Coalitions to Watch at the 2015 NPT Review Conference

Coalitions to Watch at the 2015 NPT Review Conference

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

Director, International Organizations in Nonproliferation Program, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

William Potter

Founding Director, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addresses
the 2010 NPT Review Conference, UN Photo

This spring, over 150 states will gather at the United Nations to review the past performance and chart the future direction of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). At this negotiation—the ninth such review conference since the NPT entered into force in 1970—states will address many of the most pressing nuclear challenges of the day, including: making progress on effective measures toward nuclear disarmament, strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) ability to deter and detect diversion of nuclear materials and technology, convening a conference on the establishment of a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ), and addressing noncompliance with NPT obligations.

In many instances, states' representatives will take the floor in their national capacities. Frequently, however, states' views also will be expressed in a collective fashion through regional, cross-regional, political, and issue-specific groupings and coalitions. Prominent coalitions and groupings actively engaged in nuclear politics today are the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), the Permanent 5 Members of the UN Security Council (P5), the Vienna Group of 10, and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), among others. In the recent past, additional coalitions such as the 7-Nation Initiative and the NATO-5 emerged on the NPT scene for a brief period of time, only to vanish after a relatively short run from the nonproliferation and disarmament stage.

Historically, coalitions have played an important role in nuclear politics, often shaping the outcomes of the NPT review meetings, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, and the Nuclear Security Summit process. Many of them continue to have the potential to "make or break" future negotiations. In light of their importance, it is surprising how little is known about the formation, operation, persistence, and influence (or lack thereof) of coalitions active in nuclear politics. Perhaps even more surprising—and disturbing—is how poorly informed are many otherwise sophisticated diplomats, policy makers, and scholars about the motivations, priorities, tactics, and intra-group solidarity among coalition members, as well as the potential for their finding common ground on key nonproliferation and disarmament issues. This knowledge deficit applies to both the very largest political grouping—NAM—and the much smaller collective of the nuclear weapon states.

This issue brief provides an introduction to international political coalitions active in nuclear politics. It is part of a larger study by the authors, both of whom have observed and participated in international nuclear negotiations, and focuses mainly on three groupings active in NPT nuclear deliberations: NAC, NPDI, and the Vienna Group of 10. Although these groupings vary in the size of their membership, diversity, and regional distribution, they all meet our definition of a coalition as a temporary, non-legally-binding partnering of states to pursue a joint activity or achieve a common purpose. [1]

NPT Coalitions

Coalitions and groupings of states perform various roles in the NPT review process. Some groupings are regional in nature, others are characterized by a common language or political perspective, and still others are defined by the weapons they possess or their commitment to their elimination.

If intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union and the League of Arab States represent the high end of the continuum of state groupings involved in NPT proceedings due to their formal organizational structure and durability, the Norwegian-led Seven Nation Initiative and the so-called NATO-5 are examples of much more informal coalitions that briefly flickered on the NPT screen and then disappeared without much notice. [2] In between these extremes are three prominent groupings that emerged in the NPT context and remain actively engaged in NPT-related nuclear politics-the Vienna Group, the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), and the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI). [3] The remainder of this issue brief describes the origin, goals, and structure of these coalitions, how they have evolved over time, and the impact they have had on the NPT review process. Finally, the brief assesses the role they are likely to play at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

The Vienna Group of 10

The Vienna Group of Ten, or G-10, is rarely in the limelight but is the oldest issue-based grouping active in the NPT. The group appears to have first met informally at the expert level in Vienna in 1980, initially with eight members. Although its membership has fluctuated slightly over time, it has remained engaged in the NPT review process for almost 35 years. [4]

Currently the group consists of 11 states: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

Traditionally convened by Australia, the group meets informally in Vienna to consult and coordinate positions on safeguards, export controls, peaceful uses, and other "Vienna issues" in advance of NPT meetings. Because of its technical orientation, some members of the Vienna Group draw heavily on experts outside of their foreign ministries, and in at least one state-Canada-the locus of responsibility for formulation of G-10 policy has been situated in the nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. [5] The Vienna Group operates on the basis of consensus and typically, submits proposals on language to be included in Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) recommendations and Review Conference (Rev Con) final documents. In the current review cycle, the group has so far submitted 13 working papers to the PrepComs and will likely submit additional ones at the 2015 Rev Con. The latest G-10 paper, submitted in 2014, encompasses all the "Vienna issues" the group typically addresses and, along with specific proposals on draft language, contains brief explanations of the thinking behind the group's proposals. The chair of the Main Committee II at the next Review Conference is likely to find the G-10 proposals useful as the basis for negotiating elements of the Committee's substantive report.

Although the G-10 prides itself in being a diverse group of nuclear energy suppliers and skeptics from three continents, all of its members are Western countries, which are generally like-minded on nonproliferation and peaceful uses issues. Over the years, the group members have promoted comprehensive safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply, recognition of the Additional Protocol as a verification standard, broader application of safeguards in the nuclear weapon states (NWS), more prudent policies on plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) management, and other progressive positions on nonproliferation and peaceful use issues.

While the group negotiates specific draft text in advance of Review Conferences to propose for inclusion in a final document, and may caucus on occasion during Review Conferences, it appears not to act collectively in most Review Conference deliberations. Instead, G-10 members engage primarily in their national capacities or, in some instances, as members of other coalitions. [6] That said, the G-10 has exerted quiet influence, especially during its earlier years, by raising the salience of some issues in the NPT context and providing concrete proposals on a number of technical topics, which previously were not central to NPT Rev Con debates. It also has worked closely with key Rev Con officers in advance of past conferences, and likely has particularly good access when members of its group occupy leadership positions at the Rev Con.

Speaking at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, Ambassador Alani of Sweden contended that the "extensive texts" prepared by the group for the 1985 and 1990 conferences were widely supported and "had formed the basis for the 1985 Final Document." [7] Also, two astute experts maintain that at the 1990 Rev Con, the Group of 10 was the "most efficient group of delegations and, in cooperation with Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Federation, "were responsible for some of the most important sections in the draft Final Document"—in particular the "recommendation that nuclear supplies should only be sent to non-nuclear weapon states if they have accepted safeguards on all their nuclear activities (full scope safeguards)." [8] G-10 proposals for language in support of strengthening IAEA safeguards were widely used in the outcome document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, and the group's working papers were also reportedly very helpful in drafting the final document of the 2010 Rev Con. [9]

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC)

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) is the best-known and most significant cross-regional political grouping in the NPT. It was instrumental in achieving a consensus outcome at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Although it played a much less significant role at the 2005 and 2010 RevCons, it appears re-energized and poised to be very influential in 2015. In particular, NAC has been emphasizing the need for a multilateral, legally binding commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world and at the Rev Con, it will likely promote a discussion on what form(s) such an instrument might take and what elements are required for it to be effective. NAC is also likely to play a key role in advancing and further embedding the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons narrative into the NPT review process.

NAC was formally launched on June 9, 1998 in the form of a Joint Ministerial Declaration by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden. According to diplomats involved in NAC creation, the initiative was a result of consultations among representatives of several non-nuclear-weapon states, particularly Ireland, South Africa, and New Zealand, in September 1997 on what "middle powers" could do to more effectively promote nuclear disarmament in light of the complacency of the nuclear weapon states. They then reached out to several other similarly minded non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), and Ireland took the lead on preparing the ministerial declaration. [10]

A number of factors motivated Ireland and other members of the NAC core group to develop the New Agenda. These included: a desire to "galvanize the international community in common action for the purpose of eradicating [nuclear] weapons once and for all;" [11] the formative experience several key NAC diplomats had during negotiation of the Ottawa Convention, in which an anti-personnel landmine ban was secured over the formidable opposition of some of the great powers; a heightened sense of empowerment on the part of some "middle powers" regarding their independent role in the disarmament process following the end of the Cold War (expressed, for example, in New Zealand by its stance regarding the ANZUS alliance); and the resonance of the forceful recommendations of the 1996 Canberra Commission's Report on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The joint NAC initiative also arose against the backdrop of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, and amidst concerns among many NNWS that the NWS' failure to deliver on disarmament commitments was undermining the NPT soon after its indefinite extension. [12] One also cannot underestimate the role of personalities, as a number of very gifted and strong-willed diplomats in the early years of NAC combined a clear vision of what they wanted with a plan for concrete action.

While NAC is a ministerial-level group, the preparation of joint statements, resolutions, and working papers is done primarily by the disarmament experts posted in Geneva, in coordination with the respective foreign ministry departments in the capitals. The group's coordination rotates every half-year, in alphabetical order. New Zealand will thus be the NAC coordinator in the run-up to and during the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The coordinator typically takes the lead in drafting NAC statements and working papers. Focused exclusively on nuclear disarmament, the NAC is active both in the NPT review process and the UN General Assembly's First Committee sessions. The group's annual First Committee resolution serves to promote proposals on concrete nuclear disarmament steps and mobilize support ahead of the NPT meetings. [13]

As a cross-regional and political grouping, but without members from nuclear alliances, NAC has tended to have greater credibility and broader appeal on nuclear disarmament issues than other groupings active in the NPT. Over the years, balancing the desire to capture the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament with a nuanced and gradual approach has been both an external strength and an internal challenge for the coalition. When NAC entered the disarmament debate in 1998, its positions were significantly more far-reaching than those of the "traditional nuclear disarmament advocates in the Western world," [14] yet not as extreme as the NAM position, which entails the adoption of a specific timeframe for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The NAC's first ministerial declaration and UNGA resolution contained strong language on nuclear disarmament, including a statement that "the present juncture provides a unique opportunity to eradicate and prohibit them [nuclear weapons] for all time." NAC also introduced the central demand for the NWS' unequivocal undertaking to completely eliminate their nuclear weapons and immediately begin work "on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement." [15] Although the NAC resolution was adopted by a wide margin at the UN General Assembly, it was strongly condemned by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom for being unrealistic and unworkable, and for undermining the NPT. [16]

Subsequently, however, the Coalition introduced more accommodating language, including recognition that "some progress" had been made in nuclear arms reductions, and acknowledgement that strategic stability was a relevant factor affecting the pace and scope of disarmament. [17] Although the more moderate stance was not equally welcomed by all NAC members, it enabled the United States to revise its position on the NAC agenda, and to largely support the NAC working paper submitted at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Indeed, a senior U.S. diplomat at the 2000 Rev Con remarked to one of the authors that Washington could accept 95 percent of the NAC language, and it was prepared to focus on that common ground rather than the 5 percent to which it objected. [18] This U.S. approach, combined with the diplomatic talent and skills of the individuals representing NAC, meant that by April 2000 NAC effectively became the only negotiating counterpart for the NWS, whose initial reaction to the coalition was very negative.

Several accounts of the 2000 Review Conference describe NAC's central role in securing a consensus document containing practical steps for nuclear disarmament. [19] Significantly, NAC maintained cohesion and negotiated as a coalition throughout the Rev Con, a characteristic that enhanced the bargaining power of the group. Although the NWS later failed to implement most of the 13 Practical Steps, many elements of the NAC proposals and formulations have in significant ways shaped the subsequent NPT review structure and discourse. The "unequivocal undertaking," for example, is now a central tenet of disarmament commitments under the NPT, as are the principles of irreversibility, verifiability, and transparency.

The period following the 2000 Rev Con saw a relative decline in the NAC's influence. Not considering their "new agenda" goals fully accomplished, the coalition continued its activities in the NPT and the First Committee, emphasizing the importance of implementing the decisions of the 2000 Rev Con. However, an overall deterioration of the environment in multilateral nonproliferation fora, influenced by the G.W. Bush administration arms control policies and general NWS reneging on past commitments, was not conducive to "bridge building." Rotation of diplomats posted in Geneva and changes in the governments of some of the NAC members also affected the coalition dynamics. In addition, divisions within NAC over the scope of its agenda and the relative emphasis to be given specific issues diluted the Coalition's impact.

A convergence of factors can account for the recent revitalization of NAC. Although the international arms control and disarmament atmosphere improved significantly following President Obama's 2009 Prague speech, NAC did not mobilize ahead of the 2010 Review Conference as it had a decade earlier. Consequently, it did not play as instrumental a role as a group in shaping the disarmament portion of the 2010 Final Document. Subsequently, however, NAC drew inspiration from the renewed international debate on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW), as well as from several other new disarmament initiatives that emerged in 2012-2013. These developments, along with the departure of Sweden from the group in 2013, prompted "soul searching" among the remaining NAC members. The meetings in summer 2013 of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations provided an opportunity for states, including NAC members as well as civil society representatives, to engage in an unusually creative, substantive discussion on measures necessary for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world. The debate led NAC to revisit its own thinking and reinvigorated discussion within the group.

Led by Egypt, NAC drafted a paper for the OEWG reviewing the necessary legal arrangements (both existing and lacking) for the complete elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons, and arguing for the elaboration of a "clear, legally binding, multilateral commitment to achieve nuclear disarmament." [20] Ireland, as the next coordinator, built upon this and prepared a working paper for the 2014 NPT PrepCom, inviting states parties to a serious discussion on various options for the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world. The options presented included: 1) a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC); 2) a Nuclear Weapons Ban; (a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons not necessarily accompanied by dismantlement provisions); 3) a framework arrangement of stand-alone instruments; or 4) a combination of the above elements. [21] The latest NAC-sponsored First Committee resolution, prepared under the leadership of Mexico, reiterates the invitation and specifically urges NPT states parties to explore options for nuclear disarmament at the 2015 Review Conference. New Zealand, as the current coordinator, is leading the preparations of the next working paper, which is supposed to further examine the legal context and options for achieving nuclear disarmament. [22] It is unclear how the NAC envisages such a discussion taking place in the NPT setting, but it could push for the Subsidiary Body 1 to take up NAC papers as a starting point for debate. Alternatively, NAC could aim for an agreement at the Rev Con to take up the discussion on the basis of its proposals in some other forum, such as the OEWG. Given that the NAC resolution was adopted at the UN First Committee with only seven abstentions and five votes against, NAC appears poised to again exert significant influence on the next Review Conference.

Most of the NAC states are very active in the Humanitarian Initiative. The renewed sense of urgency the Humanitarian Impact conferences in Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna have inspired, combined with the stalemate in the UN disarmament machinery, has led to a shift in the positions of some NAC members away from an incremental approach to disarmament. Mexico, in particular, has become very vocal about the need for more ambitious endeavors, possibly outside the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Others in NAC, especially those that are NAM members or observers, remain staunch supporters of the CD as the "single multilateral negotiating forum" and the only appropriate place for disarmament negotiations. Debates within NAC over disarmament approaches, including a nuclear weapons ban, might fracture the group's cohesion and diminish its negotiating power within the NPT review process. On the other hand, such internal debate has the potential to restore the vibrancy and relevance of the group's message. While NAC has shown no interest in adding new members, it has increasingly found itself aligned with several non-NAC states, which have become very active on disarmament measures. In many respects, for example, Austria and Switzerland have become close partners of NAC. At the same time, NAC has found it more difficult to collaborate with other cross-regional groupings that include some NAC members, such as the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.

Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) is the youngest cross-regional grouping in the NPT, but has been very active during the current review cycle. At the 2015 NPT Rev Con, NPDI will likely attempt to leverage strong working relationships with the United States to promote enhanced transparency on nuclear arsenals and further nuclear weapons reductions by all nuclear weapon states, among other measures. The group can be expected to push back against the idea of a legally binding nuclear disarmament instrument and defend the effectiveness of a more gradual approach.

NPDI was co-founded by Australia and Japan, as a follow-up to the Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (CNND) [23] and in the wake of the adoption of the 2010 NPT Action Plan. Unlike the origin of the Vienna Group and NAC, the initiative to create NPDI appears to have emanated from the capitals. [24] The first NPDI Ministerial Declaration, issued in September 2010, describes the purpose of the group as taking forward the consensus outcome of the 2010 Review Conference and advancing "the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation agenda as mutually reinforcing processes." [25] Thus, unlike the Vienna Group and NAC, which are focused on specific pillars of the NPT, NPDI seeks to work across all three pillars. The initial name of the group was "Friends of the NPT," but it changed to NPDI at the second ministerial meeting in Berlin in April 2011. [26]

NPDI began as a 10-nation group comprising of Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates.

The group's founders made a conscious effort to reach out and recruit members from different regions. [27] As noted by a number of observers, however, the membership's geographic spread belied the lack of political diversity, as most NPDI states are members of NATO or recipients of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence through bilateral mutual defense treaties. [28] In September 2013, Nigeria and the Philippines joined the Initiative, increasing the representation of non-allied countries. Reportedly, some other states expressed an interest to join at that time, but as they were U.S. allies the group decided such additions would not necessarily be helpful. [29] It remains to be seen if the group's enlargement will lead to any significant change in the NPDI positions, though it appears unlikely. NPDI does not describe itself as a like-minded coalition and indeed, there are significant differences in national positions, particularly on nuclear disarmament, among its members. Mexico, in particular, has expressed frustration with the lack of a more ambitious disarmament agenda, and it would not be surprising were it to withdraw from the grouping and invest more of its energies in the NAC, to which it also belongs.

The NPDI core group appears to be Australia, Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands, and these states take the lead in drafting NDPI statements and working papers. The initiative emphasizes high-level engagement and, until recently, convened ministerial meetings twice a year (one in September in New York and another in an NPDI country). Each ministerial has produced a declaration outlining NPDI views and priorities. NPDI diplomats admit, however, that biannual ministerial meetings are hard to sustain if the agenda and outcomes do not change significantly from meeting to meeting. There was no ministerial in September 2014, and the group is now likely to place greater emphasis on meetings of senior officials, primarily in Geneva. [30] NPDI's working methods are also evolving; initially, the preparation of working papers and joint statements was done in the ministries in the capitals, which posed challenges for coordination and proved more difficult for some members than others. [31] One would expect that a greater role given to experts "on the ground" would help enhance collaboration within the group as well as between the Geneva missions and respective capitals.

In nuclear disarmament, the group advocates an incremental, step-by-step approach, which it also describes as "building blocks." NPDI prioritizes the commencement of fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament; transparency on nuclear arsenals; gradual reductions of the number of nuclear weapons – by the United States and Russia but also other NWS; diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategies; and reducing the risk of the accidental use of nuclear weapons. Thanks in particular to the leadership of Japan, NPDI also has emphasized the role of education in promoting both disarmament and nonproliferation. In other spheres, NPDI promotes universal application of the Additional Protocol as part of the safeguards standard under the NPT; wider implementation of export controls; broader application of safeguards in the NWS; and strengthened nuclear security. [32] As of the end of 2014, NPDI had submitted 19 working papers covering these and other issues in advance of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The group is also preparing a paper outlining areas of potential agreement ("landing zones") for the Rev Con and proposing language to be used by the Main Committees' chairs in drafting the outcome document. [33]

Group members emphasize the importance of engaging the NWS, and NPDI has initiated a series of closed-door lunchtime discussions with the nuclear powers to explain the initiative's positions and proposals. By the end of 2014, five such meetings had taken place, two of them hosted by the United Kingdom, which currently chairs the P5 consultations. U.S. Under-Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller also participated as a guest speaker at the NPDI Ministerial Meeting in Hiroshima in April 2014. NPDI tends to view itself as the group best able to engage with the NWS on disarmament, as the initiative takes very moderate positions and seeks out areas that the NWS are more comfortable discussing and where practical results appear most likely. NPDI also has sought to engage with NAM, and Indonesia's then-Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was a guest speaker at the Hiroshima ministerial along with Gottemoeller. On the other hand, Iran (the current chair of NAM) vetoed the NPDI-NAM consultations in New York in 2014, and NAC also has been less than enthusiastic about formal consultations with its NPDI counterpart. [34]

The area in which NPDI has been most prominent and has had the greatest influence is transparency. In 2013, the group presented its proposal for an NWS standard disarmament reporting form pursuant to Action 21 of the 2010 Action Plan. The proposed form called for detailed information on a range of issues, including the number, types, and status of nuclear warheads and delivery systems; the amount of fissile material produced and declared in excess of military needs; measures undertaken to reduce the risk of use of nuclear weapons; negative security assurance policies; and others. [35] Although the initial reaction to the proposal from the NWS was guarded (or, in the case of Russia, outright negative), they eventually took it into consideration in their consultations. NPDI's proposed form set a fairly high mark against which the NWS reporting can be compared. However, the standard reporting format and information provided under it that the NWS ultimately presented at the 2014 PrepCom fell significantly below NPDI's expectations, perhaps with the exception of the U.S. report, which contained the most information. According to NPDI diplomats, after analyzing the reports, the group is approaching individual NWS with ways to improve reporting. [36] Going forward, the initiative could make a valuable contribution at the 2015 Review Conference, and beyond, by continuing to push for greater transparency on nuclear arsenals. The group perhaps could also encourage some of its own members to provide greater transparency on nuclear weapons stationed on their territories. [37]

It is difficult to assess the potential impact of NPDI in the NPT review process, as it is still a relatively new player. To the extent that the United States is receptive to more forward-looking positions on nuclear disarmament—as suggested by its participation in the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons—the close relationship it enjoys with a number of NPDI members may enable the group to play a constructive role in expanding common ground between the NNWS and at least some of the NWS. At the same time, NPDI does not yet appear to have a broad enough appeal among the NNWS to be a bridge-builder beyond a small set of specific issues, such as transparency. It is also likely to prove difficult for NPDI to retain a coherent negotiating stance during the Review Conference against the pull of strongly held national positions and allegiances to other coalitions and alliances to which its members belong (e.g., Mexico and NAC; Canada, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Turkey and NATO).


There are many different kinds of coalitions and groupings active in the NPT review process. The three we have highlighted—the Vienna Group, NAC, and NPDI—vary greatly in terms of their membership, political orientation, substantive focus, homogeneity, longevity, and impact on the outcomes of past review conferences. They also differ considerably in terms of their origins and the degree to which they function as a collective during, as opposed to in advance of, NPT meetings. Although there is some overlap in group memberships, for the most part they function autonomously (or at least not in close coordination), and also often advocate positions that do not correspond perfectly with those advanced by the members in their national capacities. Indeed, the groupings acquire their negotiating powers in large part due to their ability to appeal to a broader community than would be possible for any individual state.

By definition, coalitions should be of a temporary nature, not expected to persist indefinitely. As the oldest grouping in the survey, the Vienna Group is an anomaly in this respect, having remained active in the NPT review process for nearly 35 years. Although its membership has fluctuated slightly, the Vienna Group's focus has remained steady, and it is likely to influence the deliberations on safeguards, export controls, and peaceful use topics at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. That being said, the heyday of the G-10 appears to have passed, and according to several Vienna Group diplomats, the raison d'etre for the group has diminished, as has the role it plays in shaping NPT review conference outcomes. [38]

NAC also is a relatively mature coalition, having been active in four NPT review cycles. More so than the Vienna Group and NPDI, NAC's impact has derived to a significant degree from the manner in which its members have cut across traditional geographical and political divides, especially those that often have separated NAM and non-NAM non-nuclear weapon states. Its influence has been greatest when it has been able to tap the creativity as well as negotiation and bridge-building skills of its very talented (and occasionally unorthodox) diplomats—diplomacy that some characterize as "intellectual" or "ideational leadership" [39]—as well as the ideas and energy of civil society. NAC's influence also has been most pronounced at times when the United States has been relatively receptive to multilateralism and new disarmament approaches and least effective during periods of unilateralism. As such, it prospered during the 2000 NPT Review Conference, experienced revitalization during the second Obama administration, and is likely to play a significant role during the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Given the pronounced disagreement among the NPT states parties on the best approach to nuclear disarmament and next steps, NAC's attempt to initiate a substantive discussion on disarmament options in a formal setting can help build common ground in May. That being said, according to one senior NAC diplomat, "NAC sees no need to be front and center of the contemporary NPT universe, as was the case in 2000 when the disarmament pillar was an orphan child of the NPT." [40] Rather, it appears to be content to work with other like-minded partners, including countries such as Austria and Switzerland, to translate the groundswell of international support for disarmament initiatives dealing with the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons into practical measures, including those that are endorsed in a future NPT final document.

The verdict is still out on the durability and impact of the most recent political grouping active in nuclear politics—NPDI. The comprehensive scope of its mandate enables it to engage in each of the three main NPT Rev Con committees, but it is unclear how coordinated and cohesive the coalition will remain once the 2015 Rev Con begins and members are pulled in different directions by other groupings to which they belong, not to mention their own national priorities. It is unlikely that NPDI will be effective in promoting a wide variety of issues across the different main committees and subsidiary bodies, especially if major points of contention arise in a number of these fora. NPDI is more likely to be effective if it emphasizes a relatively small number of issues, which do not compete directly with those promoted by other political groupings, and which play to the strengths of its membership.

If recent past practice is a useful guide to future behavior, one should expect states, speaking in their national capacities, to play a major—and perhaps dominant—role at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Individual states tend to be especially effective at blocking consensus at review conferences when a convergence of views would appear to threaten their national interests. Individual states, including even the most powerful NWS, however, have much greater difficulty in forging consensus among a very large and diverse collection of review conference participants. It is in such a setting that coalitions of states can play an important role, helping to find common ground and, on occasion, actually forging consensus. Given the number of potentially divisive issues likely to arise at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, it is by no means certain that any coalition will succeed in this bridge-building task. However, the Vienna Group, NAC, and NPDI all are well positioned to contribute to this process, and it is unlikely that the 2015 Review Conference will be judged a success absent major contributions of the coalitions.

The authors wish to express their thanks to Amanda Moodie, Catherine Dill, and Andrew Brown for their assistance in collecting various documents and publications related to this Issue Brief. They also are grateful to the many past and present diplomats, who shared their experiences in, and insights about, the political groupings, which are the subject of this study.

[1] In contrast, alliances typically refer to "formal or informal commitments for security cooperation between two or more states." Stephen M. Walt, "Why Alliances Endure or Collapse," Survival, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 1997), p. 157.
[2] The Seven Nation Initiative was a grouping of diverse states brought together by Norway in collaboration with the UN leadership in the aftermath of the dismal 2005 NPT Review Conference, which failed to come close to reaching a substantive agreement. The seven states were Australia, Chile, Indonesia, Norway, Romania, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The NATO-5 coalition involving Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway, was even shorter lived, and was active between early 1999 and the 2000 NPT Review Conference. It is best remembered for its advocacy-at odds with prevailing NATO policy-of greater limitations on non-strategic nuclear weapons.
[3] The authors have chosen not to discuss the Non-Aligned Movement in this report as it is the subject of their Adelphi Book: Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned Movement, (London: IISS and Routledge, 2012).
[4] The group that convened in 1980 included eight states: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. At various times, Finland and the Netherlands were in and out of the group, whereas Ireland and New Zealand joined sometime ahead of the 1985 Review Conference. Hungary joined the group after the end of the Cold War. One of the very few scholarly articles in which the G-10 is referenced, suggests that the group was "put together by Australia in 1981." Richard Sinnott, "Ireland and the Diplomacy of Nuclear Non-Proliferation: the Politics of Incrementalism," Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 20, 2010, p. 67. Statements by the G-10 itself, however, identify the date for its creation as 1980.
[5] Interview by one of the authors with former senior Canadian diplomat, Vienna, December 9, 2014.
[6] In the statement on behalf of the Vienna Group of Ten at the 2010 Rev Con, Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia noted in particular that the G-10 members looked forward to engaging with other delegations "acting in their national capacities." Statement by H.E. Peter Woolcott, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the Conference on Disarmament on behalf of the Vienna Group of Ten, General Debate, 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, May 6, 2010, A number of G10 states are also members of NPDI and NAC.
[7] Summary records of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part III), p. 322.
[8] See David Fischer and Harald Mueller, "The fourth review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty," SIPRI Yearbook 1991: World Armaments and Disarmament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p 557.
[9] Conversation with an official involved in the 2010 NPT Rev Con negotiations, Wilton Park, December 2014.
[10] Conversation with a former diplomat involved in early NAC activities, New York, October 2014. See also Darach MacFhionnbhairr, "The New Agenda Coalition," in Wade L. Huntley, Kazumi Mizumoto, and Mitsuru Kurosawa, ed., Nuclear Disarmament in the Twenty-First Century (Hiroshima, Japan: Hiroshima Peace Institute: 2005), p. 276. Shortly after its formation, NAC membership was reduced to seven following the departure of Slovenia, reportedly due to pressure exerted by the United States and others in advance of its accession to NATO.
[11] MacFhionnbhairr, "Statement on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition," First Committee of the UN General Assembly, October 27, 1998 cited by Carl Ungerer, "The force of ideas: Middle power diplomacy and the new agenda for nuclear disarmament," in Carl Ungerer and Marianne Hanson, eds., The Politics of Nuclear Non-proliferation (Canberra, Australia: Allen & Unwin Australia, 2001), p. 198.
[12] Negotiation of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was a notable exception to this generally bleak assessment.
[13] On two occasions (in 2002 and 2003), at the insistence of Sweden and with the support of Mexico, NAC tabled an additional resolution on non-strategic nuclear weapons. Subsequently, the group decided to not split the focus and stick to tabling only one resolution covering all relevant nuclear disarmament issues. Conversation with a diplomat familiar with the NAC negotiations and operation, October 2014, New York.
[14] Tariq Rauf, "An Unequivocal Success? Implication of the NPT Review Conference," Arms Control Today, No. 30, July/August 2000.
[15] Joint Declaration by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden (The "New Agenda" Coalition), June 9, 1998, and "Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: The Need for a New Agenda," UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/53/77Y, December 4, 1998, available at
[16] France, the United Kingdom, and the United States reportedly accused NAC of undermining the NPT and actively lobbied (through demarches and otherwise) NATO members and Eastern European states to vote against the NAC resolution at the UN First Committee. See Rebecca Johnson, "UN First Committee Condemn Nuclear Testing, Backs Fissban Negotiations, and Seeks 'New Agenda' on Nuclear Disarmament," Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 32, November 1998, available at, and Darach MacFhionnbhairr, "The New Agenda Coalition," in Kazumi Mizumoto et al.
[17] The changes were adopted at a meeting of the NAC foreign ministers in Pretoria in late 1999. This point is highlighted by Ulngerer, p. 199.
[18] Discussion by one of the authors with a senior U.S. State Department official in New York at the start of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.
[19] For example, Rebecca Johnson, "Successful Conference: Now Words into Actions," Acronym Institute, May 20, 2000, For a detailed discussion, see Rauf, "An Unequivocal Success? Implications of the NPT Review Conference," Arms Control Today, No. 30, July/August 2000,
[20] "Elements for the Achievement and Maintenance of a World without Nuclear Weapons," NAC working paper to the Open-Ended Working Group, A/AC.281/WP.10, August 20, 2013.
[21] Working paper submitted by Ireland on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition to the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference, NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP.18.
[22] Conversations with senior NAC diplomats, December 2014.
[23] Also known as the Evans-Kavaguchi Commission after its co-chairs, former foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, respectively.
[24] Although one of the chief architects of NAC was based in the capital, the idea to form the New Agenda appears to have originated "in the trenches," with participation of several diplomats posted in Geneva.
[25] "Joint Statement by Foreign Ministers on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation," New York, September 22, 2010,
[26] Authors' conversation with a senior NPDI diplomat, January 2015. Also, German Federal Foreign Office's website refers to the first Ministerial Declaration as "Ministerial Statement by the Friends of the NPT,"
[27] Conversation with an NPDI diplomat, December 2014.
[28] The non-aligned NPDI members are Chile, Mexico, the UAE, and since 2013, Nigeria and the Philippines. Wilbert van der Zeijden and Susi Snyder, "NPDI Matters: Recommendations to States Parties for the April 2013 Ministerial," IKV Pax Christi, March 2013. Australia and Japan reportedly approached several NAM countries about joining the original initiative, but were rebuffed.
[29] Conversation with an NPDI diplomat, December 2014.
[30] Conversations with NPDI diplomats, October 2014 and December 2014.
[31] Conversations with NPDI diplomats, October 2014, December 2014, and January 2015.
[32] NPDI is viewed as a group with strong nonproliferation positions, but according to at least one diplomat, the group had recognized quite early the overlap with the Vienna Group of 10 and has attempted to focus more on disarmament. Comments by an NPDI diplomat, December 2014.
[33] Comments by an NPDI diplomat, December 2014.
[34] According to interviews conducted by the authors with several NPDI diplomats, NAC met with NPDI in Geneva early in 2014, but was reluctant to have a follow-on meeting in New York later in the year. The role played by Iran in blocking and initiative to meet with the NPDI was confirmed in interviews by the authors with both senior NPDI and NAM diplomats in December 2014.
[35] Transparency of Nuclear Weapons, Working Paper submitted by the NPDI to the 2012 NPT Preparatory Committee session, NPT/CONF.2015/PC.I/WP.12, April 20, 2012, available at
[36] Remarks by a senior NPDI diplomat in a closed meeting in October 2014, and conversation with another NPDI diplomat in December 2014.
[37] US nuclear weapons are known to be stationed in Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey, but only Germany has spoken publicly about the weapons on its territory.
[38] Interviews by the authors in Vienna and Wilton Park, UK in December 2014.
[39] The terms are used in the context of "coalition style diplomacy" by Carl Ungerer, pp. 188-191.
[40] Comments by a senior NAC diplomat in mid-December 2014.

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up


Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Entry into force
The moment at which all provisions of a treaty are legally binding on its parties. Every treaty specifies preconditions for its entry into force. For example, the NPT specified that it would enter into force after the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union (the Depository governments) and 40 other countries ratified the treaty, an event that occurred on March 5, 1970. See entries for Signature, Ratification.
Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons as well as Other Weapons of Mass Destruction
Middle East NWFZ: The concept of an NWFZ in the Middle East was first introduced by Iran and Egypt in 1974. In April 1990, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proposed the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of all types of weapons of mass destruction. In the "Resolution on the Middle East" adopted at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the concept of a Middle East Zone Free of WMD was endorsed by all NPT state parties. The resolution calls on all regional states to join the NPT, place their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, and work towards the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, in light of the minimal progress made since 1995, Arab states pushed for tangible steps toward the WMD-free zone. The result was a resolution calling for a meeting on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone in 2012, to be attended by all states of the region. The meeting was subsequently postponed due to the parties' failure to convene in 2012.
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was formed during the Cold War as an organization of states that did not seek to formally align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union, but sought to remain independent or neutral. NAM identifies the right of independent judgment, the struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism, and the use of moderation in relations with all big powers as the three basic elements that have influenced its approach. For additional information, see the NAM.
New Agenda Coalition
New Agenda Coalition: In June 1998, the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden issued a statement calling for a new nuclear disarmament agenda. (Slovenia later withdrew from the NAC.) The NAC called for the five nuclear weapon states and the three nuclear-capable states to make an unequivocal commitment to nuclear disarmament and to begin multilateral negotiations that would lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)
Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI): Founded by Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates in September 2010, the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) is a ministerial-level group of states within the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty focused on practical steps that will forward the consensus outcomes of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.
United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council: Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council consists of fifteen members, five of which—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are permanent members. The other ten members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The five permanent members possess veto powers. For additional information, see the UNSC.
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
United Nations General Assembly
The UN General Assembly is the largest body of the United Nations. It includes all member states, but its resolutions are not legally binding. It is responsible for much of the work of the United Nations, including controlling finances, passing resolutions, and electing non-permanent members of the Security Council. It has two subsidiary bodies dealing particularly with security and disarmament: the UN General Assembly Committee on Disarmament and International Security (First Committee); and the UN Disarmament Commission. For additional information, see the UNGA.
Nuclear Security Summits
Nuclear Security Summits: A series of international summits that emerged out of U.S. President Barack Obama's call in April 2009 to "secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years." The summit process focuses on strengthening international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism, thwarting nuclear materials trafficking, and enhancing nuclear materials security.
Nuclear-weapon states (NWS)
NWS: As defined by Article IX, paragraph 3 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the five states that detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967 (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Coincidentally, these five states are also permanent members of the UN Security Council. States that acquired and/or tested nuclear weapons subsequently are not internationally recognized as nuclear-weapon states.
Safeguards: A system of accounting, containment, surveillance, and inspections aimed at verifying that states are in compliance with their treaty obligations concerning the supply, manufacture, and use of civil nuclear materials. The term frequently refers to the safeguards systems maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in all nuclear facilities in non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT. IAEA safeguards aim to detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material in a timely manner. However, the term can also refer to, for example, a bilateral agreement between a supplier state and an importer state on the use of a certain nuclear technology.

See entries for Full-scope safeguards, information-driven safeguards, Information Circular 66, and Information Circular 153.
Export control
National laws or international arrangements established to restrict the sale of certain goods to certain countries, or to ensure that safeguards or end-use guarantees are applied to the export and sale of sensitive and dual-use technologies and materials. See entry for Dual-use
Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO
The Preparatory Commission is an international organization tasked with building, certifying and operating the infrastructure for the detection and investigation of nuclear tests, preparing the regulations for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and leading activities that will facilitate the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The organization will cease operations following the entry into force of the CTBT. For additional information, see the CTBTO.
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy: The energy liberated by a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion), or by radioactive decay.
Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites, as well as additional authority to use the most advanced technologies during the verification process. See entry for Information Circular 540.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS)
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS): Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), NNWS are states that had not detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967, and who agree in joining the NPT to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons (that is, all state parties to the NPT other than the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China).
Multilateral: Negotiations, agreements or treaties that are concluded among three or more parties, countries, etc.
First Committee
First Committee: The first of six Main Committees of the United Nations General Assembly which deals with all issues related to disarmament and international security. The First Committee on Disarmament and International Security meets every year in October for four to five weeks after the General Assembly’s general debate. See entry for United Nations General Assembly. For additional information, see the NTI Inventory.
Prague Speech
Refers to the speech given by U.S. President Barack Obama in April 2009 at Hradcany Square, Prague, the Czech Republic. In the speech, Obama stated "America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." He noted that “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” The Prague speech served as the framework for the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and subsequent U.S. arms control efforts.
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The CD is an international forum focused on multilateral disarmament efforts. Although it reports to the UN General Assembly and has a relationship with the United Nations, it adopts its own rules of procedure and agenda, giving it some degree of independence. The CD has a permanent agenda devoted to the negotiation of disarmament issues. The CD and its predecessors have negotiated major nonproliferation and disarmament agreements such as the NPT, the BTWC, the CWC, and the CTBT. In recent years, the CD has focused on negotiating a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); and negative security assurances. For additional information, see the CD.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance that was formed in 1949 to help deter the Soviet Union from attacking Europe. The Alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington on 4 April 1949. The treaty originally created an alliance of 10 European and two North American independent states, but today NATO has 28 members who have committed to maintaining and developing their defense capabilities, to consulting on issues of mutual security concern, and to the principle of collective self-defense. NATO is also engaged in out-of-area security operations, most notably in Afghanistan, where Alliance forces operate alongside other non-NATO countries as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). For additional information, see NATO.
Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)
The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty us currently under discussion in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to end the production of weapons-usable fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) for nuclear weapons. For additional information, see the FMCT.
Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The CD is an international forum focused on multilateral disarmament efforts. Although it reports to the UN General Assembly and has a relationship with the United Nations, it adopts its own rules of procedure and agenda, giving it some degree of independence. The CD has a permanent agenda devoted to the negotiation of disarmament issues. The CD and its predecessors have negotiated major nonproliferation and disarmament agreements such as the NPT, the BTWC, the CWC, and the CTBT. In recent years, the CD has focused on negotiating a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); and negative security assurances. For additional information, see the CD.
Fissile material
Fissile material: A type of fissionable material capable of sustaining a chain reaction by undergoing fission upon the absorption of low-energy (or thermal) neutrons. Uranium-235, Plutonium-239, and Uranium-233 are the most prominently discussed fissile materials for peaceful and nuclear weapons purposes.
Negative security assurances
A pledge by a nuclear weapon state that it will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state. Some states have policies that allow for the use of nuclear weapons if attacked with other WMD by a non-nuclear weapon state. See entry for Positive security assurances


My Resources