The EU achieved some of its goals at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, contributing to cautious optimism that the international non-proliferation system will survive.
The EU struggles to have a coherent position on the international nuclear architecture for the simple reason that it contains two nuclear powers and 25 non-nuclear ones, although this is further complicated by the role of nuclear weapons in NATO. However, EU members are broadly united in their support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Following a US-convened Nuclear Security Summit in April, in which EU members played a constructive but limited role, an NPT Review Conference was held in May. The stakes were high, as the previous Review Conference in 2005 ended in disarray. The European Council agreed a common position prior to the conference, and many of its stated goals were achieved, although it had to accept compromise language on contentious issues including tactical nuclear weapons, intrusive IAEA inspections of nuclear sites and the cessation of production of fissile materials. Although the conference was ultimately criticised for putting too much pressure on Israel and too little on Iran, there was relief that it produced a substantive consensus outcome document at all.
In December, the IAEA’s board approved the creation of the multilateral fuel bank to provide fuel for civilian nuclear use by countries that do not produce it themselves, thus reducing proliferation risks. The European Commission and member states, most notably Germany, had strongly supported this initiative. The board’s decision came after pledges for the project passed the $100 million mark, triggering a promised private donation of $50 million by US financier Warren Buffett. Although the US and Middle Eastern governments were instrumental in this process, the EU deserves credit for supporting it. Overall, European policies contributed to a moderate but real restoration of faith in the international non-proliferation architecture through 2010, reducing fears of an imminent increase in proliferation activities by insecure governments.