The 2005 review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which opened May 2 at U.N. headquarters in New York, remains in limbo, although the agenda has finally been agreed.

The abnormal situation reflects deep-rooted discord between nuclear and nonnuclear nations. The problem is complicated by North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT and subsequent acknowledgment that it possesses nuclear arms; Iran’s nuclear-arms development; the growing threat of nuclear terrorism; and a proposal to tighten restrictions on peaceful uses of atomic energy to eliminate “loopholes” for developing nuclear weapons.

At the root of the conflict is a landmark agreement worked out at the 2000 NPT review conference. Included were 13 points of agreement that established clear guidelines for abolishing nuclear arms. It called for early implementation of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (yet unratified by the United States and China); a moratorium on nuclear tests; and immediate negotiations on a treaty designed to ban the production of weapons-grade fissile materials.

Regarded as the most important element of the agreement was “an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapons states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament.”

At the current review conference, nonnuclear states have urged all states involved to adhere to the 2000 agreement, but the U.S. disregards the commitment by nuclear powers, saying the agreement was only a political document.

For its part, the NPT allowed the five nuclear powers — U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to maintain their nuclear arsenals while prohibiting nonnuclear states from producing or acquiring nuclear weapons. The pact, however, gave nonnuclear nations “an inalienable right” to peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Despite the inequities, the NPT was supported by the international community because the nuclear powers promised to conduct sincere negotiations on ending the nuclear-arms race soon and reducing their nuclear arsenals. The NPT is supported by the 2000 political agreement.

Another problem in the current discord involves measures to control nuclear proliferation. Washington suspects that North Korea and Iran have been developing nuclear arms under the guise of projects to promote peaceful uses of atomic power.

There have been growing moves to restrict the right to peaceful uses of atomic energy. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is pushing “multilateral nuclear approaches” to imposing international controls on the production and reprocessing of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

Many countries have rejected moves to limit peaceful uses of nuclear power. Japan, which plans to establish a nuclear-fuel cycle complex in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, takes a negative view of plans for international controls on nuclear fuels.

The Japanese government contends that it would be unfair to restrict Japan’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear power, since the IAEA has determined that the nation fully cooperates with the agency and poses no threat of using nuclear fuels for weapons production. Should the nuclear powers try to limit nonnuclear nations’ peaceful uses of nuclear power, they would stir distrust of the NPT system.

At the beginning of the NPT review conference, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura made some specific proposals for strengthening the NPT system. He called for early ratification of the CTBT to promote nuclear disarmament, and for immediate negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Citing the 13-point 2000 agreement, he called on all five nuclear powers to make sharper cuts in their nuclear arsenals.

Machimura told the conference that “universalization” of the IAEA additional protocol is the most realistic and effective means of strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. He called on nonsignatory nations to sign the protocol soon. Of the 190 NPT signatory nations, only 65 have done so. The nonproliferation system would be strengthened if all signatory nations get on board.

Machimura urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear-arms programs and return unconditionally to the six-party talks on its nuclear programs. He called on Iran to conclude an agreement with France, Germany and Britain to guarantee that its nuclear programs are intended only for peaceful uses.

Machimura also demanded that India, Pakistan and Israel, NPT nonsignatory nations, promptly join the treaty as nonnuclear nations without conditions.

In parallel with the foreign minister’s speech, the Japanese government announced “21 measures for the 21st century,” covering nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful uses of atomic power, ways to strengthen the NPT regime, and an effective mechanism for dealing with withdrawals from the NPT. A state that withdrew from the treaty would “remain responsible for violations it committed while being a party.” It is crucial that the NPT regime clarify the responsibilities of nations that have withdrawn from the pact.

Since 1994, Japan has submitted a series of resolutions on nuclear disarmament to the U.N. General Assembly, which has duly adopted them. Last December a resolution on establishing “a path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons” was adopted with support by a record 165 nations. Only three nations — U.S., India and Palau — opposed it, while 16 nations abstained.

The resolution included the nuclear powers’ “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish nuclear-weapons abolition, symbolizing the international community’s growing interest in nuclear disarmament.

The NPT regime faces a crisis, as the number of nuclear powers increase outside the treaty’s framework. To halt proliferation, the nuclear powers must first take specific measures to promote disarmament. Reaffirmation of the 2000 agreement as well as the resolution on “a path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons” should be the first step toward preventing erosion of the NPT system.

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