2013 NPT PrepCom Opens in Geneva

26 Apr

The second session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) opened in Geneva this past week under the leadership of Chairman Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania. This PrepCom represents the approximate mid-way point between the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference, at which the 64-point NPT Action Plan was adopted, and the next RevCon by which time the 2010 Action Plan is to be fully implemented. There is increasing anxiety with each passing year as states parties hope to build on the consensus 2010 outcome document and take concrete steps towards the full realization of the ‘grand bargain’ of the NPT, commitment from non-nuclear weapon states to not pursue nuclear weapons and the pledge by of the 5 nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament.

The most salient issues regarding the NPT regime came to light during the general debate including the lack of progress in implementing the disarmament-related obligations in the Action Plan as well as the failure to convene a conference for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East during the 2012 calendar year as was mandated in the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. The 1995 Middle East resolution was an essential and integral part of the package of decisions affirmed without a vote that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT. Other issues more tangential to the Action Plan were also raised such as the recent provocations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the recently held March 2013 conference in Oslo on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The P5 and disarmament obligations

As expected, much of the discussion of the first week focused on the obligations and special responsibilities of the NPT nuclear weapons states (NWS), also known as the ‘P5’, and the progress these states have thus far made (or not made) in anticipation of the 2014 PrepCom and 2015 RevCon during which they will have to report specifically on their disarmament-related progress. Criticism of the NWS and their lack of attention on the disarmament pillar of the NPT are well-known and levels of frustration regarding the lack of movement on multilateral nuclear disarmament are high. The delegation of Ireland noted in its statement during the ‘disarmament’ cluster, that the “persistent underachievement in progressing the global disarmament agenda is no longer acceptable.” This frustration was manifest during last year’s session of the General Assembly’s First Committee with the adoption of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations” thus establishing an open-ended working group (OEWG) that will meet in May, June, and August of this year in Geneva for a total of fifteen days. The exact mandate of the OEWG is not yet entirely clear, but Ambassador Manuel Dengo from Costa Rica, chair of the OEWG, has made clear that the discussions will be substantive in nature, rather than focusing on procedural issues. The sessions will most likely feature panels are will not have any negotiating mandate.

The non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), particularly the NPT states parties of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), have harshly condemned the P5 for disproportionately focusing on proliferation risks and not enough on disarmament. While the ‘P5’ has initiated a parallel process of meetings to address the disarmament-related obligations committed to in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, including the obligations related to reporting, transparency and confidence-building measures, the output from this group has been assessed as mostly underwhelming. The fourth P5 conference was held last week in Geneva under the aegis of the Russian Federation. Subsidiary working groups have been formed, for example a working group led by China on a glossary of terms. Likewise, France has taken the lead on discussions on a common approach to reporting on relevant activities across the three pillars of the Action Plan at the 2014 PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

The issues of transparency and reporting are of particular concern to the NPT states parties, especially the NNWS that are keen to receive more detailed information on existing stockpiles and, therefore, reduction of such stockpiles as mandated in Article VI of the NPT. Public declarations highlighting both strategic and non-strategic stockpiles are seen as an essential step in confidence-building and next steps in the disarmament process. The ten-country, cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), which focuses on practical non-proliferation and disarmament steps with a view towards implementing the Action Plan, proposed a standard reporting form during the 2012 PrepCom. There has yet to be a decision among the P5 on the form that reporting will take at next year’s PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon.

Nevertheless, it is still unclear if any P5 activities have contributed to building confidence among the NWS or how they will contribute to increasing levels of confidence among the non-nuclear weapon states. The hope is that these meetings will help to prepare the NWS to more comprehensively report to the upcoming PrepCom and subsequent RevCon in order to facilitate the path to global zero “in good faith,” as required in Article VI of the NPT.

The Middle East

The failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East during the 2012, or even prior to this NPT PrepCom continues to be a major source of concern, particularly for the Arab states. The NAM called upon the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution (the UK, US, and Russia) to convene the conference as soon as possible in order to avoid “an attack on the credibility of the NPT.” During this week’s discussion, the US and Russia both addressed this issue, although from quite different perspectives. The Russian delegation was clear in its opening statement that it did not perceive the failure to convene the conference as a responsibility of the states of the region and called such an allegation “inappropriate.” Moreover, the delegation stated that Russia never in fact agreed to the postponement, but rather “would have admitted the possibility” for postponement only with explicit agreement of all states of the region and commitment to new, specific dates. The delegation also noted that “No collective decision concerning this matter had been taken by the co-sponsors.” The US delegation, however, continues to reiterate that the postponement was a joint decision that was taken as the conditions in the region are not yet “right” for the conference and it is up to all the states of the region, including Israel, to adopt a common agenda before convening the conference. The UK has not yet made such explicit statements regarding the postponement, but called for the convening of the conference “as soon as possible in 2013.”

The fear, of course, is that the more prolonged the process before beginning discussions on a WMDFZ in the Middle East, the weaker the NPT regime will become. It is a serious and valid concern that the NPT regime could be “held hostage” by those states angered by the postponement, specifically the Arab Group, who believe that such a failure to fulfill a binding commitment represents reason enough not to fulfill other NPT obligations, particularly concerning non-proliferation. Such inflammatory actions would only further increase insecurity and decrease the NPT’s legitimacy.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

Delivered by the South African delegation, 77 states signed onto a statement delivered at the conclusion of the general debate underscoring the grave humanitarian consequences associated with the use of nuclear weapons. This is an initiative that was borne out of the 34-country statement delivered during last year’s session of the UNGA First Committee by the Swiss delegation. This initiative was followed-up with an international conference hosted by Norway in Oslo in March 2013 during which representatives of 127 member states were present as well as UN secretariat officials, civil society, and other humanitarian response technical experts detailing the environmental, health, and developmental impact of nuclear weapon explosions. . The humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament has been reinvigorated and has provided for a renewed enthusiasm for pursuing the larger objective of abolition. Several delegations, including Egypt, lamented the lack of participation by the P5 in Oslo and called upon the NWS to participate in the follow-up meeting in Mexico that is expected to take place in early 2014.

The presentations by non-governmental organizations to the delegates of the PrepCom also focused, in part, on the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear detonation. The conclusion drawn by the humanitarian response community, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), has been quite clear—that there is simply no way for the international community, let alone an individual governments, to adequately respond to such a crisis. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to prevent the use of such weapons, which can only be guaranteed through their elimination.

Moving Forward

The continued stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, the failure of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to enter-into-force, and the inability to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) were once again highlighted by many of the delegations during this week’s discussions. Furthermore, the issues of nuclear security and safety and the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines and policies were also addressed by a broad range of delegations in formal sessions as well as during side events. While all these issues are surely important components of the drive towards global zero, perhaps the most crucial challenge to the NPT regime will be moving away from the still-lingering belief that nuclear “deterrence” represents security and that the nuclear ‘haves’ occupy a privileged position in relation to the ‘have nots.’ Nuclear disarmament diplomacy depends on realizing the ‘grand bargain’ and maintaining the balance that is provided for in the NPT. Ultimately, as noted by the US delegation in its opening statement, disarmament is not an obligation limited to the five NPT NWS. Rather, the existence of nuclear weapons is an issue that must be addressed by all member states as global security depends on their abolition.


–Katherine Prizeman

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