Fifteen Nuclear Agendas to Watch

Fifteen Nuclear Agendas to Watch

The Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gets underway amid new concerns about Iran and North Korea and disputes between nuclear haves and have-nots. Fifteen countries will play a special role in the debate.

Last updated May 27, 2010 8:00 am (EST)

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The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, recognizes the right of five countries to possess nuclear weapons, conditional upon eventual disarmament, and the right of other signatories to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, conditional upon their non-acquisition of nuclear weapons. Its ratification is nearly universal, with the exception of Israel, India, and Pakistan. But the nonproliferation regime today "is under strain," writes CFR Adjunct Fellow Paul Lettow in this Council Special Report. North Korea left the NPT and tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006. And Iran’s growing uranium enrichment capabilities, seen by many states as cover for a military program, continue to vex nonproliferation efforts.

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The treaty’s last Review Conference in 2005 ended without a consensus document primarily because of disputes related to the nuclear programs of Iran and Israel. May’s conference is expected to address the pace of disarmament and the problem of non-NPT nuclear states Pakistan, India, and Israel; and strengthen the verification powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Fifteen participants, profiled below, could have a particularly influential role in guiding the debate on these issues as well as potential added scrutiny of Iran.

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United States (Nuclear weapon state)

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Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

United StatesIn September 2009, President Barack Obama proposed UN resolution 1887, which will likely form the backbone of the U.S. position at the conference, said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. The resolution, unanimously adopted in the Security Council, calls for all countries not party to the NPT to accede, as well as for greater compliance by treaty members. The administration may use the conference to exert more pressure on Iran’s nuclear program and call for more sanctions.

In April 2010, the Obama administration hosted a nuclear summit that focused on the threat of nuclear terrorism and called for greater security for nuclear materials. In addition, Obama signed a new agreement with Russia to reduce strategic weapon arsenals another 30 percent, a deal that could be used to tout U.S. progress on the NPT Article VI obligation to end the nuclear arms race. Together the countries hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. The treaty only covers strategic weapons, limiting them to about 1,550 per country. At the start of the NPT conference in May, the Obama administration announced it had 5,113 functioning warheads. Unlike Russia, the United States has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), failing to move on one of the "Thirteen Practical Steps" (PDF) toward disarmament agreed to in a previous conference. Obama is pushing for ratification, but it is expected to face difficulties in the U.S. Senate. Nuclear experts told a U.S. congressional committee the conference could be considered a failure if the United States cannot convince the international community to take a stronger stand (GlobalSecurity) on North Korea and Iran. Sokolski says any consensus document could be a good outcome for the Obama administration.

Russia (Nuclear weapon state)

RussiaRussia submitted two working papers ahead of the NPT conference on stronger consequences and procedures for treaty withdrawal and on development of nuclear power, supporting internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle. Russia, one of the world’s major nuclear fuel producers, is farthest along on creation of an international nuclear fuel bank from which countries could obtain low-enriched uranium (Spero) instead of developing enrichment programs of their own. In the 2009 September UN General Assembly opening debate, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated his country’s support for making universal NPT Additional Protocols, which allows the IAEA more power to verify that a country’s nuclear materials are not being diverted to weapons. In February 2010, Russia published a new military doctrine, which nonproliferation expert Nikolai Sokov says reduces emphasis on nuclear weapons as part of its overall security policy. Russian officials are expected to cite the new strategic arms treaty with the United States as evidence of its NPT compliance on disarmament, but they may be reluctant to further reduce weapons stockpiles unless the United States removes its nuclear weapons located in Europe (WashPost). Russia is estimated to have 12,000 warheads.

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China (Nuclear weapon state)

ChinaChina has taken a strong interest in finding a balance among the NPT’s main pillars of disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful use of nuclear power. However, China has been largely ambivalent on the details. "China wants to look like a leader but they have no history of coming up with proposals of their own," said nonproliferation expert Christina Hansell. The country hopes to be seen as a conduit between nuclear and non-nuclear states. A report on the failure of the 2005 NPT conference from the Stockholm-based Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission says China "actively tabled" six working papers (PDF), and its position was close to the non-aligned countries. "China thus scored points notably among developing countries, even though it is presently the only nuclear weapon state to expand its strategic arsenal quantitatively," the WMD Commission report said. China, thought to have about 240 nuclear weapons, has not ratified the CTBT. Though China maintains a no-first-use stance, it has kept and is upgrading a small "second strike" (Reuters) nuclear arsenal. China stresses diplomacy over further sanctions for Iran and North Korea, and may oppose any punitive proposals against both countries.

France (Nuclear weapon state)

FranceFrance blocked language (CSMonitor) calling for the limitation of nuclear fuel production and plutonium reprocessing--a core aspect of France’s nuclear industry--in the final communiqué from Obama’s 2010 Washington Nuclear Summit. But in NPT negotiations, its differences with other Western nations may be purely technical, said nonproliferation expert James Acton. France will likely focus on NPT institutional strengthening, in particular by clarifying articles and procedures such as Article X, which deals with treaty withdrawal and ultimately with the issue of North Korea. At a 2009 NPT meeting, France suggested tighter regulations for trade of uranium-enrichment and spent-fuel-reprocessing technology. France is a world leader in nuclear energy and has an interest in protecting its comparative advantage in the nuclear energy sector. It actively seeks nuclear deals, including in troubled regions, such as its recent deal with Kuwait (DailyStar). France has avoided declaring interest in a "nuclear-free world" and is not likely to give up its own warheads (France24) any time soon. France’s nuclear arsenal is about 300 warheads. The country will likely avoid taking on the problem of Iran directly at the conference to prevent a repeat of the 2005 conference.

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United Kingdom (Nuclear weapon state)

BritainBritish officials have repeatedly called for a non-nuclear world through multilateral disarmament. For the government, disarmament is primarily a means for strengthening the nonproliferation regime, says British nonproliferation expert Acton. Like France, the United Kingdom is likely to avoid singling out North Korea and Iran, which experts say was a mistake of the 2005 conference. Instead, the United Kingdom wishes to refer action against these nations to the UN Security Council (PDF) and pursue a "dual track" approach (FARS)--offering talks and assistance for civilian nuclear energy while demanding the forfeit of nuclear weapons under the threat of UN sanctions. It also hopes to clarify Article X regarding the "right to withdraw." The United Kingdom, decided in 2007 to maintain its submarine-based nuclear deterrent (Guardian) of about 160 warheads loaded onto Trident missiles on loan from the United States. During the May NPT conference, British officials disclosed that the country has an arsenal of 225 warheads (NTI). A report on the review conference summed up the position of the current Labor government (PDF) as seeking to "create a world in which nuclear weapons do not need to play a role, but until then, [sustaining] a deterrence force available for a second strike."

Japan (Nonnuclear weapon state)

JapanIn July 2008, Japan and Australia established the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), which "aims to reinvigorate international efforts on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, in the context of both the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, and beyond." The two countries issued a joint proposal for consideration at the 2010 NPT review conference, calling for more transparency of nuclear states’ capabilities and urged a pledge to freeze or reduce the size of nuclear arsenals. The Japanese and Australian foreign ministers issued a joint statement in February 2010 supporting a deterrence-only posture for nuclear weapons, but the countries are unlikely to push for it at the NPT conference. Japan operates fifty-four nuclear power reactors, placing it third behind the United States and France. Its full fuel cycle set-up, which includes the enrichment and reprocessing of used fuel, provides Japan with a latent nuclear weapons capability. However, as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, Japan remains deeply opposed to nuclear weapons and committed to international nonproliferation regimes.

Turkey (Nonnuclear weapon state)

TurkeyTurkey has no nuclear weapons of its own, but hosts ninety U.S. tactical nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear umbrella. Turkey joined Belgium, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Spain in support of a 2010 proposal submitted ahead of the conference encouraging nuclear weapons states to make their aggregated nuclear inventories public and to make tactical nuclear weapons part of the international arms control regime. (Short-range tactical weapons make up the bulk of U.S. and Russian arsenals but are not covered by the international regime.) Turkey also supports a nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East. Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have repeatedly criticized Israel’s undisclosed nuclear weapons arsenal and failure to join the NPT. The prime minister also does not support more sanctions against Iran, saying that more opportunity should be given to diplomacy and it is unfair to impose on Iran (CNN) what has not been imposed on Israel. During the conference, Turkey, along with Brazil, negotiated a deal with Iran for a nuclear fuel swap. Under the deal, Iran would ship most of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey "for safekeeping," in exchange for the higher enriched uranium Iran needs to run its research reactor. Turkey supports more verification powers for the IAEA under Additional Protocols. Turkey has come out strongly for the NPT principle that allows for peaceful development of nuclear energy. The country has two small nuclear reactors and is in the planning stages of building its first nuclear power plant.

Brazil (Nonnuclear weapon state)

BrazilBrazil is an influential member of the New Agenda Coalition, which has submitted a working paper ahead of the conference urging nuclear weapons states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. In early April, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim labeled the NPT as "unbalanced" because of nuclear-armed states’ failure to disarm. Brazil has expressed reluctance to sanction Iran, pointing out that as a party to NPT, Iran should not be punished for seeking civilian enrichment technology while countries such as India, which is outside the NPT, maintain weapons programs. Iran, in turn, has heavily courted Brazil, which holds a rotating seat on the Security Council, and Brazil sent a representative to Iran’s nuclear conference in April 2010. Brazil supported the nuclear deal with Turkey and Iran that was struck during the conference. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Iran had been "presented as if it were the devil" but had shown a willigness to negotiate (MiddleEastOnline) and urged other countries to accept the deal. In the mid-1970s, Brazil pursued a covert nuclear weapons program (GlobalSecurity) to counter Argentina’s program. Brazil ratified the NPT in1997 after ending its nuclear weapons program, but its relationship to the NPT has been somewhat strained: In 2004, Brazil refused to allow IAEA inspectors to view a uranium enrichment facility near Rio de Janeiro, citing the need to protect proprietary information. Brazil’s nuclear capabilities today are the most advanced in Latin America and include two nuclear power plants (Angra I and II) and a third one under construction.

Iran (Nonnuclear weapon state)

IranThe UN Security Council has levied three rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns over its nuclear program, which includes uranium enrichment capability that some experts say could be used for weapons making. Iranian officials deny such ambitions. At a Tehran 2010 nuclear summit titled "Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for No One," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the United States for pushing arms control (Reuters) while retaining a large weapons stockpile, and called for a new UN disarmament body. The Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which leaves open the possibility of a nuclear strike on non-nuclear countries not in compliance with the NPT, was criticized by Iranian officials as a direct threat against their country. Greg Theilmann, a senior fellow for the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said Iran will try to avoid being specifically named in any kind of official communiqué coming out of the conference. Beyond that, he said Iran will likely go to the NPT conference hoping to thwart a push by some countries to make the voluntary NPT Additional Protocols "mandatory and universal." Iran signed a protocol in 2003 but has refused to implement it. The IAEA in a 2009 report said Iran also had not answered outstanding questions necessary to "exclude the possibility of military dimensions" to its nuclear program. During the conference, Iran agreed to ship most of its low-enriched nuclear fuel to Turkey while still retaining ownership. In exchange, Iran would get reactor-grade fuel from Turkey. The deal needs to be approved by the Vienna Group--which consists of France, Russia, and the United States--and the IAEA.

Egypt (Nonnuclear weapon state)

EgyptAhead of the 2010 conference, Egypt submitted a NPT working paper calling for a Resolution on the Middle East, a measure it originally spearheaded in 1995. The resolution calls for progress on the peace process, for making the region free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, and for any nation not party to the treaty (Israel) in the region to accede. Egyptians have maintained that the United States might have more headway on Iran’s nuclear program if it applied more pressure to get Israel to abandon its undeclared program. Egypt was considered a main spoiler in the 2005 conference, in part because of its push for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

Nuclear Energy Guide This time, Egypt, along with others in the region, may block the move to make the Additional Protocols universal (WorldPoliticsReview) as well as other initiatives that would increase obligations of non-nuclear weapons states without more obligations for nuclear-weapons states (FP). "We are not as non-nuclear states going to accept that each time there is progress in disarmament that we have to take more obligations on our side," said Egypt’s UN ambassador Maged A. Abdelaziz at an April 2010 UN meeting. Egypt is a member of the New Agenda Coalition, a group of countries pushing for total disarmament. Egypt possesses two small research reactors as well as some technology related to uranium enrichment, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S.-based policy institute.

Australia (Nonnuclear weapon state)

AustraliaAustralia is one of the world’s largest exporters of uranium ore. The country’s uranium export business and increasing imports of nuclear waste (PDF) leaves Australia supporting NPT principles while attempting to shelter its economic interest in the global civilian nuclear trade. Australia supports the IAEA’s Additional Protocols and effective export controls and will be working with others to strengthen compliance with the NPT’s nonproliferation obligations, in particular by Iran and North Korea. Although Australian uranium is covered by IAEA safeguards, they are "far from water-tight in an increasingly complex international nuclear industry," says Australian nuclear expert Richard Broinowski.

In 2007, pressure built (Bloomberg) for Australia to resume exporting uranium to India, a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group but not of the NPT. However, Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said, "because of our policy, we cannot supply to countries that are non-signatories (HindustanTimes) to the nonproliferation treaty." Going into the 2010 conference, Australia wants to see deep reductions in the number of nuclear weapons worldwide and entry into force of the CTBT. However, an Australian government-funded think tank suggested that the Australian military should leave open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons (Australian) in the scenario of an unstable Asian security environment and decreasing confidence on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Kazakhstan (Nonnuclear weapon state

KazakhstanAhead of the Review Conference, President Nursultan Nazarbayev called for a revision (Zaman) of the NPT, saying it failed to outline clear consequences for countries that refused IAEA inspections or left the treaty. He also said the treaty was unfair since it "provides sanctions only for non-nuclear weapons states." But it is not clear how far he will push for altering the NPT for nuclear weapons states. Kazakhstan, which possesses 21 percent of the world’s natural uranium, was home to a significant portion of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, which the country returned to Russia a few years after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Global Governance Monitor In a joint statement following their bilateral meeting at the Washington nuclear summit, Presidents Obama and Nazarbayev affirmed their vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan has offered to host an international nuclear fuel bank, but developing countries have expressed concern that it would restrict their right to produce their own nuclear fuel. The nuclear fuel bank would operate under complete IAEA jurisdiction; fuel would only be supplied to countries (possibly including Iran) if they are signatories to the initiative. Kazakhstan joined Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in signing the Treaty on the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, which entered into force in March 2009.


South Africa (Nonnuclear weapon state)

South AfricaSouth Africa was the first country to voluntarily give up a nuclear weapons program to become a party to the NPT. The country first took steps toward disarmament in 1989, at which time South Africa had six nuclear warheads and a seventh under construction. Since accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear state in July 1991, South Africa has been a champion of global nonproliferation and equal access to peaceful nuclear energy. Over the past fifteen years, South Africa has been active in nonproliferation initiatives, including the creation of an African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, which went into effect on July 15, 2009. As a member of the New Agenda Coalition, South Africa is expected to continue pushing for nuclear weapons states to take steps toward the elimination of their nuclear arsenals, a balanced implementation of the NPT for all states, and adoption of the "Thirteen Practical Steps" (PDF) toward disarmament.

South Korea (Nonnuclear weapon state)

South KoreaSouth Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Bong-hyun, has expressed strong support for universalizing the IAEA Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols as an "essential means for improving the current safeguards and verification regime." South Korea, alarmed by North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, is also expected to promote further nuclear disarmament and greater accession to the CTBT. South Korea’s extensive nuclear energy infrastructure and technology base has the country slated to become a major nuclear energy exporter, recently winning a $20 billion contract to sell the UAE four nuclear reactors. The country does not have the capacity to independently enrich or reprocess uranium, constrained by U.S. pressure as well as the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (PDF), in which both North and South Korea pledged not to develop enrichment or reprocessing capabilities--though North Korea has since proclaimed the agreement no longer valid.

Chile (Nonnuclear weapon state)

ChileAt the conference, Chile will urge India, Israel, and Pakistan to accede to the treaty and call on North Korea to return to it. In preparation, Chile outlined its position on all treaty articles, including its support for the right of all parties to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under Article IV. The review and reporting process is particularly important for Chile: It submitted a working paper jointly with New Zealand, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Switzerland recommending that all nuclear weapons states "regularly report on measures taken to lower the operational readiness of their nuclear weapons systems." Historically, Chile has been highly supportive of the NPT and has participated regularly in the Review Conferences. In March 2010, Chile removed all highly enriched uranium in its possession, turning it over to the United States.

Corinne Baldwin, Julia Jeffrey, and Nestor Bailly contributed to this report.


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