Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Is Challenged by Noncompliance

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – It is too early to suggest the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran will cause a loss of faith in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a senior U.S. official says, but the international community must work hard “to make sure that it does not go that way.”

Nations’ failure to comply with treaty obligations barring the proliferation of nuclear weapons “is the most significant challenge” the NPT faces now, Christopher Ford, U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, told USINFO in an exclusive interview.

This challenge will be scrutinized closely in Vienna, Austria, from April 30 to May 11 as part of an early review of how of the NPT – designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons - is being implemented.  Ford, who leads the U.S. delegation to the Preparatory Committee, said this is the start of a new review cycle that will culminate in the 2010 Review Conference.

Parties to the treaty gather every five years for a formal review after a series of periodic preparatory meetings.  Ford said the initial meetings set the tone substantively and diplomatically for the way ahead.

Ford expressed optimism that the new cycle will start off on “a good footing.”  The review process is “a unique global forum in which countries get together and debate and discuss” pressing treaty-related issues, he said, and can arrive at a point of “policy convergence on important issues.”

The highest priority for the United States is determining how best the treaty can cope with current proliferation challenges, Ford said.  The review process relies on catalyzing movements in individual nations’ policies as well as international fora such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and the United Nations.  (See related article.)

North Korea’s announcement of withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 set off a host of challenges, and, Ford said “we dearly hope there won’t be more” countries that decide to drop out after having been caught in violations.  He said the upcoming meeting should address how to do a better job of deterring violators from withdrawal by raising the costs of withdrawal.

Ford praised the work that was done by European diplomats on the issue of withdrawal during the 2005 Review Conference saying it established a good foundation.  He noted that Article X of the NPT contains withdrawal provisions, and no one would want to restrict the right of a sovereign nation to use them.  “On the other hand,” the official said, “a country that is in violation needs to be held accountable for its violations and just the fact that it withdraws shouldn’t be a way of erasing past misdeeds.”

He said the United States has suggested that treaty violators might find withdrawing less attractive if they knew that an IAEA nuclear safeguards agreement would not lapse automatically if they pulled out of the NPT, or if suppliers would demand the return of items and material supplied when the recipient was a party to the treaty.


The Vienna meeting also will look at ways to expand the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in proliferation-responsible ways.  The United States has a number of existing programs to achieve this, and, Ford said, “is spending a lot of time and effort trying to find new and better ways” to expand cooperation.

He said his delegation is looking forward to talking about how to establish a broader international system to supply nuclear fuel to developing nations and to deal with spent fuel in a responsible way to help meet rising energy needs and remove countries’ incentives to become involved in uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing efforts that pose proliferation risks.

Another U.S. priority is promoting greater nuclear security by encouraging all NPT parties to sign agreements for basic nuclear safeguards with the IAEA.

Ford emphasized the importance of NPT parties signing the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which give the IAEA greater authority “to look for undeclared nuclear activities.”  The Model Additional Protocol – which was negotiated after an earlier failure by existing safeguards to detect Iraqi nuclear activities - should be the new standard that “is universally adhered to,” Ford added.  So far 112 countries have signed the more modern and effective IAEA protocol, but only 78 have brought it into force.


Nuclear disarmament also will be discussed in Vienna.  The United States is often accused of not doing enough, but those who criticize often do not understand fully the U.S. record of reducing nuclear stockpiles, eliminating many types of delivery systems, and reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, Ford said.

He emphasized the U.S. commitment to the disarmament goals expressed in the treaty.  “We are dismantling significant numbers of warheads,” he said, with about a 50 percent increase in the speed of that effort from 2006 to 2007.

Making the treaty’s goal of a nuclear weapons free world achievable will take time, effort, dialogue and interaction, Ford said, and it will not be easy.

Those who are serious about it, he said, need to think realistically and practically about how to create “a global security environment in which the decision to get rid of nuclear weapons will ultimately become possible.”  Ford said he looks forward to encouraging such thinking during this review cycle.

More information about the 2007 NPT PrepCom is available on the State Department Web site.