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New York nuclear talks

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6 May 2010 14:33

Fiona Cunningham is a Research Associate in Nuclear Issues with the International Security Project at the Lowy Institute.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference kicked off on Monday in New York and will involve a month of debate on the future of the nonproliferation regime. Review conferences are held every five years and this time everyone is hoping for a better result this time around — in 2005 the conference ended in deadlock, suggesting an increasingly uncertain future for this crucially important treaty.

The treaty is underpinned by a number of grand bargains — the nuclear weapon states will disarm their nuclear weapons if non-nuclear weapon states not develop their own nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapon states promise each other not to develop weapons, and non-nuclear weapon states have a right to access the peaceful uses of nuclear energy if they keep those promises. These bargains understandably took a beating in 2005, with the Bush Administration refusing to disarm and the lingering possibility of Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons being developed within the treaty regime, particularly after North Korea purported to leave the NPT in 2003.

Hopes are higher this year due to the Obama Administration’s commitment to a Nuclear Weapon Free World, backed by a new START treaty with Russia and the reduced role for US nuclear weapons outlined in the recently-released Nuclear Posture Review, though the proliferation headaches of Iran and North Korea remain. A good result would be a re-affirmation of the bargains, though anything better than 2005 would be a positive.

Highlights so far include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the Administration would seek Senate ratification of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaties in the South Pacific and Africa, US support for a Middle Eastern Nuclear Weapon Free Zone and a $50 million contribution to IAEA initiatives to provide nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Clinton also announced that the US would release the number of weapons in its arsenal in an effort to make its disarmament efforts more transparent: 5113 warheads, to be exact, according to the fact sheet released on 3 May.

Secretary Clinton was joined by the other five permanent members of the Security Council (not-so-coincidentally also the five official nuclear weapon states in the NPT) in calling for a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East yesterday.

Indonesia announced on Monday that it would no longer wait for US ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and would do so itself, bringing the number of countries who must ratify the treaty before it enters into force down to eight.

But the news is not all rosy, and no major UN meeting in New York would be complete without some US-Iranian verbal jousting, this time with Clinton warning that Iran would do what it can to distract attention from its non-compliance with IAEA safeguards, and President Ahmadinejad accusing the US and other nuclear weapon states of nuclear intimidation, prompting US and European delegates to head for the door and whittling his audience down to one third of the room during his address.

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has a live twitter feed on its homepage direct from the review conference for those wanting to follow both the mundane and the sensational in this month-long nuclear discussion in real time.

Photo by Flickr user madmonk, used under a Creative Commons licence.

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