and other related matters” and to make specific proposals on the control of atomic energy and on “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.”

The emerging ideological confrontation between the two major powers and their rivalry and mutual mistrust prevented agreement on the substance of the issue during the following years, and the commission was finally abandoned without producing any tangible result. Still, the hopes and fears raised by the discovery of nuclear energy led to the establishment the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957. Upon ratifying the statute of the fledgling organization, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower said that “the splitting of the atom may lead to unifying the entire divided world.”2 Unfortunately, his optimistic prediction did not come true.

In 1958, Ireland introduced at the United Nations the first of what became known as the “Irish Resolutions” calling the attention of the international community to the possibility of further proliferation. The international community agreed that preventing the spread of atomic weapons, fostering peaceful uses of atomic energy, and nuclear disarmament were desirable common objectives. General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX), adopted by consensus on November 19, 1965, called on the ENDC to “give urgent consideration” to the question of nuclear nonproliferation and to reconvene “with a view to negotiating an international treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.” This resolution also set forth the main principles on which such a treaty should be based.

a. The treaty should be void of any loop-holes which might permit nuclear or non-nuclear Powers to proliferate, directly or indirectly, nuclear weapons in any form;

b. The treaty should embody an acceptable balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations of the nuclear and non-nuclear Powers;

c. The treaty should be a step towards the achievement of general and complete disarmament and, more particularly, nuclear disarmament;

d. There should be acceptable and workable provisions to ensure the effectiveness of the treaty;

e. Nothing in the treaty should adversely affect the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to ensure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories;

The last of those principles was inserted at the insistence of Latin American nations that were already negotiating what became the successful establishment of the world’s first zone free of nuclear weapons in 1967 through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, a move originally frowned on but later supported by the nuclear weapon states.3

Separate, but Identical Drafts

Even before the adoption of Resolution 2028, the United States and Soviet Union were talking to each other on developing their own proposals for a nonproliferation instrument. Initially, each introduced its own draft text at the ENDC; on August 24, 1967, the two co-chairs presented separate but identical drafts4 that included some changes and additions with respect to earlier formulations. The two proponents explained that they had sought to reflect concerns raised by non-nuclear states, particularly the members of the Group of Eight.

The Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament meets in Geneva’s Palais des Nations on March 18, 1969. (Photo: United Nations)The objective of nuclear disarmament was mentioned in the preamble of each draft. The identical texts kept the original language of the previous draft articles dealing with the obligations of nuclear and non-nuclear states, the recognition of the rights of all parties to the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and amendments to and review of the operation of the treaty. The final language of the provisions on safeguards on fissionable materials for peaceful purposes would be defined by ongoing negotiations outside the ENDC. A new Article V dealt with the availability of “benefits” deriving from “peaceful applications of nuclear explosives” through “appropriate international procedures.” The question of peaceful nuclear explosions was the subject of intense and inconclusive debate and disagreement at the ENDC and elsewhere for several years until it became clear that the explosive technology had in fact no useful civil applications.

In response to the concerns of members of the group of eight countries, a new draft article was introduced containing an undertaking by all parties to the treaty to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” This became Article VI of the new instrument, and its formulation still generates controversy. The right to conclude regional treaties on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones was recognized in a new Article VII. Article X provided for the convening of a conference after 25 years to decide, by a majority of the parties, on an indefinite extension or additional fixed periods.5 The right of parties to withdraw from the treaty under specific conditions was also recognized in Article X.6

Several ENDC members proposed a number of additional amendments to the identical texts. The question of security assurances was among the main concerns of non-nuclear-weapon states, but was not mentioned in the drafts. The Soviet, UK, and U.S. delegations informed the ENDC of their intentions to introduce a resolution at the Security Council on that matter.7

To a large extent, the logic of the Cold War determined the positions adopted by different ENDC members. Members belonging to the Warsaw Pact and NATO generally supported the drafts, as well as the decisions of the co-chairs on procedure. They participated actively in the discussions and presented suggestions that contributed to a better understanding of the issues involved, particularly regarding verification of compliance and the thorny question of peaceful nuclear explosions.

Countries from the Group of Eight proposed changes to bring the text under examination more in line with the principles contained in Resolution 2028. The absence of a clear prohibition on deploying nuclear weapons in territories of third states and the sharing of nuclear forces were seen as at odds with principle (a). The lack of provisions to curb quantitative and qualitative aspects of proliferation by nuclear-weapon states was similarly criticized. Given the built-in asymmetry of a text intended to apply to unequal parties, that is, possessors and nonpossessors of nuclear weapons, non-nuclear-weapon countries also wanted to ensure a fairer balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations. Accordingly, the renunciation of nuclear weapons should be matched, in their view, by a strong commitment to disarmament, consistent with principles (b) and (c). With different emphases, some delegations also argued unsuccessfully against what they felt were undue restrictions on certain aspects of nuclear technology.

No Consensus

Some of the proposals for changes were not accepted by the ENDC co-chairs. A revised draft that amalgamated the previous texts and incorporated some other suggestions by ENDC members was converted into a single joint draft by the co-chairs and introduced on March 11, 1968. Predictably, the new text failed to obtain the agreement of the ENDC membership. In view of the lack of consensus on substance and on the follow-up procedure, the co-chairs decided on their own authority to send a document titled “Report of the Conference of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament”8 to the General Assembly on behalf of the conference. An annex to the report contained the draft treaty as accepted by them. An addendum9 listed all proposals and amendments presented during the discussions.

The report was placed before the UN General Assembly First Committee at its March-June 1968 session. A number of delegations sponsored a draft resolution endorsing the text annexed to the report. Three revised versions of the draft resolution were subsequently submitted, and on May 3, the two ENDC co-chairs agreed to certain revisions of the draft treaty itself, which were accepted by the co-sponsors of the draft resolution.


The First Committee adopted this new draft resolution recommending the endorsement of the draft nonproliferation treaty as revised. Among Western European states, France, Portugal, and Spain abstained on this vote. On June 12, 1968, General Assembly Resolution 2373 (XXII), co-sponsored by 48 states, was adopted by a vote of 95 to 4, with 21 abstentions. This time, France, Portugal, and Spain voted in favor. Brazil, Burma, and India were among those abstaining. Voting against were Albania, Cuba, Tanzania, and Zambia. The resolution commended the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and requested that it be opened for signature and ratification.

At present, 191 states are members of the NPT, making it the instrument with the greatest adherence in the field of arms control.10 Yet, the 50-year history of the treaty shows more confrontation and disagreement than cooperation between its armed and unarmed members. The Non-Aligned Movement and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have militantly advocated the need for compliance with the commitments, particularly those contained in Article VI, to which the nuclear-weapon members of the treaty subscribe. A recurrent point of discord is that the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states act as if the treaty will last forever in its present form, thus legitimizing their perpetual possession of such arms.

In the last couple of decades or so, the word “disarmament” seems effectively to have disappeared from the lexicon of some of the nuclear-armed states. They continue to affirm their right to keep their nuclear arsenals for as long as they consider necessary for their own security interests and “as long as nuclear weapons exist,”11 a self-serving tautology for everlasting possession. Such a posture entails a grave threat to all members of the international community, including the nuclear-weapon states themselves, and constitutes in fact a powerful incentive to proliferation.

In fact, in recent years, sections of the public in some developed non-nuclear-weapon states have been openly advocating the acquisition of an independent nuclear weapons capability. Episodes of alleged clandestine programs in that direction by a few other countries have been resolved by a combination of political, diplomatic, and sometimes military means.

Review Process

The deep divisions among NPT parties are underscored by the fact that five out of the nine quinquennial treaty review conferences held since the treaty’s inception have failed to produce a consensus final document on the status of treaty implementation. Further, important agreements reached on two such occasions—the 13 “practical steps” of 2000 and the plan of action of 2010—still await implementation.

Algerian Ambassador Taous Feroukhi (on screen), president of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, closes the conference May 22, 2015 with delegates failing to produce a consensus outcome. The next review conference is planned for 2020.  (Photo: Eskinder Debebe/United Nations)The 1995 review and extension conference succeeded in extending the NPT indefinitely and adopted a decision to strengthen the review process. A preparatory committee meets in each of the three years prior to the review conference to consider principles, objectives, and ways to promote full treaty implementation and to make recommendations to the conference. According to the decision, review conferences should look at past experience and identify areas and means through which further progress should be sought. In practice, however, the outcomes of the preparatory committee’s sessions and review conferences held since have not gone much beyond recording the disagreement over substantive issues.

Unfortunately, the gulf between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon parties over compliance and other issues has widened considerably over the decades and still prevents meaningful dialogue. This trend was particularly noticeable at the 2005 review conference, which was unable to agree on an agenda and program of work until well into the middle of the third of its four weeks’ duration, due to lack of flexibility and unwillingness to negotiate on the part of some key states. The most recent review conference, in 2015, was equally unable to adopt a final document despite much effort. The hardening of positions since the beginning of the 21st century also explains the absence of any mention of disarmament in the outcome document adopted by the 2005 World Summit held at UN headquarters.12

Challenges and Prospects

The 2020 review conference will take place in a particularly uncertain international environment due to two recent major developments: the U.S. abandonment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the possibility of advancing toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as a result of the June 12, 2018, meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Also relevant for the outcome of the 2020 conference is the strong sentiment of frustration among several Middle Eastern states with the difficulties surrounding the proposed establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in that part of the world.13

Still, the NPT can be considered successful in helping contain the spread of nuclear weapons. Several reasons explain the decision by the vast majority of the members of the international community not to develop their own nuclear arsenals. Much has been written on this subject, which falls beyond the scope of this article. Obviously, a large number of states do not possess the scientific, industrial, and financial capability to undertake the effort to build a credible nuclear arsenal. Further, the nuclear-weapon possessors exert constant pressure on prospective proliferators against such moves and have extended positive security assurances to some of them.

Last but certainly not least, most of the latecomers to the NPT concluded that their security was better protected by not embarking on a nuclear weapons development program and therefore decided to join the treaty. The recognition of the inalienable right of all its parties to pursue peaceful nuclear energy activities was certainly important in making that decision. Some non-nuclear-weapon states have developed national programs in that direction, including uranium enrichment under IAEA safeguards.

Nuclear-weapon states and a number of non-nuclear ones that depend on security arrangements based on the possible use of nuclear weapons have been persistently proposing and supporting the adoption of measures to enhance verification procedures needed to determine the absence of declared and undeclared nuclear activities. Some of these proposals envisage unorthodox methods that would, in effect, turn existing voluntary agreements into compulsory commitments subject to sanctions and intervention.

NPT parties undoubtedly recognize the important contribution of the treaty, not only for their individual security but also for strengthening the confidence of the international community as a whole in the existing norms-based regime and in the need for its improvement. The exacerbation of divergences is not in the interest of any of the parties and would result in gradually discrediting the NPT as a valid and reliable international legal norm.

Obstacles to Progress

In one way or another, all existing instruments in the arms control field deal with nonproliferation by prohibiting nuclear weapons only where they do not exist (outer space, the Antarctic, the seabed, nuclear-weapon-free zones). Yet, none of the instruments in force so far establishes legally binding, time-bound, and effectively verifiable provisions aimed at the elimination of nuclear arsenals. This is considered by many parties the main flaw of the existing regime.

The nuclear weapons possessors keep arguing in favor of a step-by-step approach that, in their view, would facilitate progress toward nuclear disarmament, but there has been no effort to state in clear terms the objective of the proposed steps or to define the timelines along which such steps should be undertaken.14 There has not been a clearly articulated sequence that would lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons within a reasonable, realistic horizon.

For this reason, the promise of nuclear disarmament contained in the NPT remains unfulfilled, and the task of achieving agreement on meaningful measures leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons is still unfinished.15 The strengthened review process established by the 1995 conference has contributed to the identification of areas of divergence and clarification of the concerns of different states. The bottom line is that nuclear-weapon states remain convinced that their exclusive possession of such armament protects their security, while non-nuclear ones see the existence of nuclear weapons as a threat to their own security and that of humanity as a whole.


As the arms race continues, it is imperative to find a solution to this conundrum. The 2020 review conference is the proper forum to start work on reducing those differences and enlarging the areas of coincidence. The practice of merely recording divergent views should be discontinued. The third session of the preparatory committee on April 29–May 10, 2019, must recognize the achievement of nuclear disarmament as the common objective and recommend that the review conference adopt a clear commitment by all parties to that end. Such a commitment would provide the basis for further action.

The adoption on July 7, 2017, of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was designed to provide effective ways of filling the gap between nonproliferation and disarmament norms. Promoted by several states in the General Assembly since 2015 and drawing on the fruitful and patient work of some governments and NGOs over a number of years, the mere idea of negotiating this treaty elicited fierce opposition from nuclear-weapon states since it was first proposed several years ago.

The adverse reaction of nuclear-weapon states and their allies to the prohibition treaty may delay attainment of the number of ratifications needed for its entry into force. Nevertheless, the coming into being of this treaty, adopted by 122 states, and the progress of its signature and ratification process represent an eloquent rejection of nuclear weapons by the majority of the international community. It seeks to reinforce the trend to delegitimize these weapons and consolidate a specific norm against their use, based mainly on humanitarian considerations.

In fact, the prohibition treaty should not be seen as an opponent of the NPT; nor does it contradict the idea of progressing by sequential, organically complementary steps. Rather, it supports this notion by providing a path for the phased fulfillment of the obligations contained in NPT Article VI.

In the present climate of persistent insecurity, to which the continuing armaments race to a large extent contributes, total global expenditures on instruments of war stand at higher levels than the estimated resources that would be needed for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN. New and more powerful nuclear weapons systems and advanced warfare technologies under development increase global insecurity and the chance of war between the major powers. The risk of a nuclear conflagration remains high, and its effects will not be confined to the belligerents. At the same time, local conventional conflicts in peripheral areas undermine prospects for social and economic progress.

In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a five-point plan for nuclear disarmament that advocated for, among other measures, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the negotiation of a convention to prohibit the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons. In his recently unveiled disarmament agenda titled “Securing Our Common Future,” Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the “existential threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity must motivate us to accomplish new and decisive action leading to their complete elimination.”

All states should heed these calls for action. There exists the necessary tools, including the UN Charter, the CTBT, five nuclear-weapon-free zones, and other important instruments such as the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

After half a century, the NPT remains an essential element for the completion of this task. It does not provide a definitive answer to the concerns of the international community. Indeed, it is but a part, a crucial part, of the continuing search for stability and security that can only be attained by means of generally recognized, collectively elaborated, and legally binding norms that apply equally to every state.

Exceptionalism does not fit in today’s interdependent world. Established norms and principles of international law and respect for generally accepted standards of behavior among nations are the essential foundation for the achievement of an international order that ensures lasting peace and security for all. Nuclear disarmament, one of mankind’s highest aspirations and a stated goal of the NPT, must not be put on hold for another 50 years.



1. Proliferation continued after the Trinity experiment. The Soviet Union carried out its first successful nuclear test explosion in 1949; the United Kingdom followed suit in 1952, China in 1954, France in 1966, India in 1974, and Pakistan in 1998. Although officially not confirming or denying, Israel is believed to have acquired nuclear weapons in 1979. In the opposite direction, South Africa relinquished its nuclear arsenal. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine negotiated with the Soviet Union the return of the nuclear weapons stationed on their territories.

2. Dwight Eisenhower, Remarks at ceremony following ratification of the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, July 29, 1957, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=10850.

3. The creation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco thus preceded the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and did not derive from it. It was first proposed in 1961 by the Brazilian delegate at the UN General Assembly and shortly afterward endorsed by other Latin American states. The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones was a response to the belief that the absence of nuclear weapons enhances the security of states in a region. Principle (e) of UN General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX) intended to affirm the right of states in a region to govern and define the requirements of the process of establishing their nuclear-weapon-free zones. Nuclear-weapon states have interpreted and qualified their pledges in the protocols on the nonintroduction of nuclear weapons that they are requested to sign, which in practice defeats the purpose of keeping the zone free of all nuclear weapons.   

4. The U.S. draft took the number ENDC/192, and the Soviet draft took the number ENDC/193.

5. At the review and extension conference in 1995, agreement that the NPT would remain in force indefinitely was found to exist.

6. In 1993, North Korea gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty. It subsequently suspended this action and finally announced withdrawal in 2003. Several parties believe the move was not warranted under international law. The question is now of academic interest because the UN Security Council took no action and North Korea developed its own nuclear arsenal.

7. On June 19, 1968, after the endorsement of the NPT by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council adopted Resolution 255 with 10 votes in favor and five abstentions (Algeria, Brazil, France, India, and Pakistan).

8. UN General Assembly, “Report of the Conference of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament,” A/7072, March 19, 1968.

9. UN General Assembly, A/7072/Add.1, March 19, 1968.

10. Only India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Sudan are not parties to the NPT.

11. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Statement by President Barack Obama on the Release of Nuclear Posture Review,” April 6, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/statement-president-barack-obama-release-nuclear-posture-review.

12. UN General Assembly, “2005 World Summit Outcome,” A/RES/60/1, October 24, 2005.

13. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), 1995, annex (“Resolution on the Middle East”).

14. The 2000 NPT Review Conference agreed on “13 practical steps for the systematic and progressive effort to implement Article VI of the Treaty.” Only steps 2 and 5 can be said to have been fulfilled, although not in their entirety. The 2010 NPT Review Conference recommended 64 specific “actions,” but no timetable was defined for implementation, and in any case they remain as a mere declaration of intention.

15. See Hans Blix, “When Disarmament Goes Backward,” Arms Control Today, September 2018.


Sérgio Duarte, a former UN high representative for disarmament affairs, is president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was president of the 2005 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.



Trump’s Counterproductive Decision to “Terminate” the INF Treaty



Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. Here's why that's counterproductive.


Volume 10, Issue 9, October 21, 2018

Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. 
The decision represents a shift in the administration’s INF response strategy  which was announced in January and before Bolton joined the administration.
Trump’s move to blow-up the INF Treaty is unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia.
The breakdown of the agreement and uncertain future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) creates the most serious nuclear arms control crisis in decades.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” Russia continues to assert that there is no basis for the U.S. claim that Russia has violated the treaty, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said “there is still room for dialogue."
Bolton meets Monday in Moscow with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
The INF Treaty Still Matters 

The INF Treaty, which was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (300 to 3,500 miles).
The treaty successfully eliminated an entire class of destabilizing nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe and helped bring an end to the spiraling Cold War arms race. It has been a cornerstone of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture. And as NATO defense ministers said earlier this month, the INF Treaty “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.”
Without the INF Treaty, we will likely see the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere.  

Russian Noncompliance

The INF Treaty, while very successful, has been at risk for some time. In 2014, Washington charged that Moscow had tested a weapon, which it later identified as the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, at a range beyond the limit set by the treaty. In 2017, the Pentagon declared that Moscow had begun deploying the weapon. 

Russia denies that it has violated the treaty and asked the United States to divulge the technical details behind the charge. Moscow has expressed its own concerns about U.S. compliance with the pact, notably that U.S. missile defense interceptor platforms deployed in eastern Europe could be used for offense purposes that would violate the treaty.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and to date unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice to try to resolve the compliance dispute. 

Clearly, neither side has exhausted the diplomatic options that could resolve their concerns. 

U.S. Withdrawal Would Be An “Own Goal.” 

Trump claims that the United States is pulling out to show Russia that it will not tolerate Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty. “We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump said. 

Trump may want to sound tough, but the reality is that withdrawing from the treaty weakens U.S. and allied security and does not provide the United States any military advantage in Europe or elsewhere.

  • U.S. withdrawal does nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty and it distracts from the fact that it was Russia’s actions that precipitated the INF Treaty crisis. 
  • U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia to produce and deploy the missile of concern, the 9M729, in greater numbers without any constraints.
  • There is no military need for the United States to develop, as Trump has proposed, a new and costly INF Treaty-noncompliant missile. The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that ground-launched missiles that are prohibited by INF Treaty would. 
  • NATO does not support a new INF Treaty-range missile in Europe and no country has offered to host it. Attempting to force the alliance to accept a new, potentially nuclear missile would divide the alliance in ways that would delight the Kremlin.

Even without the INF Treaty in force, the U.S. Congress and NATO governments should reject Trump’s push to develop a new U.S. ground-based INF Treaty-range missile in Europe (or elsewhere), and instead focus on maintaining conventional military preparedness to deter adversaries without violating the treaty.

Does the United States Need Ground-launched, INF Treaty-Range Missiles to Counter China?

No. In 2011, long before any Russian INF compliance concerns surfaced, John Bolton proposed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Washington should to withdraw from the treaty in order to counter China, which is not party to the treaty. In his Oct. 20 remarks on withdrawing from the treaty, Trump also pointed to China as a reason for abandoning the INF Treaty.

When asked at a congressional hearing in July 2017 about whether withdrawal from the INF Treaty could be useful because it would allow the U.S. to develop new ground-based systems to hit targets in China, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said that such a move was unnecessary because the United States can already hold those targets at risk with treaty-compliant air- and sea-based assets.

In his remarks Saturday, Trump suggested he might support a ban on INF Treaty-range missiles if "Russia comes to us and China comes to us” ... "and let’s none of us develop those weapons.” Russia did approach the United States in 2007 and jointly proposed in a UN General Assembly resolution multilateralizing the INF Treaty. The idea of “multilateralizing INF has been around for more than a decade, but neither Russia nor Washington have devoted serious effort into the concept and China is highly unlikely to join an agreement that would eliminate the bulk of its missile arsenal.

Trump’s INF Treaty decision is a debacle. But without New START it will be even worse 

If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. New START is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by five years as allowed for in Article XIV of the agreement.

Unfortunately, Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since he arrived at the White House in May, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin talks on its extension. 

Key Republican and Democratic Senators are on record in support of New START extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

Instead, one option Bolton is talking about is a “Moscow Treaty" approach that would dispense with New START and its rigorous inspection system on warheads and missiles to ensure compliance. This option would simply set limits on deployed warheads only and without any verification—an approach Moscow is very unlikely to accept because it could give the United States a significant breakout advantage.

The current crisis makes it all the more important to get a serious U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue back on track. 

Trump and Putin should agree to relaunch their stalled strategic stability dialogue and commit to reaching an early agreement to extend New START by five years to 2026 – which is essential if the two sides are to meet their legal commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …."

If they fail to extend New START, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.-Russian relations is just over the horizon.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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