Amid cautious optimism that the 189-nation Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York will agree on a final declaration by Friday's close of business, Britain sought today to give the process a nudge forward.
The new coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed that Britain has a total of 225 nuclear warheads, the first full public accounting of the size of the British arsenal. Foreign Secretary William Hague also told the House of Commons that the government would conduct a review of Britain's policy on the use of nuclear weapons, a policy that some analysts regard as ambiguous.
Cameron's announcement follows the Obama administration's revelation on May 3 - the opening day of the NPT conference - of the total size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile: 5,113 warheads, with several thousand others awaiting destruction.
Like the U.S. disclosure, the British revelation was aimed at meeting a long-standing demand by non-nuclear weapons NPT signatories for the five recognized nuclear-weapons powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - to be more transparent with regard to the size of their arsenals.
"We believe that the time is now right to be more open about the weapons we hold," Hague said. "We judge that this will assist in building a climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states and contribute, therefore, to future efforts to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons worldwide."
It remained to be seen how much progress can be made toward that goal before the end of the NPT conference, which is held every five years to consider how to strengthen the global system to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. The 2005 session failed to produce a final declaration.
Observers report intense debate over a draft final declaration produced late Monday by the conference president, Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines. But some experts believe that compromises can be struck to produce the required consensus on a final document.
The unresolved key issues, they say, included an push by the so-called non-aligned bloc of nations led by Egypt for negotiations on the establishment of a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone, a thinly veiled effort to force Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear weapons powers also succeeded in eliminating from the draft a call for the convening of a global conference in 2014 on beginning the process of global nuclear disarmament. It was uncertain if the substitute language would survive. That language would require the nuclear weapons powers to confer amongst themselves and present to the 2015 NPT conference a report on how the goal of global disarmament might be reached.