NPT Review Takes Small Steps on Big Issue

Jun 1, 2010· 2 MIN READ
Following the lead of Wilt Chamberlain, Adam vacated his native Philadelphia for Los Angeles following decades of acclaim and short shorts. He firmly believes that, when it comes to the opportunity for change, we’re on the goal line with bases loaded and no fouls to give. He also finds inspiration in mixed sports metaphors.
Tiny steps have been taken since this August 2009 Humanistic Movement protest against nuclear proliferation. Photo: Jorge Adorno/Reuters

How do you get 189 nations with vastly disparate needs and priorities to agree on anything, let alone a nuclear weapons declaration?

You water it down.

Kicking off Memorial Day weekend with a fizzle, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference came to a close at the U.N. headquarters in New York, ending a month-long debate over the state of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Representatives of the 189 nations signatory to the NPT pulled back from the brink of defeat and managed to agree on a legally-binding declaration to end the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce stockpiles worldwide. The downside? The final declaration was written to please all 189 NPT states, which makes the terms weak by design.

The NPT conference, held every five years, urges nuclear nations to reduce their arsenals while holding non-weapon states in check. It's like a big Jenga tourney where nations remove extremely precarious blocks of power to build a consensus on the status of the world's most dangerous weapon.

The best part of the NPT conference is that every signatory has a say; if even one fails to agree on the language of the declaration, the Jenga comes crashing down. Unfortunately, that's also the NPT's weakest link; if the consensus is divided, the conference ends in defeat, and the treaty looks toothless.

As a consequence, Iran wasn't censured over its enriched uranium, weapons states weren't pushed to hard deadlines for disarmament, and the hot-button issues remained untouched. The NPT conference essentially convened with an agreement to keep talking about nukes and get together for another conference in another five years.

In the meantime, the NPT scheduled a 2012 talk on keeping the Middle East nuke-free, a move that’s being hailed as the centerpiece of the resolution. The Mideast conference is expected to single out non NPT-signatory Israel, calling on the Jewish state to give up its alleged nuclear program and sign the treaty.

Holding onto one of the world's worst-kept secrets, Israel has yet to formally declare or deny its nukes, practicing a policy of strategic ambiguity to keep its friends close and its enemies on ice.

As Tel Aviv's closest ally, the United States finds itself in a bit of a bind by condemning Iran’s nuclear ambitions while remaining mum on Israel’s. A nuke-free Mideast would include both nations, but with its hardliners and tough talk, Iran’s alleged program has the unique potential of destabalizing the region.

Iran escaped specific mention in the review's final declaraion purely because the nation’s an NPT signatory, which means it has the power to block a final consensus. As a non-signatory, Israel makes an easy target for censure, as there’s no consequence for calling out the country. Doing so might actually sweeten the deal for its regional enemies in the NPT.

Just days after the NPT conference wrapped up, the U.N. released a report that Iran has stockpiled enough nuclear fuel to make two weapons.

The Islamic Republic has been dodging the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for years, expanding its nuclear sites, refusing to answer to U.N. inspectors, and enriching uranium to higher and higher levels.

The Security Council is gearing up to vote for a new round of sanctions on Iran. If passed, the measures would impose stricter controls and penalities on the country if it refuses to scale back its nuclear ambitions.