Post-NPT Extension: Nuclear Non-Proliferation Challenges

-Savita Pande, Research Fellow, IDSA


The Extension and First Review Prep Com

The indefinite extension of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) established one thing for certain--the existence of a unipolar world. Nobody can deny that the outcome of the Extension Conference was exactly along the lines desired by the United States of America. That the interests of other nuclear powers coincided is another matter. While there were some variant opinions on the extension period/s, they belonged to a very small minority. Equally insignificant was the Chinese vague support to what they called "smooth extension" of the treaty. That the main exercise was mainly to make the treaty which institutionalises the difference between the nuclear haves and have-nots permanent was also evident from the fact that the Review Conference which also took place alongside failed to produce a final document once again.1

The 1995 Conference also established another thing--the role of new converts to non-proliferation, particularly South Africa. It acted almost as a middleman in the process of bargain in its eventually successful quest to mitigate the criticisms against the nuclear weapon powers for doing nothing vis-a-vis their disarmament obligation stated in Article VI of the treaty. This was achieved through bringing in two additional resolutions--Strengthening the Review Process and the Principles and Objectives Resolution. That these meant little became further evident by the NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), stipulated in the former and ostensibly meant to review the treaty mid-term, held from April 7-18, 1997, at the UN Headquarters in New York. Despite the fact that the treaty has come to stay forever, it continued to be dogged by various issues from very basic ones like membership and status of countries like Yugoslavia and North Korea to more substantive ones like security assurances and disarmament. The final document adopted without a vote could be done so after reportedly making substantive concessions to the Mexican delegation by the Chairman.2

The myth of NPT extension for arms control was blown off by the very nuclear weapon state whose accession, though very late in life, was cited as the accepted relevance of the treaty--China. It conducted a test within two days of the treaty's indefinite extension (to be followed by another on August 17, 1995) and this after agreeing to show utmost restraint pending the entry into force of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).3 As if this was not enough, soon after, yet another nuclear weapon state, France, announced resumption of testing. Both France and China continued testing, albeit less than announced eventually, despite protests and aid cut, etc. France even started talking in terms of a "European deterrent" weapon.4

Comprehensive Test Ban

These actions also proved the myth of the next arms control agenda item during the period—the comprehensive test ban negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Initiated in the wake of mitigating criticisms levelled against it during its endeavour to seek indefinite extension of the NPT for non-compliance of Article VI of the NPT, the United States, in a major policy reversal, initiated negotiations on the CTBT.

The issue affected five nuclear powers and three threshold nuclear powers—India, Pakistan and Israel. Since the nuclear powers ceased testing after they had conducted all the tests that they needed to; Israel couldn't conduct any test in its territory by virtue of its size only; and Pakistan didn't need to since it had friends to get designs as well as devices from, the target of the CTBT was India, which had championed the cause of test ban since 1954. While it is still not clear why India co-sponsored a resolution that did not contain a disarmament provision as an essential requirement, it was the reason why it eventually decided not to support the move. The entire CTBT debate saw interesting patterns with countries making demands more as bargaining strategies--the Chinese thus seeking peaceful nuclear explosions as exceptions when they had not conducted any, the Americans seeking permission for zero-yield tests, the Russians seeking exceptions for experimental testing, etc. It was the move to get India into the treaty despite its opposition (first by including ratification by countries having monitoring facilities as an essential condition of the treaty's entry into force and then, upon its request to take its name out, the list for ratification became the one including names of countries as identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) having research or power reactors) that the treaty met its Waterloo in the CD.5

The treaty eventually took shape in the UN General Assembly vide a resolution having the same conditions for entry into force. Signed first by US President Bill Clinton in New York in September 1996, the CTBT had 144 signatories by June 30, 1997. The Provisional Secretariat of the Prep Com started work in Vienna on March 17, 1997. In May the Comprehensive Test Ban Organisation (CTBTO) held its first conference in Vienna, mainly to discuss technical preparations for the implementation of the treaty.6 The verification network will, reportedly, include 321 seismic and hydro acoustic stations around the world. Interestingly the treaty can enter into force with the same conditions, which means ratification by India. If it is not achieved within three years, a conference will have to be convened to see how it can be implemented. As things stand today, it can only enter into force if they decide to take India out of the entry into force (EIF) clause.

Interestingly, the CTBT has been ratified by only four countries--Fiji, Japan, Qatar and Uzbekistan. The treaty has been sent to the US Senate for ratification alongwith essentially similar exceptions as were stated by the US President in August 1995 while acceding to the treaty. This includes seeking exceptions for "stockpiles stewardship programme" to ensure safety and reliability of the American nuclear weapon stockpile, maintenance of laboratory facilities as well as withdrawal if the reliability of the weapon could not be assured, etc. Not only this, the United States has already conducted an underground test at Nevada that has not reportedly generated any nuclear yield and plans to conduct another. As per media reports, the ratification by the Senate appears difficult this year. The media had also reported tests by Russia at Nvoya Zemlya in the month of August--the Russians, of course, denied it.7 The impact of these developments on the future of the CTBT in general and on ratification by other states remains to be seen.

Fissile Material Cut-Off

The fate of the next arms control measure in the said period--Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty--hangs in a more delicate balance. The move for the treaty which seeks to ban production of fissile material for weapon purposes after the date it enters into force was made at the same time as the CTBT with exactly similar motives, had to take a back seat because the forum for negotiating it is the same as that for initiating the CTBT. And after the indefinite extension of the NPT, the support to the move is also for similar reasons. The United States, as also other nuclear weapon powers have already stopped producing fissile material for weapon purposes (it cannot be said with certainty for China).

Having set up the ad hoc committee under the chairmanship of Ambassador Gerald Shannon after great difficulty mainly because of Chinese reluctance and his presenting a report are the only achievements as far as the treaty negotiations are concerned. The negotiations since have run into rough weather because the G-21 is demanding setting up of an ad hoc committee on disarmament as a linkage and also because of flexible interpretation of the Shannon Report in which he had said that the issue of past production can be raised for consideration. The countries demanding this include Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan. Others, including nuclear weapons powers as well as India, have sought sticking to the original mandate which according to them means only past production. The nuclear weapon powers are united in their opposition to linking setting up of an ad hoc committee with fissile material negotiations. So sharp is the divide on these lines that fearing a split in vote, Canada withdrew the resolution on the issue in the General Assembly in the 50th as well as 51st session.8 The illegal trafficking of fissile material mainly from the former Soviet Union also poses a serious challenge, although the extent of it can be debated as the veracity of all reports cannot be verified.

Wassenaar Arrangement and Export Controls

The said period also saw crystallisation of the relatively new arms control mechanism--export controls--in the form of the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies which came into being on December 18, 1995, when 28 countries met in the Dutch town of Wassenaar. Thus, the decision to keep some form of Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Exports alive came full circle. For a while, the group was temporarily called the New Forum, while the dispute over membership lasted.

If the birth of the regime was difficult, giving it a formal structure was worse. The inaugural plenary which was to be held on April 2-3, 1996, in Vienna, collapsed in a dispute over ratification of licence approval that had previously been denied by another Wassenaar participant. On July 12, 1996, 33 founding members succeeded in adopting the Initial Elements of the Wassenaar Arrangement during their inaugural plenary in Vienna and the initial exchange of data began in September 1996. The second plenary held again in Vienna saw the still unresolved dispute of who will lead the Secretariat.

Participant states exchange data every six months on transfers and denial items to non-Wassenaar countries. Controlled items are set forth in the list of Dual-Use Goods and Technologies and in the Munitions List. Prompt notification (within 60 days) is to take place.

For individual export licence denials, and for individual licence approvals that "undercut" another country's previous denials of "an essentially identical transaction," participation is voluntary. There is no enforcement mechanism. All decisions are made by consensus.

Two Wassenaar expert group meetings were held in 1997 in Vienna to discuss control lists and the installation of a database. Not all countries had provided data by April 30, 1997, the final date for doing so. In fact, the reporting had not been done by some even by June 1997 when the Wassenaar General Group met, followed by a meeting of the experts. The next General Group Meeting is scheduled for mid-November 1997.9

The most interesting aspect of the export control regime is that the regime faces the challenge from within. The reason is simple--it comes into direct conflict with commercial interests. Thus, the American firm Westinghouse Electric Corp informed the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade of the US House of Representatives of losing billion of dollars because of trade sanctions on China. Cooperation between the Nuclear Power Institute of China and Westinghouse has been underway for several years.10 In March 1997, both France and Germany were reportedly planning to ease export controls in the face of declining defence expenditures and high unemployment.11 In May 1997, Germany established a coordinating agency for Iran to stop shipment of exports to that country. Ten firms are under investigations for suspected technological exports of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology.12 There are reports also of Ukrainian efforts (though no contracts were reported to be signed) to construct missile launchers and maintain aircraft and naval equipment for Libya.13 We, thus, have the case of South Africa considering sale of the fire control system, originally developed in Israel, to Syria. South Africa is not a member of the Wassenaar Group but if the deal proceeds, it might face sanctions under the US Counter Terrorism Act, because the United States considers Syria an exporter of terrorism.14

A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report covering proliferation events from July 1 to December 31, 1996, called Russia and China the greatest proliferators of weapons of mass destruction technology, goods related to it, and missiles. Pakistan and Iran were described as most aggressive seekers of these technologies.15 The CIA report notwithstanding, China's blatant disregard for these regimes is well established. Ironically, the United States recognises this better than any other country and mainly for vested interests has been unable to take action against it--be it the case of supply of ring magnets or M-11 missiles or their parts. On the other hand, in the name of controlling proliferation, three of India's research institutions--Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indian Rare Earths Limited and Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam--have been identified as potentially risky end-users, exports to which would require specific export licences.16

Chemical Weapons Convention

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force on April 29, 1997. The Conference of State Parties met for the first time in the Hague on May 6-24. Eighty original parties attended (including the United States, which ratified with 28 conditions) the conference along with three late ratifying states, and 34 signatories, including Russia, attended as observers. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons comprising the Conference of Parties, Executive Council and Secretariat took shape and a budget of nearly $45 million, two-thirds of which will go towards verification, was approved. The final conference report listed 24 unresolved issues. To resolve these, the conference decided to designate facilitators to consult with state parties and report to the next conference to be held in December 1997. These issues include Russia's difficulty in bearing the costs associated with inspections for old and abandoned chemical weapons. Cuba raised questions about specifications for inspection equipment and details of Article XI economic and technological development assistance. Iran echoed the Cuban concerns and said that the equipment should be made commercially available.17

While it is too early to comment on actual implementation, it cannot be denied that the task is enormously challenging. Verification itself is a problem. The dual-use nature of chemicals apart, a single chemical site is not required to be inspected more than twice a year. No country is required to host more than 20 routine inspections in a year. For challenge inspections, a state gets 12 hours notice before and the inspection itself lasts for 84 hours. The issue of destruction itself poses a challenge. One, the quantity: Russia and the USA together have about 70,000 tons of chemical agents. Assuming the weight of the weapon to be ten times the weight of the agent and if the rest of the world were to have 10-15 per cent of the combined US-Russian arsenals, the total weight of the weaponry to be destroyed may amount to 500,000 tons. Besides, with peace in the Middle East still elusive, the Arab accession to the CWC conditional on Israel's accession to the NPT may delay accession by countries like Egypt, Syria and Yemen. Iraq and Libya continue to be cause of concern.18

Biological Weapons Convention

The Fourth Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference was held from November 25 to December 6, 1996, although BWC parties have not completed the negotiations of a legally binding instrument to strengthen the treaty. The lack of an effective verification provision continued to dog the discussions. The ad hoc group constituted for the purpose of drafting a legally binding instrument as well as verification measures at a special conference in September 1994 has yet to complete the task. The United States unsuccessfully pushed for establishing a 1998 deadline for completion of the ad hoc group work. The Russian delegation chief insisted that Russia never developed, produced, accumulated or stored biological weapons, but the concerns nevertheless continued. There was no agreement on whether on-site measures should become an integral part of the future compliance regime. Disputes also emerged on linking agreed lists of agents and equipment to on-site measures. Disputes also arose regarding commercial proprietary and scientific information as well as national security information not related to the BWC. Problems of resources also surfaced, and there were no agreements to modify the modalities of existed confidence-building measures (CBMs). The conference recognised that participation in the CBMs since the last review conference has not been universal and that all responses have not been prompt or complete.19

There seem to be at least three major political obstacles to further strengthening of the BWC. First industrial countries far ahead in application of biotechnology are very reluctant when it comes to inspections/visits because they fear the loss of proprietary information in their commercial pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry as a result of inspections. Second, some state parties want to drop the list of pathogens and equipment to serve as triggers for mandatory declarations as detailed as possible; others believe that the list should be short and simple--thus, there is common understanding between Western countries that the convention should not touch upon Article 1, but Russian experts seek clear definitions of terms such as biological weapons. Most developing countries have no experience in arms control agreements and do not participate in ad hoc group meetings.20

Other problems include enormous number of warfare agents, dual-use character of equipment to be used, and the nature of warfare agents.

Regional Issues

One of the major regional developments in the period under discussion is the opening for signature of the treaty on the African nuclear weapon-free zone, also called the Treaty of Pelindaba. It prohibits manufacture, testing, stockpiling or acquisition, possession and control of any nuclear explosive device in assembled unassembled or partly assembled forms. It also requires dismantlement of any device that was manufactured prior to coming into existence of the treaty. It also prohibits dumping of radioactive waste anywhere in the zone. Full-scope safeguards are to be applied in supply of nuclear material. The main problem with implementing the treaty is the drawing up of a map annexed to the treaty. The status of Chagos Archipelago that includes Diego Garcia that harbours a US military base is covered by the map with the proviso that this is without prejudice to the question of sovereignty claimed by both the United Kingdom and Mauritius. The United Kingdom stated that it did not accept the inclusion without its consent of the British Indian Ocean Territory of which Diego Garcia is a part within the African nuclear weapon-free zone and that it did not accept any legal obligations in respect of that territory. In a related statement, the US noted that neither the treaty nor the protocol applied to the activities of the United Kingdom or the United States or any other state not party to the treaty on the island of Diego Garcia or elsewhere in the British Indian Ocean Territories. And that accordingly no change was required in US armed forces' operations there. Russia, however, pointed out that as long as a military base of a nuclear power was situated on the Chagos Archipelago islands and as long as certain nuclear powers considered themselves free from the obligations under the protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba with regard to these islands, Russia could not regard them as meeting the requirements of nuclear-free territories. The United States, the United Kingdom and France while signing Protocol 1 vis-a-vis security assurances declared that they would not be bound by it in case of an invasion or any other attack upon them carried out or sustained by a party to the treaty in association or alliance with a nuclear weapon state. Russia made a similar statement but added that it did not consider itself bound by the obligations under Protocol 1 in respect of Chagos Archipelago islands.21

Yet another regional treaty signed during the period was the treaty on the South-East Asia nuclear weapon-free zone on December 16, 1995. Parties to the treaty may use nuclear energy for economic development but are prohibited from developing, testing, manufacturing or otherwise acquiring, possessing or having control of nuclear weapons. Dumping at sea or discharge into the atmosphere within the zone is prohibited unless the disposal is carried out according to IAEA standards and procedures.

While stationing of nuclear weapons is prohibited, each party may decide for itself on being notified whether to allow visits by foreign ships and aircraft to its ports and airfields or transit of its air space by foreign aircraft.

The United States expressed concerns that because of the geographical extent of the zone--which it considers inconsistent with the Law of the Sea Convention—regular movement of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed naval vessels and aircraft through South-East Asia would be restricted and the regional security arrangement disturbed. It is reluctant to provide what it deems to be sweeping security assurances as demanded by the South-East Asian zonal state. China made known its objection to the geographical scope of the treaty, specifically to the inclusion of parts of the South China Sea to which it and some Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) members have conflicting claims.22

In yet another development related to regional denuclearisation in general and the South Pacific nuclear weapon-free zone treaty called the Treaty of Rarotonga, in force since 1986, France, the UK and the USA signed protocols on March 25, 1996.23 In giving the assurances of not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, France talked of the right of self-defence and the UK talked of not being bound by the undertaking in case of attack by parties in association with a nuclear weapon state or breach of the treaty. The United States did not cite any reservations but said that certain declarations would have to go to the Senate for ratification.

The other proposals mooted during this period include the Almaty Declaration of February 28, 1997, in which the Presidents of the five states of the region (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) expressed their joint support for the formation of a nuclear weapon-free zone.24 An even broader proposal of establishing a nuclear weapon-free Southern Hemisphere and adjacent areas was launched at the 1996 UN General Assembly. Not much progress has, however, been reported on the issues.


The most talked of bilateral proliferation challenge in the said period is one pertaining to non-ratification of START II by the Russian Duma. In an effort to address Russian concern over residual force levels and timing of reduction of START II, the two Presidents agreed in Helsinki on March 20-21, 1997, to begin START III agreements once START II enters into force. The START III agreements would reduce deployed strategic warheads by 1,000 below START II levels. In addition, they agreed to extend by five years the deadline for reaching START II levels for deployed strategic warheads.

In a joint statement on parameters on future reductions in nuclear forces, the Presidents agreed that START III negotiations will include: a limit of 2,500 deployed strategic warheads by 2007; measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warheads inventories as well as to the destruction of strategic warheads; conversion of current START Agreements to unlimited duration; and the de-activation by the end of 2003 of all strategic nuclear delivery to be eliminated under START II. These agreements notwithstanding, on April 9, 1997, the State Duma postponed indefinitely the discussion on START II. The chair of the Defence Committee, Lieutenant General Lev Rokhlin, said there was one aim--to place the treaty in such a position that we would not return to it again.

The Duma has not ratified START II for several reasons, including Yeltsin's health, both physical and political. Yeltsin has never pushed START I through the Duma, his announcement to the effect notwithstanding. Even if he were to, it is not certain he would have the stamina or the money to get it through. It is going to be a very expensive proposition in getting START II through the Duma. Second, the major focus in Moscow is the budget. Domestic issues such as unpaid salaries and unpaid taxes are swirling in Moscow.

Third, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty amendments agreed to at Helsinki regarding Theatre Missile Defence System will be viewed in Moscow by those who care about it as negative. Fourth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) enlargement: there is not a single member in the Duma who approves of it--that could well be a killer of START II. Thus, while two positive factors in the START II debate, that is, reduction of the number of warheads in the START III framework and the five-year extension to the elimination period under the treaty are there, if a five-year extension is made part of the original approval of the treaty, it will have to come back to the Senate.25

It is difficult to see how Russian fears vis-a-vis START II ratification will be mitigated considering START III will enter into force only after START II is ratified by the Duma. Russia fears that eliminating MIRV- ed ICBMs multiple warhead land-based missiles would require it to build several hundred single warhead ICBMs in order to maintain nuclear parity.