UNSC Resolution 1887 Part 2: Resolution’s Political Significance and Implications for the International Nonproliferation Regime

UNSC Resolution 1887 Part 2: Resolution’s Political Significance and Implications for the International Nonproliferation Regime

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Kaegan McGrath

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Vasileios Savvidis

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


The NTI Issue Brief Packaging Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the United Nations explored the history of past UNSC resolutions dealing with nonproliferation, disarmament, and the NPT, as well as the proceedings at the Special UNSC summit chaired by President Obama. This Issue Brief provides an analysis of the final text of UNSC Resolution 1887 with the objective of dissecting the resolution's political orientation, impact on the international nonproliferation regime in the short and long term, and implications for the Security Council in the NPT context.

As this article will demonstrate, UNSCR 1887 covers issues of substance that have been, and still remain, heavily contentious in the NPT context, where the inability to forge consensus on agreed language has left these issues open and up for debate. Resolution 1887, however, adopted language that reflects positions traditionally espoused by NWS and Western leaning states, which were also palatable to the more moderate countries from the Non-Aligned, such as those represented in the UNSC at the time that the resolution was adopted.

In the weeks following the resolution's adoption, it also became apparent that some states, very active in the NPT review process, viewed the resolution as a negative development. There are demonstrably valid reasons for this conclusion. Therefore, special focus will be placed on those potentially contentious aspects of Resolution 1887.

It should be stressed, however, that the resolution is also in great part comprised of important and useful language on issues that already garner broad support, at least in principle or on a declaratory basis. Aside from the reaffirmation of the typical mantras on loftier general principles of nonproliferation, disarmament and the right to peaceful uses, there are also specifics that fall in the "middle ground" category such as language on certain aspects of the multilateralization of the fuel-cycle, nuclear safety and security, and the importance of UNSC Resolution 1540. For the purposes of this paper, these parts of the resolution are not analyzed in exacting detail. Nonetheless they deserve an equally careful reading.

Analysis of UNSC Resolution 1887

Issues of Compliance

With the passage of Resolution 1887, the UN Security Council strongly reaffirmed its own role in reinforcing the nonproliferation regime, particularly with regard to issues of State compliance with the NPT. This is particularly evident not only in the decision to convene a Heads of State-level UNSC meeting, but also in the substance of the resolution itself, which deals with such issues in far broader measure than any previous resolution. For example, operative paragraph 1 emphasizes that any given case of non-compliance shall be brought to the UNSC, which will determine whether the situation constitutes a threat to international peace and security, noting that the Security Council has the "primary responsibility" to address such threats.

The paragraph does not state explicitly who decides in the first place whether there is a lack of compliance, nor does it refer in this, or in any other paragraph for that matter, to the role and competence of the IAEA in this regard. The role of the Agency in determining non-compliance is an issue often raised by some Non-Aligned countries, usually by employing language stating that the IAEA is "the sole competent authority"[1] to decide on this issue. In other words, these States emphasize the importance of the technical judgment performed by the IAEA Board of Governors as opposed to the value, the desirability, or even the need for a subsequent political judgment by the UNSC.

An interesting question then emerges as to what meaning is conferred to the word "threats" at the end of the first operative paragraph for which the UNSC reserves for itself "primary" – but not "sole" – responsibility. Does it refer to the phrase "threat to international peace and security" earlier in that paragraph, to the phrase "non-compliance with non-proliferation obligations," or both? The first approach seems more likely. However, the UNSC could have more clearly discerned between the two cases. In addition, it could have recognized the role of the IAEA more expressly, be it sole, primary, parallel, complementary or just advisory to the Security Council. Therefore, the choice of wording here leaves room for interpretation on the role of the IAEA, but it makes clear beyond doubt that the UNSC retains authority on such matters.

In paragraph 10 of the resolution, the UNSC recalls previous resolutions passed by the Council regarding cases that have constituted "major challenges to the non-proliferation regime," though refraining from naming and thus "shaming" specific countries. Although one may perceive this as a gesture of good will towards those countries for which the resolutions were issued, there is no ambiguity about the intent to continue applying pressure on these States. Moreover, the 15th and the 16th paragraphs of the preamble each provide a short list of UNSC resolutions that deal with the DPRK and Iran, respectively.

Operative paragraph 10 also contains a second phrase that is probably meant as another gesture of good will; the reaffirmation of the Security Council's "call upon [the parties concerned] to find an early negotiated solution" to the issues that the Security Council has acted upon in the past-read Iran and North Korea's obligation to comply fully with relevant UNSC resolutions. The wording used here opts for a "negotiated solution," which conveys the preference for utilizing diplomatic means in resolving the issues with the countries involved in the process. In essence, the wording refers clearly to the Vienna EU3+3 talks with Iran and the stalled Six-party talks involving the DPRK, implying that solutions will be "negotiated" without coercive measures. The omission of any reference to the specter of future sanctions likely aimed to underscore the obvious effort to build bridges with these states, particularly Iran, due to the talks scheduled to begin just days after the adoption of the.

Disarmament Issues

The strength of the language used in the resolution addressing issues of disarmament is the minimum one would expect from the NWS, both in terms of the number of references to disarmament and substantive depth of these references. It would be fair to say that the resolution not only fails to meet the expectations and declared standards of the Group of the Non-Aligned States, but it barely meets the standards of many NNWS allied with the United States and other NWS.

For instance, although it refers to the outcomes of the 1995 decisions and of the 2000 final document in the 7th paragraph of the Preamble, there is no explicit reference to the "13 Practical Steps" adopted in the 2000 final document. This could be discounted if there were references to most of these "Steps" later on in the body of the resolution, but that is not the case.

The resolution simply reproduces the wording of Article VI of the NPT in operative paragraph 5 and then only touches upon the three issues that NWS are less hesitant to discuss, at least prior to 2000-and after 2008 in the case of the United States. These issues include reductions in nuclear arsenals, the need for the early entry into force of the CTBT, and the need for substantive and constructive negotiations at the CD for the conclusion of treaty on banning the production of fissile material.

When it comes to reductions in nuclear arsenals, the preamble of the resolution welcomes any reductions realized by NWS in general and welcomes the decision and the efforts of the United States and Russia to conclude a START follow-on treaty. However, it does not mention tactical nuclear weapons nor does it call upon the NWS to pursue deeper or more coordinated reductions. The resolution also fails to mention issues related to verification.

Operative paragraphs 7 and 8 address in a short but straightforward way the CTBT and the FMCT, respectively. With regard to the CTBT, it is important that the U.S. sponsored resolution provides unambiguous support for the treaty, as the previous U.S. administration adopted a very negative stance towards the CTBT. It is apparent that the new U.S. administration can still reap some political benefits and score some easy diplomatic "kudos" for having changed its policy on these issues, but it will become harder to play this card in many more occasions and at some point the United States will have to deliver on the CTBT and other substantial disarmament measures, particularly if Non-Aligned States are to endorse any of the resolution's nonproliferation objectives.

Other disarmament-related measures, whether part of the "13 steps" or not, were not addressed in the resolution. As mentioned earlier, there is no reference to nuclear policies, the operational status of nuclear forces, non-strategic nuclear weapons, or the concepts of irreversibility, transparency, and verifiability with regard to disarmament measures. Not surprisingly, the resolution also makes no mention of exploring the possibility of entering into discussions on a nuclear weapons convention, an issue that has been receiving increasing attention recently.

One particular point that merits some special attention is the call on states not-parties to the NPT to join in the endeavor of pursuing the negotiations described in Article VI of the Treaty. This is an interesting new approach, not as a concept and not as practice-India, Pakistan and Israel are participants at the CD for example-but as a departure from the usual language about outlying states in the broader NPT context. Usually any reference to outlying states is couched in language on the traditional call for universal adherence to the NPT, which the resolution repeats without naming these countries. The call on outlying states in conjunction with Article VI, however, may signify a new approach whereupon, without downplaying or weakening the call for universality, outliers are prompted to partake in disarmament measures in parallel with the five NPT NWS (e.g. in reductions in nuclear arsenals). In other words, non-adherence to the NPT should not stop, delay, or further perplex the already difficult endeavors stipulated in Article VI.

Overall, Resolution 1887 addresses issues related to all three pillars of the NPT, though not in a balanced manner. To be sure, it deals with the "pillar" of nuclear disarmament in a very minimalist fashion, mostly reflecting the traditional positions of the NWS. This should surprise no one, given that the resolution was drafted on the initiative of NWS. Moreover, the resolution was adopted in the Security Council where NWS have "home court advantage," as opposed to the General Assembly where the rule of majority favors the numerically superior Non-Aligned Group, or the NPT review process where consensus based decision-making procedures preclude conferring advantage to any state or group of states.

Negative Security Assurances and Nuclear Weapons Free Zones

The wording on negative security assurances (NSAs) in operative paragraph 9 of the Resolution can be viewed in the same light as the political orientation of the wording on other disarmament issues as analyzed above. The only reference made to NSAs is the recollection of the unilateral statements by the five NWS endorsed by UNSC Resolution 984(1995). There is no reference to the legally binding, though conditional,[2] security assurances provided by NWS through the Protocols to the NWFZ Treaties.[3] Unsurprisingly, there is also no reference to what NAM States clearly pine for; the prospect of concluding an unconditional, universal, legally-binding instrument on providing security assurances to the NNWS. Finally, nowhere in the resolution is there a hint of discussing the issue of adopting no-first use policies.

On the issue of NWFZs, we see again a familiar approach. In the 13th paragraph of the Preamble, there is a statement in principle and in general supportive of the entire concept of establishing NWFZs. However, there is no specific reference to any of these zones or call for the NWS to ratify the related protocols. Each of the existing NWFZs contains protocols that provide NSAs from the NWS to members of each zone. Although the United States has signed and ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco, as well as signed protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba and the Treaty of Rarotonga, it has also issued declarations explaining under which circumstances the United States would not be bound by the NSAs associated with these treaties. The Obama administration has clearly not abandoned the reservations held by previous U.S. administrations on the issuance of NSAs, or indicated any intention of providing unconditional NSAs to NNWS or adopting a no-first use policy. The nuclear doctrines of the NWS, aside from China, still aim to deter the use of chemical and biological weapons.[4]

Export Controls

Resolution 1887 introduces strong language on Export Controls, representing a classic example of diametrical differences in perceptions between "the North" and "the South". Of particular note, most of the countries of the Western group, as well as Russia, China and South Africa, participate in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a non-legally binding, unofficial export control regime with the declared aim of coordinating the export policies of suppliers of dual-use nuclear material and equipment. Non-Aligned States and the developing world in general, view the NSG with suspicion, as a body imposing unacceptable restrictions on dual-use nuclear exports that go against the spirit and maybe even the letter of Article IV of the NPT, and after the waiver provided to India also Article III, par.2 of the Treaty.

At the same time, however, all states recognize the need to have in place a system of national export controls. This sentiment was also reflected in the Final Document of the 2000 RevCon, which called for strengthening national export controls. However, with regard to international export control regimes and the NSG, the 2000 Final Document, without endorsing their role, simply called for their applied guidelines to "not hamper the development of nuclear energy for peaceful uses by States parties."[5]

In the years to follow, Non-Aligned rhetoric against the NSG and export control regimes grew more aggressive, partially in response to the U.S.-India nuclear deal, while at the same time some of the supplier states called for even more stringent regulations. Similarly, paragraphs 18 and 19 adopt language that would probably raise many eyebrows in the Group of the Non-Aligned. The former endorses the practice by supplier states to require as condition of supply that exported items be returned if the recipient States terminate, withdraw from, or are found by the IAEA BoG to be in non-compliance with their safeguards agreements. The latter endorses the practice of supplier states taking into consideration whether the recipient state has signed and ratified an Additional Protocol when deciding on nuclear exports, an idea promoted mainly by countries that support the Additional Protocol becoming the new verification standard for NPT safeguards.

Paragraph 20 endorses the use of yet another clause in exporting agreements, this time aimed at keeping exported material under some kind of safeguards in case the recipient state terminates its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. For instance, if a state were to terminate its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, safeguards would continue to be applied to any nuclear material and equipment supplied to the recipient state, or any special nuclear material produced with such material or equipment. This would be relevant for any state that withdrew from the NPT-or even in a case where the state in question is not a party to the NPT, actually India, and terminates its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The resolution is careful in these paragraphs not to differentiate between full-scope safeguards required for NPT States Parties on the one hand and special or item specific safeguards on the other. Furthermore, operative paragraphs 18 and 19 begin by using the phrase "encourages States" that finally leaves the issue up to the discretion of the states, while paragraph 20 "urges" the states, possibly indicating a heightened sense of importance on realizing the objective of this same paragraph.

On the issue of multilateral export control regimes, the resolution cautiously refrains from mentioning the NSG and international arrangements that usually draw fire from their critics. Once more, we witness a pattern where Resolution 1887 advances language and proposals more representative of Western positions, trying at the same time not to push the issue too far. It would not, however, come as a surprise if in the years to come we see NSG members reaching an agreement to follow such practices in a coordinated manner.

Comprehensive Safeguards and the Additional Protocol

Resolution 1887, as expected, is highly supportive of the role and function of both comprehensive safeguards and the Additional Protocol, as evinced by the language within operative paragraphs 15 and 16, which also call for increased material, institutional, political and actual support to the IAEA in order for the Agency to fulfill its mission.

There is also some noteworthy language on the Additional Protocol, which constitutes a point of friction between the Non-Aligned leadership[6] and Western states, especially in the present NPT review cycle, as to the nature and the level of its connection to Treaty obligations under Article III. The resolution calls for ratification and implementation of the AP by all States. This language has been articulated in various NPT working papers by most of the Western states.[7] Although there is no language adopting or endorsing the position that the Additional Protocol should be regarded as the standard under Article III, as some Western Countries support,[8] paragraph 15.b states that the AP and CSA "constitute essential elements of the IAEA safeguards system." This wording goes further than the mere recognition that the Additional Protocol is essential for verifying the absence of undeclared facilities, but stops short of advancing the Additional Protocol as the new verification standard for the NPT.

Withdrawal Rights under Article X

Another issue tackled by Resolution 1887 is that of the implications of a State Party exercising its right to withdraw from the NPT under Article X. Before North Korea announced its intention to withdraw in 2003, the first and only State party to do so, this issue has received virtually no attention in previous NPT review cycles. Since then, it has been receiving increased focus. A great range and variety of proposals from many countries were brought into the discussions for the 2005 RevCon, and again during the ongoing review cycle for the 2010 RevCon.

Lamentably, this issue has become entangled in the "North-South" political divide, a divide that after the end of the Cold War gradually replaced the "East-West" schism. It is no coincidence, therefore, that most of the proposals mentioned above came from Western states.[9] On the other side of the spectrum, Iran, as well as other Non-Aligned States, supports the view that the issue of withdrawal does not merit any particular attention.[10] Some states also believe the proposals by Western states mentioned above represent an effort to reinterpret the Treaty[11] or to bypass the proper amendment procedure that would otherwise be required.[12] Because the issue of withdrawal essentially emerged after the 2000 RevCon, and due to the failure of the 2005 RevCon, there is no agreed language on withdrawal and it remains to be seen whether the upcoming 2010 RevCon will manage to achieve some sort of agreement on the issue. The resolution, however, as it did with other contentious NPT issues, adopted language similar to many of the aforementioned Western proposals on the issue.

Operative paragraph 17 takes note of the ongoing discussions on "identifying modalities under which NPT States Parties could collectively respond to notification of withdrawal." The same paragraph also affirms that a State would remain responsible, even after its withdrawal, for any violations perpetrated while it was still party to the Treaty. This position has been mentioned in many NPT working papers,[13] and essentially serves as a reminder and a political statement. Under international law, it is commonly understood that withdrawal from a Treaty absolves the conventional bond and the conventional obligations provided under the Treaty, but it does not absolve a State of its responsibility for any violations while still a party. [14]

Paragraph 17 states that the UNSC will undertake to "address without delay" a State's notice of withdrawal, underscoring the importance of responding expediently to any such event. More significantly, the paragraph clearly emphasizes that withdrawal is not the only act that will be reviewed by the UNSC, but also the reasons invoked by the State in its notification of withdrawal-why the State purports its supreme national interests to have been jeopardized by adherence to the Treaty. The inclusion of this commitment is noteworthy because the circumstances surrounding the DPRK's withdrawal from the NPT have dominated contemporary thinking on Article X. In other words, most States and experts envisage a withdrawal scenario based on the DPRK experience, where withdrawal is likely to be exercised only by a State that is already in non-compliance with the Treaty or is found to have a clear and imminent intent to acquire nuclear weapons. To be sure, this is one possible scenario, but it is not the only possibility. A State's decision to withdraw might well be based upon a genuine security concern or the non-compliance of an adversary, and actually, it seems that this was the original rational during the NPT negotiations.[15] In this case, the withdrawing party would still be in full compliance with all its obligations under the NPT. It is important that the UNSC recognize this potential scenario and prepare for an adequate response in this regard.

Furthermore, operative paragraphs 18 and 20, which deal primarily with export controls, are very much related, among other issues, to the prospect of a future withdrawal. This is because an effective withdrawal from the NPT would result in the automatic termination of any NPT-related safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Notably, the language employed in these two paragraphs is modeled after certain provisions found in Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954,[16] which regulates U.S. nuclear commerce with other countries. Nonetheless, proposals of this kind have become increasingly relevant in the aftermath of the DPRK withdrawal from the NPT. For example, in recent years many working papers have included similar language describing such "modalities" aimed at addressing any problems that might arise from a potential withdrawal through adding relevant clauses in civil nuclear cooperation deals.[17]

The Lack of Any Direct Reference to the Middle East NWFZ Issue

Following the adoption of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East as part of the "package deal" that accompanied the indefinite extension of the treaty,[18] the Non-Aligned Group, and particularly the Arab Group with Egypt at the forefront, has kept the issue at the top of the NPT agenda. In every instance, these states try to make the case that this is not merely a regional issue, or as "just one more proposal for a NWFZ". And also there are lately on an annual basis, working papers by Egypt and the League of Arab States with proposals on the issue.[19] The Russian delegation, it seems, drew elements from these proposals at the 2009 PrepCom and put forward its own proposal that received significant attention and broader support.[20]

The only reference, though indirect, to this issue is the outcome of the 1995 NPT RevCon, which adopted the relevant Resolution, and to the 2000 Final Document that included relevant language. This issue is of the utmost importance to a considerable number of states, and it seems that many in the west either fail to grasp the importance of the issue for a large number of countries, or recognize that this issue acts as a barometer on progress in the NPT review process. In all likelihood, the West believes that these countries are merely overreacting due to a narrow state-centric or region-centric views, or perhaps their ambivalence merely reflects the inherent complexities of the situation.

While all of the above may bear some truth and cannot be excluded, one has to understand that the significance of the Middle East NWFZ goes far deeper into the very heart of the NPT. This issue is hardly about "just another NWFZ" where "the disarmament of the disarmed"[21] usually takes place. This case necessitates dealing with the potential disarmament of the opaquely armed, and with the containment of the covertly arming-or at least overtly hedging. The discussion about a NWFZ in the Middle East is essentially a discussion about disarmament and universality. Furthermore, it is a discussion about assuring compliance in the long term, especially from current countries of concern like Iran.

Therefore, the lack of any explicit reference to the existing commitments regarding a MENWFZ could be viewed, accurately or not, as depicting the real intentions of the drafters. In other words, a lack of commitment not only towards the establishment of such a zone-which in the end is not the 1995 Resolution's mandate, the moderate and reasonable mandate being just achieving progress on the issue-but also towards fulfilling their commitments under Article VI of the NPT and towards achieving universality for the Treaty.

Even more telling is that Resolution 1887 touches upon almost all other issues related to the NPT, and apparently aims at sending a clear message to Iran. When a Middle East related issue-the case of Iran-is in full view, and any explicit reference to the Middle East NWFZ is missing, it shouldn't come as a surprise that countries in the region get alarmed. This might be one more reason for the strong opposition that the resolution receives from some important states in the region, namely Iran and Egypt.[22] However, it is true that this is also a case of a "glass half-full, half-empty" since other states in the region, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, interpret and hail the resolution as a development that gives new impetus to the efforts for establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East.[23]

Short Term Implications

The Obama administration's claim that Resolution 1887 is not aimed at any particular state and instead focuses on the broader international nonproliferation regime is accurate in the strictest sense-no states are referenced by name in the resolution. There are various potential benefits of adopting this type of generalized, instead of targeted, approach, although it remains to be seen whether it will pay off in dividends in the end.

Nonetheless, a close reading of the text clearly reveals that the resolution outlines the preferred modus operandi of dealing with Iran, the DPRK, and other potential proliferation challenges. Therefore, one must conclude that the resolution is in fact aimed at these states in all aspects but in name. Perhaps of greatest concern for the U.S. administration was approaching the Iran issue on a united front with the other permanent five NWS in the Security Council in face of the upcoming talks with Iran. After all, the main perception in the West is that Russia and China's aversion or reluctance to administer coercive measures such as UNSC sanctions when dealing with Iran and the DPRK has insulated Tehran from enhanced sanctions in the past, which bolstered President Ahmadinejad's impudence over the threat of more sanctions.

Furthermore, as the 2010 NPT RevCon approaches and diplomats try to decipher each other's positions, the resolution will inevitably make an impact on the way people interpret the nonproliferation and disarmament policy of the P-5. With respect to the issues for which the NWS often receive diplomatic pressure for action or concessions, such as disarmament, NSAs, and NWFZs, the resolution follows a more hard-line approach and falls short of NNWS expectations in general, let alone of expectations by the Non-Aligned, the New Agenda Coalition and the NGO community. Indeed, it would be very alarming if these measures contained in the resolution are to be understood and communicated to the international community and to the NNWS as the maximum level of concessions NWS are willing to offer.

However, it is doubtful that this indeed is the case. It is more feasible that the NWS were just not motivated or interested in offering such concessions without first bargaining for gains on their own issues of high priority, such as reigning in Iran's nuclear ambitions, dealing with the DPRKs withdrawal from the NPT, and reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. It would be much more constructive if the NWS made clear that what Resolution 1887 has to say on disarmament just marks a standard minimum and their starting point for consultations on where they could go for additional wording. In these consultations, of course, the other side should seriously consider also making concessions on some of the contentious nonproliferation-oriented issues for which the resolution includes strong language.

Beyond the issues of substance however, Resolution 1887 has already been marred by political controversy. During the UNGA First Committee, France changed its annual voting behavior, from endorsement to abstention, on the Japan-sponsored resolution titled "Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons" adopted finally as A/RES/64/27. The reason was the non-inclusion of a reference to Resolution 1887.[24] Such an inclusion however would have compromised support by other countries. These disputes over the resolution as a source of legitimization that merits reference might well metastasize into the RevCon.

Another area where Resolution 1887 will likely have an impact in the near future is export controls, specifically the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The resolution focuses strongly on issues related to export controls and the conditions under which civil nuclear cooperation deals could or should be concluded. Furthermore, the P5-who have already agreed upon and adopted the relevant language in 1887-play an important role in the NSG. Therefore, one could imagine that any future proposal within this Group to agree on making the inclusion of conditions and clauses similar to those described in operative paragraphs 18-20 common practice could readily invoke these paragraphs in order to draw legitimacy and demonstrate the pre-existence of expressed agreement on the matter.

Long Term Implications

The precedent set by Resolution 1887 could alter the way the Security Council, especially the P5, views its own role in the nonproliferation regime and in connection to the NPT review process in particular. In addition, the resolution could dramatically alter the way that NPT States Parties perceive the faculty of the Security Council, as well as shape their response to this potentially new role for UNSC. However, it is too soon to provide an accurate answer.

In terms of the function and role of the Security Council in the NPT regime, adopting Resolution 1887 demonstrated that it has both the competence and the will to take decisions and produce text on issues of substance that traditionally were covered by the bodies of the NPT review process, the Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee.

The U.S. or some other government from the P-5 might decide to repeat the same process with the same subject, especially if they deem that this approach produced the desired results, maybe with some domestic pay-offs on the side. If this is likely to happen again, then the big question is whether NPT parties will perceive the repetition of such practice as complementary to the NPT review process that furthers the goals of the Treaty, or as one that attempts to substitute the review process and ultimately undermines it.


As far as the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime is concerned, UNSC Resolution 1887 in many ways was a rather unique political approach, particularly on how the role of the UNSC in this regime is perceived. As a political document, the Resolution deserves significant attention, even though there were no groundbreaking or original concepts introduced in it. The main aim of the Resolution was likely to enhance the diplomatic position of the P5+1 prior to the talks with Iran in the short term and do so in a way that was normative and general within the NPT context. By doing so, the sponsors and supporters also anticipated as a secondary effect-the demonstration of the existence of a common understanding in a series of contentious NPT issues between the P5, the western states, but also the moderate Non-Aligned states, as reflected by the current composition of the Security Council.

Furthermore, the UNSC demonstrated that it can be more active and more involved in the NPT regime, dealing with the many contentious issues and political dead-ends that have amassed over the last years in the NPT regime and its review process. Finally, the United States reverting to multilateralism and showcasing its resolve and ability to assume leadership and responsibilities demonstrated the Obama administration's preferred approach to foreign policy.[25] The timing of the initiative can be adequately justified and explained, along with the content of the document in terms of its political orientation and of the positions on several NPT-related issues captured within. However, it seems that those involved with the drafting and the adoption of the resolution didn't resist the temptation to maximize gains while minimizing concessions. They achieved that easily for they were dealing with either friendly or moderate countries. To be sure, these are not the states whose cooperation and agreement must be won in the RevCon in order to achieve consensus.

At the same time, certain choices regarding the drafting of the document might have sent out the wrong message to certain NPT States Parties and might have added more strain to an already tense situation. It will be interesting to observe in the months ahead, as both the talks with Iran and the process up to the 2010 RevCon unfold, how the resolution will be employed or treated by the various actors. Will it become a point of friction or a point of reference? Will such a feat be repeated as an indication of a shift in the way major powers do business on nonproliferation in the long run, or will it be cast in the back burner and fall into gradual oblivion after having served its short term-perhaps even short-sighted-purpose?


[1] NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.30 by the Group of Non-Aligned States "Recommendation 26: To reaffirm that IAEA is the sole competent authority responsible for verifying and assuring compliance by States parties with their safeguards agreements undertaken in fulfillment of their Treaty obligations," NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.9, par. 14 by Syria "…IAEA as the only body authorized to follow up questions of verification and compliance through its comprehensive safeguards system," NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.10, par. 5 by Libya "…affirms that IAEA is the only agency that is authorized to verify compliance of States Parties with the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements which they have signed with IAEA."
[2] Except from the assurances provided by China that are unconditioned. China's Statement of 6 April 1995, UNSC S/1995/265.
[3] Although the United States has signed and ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco, as well as signed protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba and the Treaty of Rarotonga, it has also issued declarations explaining under which circumstances the United States would not be bound by the NSAs associated with these treaties.
[4] David S. Yost, "France's new nuclear doctrine," International Affairs, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 82, 4 701–721, 2006,
[5] 2000 NPT RevCon, Final Document, NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I and II) Part I, Section on the Review of Article III, Par. 53, pg. 8.
[6] See NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.30, Working Paper by the Group of Non-Aligned States "Recommendation 24: To acknowledge that it is fundamental to make a distinction between legal obligations and voluntary confidence-building measures, in order to ensure that such voluntary undertakings are not turned into legal safeguard obligations."
[7] I.e. see NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.26, par. 5(d) Working Paper by the European Union "…(d) Universalization and strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards system, in particular through the universal adoption of the Additional Protocol, including technical updates of its annex II…". Also see NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.13, par. 7(b) Working Paper by Japan.
[8] I.e. see NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.14, par, 11 Working Paper by the "Vienna Group of 10" (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden) "…In this regard, the Group recognizes the Additional Protocol as an integral part of the IAEA safeguards system and affirms that a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement together with an Additional Protocol represents the verification standard pursuant to article III, paragraph 1, of the Treaty." Also see NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.33, par. 9(b) Working Paper by the "NATO-7" (Belgium, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Turkey) "…(b) We consider the IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements and the Additional Protocol to constitute the current verification standard, and call upon all States parties which have not done so to ratify and implement these vital instruments without delay;…"
[9] Many such proposals by states of the western group were submitted in the form of working papers for the review cycle leading to the 2005 RevCon. Most of those are repeated and some revised for the current review cycle, i.e. the European Union paper merged the French and German proposals from the last review cycle. At the 2009 PrepCom: NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.26, par. 5(b) by the European Union. At the 2008 PrepCom: NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.11 by Japan, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.29 by the Republic of Korea, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.42 by the United States and the Republic of Korea. At the 2007 PrepCom: NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.22 by the United States, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.25 by the European Union, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.34 by Australia, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.42, par. 5 by Canada.
[10] See i.e. NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.4, par.3 by Iran "3. In these circumstances, trying to focus on issues like article X, would only divert the attention of the States parties from their real tasks."
[11] I.e. Cuba in its statement during the May 11th discussions on Cluster 3 Specific Issue, at the 2009 PrepCom "El camino a seguir no puede ser, de ninguna manera, reinterpretar lo dispuesto en el Artículo X del TNP y amenazar con aplicar castigos y medidas punitivas a los Estados que decidan ejercer su derecho soberano a retirarse del Tratado.",
[12] Again Iran in NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.4, par.5 "…such proposals to reinterpret article X of the [NPT] are equal to the legal amendment of the Treaty. Such suggestions regarding legal amendment of the Treaty would actually undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime and create uncertainties and loopholes. However, if any State party has any proposal for the amendment of the Treaty it must follow the procedures stipulated in article VIII of the Treaty."
[13] See NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.29, par. 3 by the Republic of Korea "3. The right to withdraw from the Treaty stipulated in Article X.1 is a genuine right of States Parties that should be respected. However, withdrawal does not exonerate the withdrawing State Party from its obligation it should have implemented as member state." NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.42 by the United States and the Republic of Korea "Nevertheless, withdrawal from a treaty does not absolve a State of any violation of the treaty that was committed while it was still a Party to it. Should a party withdraw from a treaty before it remedies its violations, it should remain accountable for those violations." NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.2, par. 80 by Japan"…Japan believes that the States Parties should reaffirm that a State which has withdrawn from the NPT remains responsible for violations it committed while a Party to the Treaty." NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.25, par.10 by the European Union "…A State should remain internationally liable for violations of the NPT committed prior to withdrawal." NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.34, par.3 by Australia "…withdrawal does not absolve a State party from meeting obligations it had not met at the time of withdrawal." NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.42, par. 5 by Canada "…(c) Violations committed while a State is party to the NPT are neither erased nor absolved upon withdrawal."
[14] See Article 70 par.1 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969. "Article 70 – Consequences of the termination of a treaty: 1.Unless the treaty otherwise provides or the parties otherwise agree, the termination of a treaty under its provisions or in accordance with the present Convention: (a) releases the parties from any obligation further to perform the treaty; (b) does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination." International responsibility is one such obligation created by the violation of conventional obligations by a party to a Treaty. At the 2009 PrepCom, Indonesia in its statement during the discussions on Cluster 3 Specific Issue, notes Article 70 of the Vienna Convention and its text in conjunction to the issue of withdrawal from the NPT, though without further elaborating on the issue. Indonesia's statement available at:
[15] Mohamed I. Shaker, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Origin and Implementation 1959-1979, Oceana Publications, 1980, pg. 887-893.
[16] Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Public Law 83-703, U.S. Statutes at Large 69 (1954): 919
[17] See i.e. NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.2, par. 81 by Japan, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.34, par.4 by Australia, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.25, par. 10 by the European Union, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.22, par. 17-21 by the United States.
[18] Full-text available at the web site of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs:
[19] See NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.20 by Egypt and NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.23 by the Group of Arab States.
[20] See the statement delivered by the Russian Federation at the 2009 PrepCom during the May 8 debate on the Cluster 2 Specific Issue: Regional issues, including with respect to the Middle East and implementation of the 1995 Middle East Resolution,
[21] This phrase is attributed to the late Argentinean Ambassador Julio Cesar Carasales and was also the title of one of his books.
[22] During the UNGA First Committee in 2009, Iran threatened to vote against any resolution that referenced UNSC Resolution 1887. See Liviu Horovitz and Luis Gain, "One Year of Test Ban Commitment Cannot Erase a Decade of Dismissal: Discussing the Outcome of the CTBT 2009 Article XIV Conference," Issue Brief, Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2 November 2009, Although Egypt stated that "the mere convening of the [UNSC] Summit reflects the increased awareness of the international community of the current crucial stage of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and stresses the importance of saving the credibility of the Treaty" during the General Debate of the UNGA First Committee on 7 October 2009, it also highlighted what it considered the resolution's obvious weaknesses. For example, Ambassador Maged Abdulaziz criticized the resolution for including "elements which do not reflect consensus," "restrictions not stipulated in the NPT that would limit the ability of non-nuclear weapon-states to enjoy their inalienable right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy," as well as the resolution's "failure to even mention the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East." Ambassador Maged Abdulaziz, statement before the UNGA First Committee, New York, 7 October 2009,
[23] See the opening statements at the General Debate of the 64th Plenary Session of the General Assembly delivered respectively for the United Arab Emirates on September 26 by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister for Foreign Affairs,, and for the Kingdom of Bahrain on September 28 by Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Alkhalifa, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
[24] The French delegation provided this explanation through an intervention by Ambassador Eric Danon during the proceedings of the First Committee on October 28. The French statement available at:
[25] Joe Cirincione, "Building a world without nukes", The Guardian, Thursday 24 September 2009 issue,

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