Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Ends without Adopting Substantive Outcome Document Due to Opposition by One Member State
Delegates Broadly Condemn Russian’s Federation’s ‘Dangerous Nuclear Rhetoric’
After four weeks of work, the tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons ended this evening without reaching agreement on substantive conclusions and recommendations, due to the Russian Federation’s opposition to a summary document presented by the presidency, the adoption of which required consensus. This marked the second Review Conference in a row, after that of 2015, which has failed to produce a substantial outcome document, and many delegations deplored this failure, while affirming that it did not call into question the content of the Treaty itself, nor the achievements of previous Review Conferences. The next Review Conference will be held in 2026.
After beginning late due to several postponements and a suspension, the closing session was marked by the opposition of the Russian Federation to the draft final report presented by the Conference President, Gustavo Zlauvinel (Argentina). The text, he explained, represented “the best effort that I have been able to make to respond to the differences between States parties that have been communicated to me, in particular during the consultations, during this review conference”, before adding: “Unfortunately, I was only made aware of one State party’s specific objections today at midday. Consequently, at this late stage of the procedure, they could not be taken into account within the framework of this project.”
Speaking in defence of his text, Mr. Zlauvinel explained that he had “sought to reconcile the positions expressed in a fair and balanced way, in order to reach a result which, in my opinion, should achieve consensus”. He acknowledged that it is not a perfect document, nor one that contains everything that all delegations wanted, but justified those efforts by the fact that “we are at a moment in history where our world is increasingly torn apart by conflict, and more alarmingly, by the ever greater prospect of the unthinkable — nuclear war”. At such a time, he stressed the importance of seeking to amplify what unites the parties, not what divides them. “We all want to achieve a world without weapons, avoid dangerous regional conflicts and see the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he continued, and further expressed hope that the draft document and — perhaps more importantly — the full and rapid implementation of the commitments it contains “can help us to move closer to all the objectives I have just mentioned”.
The Russian Federation’s delegate then asked for the floor to explain that there was “no consensus” and that his country had “objections on key points which have a political dimension and are known to all”. He explained that these objections related to “five paragraphs” of a text which contained more than 140 and proposed not to delete them, but to amend them. The delegate did not quote the paragraphs. Without citing the Russian Federation, five of the paragraphs of the draft document referred to the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia.
While the Russian Federation’s delegate was the only one to speak openly against the draft outcome document — thus preventing its adoption — he stressed repeatedly in his closing statement that his country was not the only one to criticize the text. “No one is satisfied with the content of the document,” he said, deeming it “weak on the merits”. It would not have been realistic to expect an ambitious and forward-looking document, he continued, but the text “could have, at a minimum, reflected the reaction of States parties to the factors and events that occurred during the review cycle and which had a significant impact on the three pillars of the Treaty”. However, he continued, over the past seven years, there have been many such events, which will have implications for the next review cycle. He cited in particular the closer military and technical cooperation between non-nuclear-weapon States and their nuclear-weapon strategic partners, the fact that “non-weapon countries participate in joint nuclear missions”, as well as the fact that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members agree to use nuclear weapons, which are now deployed in countries that are not members of the alliance.
That delegate said the report could not be adopted due to “irreconcilable differences” between the positions of the different States. Consensus is not an end in itself, he stressed, and a document that does not satisfy any of the States parties was likely to have even more negative effects than the absence of any document. He further condemned that the Conference had been “taken hostage” by “Ukraine and its sponsors”, whom he accused of having made repeated comments throughout the Conference that were “anti-Russian, politicized, unjustified and misleading on the situation in Ukraine”, and that they were entirely responsible for the absence of positive results.
However, among the 30 or so delegations that took the floor for closing statements, some strongly criticized the Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine. In a joint statement by the representative of France, some 40 countries, including those of the European Union, United Kingdom, Norway, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Ukraine and Türkiye again condemned “the unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression”.
Reaffirming their support for the Treaty, those States condemned “the dangerous nuclear rhetoric of the Russian Federation, its actions, as well as its provocative declarations on the raising of its nuclear alert levels” — actions which were deemed incompatible with the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races released at the beginning of January. They condemned the Russian Federation’s actions “carried out in complete disregard of its international obligations and commitments and in violation of the security guarantees it granted to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in the context of the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon State”. They further expressed deep concern about the serious threat to the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities due to their seizure or other actions by the Russian Federation armed forces, which significantly increase the risk of nuclear accident or incident, and demanded that it immediately withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine and return full control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and all nuclear installations located within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine to Ukrainian authorities.
Individually, several countries have insisted that one State, the Russian Federation, opposed the consensus. The representative of Ukraine saw this as a demonstration of the “isolation” of that State, adding: “We are not alone in our fight for survival.”
The representative of Cuba condemned a lack of political will to progress in various fields, in particular that of nuclear disarmament, as requested by all the member States of the Non-Aligned Movement which are parties to the Treaty. Denouncing the weak content of the draft final document relating to that pillar of the Treaty, he considered that its adoption would not have made it possible to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.
The Permanent Observer for the Holy See called for delegations not to overestimate what consensus would have brought to the draft final document, which had “serious weaknesses”, contained no meaningful commitments to nuclear disarmament, and nothing ambitious or new to reduce reliance on nuclear deterrence — nor anything ambitious to deal with the humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear detonation.
The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the seven member States of the New Agenda Coalition, explained that the group would have reluctantly joined consensus, noting the draft outcome document did not restore the balance provided for in article VI of the Treaty — described as a grand compromise between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations. The delegate recalled that article VI presents the obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament negotiations, whatever the circumstances — a legal obligation and moral imperative.
Many speakers also wondered about the consequences of this new failure of the States Parties to adopt a substantial final document, seven years after the first setback in 2015.
The Russian Federation’s representative said he did not share the opinion of those for whom the absence of a final document would represent a failure of the entire review cycle, with potential effects on the viability of the Treaty. The report was not adopted, but delegations had discussed in depth a whole range of issues on which compromises were now necessary, such as the creation of the nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East or strengthening peaceful nuclear cooperation. This set of discussions forms, for Moscow, extremely valuable work which constitutes a solid basis for continuing work after the Conference.
The United Kingdom’s delegate stressed that the Russian Federation’s lone opposition, trying to blame everyone but itself for the absence of a final document, did not reduce the four weeks’ work to nothing. There remains more unity than division, even though many existing disagreements have been exacerbated by the illegal war — but final document or not, the Treaty will remain the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation system.
The representative of the United States noted there was “real frustration in the room”, and that his country remains fully committed to its obligations under article VI. He stressed that the document had underplayed the situation at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, and that the real risk of a radiological disaster there was solely due to the Russian Federation’s war of choice. “Russia is the reason we do not have consensus today,” he stated, and the last-minute changes that delegation demanded were not minor. If those issues are not central and germane to the Treaty, “then I don’t what is”. However, he concurred that “we do agree on more than we disagree”. His delegation will continue to build on the good work done in August, such as condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear tests, ensuring access to civilian nuclear facilities and supporting the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “We all need this Treaty and everything it represents.”
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, recalled that the binding measures contained in the Treaty or adopted at successive Review Conferences remain valid, including IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards system, which “will continue to be a fundamental element of the non‑proliferation regime”. The bloc and its member States will spare no effort to ensure the full implementation of the of the Treaty and to work for its universalization. China’s delegate expressed regret over the absence of an agreement, but considered that the Review Conference had made it possible to better understand the changes that have taken place in the international situation over the past seven years — also citing that very useful exercise in multilateralism.
In his closing statement, Mr. Zlauvinel cited the negative impact on the international context, nevertheless highlighting the political will to negotiate in a spirit of good faith. Although he expressed deep regret over the lack of consensus, he considered that, “despite the great differences in position which were evident”, the delegations had, for four weeks, “reiterated the importance of the Treaty and the need to maintain its credibility”. But, he cautioned, to retain that credibility, States parties must uphold Treaty obligations and commitments made at previous Review Conferences.
The States parties to the Treaty agreed that the next Review Conference will be held in 2026, after three sessions of the Preparatory Committee, respectively in 2023 in Vienna, in 2024 in Geneva and in 2025 in New York. Review Conferences are held in principle every five years, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tenth Conference, originally scheduled for spring 2020, had to be postponed several times. Holding the eleventh Review Conference in four years will make it possible to partially compensate for the delay in the timetable. The Conference President noted there will therefore be no break between the end of the current cycle and the start of the next.
States parties also agreed to establish a Working Group on Strengthening the Review Process, open to all States parties, to review and make recommendations to the Preparatory Committee for the eleventh Review Conference on measures that would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, accountability, coordination and continuity of the Treaty review process.