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History of the NPT 1975-1995

NPT Review Process: 1970-1995

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), negotiated during the 1960s, was opened for signature in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. It is, and has been since its inception, a key cornerstone in all international nuclear disarmament efforts for more than 30 years.

The review process built into the NPT, involves a five-yearly meeting of the NPT member states to "review the progress of the Treaty" and thus reviews the progress of nuclear non-proliferation. Reaching Critical Will has monitored the NPT since 1999, but has produced summaries of the previous conferences convened in 1975, 1980, 19851990 and 1995.

Only three, those in 1975, 1985 and 1995, concluded with the adoption of a substantive Final Declaration.

First Review Conference in May 1975

By the time of the First Review Conference in May 1975 the NPT had 91 parties.

From the outset, different views were expressed on the objectives of the Conference, the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty and the ways and means of strengthening it. The three Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) that were parties to the NPT at the time (Soviet Union, United States, United Kingdom) and most other Eastern and Western bloc countries felt that the principal purpose of the Conference was to strengthen the Treaty through universality and strengthened safeguards.

While most non-aligned and neutral countries acknowledged the vital importance of a greater number of adherents, they held that the main objective of the Conference was to conduct a critical examination of the Treaty's operation, determine whether all its provisions were being realized, and adopt measures to remedy its shortcomings.

In this context, many Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) voiced their dissatisfaction with what they regarded as the one-sided implementation of the Treaty. They contended that emphasis had been placed heavily on their obligations, while scant attention had been paid to their rights or to the obligations of the NWS. This opinion was reflected in the discussions on nuclear disarmament, security assurances to NNWS, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Particularly controversial was the question of whether the NWS had sufficiently met their obligations under article VI to negotiate in good faith effective measures to halt the nuclear-arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament. Both the Soviet Union and the United States maintained that the two agreements to limit offensive and defensive strategic weapons, reached in the first stage of the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT I), represented considerable progress towards the implementation of article VI.

In the debate on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, several NNWS asserted that the safeguards provided for in article III placed them at a disadvantage in comparison with States that were not parties, as the latter could import nuclear materials and equipment without having to submit all their peaceful activities to IAEA safeguards.

However, despite the controversial issues, the parties to the Treaty were able to agree on a Final Declaration. The Declaration reaffirmed the strong support of the parties for the Treaty and reflected their agreement that the provisions relating to the fundamental objective of averting the further spread of nuclear weapons had been faithfully observed by all parties. With regard to article VI, the Conference, while welcoming the various arms limitation agreements concluded since 1970, expressed its serious concern that the arms race, in particular the nuclear-arms race, had continued unabated. It therefore urged resolute efforts by each party, in particular the NWS, to achieve an early and effective implementation of article VI. While welcoming the increase in the number of parties, the Conference noted with concern that the Treaty had not yet achieved universal adherence.

Second Review Conference in 1980

By the time of the Conference, membership in the Treaty had increased to 112 parties. Much of the debate revolved around the same matters that had been discussed at the First Review Conference. Unlike the 1975 Review Conference, however, the participants in the Second Review Conference were unable to adopt a final declaration, primarily in view of fundamental differences over the implementation of article VI. Virtually all speakers noted with satisfaction that the number of States parties to the Treaty had increased considerably since 1975. At the same time, several parties maintained that the lack of universal adherence to the Treaty had a negative impact on its implementation and pointed out that a number of non-parties operated significant nuclear facilities.

In contrast to the First Review Conference, differences of view concerning the obligation of the parties under articles I and II of the Treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons were pronounced. Drawing attention to the assistance and cooperation in the nuclear field provided by NNWS that were exporters of nuclear material, equipment and technology, a number of non-aligned States parties stated that such collaboration, particularly with some non-parties to the Treaty, could have a result contrary to the aim of non-proliferation.

The most intense debate was again on the implementation of article VI. Most participants held that the NWS had not adequately fulfilled their obligations to negotiate effective measures to halt the nuclear-arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament. It was widely felt that the Conference should urge the major nuclear Powers to intensify their efforts in that direction. Many NNWS called for the early conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear-test ban and for the ratification of the 1979 United States-Soviet SALT II agreement on strategic offensive arms. Many States acknowledged that, since the First Review Conference, there had been some progress on the issue of security assurances.

At the 1978 first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, the five NWS had made individual declarations with regard to "negative" security assurances to NNWS. NNWS, particularly those that were members of the non-aligned group, felt that since they themselves had refrained from acquiring nuclear weapons, they should be entitled to a more adequate system of guarantees of their security. In the debate on this question, several approaches were advocated, varying from a solemn endorsement by the General Assembly or the Security Council of the declarations made by the NWS in 1978 to the conclusion of a legally binding international instrument to assure NNWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

With regard to article III, the parties generally expressed satisfaction with the IAEA safeguards procedures. At the same time, it was emphasized that those procedures would need continued improvement to deal with increasing amounts of nuclear material and increasingly complex nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Many participants also stressed that NNWS that were not parties to the Treaty should submit all their nuclear activities to IAEA safeguards, but there were fundamental differences over whether suppliers were under an obligation to require such comprehensive safeguards of their customers.

As for the implementation of article IV, a number of developing States expressed dissatisfaction with what they considered restrictive export policies applied to them by suppliers of nuclear equipment and technology for peaceful purposes. Regret was also expressed by some participants that nuclear suppliers that were parties to the Treaty had continued to engage in nuclear trade and cooperation with non-parties, often permitting less stringent safeguards than those applied to parties in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty.

In addressing the question of development and promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, a number of parties emphasized that the primary purpose of the Treaty had always been, and remained, the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons.

Third Review Conference in 1985

By the time of the Third Review Conference in 1985, the total number of parties to the Treaty had increased to 131.

Developed States, in particular, felt that the Treaty had been successful in meeting the fundamental objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Some African and Middle Eastern countries, however, expressed doubts that the Treaty had effectively prevented horizontal proliferation. In this connection, they referred specifically to the unsafeguarded nuclear facilities of Israel and South Africa.

On the matter of safeguards, many participants advocated full-scope safeguards on all nuclear facilities in all NNWS. Some parties felt that acceptance of such safeguards should be a condition for the supply of nuclear materials. While the IAEA safeguards system was praised in general, States parties advocated that it be strengthened further through the allocation of the additional resources required to keep pace with advancing technologies and an increasing number of safeguarded facilities and activities. A number of States also referred to the confidence engendered by IAEA safeguards and made clear that the acceptance of safeguards had not hindered their nuclear industry.

On the question of technical assistance in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, somewhat divergent views were heard. Developed nuclear supplier countries generally emphasized their contributions in the area, while some recipient States felt that assistance had been inadequate and pointed to the relatively small number of nuclear installations in developing countries. However, there was agreement that efforts to improve international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy should be continued and intensified.

As at the first two Review Conferences, the overwhelming majority of parties expressed their regret and concern that there had been no concrete progress towards the objective of promoting nuclear disarmament. The debate on the implementation of article VI of the Treaty focused largely on the issue of a comprehensive nuclear-test-ban treaty. In that context, many speakers were disappointed that the trilateral negotiations on such a treaty, which had begun in 1977 between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, had not continued after 1980. It was also noted that the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, had not yet initiated negotiations on the subject, despite repeated calls to that end by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The question of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, under article V of the Treaty, received relatively little attention, as the potential benefits of such explosions had not been demonstrated and no requests for services related to the peaceful applications of nuclear explosions had been received by the IAEA since the Second Review Conference. This led some parties to maintain that any test ban must embrace all nuclear explosions, including those for peaceful purposes.

In the context of article VII, many participants expressed support for the concept of nuclear-weapon-free zones. A number of speakers welcomed the adoption in 1985 of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) by the members of the South Pacific Forum. On the related issue of security assurances to NNWS, the NNWS reiterated that they expected unconditional "negative" assurances as part of the bargain for having given up the nuclear-weapon option.

Another issue not provided for in the Treaty but discussed at the Conference was that of armed attacks against nuclear facilities, which derived from the 1981 Israeli attack on a nuclear installation in Iraq and allegations of attacks by Iraq on Iran's unfinished nuclear power plant.

Towards the end of the Conference, a few but very important matters were still unresolved, including some aspects of the question of nuclear disarmament under article VI and the formulation of a paragraph on the protection of safeguarded nuclear facilities against attack. All participants realized that voting on the outstanding issues would make agreement by consensus on a substantive final declaration impossible.

During intensive negotiations in the final phase of the Conference, the parties were able to reach compromises, thereby avoiding the need to resort to voting. This cleared the way for the adoption by consensus of a substantive Final Declaration.

As part of the compromises reached, it was agreed to deal with certain contentious issues not in the Final Declaration itself, but in the part of the Final Document that immediately follows the text of the Final Declaration. Accordingly, with regard to the outstanding aspects of article VI, the group of non-aligned and neutral States agreed not to put to the vote two draft resolutions "calling for a nuclear test-ban moratorium and a nuclear-arms freeze respectively" but to have them reproduced, together with an accompanying statement, in the Final Document. A similar compromise solution was found for the issue of attacks against peaceful nuclear facilities. The relevant statements by the representatives of Iran and Iraq were attached to the Final Document.

On the whole, the Final Declaration was strongly supportive of the Treaty, although it was critical of its implementation in some areas, particularly those relating to the cessation of the nuclear-arms race and nuclear disarmament. It offered purposeful recommendations aimed at further strengthening the NPT. But above all, in the Final Declaration, the parties solemnly declared "their continued support for the objectives of the Treaty" and "their conviction that the Treaty is essential to international peace and security".

Fourth Review Conference 1990

By the time of the Fourth Review Conference 1990, 140 States were parties to the Treaty.

Many States expressed their satisfaction that additional States had adhered to the Treaty since 1985, but at the same time voiced concern over the number of States that had not done so and that had developed nuclear activities. The increase in the number of observers at the Conference, in particular China and France, was interpreted as evidence of increased interest in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

States parties differed in their interpretation of the Treaty's main objectives and in their assessment of the degree to which they had been implemented. The questions that dominated the debate related to the implementation of the Treaty, in particular the conclusion of a comprehensive test ban, safeguards agreements, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and security assurances to NNWS.

Many States referred to concerns over the implement-ation of articles I and II, stating that while there had not been any open violation of these articles, there was a danger of horizontal proliferation due to the spread of technical knowledge.

As in previous review conferences, the question of implementation of article VI was crucial in the assessment of the operation of the Treaty. Many States, particularly Western countries and some other European States, considered that significant progress had been made towards ending the arms race and implementing effective measures for nuclear disarmament during the period under review. Other States, in particular the non-aligned and neutral countries, recognized the significance of recent agreements and ongoing negotiations in the nuclear disarmament field, but expressed regret that the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons by NWS was continuing with new weapons under development and nuclear doctrines maintained.

The most controversial issue concerning the implementation of article VI and the corresponding preambular paragraphs was the question of a comprehensive test-ban treaty. Although there was agreement that the ultimate goal of all efforts should be a comprehensive and global prohibition of all tests for all time, differences emerged as to how and when to reach that goal.

Many States stressed that IAEA safeguards played a key role in preventing nuclear proliferation and that the international safeguards regime needed to be further strengthened. A number of speakers pointed out that the IAEA safeguards system had effectively served the goal of preventing horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons, and most expressed their satisfaction with the way in which the Agency had been implementing the system. Several States welcomed the fact that all NWS had concluded voluntary-offer agreements with the IAEA to apply Agency control over some of their civilian nuclear facilities.

Although during the period 1985-1990 some progress had been made in regard to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, somewhat divergent views were expressed. The nuclear supplier States stressed that large-scale international cooperation in the nuclear field had continued during the past five years and that technical assistance had been provided with attention to the maximum safety of nuclear facilities. On the other hand, the recipient countries felt that, despite some progress, the assistance had not been adequate. The non-aligned and other States regretted that commitments to peaceful nuclear cooperation had not been fulfilled satisfactorily, pointing to what they considered unjustified restrictions imposed on developing NNWS parties. They proposed that the role of IAEA be enhanced and that more assistance be provided to developing countries through the Agency and through favourable financing by international institutions.

The question of security assurances played a far more prominent part at the Conference than it had on previous occasions. Although there was no consensus on convening a separate conference to negotiate legally binding assurances, all five NWS reaffirmed their earlier unilateral assurances. Many participants expressed support for the concept of nuclear-weapon-free zones in general, and in specific regions, as a contribution to the non-proliferation regime.

Once more the differences in assessment of the implementation of article VI, especially in regard to progress in reaching a comprehensive test-ban treaty, could not be resolved and therefore no final declaration emerged from the Conference. However, in spite of the lack of a final declaration, the Conference proved useful in providing an opportunity to assess the operation of the Treaty and to confirm the readiness of virtually all States to continue to support the non-proliferation regime, of which the Treaty is the central element.

The 1995 Review and Extension Conference

Final Outcome Document
Decision 1: Strengthening of the Review Process
Decision 2: Principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament
Decision 3: Extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Resolution on the Middle East 

The 1995 Review and Extension Conference had the responsibility of both reviewing the implementation of the Treaty and deciding, as required by article X, paragraph 2, "whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods". At the time that it was held, 38 more States had become parties to the Treaty, increasing the membership to 178 States parties.

It was the first conference of the States parties to be held since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and was also the first in which all five NWS participated as parties.

There was wide agreement that the full and effective implementation of the Treaty and the regime of non-proliferation in all its aspects had played a vital role in promoting international peace and security and that universal adherence to it was the best way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Conference welcomed the accession to the Treaty by an additional 38 States, among them China and France, as well as South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, since the 1990 Review Conference. Almost without exception the States parties very strongly emphasized the need to achieve universality, and quite a few specifically referred to India, Israel and Pakistan.

Already during the preparatory stage of the 1995 Conference, it was clear that there were deep differences among States parties regarding the review of the operation of the Treaty and its extension and that these two aspects were closely intertwined. Although the question of reviewing the operation of the Treaty and its extension were legally and technically two separate issues, it was expected that the outcome of the former would very much influence the decision on the latter. An overwhelming majority expressed strong support for indefinite extension of the Treaty.

However, several non-aligned States parties offered a variety of alternatives. South Africa proposed, early in the proceedings, a declaration on principles on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament as a yardstick by which to measure the implementation of obligations under the Treaty, which would be extended indefinitely and would be subject to a strengthened review process.

As anticipated, implementation of the provisions on disarmament (article VI) and on safeguards and peaceful uses of nuclear energy (articles III and IV) was a focus of contention. As regards the implementation of article VI, there was a noticeable convergence of views between the developing and developed NNWS on the need for the NWS to proceed more speedily towards the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament.

Steps such as the completion of negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear-test-ban treaty (CTBT) no later than 1996, the commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a fissile material treaty and a firm commitment by the NWS to go beyond reductions envisaged in the second, bilateral, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), were overwhelmingly endorsed.

The NWS maintained that the arms race had ended, as demonstrated by the deep cuts in nuclear armaments being made by the United States and the Russian Federation following START. Significant reductions by France and the United Kingdom were another sign of this trend. A number of States, while recognizing that some positive developments had taken place, considered that the nuclear arms race continued, particularly with respect to the qualitative improvement of existing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. A majority of NNWS, especially non-aligned, called for an intensification of negotiations towards the elimination of all types of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery by all NWS within a time-bound framework.

Once again, the issue of security assurances was given significant attention. Responding to past demands from NNWS, the NWS issued statements just prior to the Conference, in which they updated their unilateral declarations on both negative and positive security assurances to NNWS. In addition, on 11 April 1995, the Security Council adopted, by consensus, a resolution on the subject (resolution 984 (1995)). Although this resolution was seen as an important and encouraging measure, many NNWS parties held that the declaration did not address their main concerns. They maintained that early conclusion of a multilateral legally binding instrument on unconditional security assurances was still required to effectively ensure the security of NNWS parties to the Treaty.

With regard to articles III and IV, all parties expressed overwhelming support for strengthening the IAEA safeguards mechanism and further enhancing the Agency's ability to carry out its functions. States parties agreed that the IAEA safeguards were an important, integral part of the international regime of non-proliferation and that they played an indispensable role in ensuring the implementation of the Treaty. Divergent views existed with respect to the implementation of treaty obligations in the case of two parties to the Treaty. While States agreed that the IAEA had played a positive role in carrying out Security Council resolutions 687 (1991) and 707 (1991), Iraq maintained that it had already been established that it had destroyed its nuclear programme completely. There were also differences of view with regard to the implementation of the safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/403) between the DPRK and the IAEA.

As at previous review conferences, there was broad agreement concerning questions related to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and on the inalienable right of all the parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of the Treaty. The parties acknowledged the importance of the work of the IAEA as the principal agent for technology transfer and welcomed the successful operation of the Agency's technical assistance and cooperation programmes. However, regrets were expressed that some non-parties had been able to benefit from cooperation with parties in a way that might have contributed to non-peaceful nuclear programmes.

As in the past, a great number of parties considered that the benefits of peaceful nuclear explosions under article V had not materialized and pointed to the serious concerns about environmental consequences and proliferation risk of such activities.

There was wide agreement among the parties that the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones (article VII) enhanced regional and global peace and security and contributed to the ultimate objective of achieving a world entirely free of nuclear weapons. Satisfaction was expressed that all countries in the region covered by the Treaty of Tlatelolco now adhered to it and that the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty was successful in reinforcing in that region the global norm against nuclear-weapon proliferation. Also, the progress being made towards the conclusion of treaties in Africa and Southeast Asia was welcomed. There was, however, no agreement on a proposal, put forward by Belarus, for creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Europe. Strong support was expressed for a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone.

While at the previous review conferences there had been agreement concerning compliance with articles I and II, in 1995, for the first time, the non-aligned States, with some support from others, argued that some NWS might not have fully complied with the letter and the spirit of article I with reference to transfers among themselves of nuclear weapons, or of their control, and when acting in cooperation with groups of NNWS parties under regional arrangements. There was broad agreement that article II has been complied with, the only violation having been by Iraq. A strong concern was also expressed with regard to the implementation of the safeguards agreement between the IAEA and the DPRK.

A number of States, particularly from the Middle East, expressed their misgivings regarding horizontal proliferation and referred specifically to the unsafeguarded nuclear facilities of Israel. This issue was ultimately reflected in the Conference's adoption of the resolution on the Middle East.

By focusing almost exclusively on the issue of extension of the Treaty, it was impossible to devote sufficient time to finding agreement on a number of sensitive issues because positions diverged so sharply. Consequently, the Conference was unable to adopt a Final Declaration on the review aspects of the Treaty. It was clear that though the majority of States parties were in favour of extending the Treaty indefinitely, there was no consensus on this question.

Three draft texts dealing with the extension of the Treaty had been put forward by Mexico, by Canada, on behalf of 102 co-sponsors, and by a group of non-aligned States, respectively. In the course of consultations, agreement took shape on a package of decisions containing the elements of review, principles and objectives, and extension.

On 11 May, the Conference decided, without a vote, that, "as a majority exists among States party to the Treaty for its indefinite extension, in accordance with article X, paragraph 2, the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely" . Together with this decision, it adopted the decision on "Strengthening the review process for the Treaty" and on "Principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament".

In parallel with those decisions, the Conference also adopted without a vote a resolution on the Middle East. This issue was of particular concern to the Arab States parties. The resolution, reaffirming the importance of universal adherence to the Treaty, inter alia, calls upon all States in the Middle East to accede to it as well as to take practical steps towards the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

States that expressed misgivings with regard to the indefinite extension of the Treaty did so in terms of the lack of commitment on the part of the NWS to undertake specific measures leading to nuclear disarmament within a time-bound programme and of the lack of universal adherence to the Treaty.

Israel's non-membership in the Treaty and the fact that its nuclear facilities are not subject to IAEA safeguards roused strong reservations from a number of States parties from the region of the Middle East, which did not wish to see the Treaty extended as long as that situation continued.

The decision on indefinite extension was seen in a very favourable light by a considerable number of parties, whose statements reflected a variety of priorities. Some parties emphasized that permanent status would facilitate the achievement of nuclear disarmament and the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.

The majority of the speakers, whether or not they had reservations, reaffirmed their commitment to the objectives of the Treaty. By agreeing to extend the duration of the Treaty indefinitely, the States parties have given permanence to the only existing international legal barrier against nuclear proliferation. The decision on indefinite extension was reinforced by the other two decisions in the package.

The decision on a strengthened review process provides that, even at the preparatory stage, substantive issues and the question of universality will be considered, as well as procedural matters, and that the review conference itself will evaluate the results of the period under review and identify the areas in which, and the means through which, further progress should be sought, thus looking forward as well as back.

The three decisions and the resolution on the Middle East had a far-reaching impact beyond the indefinite extension of the Treaty. The States parties ensured that the Treaty was not only maintained as the core of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, but its indefinite extension both reinforced and rendered permanent the international legal norm against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) decided to extend the treaty indefinitely. This choice was favored over rolling extensions of 25 years, one extension of a fixed period or no extension at all.

The decision in 1995 to extend the treaty indefinitely carried, and today still carries, great weight. It also carried great obligations.