NPT Prepares for contentious 2020

The 2019 NPT Prepcom ended with a set of representative recommendations to the review- but they were not adopted by consensus. Instead, some states tried to push back against previously agreed language on nuclear disarmament, humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the additional protocol while generally agreeing to increase attention to the growing risk of nuclear weapons and drawing attention to gender concerns.

About the meeting

Governments met in New York from 29 April – 10 May 2019 for the third session of the Preparatory committee for the 2020 nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. The Review Conference is scheduled for 27 April – 22 May 2020 in New York and will be chaired by Ambassador Grossi of Argentina.

The 2020 Review Conference will be the 50th Anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty, and the 25th Anniversary of its indefinite extension. As Ambassador Syed Hussein of Malaysia noted in his chair’s reflections, “Looking beyond 2020 also requires reaffirming and implementing past commitments, and this is needed to maintain the integrity of the Treaty following the commemorations.”[i]

Recommendations to the Review Conference

The meeting was unable to achieve a consensus set of recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference. The recommendations paper put forward by the Chair, which receive majority support in the room, was issued as a working paper.[ii] The main points of divergence were around the need to implement the treaty, calls for action on nuclear disarmament by the declared nuclear-weapon states, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the importance of achieving greater gender diversity, and on strengthened safeguards standards. Ten or eleven delegations expressed dissatisfaction with the chair’s final paper despite admitting the language was greatly improved on issues of risk reduction and transparency, but the majority indicated they could live with this document as a balanced representation of discussions that took place and a good basis for work in 2020. China was notably upset that’s its encouragement to include the phrase “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought” was not included in the recommendations.

Role of the Netherlands

The Netherlands was the chair of the first preparatory committee meeting in this cycle (2017). That means there are ongoing responsibilities throughout the review cycle, including chairing one of the main committees during the 2020 Review Conference. In this role, working with the 2018 Chair (Poland) the Dutch delegation issues a summary working paper with recommendations to consider at the Review Conference. This paper included language on all three aspects of the treaty- disarmament, non-proliferation and peace uses of nuclear technology, as well as addressing issues around risk reduction, transparency, verification and gender.

During this meeting, the Dutch delegation called on “the US and Russia to show leadership in their disarmament efforts, including on New START, and by engaging in consultations on possible further reductions in nuclear weapon systems, both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and non-strategic.”[iii]  Ambassador van Deelen went on to say that the “commitments contained in the 2010 Action Plan and those commitments made during previous Review Conferences remain valid and should form the foundation of our work.”

At the same time, the Dutch delegation took the floor to defend nuclear sharing practices under NATO in a right of reply after questions to the legality of this practice under the NPT were raised by several delegations.

The Dutch delegation also provided a transparency report of its own activities to achieve the full implementation of all three pillars of the treaty, found here: . The report is based on the plan outlined in a letter to the chamber by the minister on 21 June 2018, and references a proposed fissile materials treaty, the comprehensive test ban treaty and other issues. It departs from the 21 June 2018 letter by not discussing the role of nuclear weapons in the Dutch national security strategy, nor reflecting that the role has increased (as that letter illustrated).


Many states, including the Netherlands, called on the US and Russia to begin discussions on the next round of arms reductions measures (a follow-up to the START treaty) and to consider extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The majority of States present called for demonstrable progress in implementing the 2010 agreements, though a few States suggested breaking up those steps into even smaller pieces. The United States reiterated its initiative to “Create the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” during the meeting, and noted the difficulty that the current security situations presents to achieving any outcomes. There was also reference to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the majority of delegations reaffirming its complementarity with the NPT and that it is an effective measure to fulfil the Article VI obligations. The working paper of the Chair acknowledged “the need for a legally-binding norm to prohibit nuclear weapons in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” and noted “the support of many states for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and its complementarity with the NPT.”

Humanitarian Consequences

Underpinning the NPT itself is a concern about the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind [sic] by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war”.[iv] In 2010, as a result of further research on the possible consequence of the use of nuclear weapons, the NPT Review Conference “expresse[d] its deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic  humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons.”[v] The conference went on to express “its deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable  international law, including international humanitarian law.” Similar language was problematic to the nuclear armed, and some of their allies, at this preparatory meeting. In the end, the Chair’s recommendation paper includes language that builds and effective bridge between the 50 year old NPT Preamble with the 2010 Consensus outcome, by having the conference “Reiterate the deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, including any intentional or accidental nuclear explosion and call for further consideration to prevent the devastation that would be visited upon all humanity by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples; and reaffirm the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Additional Protocol

There is divergence among NPT States parties on how to move forward on the Additional Protocol. Some of the non-nuclear weapon states do not want to accept additional regulatory responsibilities until there is demonstrable progress form the nuclear armed countries in their nuclear disarmament obligations. Others believe the Additional Protocol agreements are the standard by which all non-proliferation verification should be assessed. The chair’s recommendations include language that reflect the importance of the additional protocol, and remind that “once in force, the additional protocol is a legal obligation.” However, it did not include previously agreed language that identifies the additional protocol as the “enhanced verification standard”.

Middle East

In 1995, as part of the packages of agreements that extended the treaty indefinitely, a resolution was adopted that calls on all States in the Middle East to work for a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction. In 2010, it was agreed that the depository states (US, UK and Russia), along with the UN Secretary General, would work to set up a conference of all States in the region to further discuss the ways and means forward towards establishing such a zone. During this meeting, it was announced that a conference would be held for the negotiation of a binding treaty on the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East to be held in 2019.The UN Secretary General has proposed 18-22 November, and Jordan offered to chair the meeting. Russia already announced it’s intention to attend, while the US announced it will not. The UK (the other depository country responsible for implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East) has not yet announced its intentions.

There was disagreement on how to reflect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), after several countries objected to only calling on Iran to implement the deal. The language in the Chair’s recommendations noted the strong support for the continued implementation of the deal and added a reference to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon all states to respect the commitments they made in the JCPOA.


This review cycle has been the first to address gender issues. The chair’s working paper addresses not just the need for  women’s participation but also the active encouragement of states parties to support gender diversity in their delegations and through sponsorship programmes in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1325. The document also adds recognition of the  disproportionate impact of ionising radiation on women and girls.


The 2020 Review will be a contentious one. There is little to show for progress on the plan agreed by all NPT members in 2010- and instead there are significant efforts underway to undermine disarmament obligations. At the same time, there is a new dynamic in the conference room. Previously, many states would run quickly to flatter and please the nuclear armed. That is no longer the case. There is a new power dynamic, where the few nuclear haves are no longer in charge. There is a shift in the room that reflects a lack of trust and lack of belief that the nuclear armed will ever deliver on their promised. Evidenced by the INF withdrawal, the JCPOA withdrawal, the new nuclear weapon developments, and the increasing risk that nuclear weapons are going to be used, most of the non-nuclear armed states have shown they will not sacrifice everything for the sake of a weak consensus. The commitments from 2010 still stand.

There do remain a handful of countries that continue to defend the current status quo. States that rely on nuclear weapons of others in their security strategies and doctrines are defending the policies and practices of the nuclear armed. They are complicit in elevating the risk that nuclear weapons will be used by accident or intent, in the near term.

In looking ahead to the Review Conference it’s important to remember- facts are not the same as opinions. It is fact that nuclear weapons cause catastrophic humanitarian harm. It is an opinion that nuclear deterrence is an effective security strategy. It is a fact that the probability of the use of nuclear weapons is not zero. It is an opinion that accidental or intentional use of nuclear weapons can be prevented forever. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Mexican delegation reflected that 2020 Review Conference has to review the Treaty’s implementation and functioning based on factual events, and that there is not much space for opinion or will.

[i] “Reflections of the Chair of the 2019 session of the Preparatory Committee”, 10 May 2019, [NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/14], available:

[ii] The Chair’s working paper can be found here:

[iii] Statement delivered by H.E. Marjolijn van Deelen, Ambassador for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 2 May 2019. Available:

[iv] Preamble, The Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons

[v] 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, Volume I, Conclusions and Recommendations 1.A.v. [NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I)*], available: