After the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference: Burroughs Says Agreement on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone is a "Concrete Achievement"

June 4, 2010

The agreement by the 189 signatory states attending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations in May to seek a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East is "a concrete achievement," according to John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy. He characterized it as a "make-or-break issue."

The conference affirmed the importance of two steps to be taken by Israel. First, that Israel would accede to the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and second, that it would place all its nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

It is not clear whether Israel will comply with these expectations. It is anticipated that this difficult question will be the topic of a United Nations conference in 2012.

In other respects, the review conference, held from May 3 to May 28, was, according to Burroughs, "disappointing without being surprising." He was reflecting on the conclusions of the 28-page Final Document that was adopted by the conference at the end of the month of work. On the positive side, the signatory states are in substantial agreement that the world will be better off and more secure if nuclear weapons are abolished. However, as the interests of the non-nuclear weapon states differ from those of the nuclear weapon states, and as the Final Document requires consensus from all parties, the central provisions may have to be watered down.

Thus some of the participants, particularly those of the declared nuclear weapons states, worked to render the language of the Final Document vague and non-binding.

For instance, the United States, Russia, Britain and France, four of the five declared nuclear weapon states, managed to remove language that would direct them to take significant steps to advance disarmament in the short term.

Again, since these states wish to avoid committing to a timeline for nuclear disarmament, the Final Document simply affirms instead the need for a "legal framework, which a majority of States parties believe should include specified timelines."

The Final Document omits an earlier recommendation that countries cease developing and improving nuclear weapons.

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, a watchdog group concerned with the United States nuclear weapons programs, said, "This is an action plan for treading water."

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, vice-chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), was similarly disappointed, observing that some commitments from 10 or 15 years ago had not been honored. She noted that disarmament steps alone were not sufficient but that there must be an established framework within which to create and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. She said that the Final Document showed clearly "the need to initiate a process leading to negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention."

Dr. Johnson was referring to the proposal by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, which could, in the language of the Final Document, produce "[an] agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification." However, the Document only takes note of this proposal and does not voice strong support of it.

Her group, ICAN, is sponsoring coordinated efforts on Saturday, June 5 to mark Nuclear Abolition Day. The purpose of the actions, whether they are large or small, is to allow people to exhibit their support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. For further information about Nuclear Abolition Day, go to and

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said, in his summary appraisal of the work done by the Review Conference, that "the Final Document was largely aspirational. It brought the parties back to where they stood in the year 2000, but provided few specific guidelines for success to measure progress in 2015. One such guideline, albeit a difficult one, will be the attainment of a Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone."

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