First Prep Com of New NPT Review Cycle Concludes in Vienna

15 May

From 30 April to 11 May, the first session of the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for the 2015 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met in Vienna, Austria. The Prep Com adopted a final report and a factual Chair’s summary as a working paper of the Committee (not a consensus document), under the authorship of Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia. Two welcome developments from this session of the Prep Com were the 16-country statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament as well as the increase in attention paid to addressing modernization of existing arsenals as a threat to the credibility of the NPT regime. Both of these initiatives were referenced in the Chair’s summary. Furthermore, the government of Norway announced that it would be host to a conference in 2013 on the humanitarian dimensions of nuclear weapons.

The Prep Com did not accomplish much in the way of advancing the disarmament agenda insofar as there was neither a thorough review of the implementation of the 2010 Action Plan nor adoption of strategies for moving forward commitments to nuclear disarmament. As has been the case in previous NPT review cycles, many member states, particularly the nuclear weapon states (NWS), chose to focus on non-proliferation rather than disarmament (article VI) obligations. Following general debate, the discussion was divided into three clusters– implementation of provisions relating to non-proliferation, disarmament, and international peace and security with discussion on specific issues of nuclear disarmament and security assurances (Cluster 1); implementation of provisions relating to non-proliferation, safeguards, and nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) with specific issue debate on regional issues including the 1995 resolution on the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East (Cluster 2); implementation of the provisions relating to the “inalienable right” of states parties to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (Cluster 3).

There are still many concerns about the  earnestness of commitments to nuclear disarmament through the full implementation of article VI of the NPT, particularly given the continued call by some member states,  including Russia and China, for first “creating the conditions” for nuclear disarmament by maintaining “strategic stability” and “undiminished security for all.” These calls for continued reliance on nuclear weapons stand in striking contrast to the increasingly unified call for nuclear abolition by the majority of states parties to the NPT. At parallel and civil society meetings, there were also calls for addressing NATO’s continued reliance on nuclear weapons as part of its security framework, especially in light of the Chicago Summit to take place 20-21 May and the release of the Defense and Deterrence Posture Review (D&DPR). In March 2011, NATO began a year-long round of consultations on a new D&DPR.  Many members of civil society noted the innate contradiction that exists between NPT obligations and the current NATO deterrence policies. Professor Erika Simpson of the University of Western Ontario suggested that it is not altogether surprising that horizontal proliferators are trying to acquire nuclear weapons when NATO members themselves rely on nuclear deterrence for their protection.

A frustrating and diversionary debate lives on as member states remain divided between those who wished to emphasize combating non-proliferation risks (i.e. Iran and DPRK) and those underscoring the lack of substantial movement on disarmament and the hypocrisy that surrounds these debates. Brazil’s representative underscored a “groundless addiction” to nuclear weapons noting that the international community has already banned two other categories of weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological). A joint P5 statement was “pleased to recall” that the group met in July 2011 “with a view to considering progress on  the commitments made” at the 2010 Review Conference, clearing indicating no urgency in reporting on, let alone adopting, concrete disarmament measures. The Australian delegation called for greater transparency from the NWS with regards to such joint meetings. Although this Prep Com did not see concrete reporting, the 2010 Action Plan “calls upon” the NWS 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. There were also many statements of concern regarding the nuclear programs of Iran and the DPRK, including a call by the UK that Iran implement “practical steps to build confidence around the world that Iran will implement its international obligations and does not intend to build a nuclear weapon.” The Iranian delegation, of course, defended its program as entirely peaceful and called the accusations “baseless allegations of non-compliance,” while also noting that Iran has been previously denied access to IAEA safety workshops. Other member states called for the DPRK to cease all tests and rejoin the NPT.

Also under discussion during the Prep Com was the status of implementation of the 1995 resolution on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. The facilitator of the 2012 Conference, Jaakko Laajava, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs of Finland, addressed the Prep Com, but could not offer many details as no date or agenda has been set, although it is expected that it will be held in Helsinki in December. Ambassador Laajava pledged to continue consultations in the region that will focus on the agenda, modalities, outcome of the conference, and follow-up mechanisms. Ambassador Laajava also noted that not all states in the region have confirmed their participation, even though universal participation by all states in the region is considered by many states to be a non-negotiable element for success of the conference. Moreover, several member states called for greater efforts on the part of the co-sponsors (US, UK, and Russia) to facilitate the conference. The US reiterated its familiar position that regional peace is a prerequisite for the establishment of a WMDFZ and stated that the agenda must be larger than singling out any “particular state.”

The third cluster, that which deals with peaceful uses, consisted of multiple assertions of the ‘right’ to produce ‘peaceful’ nuclear energy. An astonishingly small number of delegations acknowledged the Fukushima disaster or offered an honest assessment of its effect on the future of nuclear energy. The US delegation acknowledged that Fukushima “affected public perceptions of the safety of nuclear power,” but argued that “the basic factors that led to an increased interest in nuclear power before that incident have not changed.” The Japanese delegation asserted its commitment to improving safety standards of its nuclear power facilities. The Norwegian and New Zealand delegations stated that they have chosen not to pursue nuclear energy programs, although these states do not dispute the right to pursue such energy and emphasize that they have exercised their right by not pursuing nuclear power. The Austrian delegation was the stand-out among the group, rightly noting that nuclear power can never be 100 percent safe and is not a panacea for climate change or sustainable development given its safety, security, and proliferation risks.

Although it was just the first session of three prior to the 2015 Rev Con, each meeting of states parties to the NPT is critical to the health, sustainability, and, most importantly, full implementation of dual non-proliferation and disarmament obligations. As is often noted by member states and civil society alike, the NPT is the only binding, multilateral framework available for addressing the blight of nuclear weapons. It must not be allowed to become merely a forum for conversation, but rather a legal document to be rigorously implemented in its totality.


–Katherine Prizeman


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