The irony of (non) proliferation

The states who are party to the 2010 Review Conference have been positive in affirming the so called 'three pillars' of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These are the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament by the Nuclear Weapons States, and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

It is this last point, however, that has increasingly concerned me over the first week of this Review Conference. The NPT is a crucial treaty, and is still the only multilateral agreement for the abolition of nuclear weapons. However, there seems to be an inherent contradiction to the treaty in both opposing and endorsing nuclear technology, which could easily lead to confusion and mistrust as we have seen in the case of the Iranian nuclear programme.

The Egyptian delegation, as the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement, made a very positive statement to the General Assembly on the 3rd day of the Conference, that they wish to pursue progress towards the actualisation of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East and progress towards total nuclear disarmament. However, they also asserted the “inalienable right” to a civil nuclear programme.

This has been just one of many statements affirming this 'right', and both the Conservative and Labour parties in the UK are promoting nuclear power as a solution to our domestic energy needs. This flagrant endorsement of nuclear energy, whilst supported under the NPT, seems to be the white elephant in the room. There are many concerns regarding nuclear energy, such as the storage and disposal of nuclear waste and the associated dangers to health and the environment which cannot be overlooked.

In a session held by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDR) entitled the 'Multilateralisation of the nuclear fuel-cycle', researchers attempted to address some of these concerns and highlight safe processes by which nuclear technology could be shared by state parties. However, there are still many questions that have yet to be answered comprehensively.

An Australian delegate raised the important question of whether the proffered solution by the UNIDR was the equal access of all states' parties of the NPT to nuclear energy, or was the implication that we would see the extension of nuclear programmes for more and more states? Furthermore, how do we feasibly achieve a balance between promoting the right to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, when it is only a small step from a civil nuclear programme to a military one?

Many states have emphasised the dangers of nuclear non-proliferation and the importance of the verification of fissile material. And yet we have a situation where, if we are not careful, we could easily see the proliferation of nuclear materials through the fuel-cycle and further complications in the progress towards global nuclear disarmament.

This is one of a series of on-the-spot reports and reflections for Ekklesia from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference held from 3–28 May 2010 at the United Nations in New York.

The official NPT Review Conference website can be found here: http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/

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(c) Chris Wood works for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the UK (http://www.cnduk.org/) and also the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (http://ccnd.gn.apc.org/) on behalf of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (http://www.quaker.org.uk/qpsw).

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