UN chief disappointed nuclear treaty conference ends without consensus


UN Secretary-General António Guterres has highlighted the need for dialogue to reduce the nuclear threat after countries failed to reach consensus at a conference to review the landmark Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), his Spokesperson said on Saturday.

Following four weeks of intense discussions at UN Headquarters in New York, the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT ended late on Friday without an outcome document because Russia objected to text about its control over Ukrainian nuclear facilities.

The Secretary-General expressed disappointment that countries were unable to reach consensus on a “substantive outcome”, and to capitalise on the opportunity to strengthen the 52-year-old treaty and advance its goals, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

While the UN chief welcomed the sincere and meaningful engagement by the parties, and the fact that the Conference recognised the NPT as the “cornerstone” of the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime, he regretted that it was unable to address the pressing challenges threatening global collective security.

“The fraught international environment and the heightened risk of nuclear weapons being used, by accident or through miscalculation, demand urgent and resolute action. The Secretary-General appeals to all States to use every avenue of dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiation to ease tensions, reduce nuclear risk and eliminate the nuclear threat once and for all,” Dujarric said.

“A world free of nuclear weapons remains the United Nations’ highest disarmament priority and a goal to which the Secretary-General remains firmly committed.”

The NPT, which entered into force in March 1970, is the only binding commitment to the goal of disarmament by States which officially stockpile nuclear weapons.

It is organised around three pillars – disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – and 191 countries have joined the Treaty.

Review conferences are held every five years. The 2015 session also ended without an outcome document while the 2020 Conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina, President of the Review Conference, told journalists he was “frustrated” that parties did not adopt an outcome document by consensus.

Zlauvinen said he knew prospects were “very slim” even before proceedings started, given the divergent views over issues such as past commitments on security assurances.

“But the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February has exacerbated those tensions, and we knew that the war in Ukraine was going to cast a shadow on the Review Conference,” he said at a press conference on Friday.

The final plenary meeting was delayed and later suspended for several hours, he said, due to last-minute negotiations, particularly with the Russian delegation, which was unable to agree to the text “unless very important changes were to be introduced in the language with regard to the situation of the Ukrainian nuclear facilities under Russian control.”

Zlauvinen tried to see if other delegations would accept this language, “and it was not the case”.

He believed that overall, the Review Conference had been “meaningful”. Delegations engaged in discussions on very complex issues, and the lack of an outcome document did not diminish their work.

“It is like we had a movie for four weeks, but we couldn’t take a picture at the end of the movie,” he said. “So not having the picture of that doesn’t reflect that the movie didn’t exist.”

The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, also addressed reporters. Like the Secretary-General, she was disappointed at the outcome.

“The final draft was, of course, not a perfect document. We all knew that. But the vast majority of States parties felt that it will still be in the interest of the international community,” she said.

“So, our challenge now is to make sure that we will start from here and, if you will, redouble our efforts to make sure that the efforts towards nuclear disarmament will, in fact, be reinvigorated.”

Nakamitsu stressed that while this marked the second consecutive time the Conference ended without a consensus outcome, the NPT will not collapse or suffer immediate damage.

“However, I think we have to make sure that we will reverse this trend of confidence and trust in this NPT regime continuing to go down. We need to reverse the frustration,” she said.

“And for that to happen, we have to make sure that there will be serious and substantive engagements between nuclear weapon States and non-nuclear weapon States, and of course, very importantly, amongst nuclear weapons States themselves as well, said Nakamitsu.