THE SECOND conference to review the workings and status of the 10-year-old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has ended. The delegates disbanded after three weeks of negotiation without having been able to reach agreement on any sort of document. But even though the meeting revealed warning signs of serious trouble ahead, support for an international regime to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and technology did seem, if anything, stronger than it has been in the past. That much is good.
What created the deadlock at this meeting was not the treaty's anti-proliferation measures, but what many non-nuclear weapons states describe as the failure of the weapons states, in particular the two superpowers, to slow their nuclear arms buildups.
Throughout the treaty's negotiation, the nuclear have-nots insisted that their renunciation of nuclear weapons be matched by an equally strong and binding commitment by the weapons states to nuclear disarmament. though a somewhat watered-down commitment to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date . . ." was ultimately included, the NPT is not and never was intended to embody a fully reciprocal obligation. Nevertheless, many nations continue to insist -- some in good faith, and some cynically -- that the treaty's one short article on nuclear disarmament has weight equal to all the rest of its provisions.
What would have placed the treaty in jeopardy was the kind of attack that occurred at the last treaty review conference five years ago. then, many countries argued that in adopting stricter non-proliferation policies the nuclear exporting nations were failing to live up to their treaty commitment to "the fullest possible exchange" of equipment and know-how for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This criticism could have led to the unraveling of the treaty itself and of the system of international inspections and safeguards that supports it. But though many nations continue to make these arguments, the prevailing view this year leaned more toward strengthening, than attacking, these provisions.
What, then, was the motivation of the countries -- led by Yugoslavia, Mexico, Sweden and Sri Lanka -- that insisted, for instance, on a conference recommendation that the United States and the Soviet Union agree to put SALT II into effect even before its ratification -- a move creating an impasse that really had nothing to do with the treaty? Though the answers are not all clear, much of it seems to have been a maneuver to establish these countries' credentials as leaders of the non-aligned movement on this and other issues. That's just politics. The troublesome part is that even though none of these four countries may have any desire for nuclear weapons, what they fashined was a perfect cover for the many aspirants to weapons status whose interests are perfectly suited to such a diversion of international attention from the proliferation problem at hand.