Looking Forward to the 1st NPT Prep Com and Back on the 2010 Outcome Document

12 Apr

For two weeks this May, states parties of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather to begin the next review cycle as the first Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) is to be held in Vienna.  This Prep Com comes just two years after the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference when states adopted a 64-point Action Plan as part of the outcome document of the conference. The two additional elements of the outcome dealt with the 1995 resolution on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East and a call for the complete and full abandonment of all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programmes by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). One of the most practical successes of the document was the call for a 2012 conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East, which is scheduled to be held in Helsinki in December. The Secretary-General has appointed a facilitator of this process, as called for in the 2010 document. Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jaakko Laajava, will serve in this capacity and has already begun rounds of consultations in the region (most recently with Foreign Ministry officials in Israel). Any zone in the Middle East will be sustainable only when all participating states have complementary roles and responsibilities that contribute to a more secure region that will render weapons of mass destruction ultimately irrelevant. (See previous post on “Following through on Middle East WMD-Free Zone” from 18 January).

Much of the forthcoming NPT Prep Com in Vienna will be focused on organizational work– election of officers, dates and venues for further sessions, methods of work, etc– but there will inevitably be substantive discussions on consideration of principles, objectives and ways to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, including specific matters of substance also related to the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 Final Document, including the recommendations for follow-on actions adopted at the Review Conference (64-point Action Plan). These discussions will culminate (hopefully) in the adoption of a final report and recommendations to the 2015 Review Conference. Working papers (although non-binding) are also expected on varying topics related to the Treaty’s implementation. The Prep Com will be chaired by Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia.

States parties will inevitably focus on certain aspects of the 2010 outcome document, in particular certain action points that have explicitly called for further efforts on nuclear disarmament and related mechanisms and reporting tools. In general, the outcome document was hailed as a great success by many governments and media outlets insofar as states parties were able to adopt, without calls for amendments, a forward-looking action plan that addresses nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear energy, as well as the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. This outcome represented a stark contrast the 2005 Review Conference that ended without a consensus document and largely labeled a failure. As noted by many disarmament advocates, the 2010 document does not provide concrete, meaningful commitments on the parts of the nuclear weapons states (NWS) to disarm nor does it necessarily assign substantial measures to deal with non-proliferation challenges. Many disarmament and non-proliferation advocates have stated that the document very much maintains the status quo, while encouraging the spread of nuclear energy and extolling its “virtues.” (See Reaching Critical Will’s NPT News in Review from 2010).

  • Garnering much attention is Action 5, which commit the NWS to “accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament, contained in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference…”  Furthermore, Action 3 resolves the NWS to implement the “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals…” Perhaps most importantly, the NWS are called upon to report to the 2014 Prep Com and the 2015 Review Conference on their undertakings related to Action 5, thereby placing a timeline (however weak) on progress towards nuclear disarmament. Action 5 also promises that the 2015 Review Conference will “take stock and consider the next steps for the full implementation of Action VI.” Action VI states that each party to the NPT is obliged to pursue negotiations on measures for the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to pursue a treaty on general and complete disarmament under effective international control. This provision gives hope to the 2015 Review Conference insofar as the groundwork will perhaps be laid for development of a road map towards full nuclear disarmament.
  • Action 20 calls upon all states parties to submit regular reports on implementation of the Action Plan as well as Article VI and the 13 Practical Steps agreed to in the 2010 Final Document. Action 21 calls upon the NWS, in particular and as a confidence-building measure, to agree to a standard reporting form and regular reporting intervals for providing “voluntary” information on implementation and also invites the Secretary-General to establish a public repository of this information. Such calls for regular reporting is indicative of the growing interest by many states, in particular, of course, from the non-nuclear weapon states, to create concrete benchmarks to evaluate implementation of the Action Plan. Nonetheless, the provision of “voluntary” inevitably weakens hopes for regularity and uniformity in reporting.

The road ahead for the NPT is a tough one– member states must now move from celebration of the 2010 outcome to the difficulties of implementing it in the 2015 review cycle. There remains widespread discontent over the disconnect between nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament with  many states concerned that there is still great focus on the former and not enough on the latter. The Action Plan does indeed call on the Conference on Disarmament to establish a subsidiary group to negotiate this topic (Action 6), although with the caveat that it must be done in the “context of an agreed, comprehensive and balanced programme of work.” Such a programme of work remains elusive and, thus, so does nuclear disarmament. 

The Action Plan can function as a yardstick against which to measure the three pillars of the NPT– nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This next review cycle will undoubtedly be characterizes by discussion over a focused framework of evaluation of this Action Plan and, ultimately, the full implementation of the NPT’s articles. It cannot be ignored that the NPT represents the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament in a multilateral treaty and, with its indefinite extension, remains the cornerstone of work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Therefore, the next review cycle represents another step on the ladder towards this goal and must not be wasted.

–Katherine Prizeman

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