Under the treaty, non-nuclear weapon states, including New Zealand, agreed never to acquire nuclear weapons. In return, the nuclear weapons states (China, France, Russia, the UK and US) agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons and affirmed the right of all states to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses are often described as the three pillars of the treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency helps to assure the international community that nuclear technology is not being used to develop nuclear weapons.
New Zealand was one of the first signatories of the NPT, which entered into force in 1970. Today 190 countries are states parties to the treaty. Only India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan have never joined the NPT (North Korea announced its withdrawal in 2003). We continue to encourage these states to join the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states and to place all of their nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
What's been agreed?
The NPT is often described as having three pillars:
- Peaceful use of nuclear technology
Under the treaty non-nuclear weapon states, such as New Zealand, agreed never to acquire nuclear weapons. In return, the nuclear weapons states agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons and to share the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The treaty gives every state party the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes such as energy, health and agriculture.
NPT Review Conferences
Five yearly Review Conferences enable states parties to assess progress in implementing the NPT and set targets for the next five years. The 2010 Review Conference developed a 64 point Action Plan of concrete steps that would help to implement all three pillars of the treaty more effectively. The 2015 Review Conference was held in New York from 27 April-22 May but, after a month of negotiations, states parties were unable to agree on a final document. This was deeply disappointing, especially for countries like New Zealand that wanted to see more practical progress on nuclear disarmament.
What's New Zealand doing?
While the NPT has been in force for 45 years, more than 16,000 nuclear warheads still exist. This number is unacceptably high.
New Zealand is a member of a group of NPT parties called the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), which focuses on identifying and advocating practical steps on nuclear disarmament. The other members of NAC are Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico and South Africa.
New Zealand was the coordinator of the NAC at the 2015 Review Conference and delivered a number of statements on behalf of the group. The NAC focused on identifying legal mechanisms that could help to implement the disarmament obligations contained in the NPT. These include a ban treaty, a nuclear weapons convention, a framework of agreements covering different aspects of nuclear disarmament, or a hybrid of these three options.
- The New Agenda Coalition general debate statement delivered by New Zealand at NPT RevCon 2015 [PDF 208 KB]
- The NAC statement in Main Committee One (disarmament) delivered by New Zealand at NPT RevCon 2015 [PDF 87 KB]
- Working paper on taking forward nuclear disarmament submitted by New Zealand on behalf of the NAC at NPT RevCon 2015 [PDF 52 KB]
- Working paper on Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of NuclearWeapons submitted by New Zealand on behalf of the NAC at NPT RevCon 2015 [PDF 47 KB]
The final document of the 2010 Review Conference referred to the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. This includes the long-term health, environmental, rescue and recovery problems that would follow a nuclear detonation, as well as the immediate death and suffering it would cause. Three international conferences (held in Norway, Mexico and Austria) studied these consequences and the current risk of an accidental, mistaken, unauthorised or deliberate nuclear weapon detonation.
New Zealand, a member of the core group since the Humanitarian Initiative started, delivered statements on humanitarian consequences at the UN General Assembly on behalf of 125 countries in 2013, and 155 countries in 2014. At the 2015 Review Conference, Austria delivered the statement on behalf of 160 countries – 84 per cent of NPT members. The Humanitarian Initiative has strong momentum and has reenergised awareness of the need for nuclear disarmament.
- New Zealand's statement on humanitarian consequences on behalf of 155 countries at UNGA 2014 [PDF 73 KB]
- Working paper on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons submitted at NPT RevCon 2015 [PDF 158 KB]
- Statement delivered by Austria on behalf of the humanitarian initiative at the 2015 RevCon [PDF 190 KB]
Non-proliferation and peaceful uses
The other two pillars of the NPT are managed by New Zealand’s Permanent Mission in Vienna, which deals mainly with the IAEA . In the NPT, New Zealand works with a grouping called the Vienna Group of Ten. Its other members are Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
The Vienna Group of Ten works together to try to ensure that international nuclear safety and security standards continue to be strengthened, in order to minimise the risk of a radiological accident or attack. New Zealand also places a high priority on the safe transportation of radioactive materials.