Treaty bans spread of nuclear arms for ever

Leaders hail a milestone on the road to disarmament, writes David Usborne in New York

After four weeks of negotiations, delegates from 178 countries yesterday signed an agreement to renew indefinitely the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forbids the spread of nuclear weapons. The document was signed at United Nations headquarters in New York.

For 25 years the NPT has been the linchpin of nuclear disarmament efforts and is the only internationally accepted document to enshrine as its goal the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, welcomed the agreement as "a victory for common sense". Robin Cook, the Labour foreign-affairs spokesman, called on the British government to act on its pledge to pursue nuclear disarmament.

In Kiev, where President Bill Clinton stopped off following his summit meeting in Moscow with President Boris Yeltsin, the UN decision to extend the NPT was hailed by the US President as "a critical step" in making the world safer and more secure.

A jarring note was sounded by one nuclear-club member, France, which made clear it would probably have to carry out more nuclear weapons tests to maintain a credible deterrent until it develops simulation techniques.

There was no immediate reaction to the NPT accord from President Yeltsin, who has been preoccupied with his summit with Mr Clinton this week.

Tension at the conference between the five declared nuclear- weapons states - Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China - and the non-nuclear nations, was largely defused by compromise proposals tabled by South Africa that led to the adoption of separate documents reaffirming and strengthening the main commitments expressed by the NPT.

There was spontaneous applause in the General Assembly chamber as the conference chairman, Yayantha Dhanapala, ambassador of Sri Lanka, dropped his gavel, announcing that the decisions to prolong the treaty and to approve the appended declarations were adopted without a vote.

Though there was little doubt that a formal show of hands would have produced the simple majority required to prolong the treaty, it was feared as many as 20 non-aligned states, unconvinced that the nuclear powers were moving quickly enough towards disarmament, would oppose extension. Their objection would have damaged the treaty's future credibility.

At the eleventh hour, Arab states asked for a resolution expressing concern over Israel's nuclear-weapons capability and its refusal to sign the NPT. The resolution, also adopted and sponsored by Britain, the US and Russia, calls for a "Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction". It does not name Israel, because three countries in the region - Oman, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates - are not NPT signatories either.

Though not legally binding, the appended documents are likely to have long-lasting consequences, not least for Britain. There is also a text requiring that the current five-yearly reviews of how the NPT is implemented be conducted almost annually, and a declaration of principles restating each of the treaty's most important obligations, especially on nuclear disarmament.

The declaration calls, most importantly, for a "programme of action" towards disarmament and the "determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon states of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons gradually". This is certain to be used to bring pressure on Britain and France, the two nuclear-weapons states that have refused to put their nuclear arsenals on the table in global arms-reduction negotiations. The declaration commits the nuclear-weapons states to completing, by the end of next year, negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear test ban and the "early conclusion" of talks on a convention to ban the production of fissile materials for weapons use.

A footnote to the conference has been South Africa's emergence as a leader of the developing countries. The declaration of principles, which made consensus possible, was based on proposals tabled by Pretoria at the start of the conference. "It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the contribution they have made," a delegate said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project