9 May 2005, No. 6

In light of consensus
Rhianna Tyson

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“Consensus,” said Conference President Duarte last Friday, “is a very important tool in our work, and I would not sacrifice that.”

And consensus President Duarte almost had by the close of last week. In the world of international disarmament diplomacy, however, “almost” just doesn’t quite cut it.

With objections in the language of document NPT/CONF.2005/CRP.2, the document that the president is to read upon the adoption of the agenda, consensus remains just out of reach.

Until recently, most of the disagreement lay in the language contained in the agenda itself (document NPT/CONF.2005/CRP.1); many States parties were not willing to capitulate to the demands of the US and France to exclude references to the Final Document of 2000. Eventually, however, a watereddown version (based on a proposal from China) seemed to have been generally accepted; this proposal would have provided the Conference with a mandate to simply “review the operation of the Treaty”, without specific reference to past Conferences and their outcomes, as was proposed by the Chairman of the Third Preparatory Committee in document NPT/CONF.2005/PC.III/WP.30.

As part of this compromise, President Duarte would have announced that “the review will be conducted in the light of the decisions and the resolution of previous Conferences, and allow for discussion of any issue raised by States Parties.”

While many States are unhappy with all references to past Review Conferences completely omitted from the agenda, only Egypt took the floor in an attempt to strengthen this statement by President Duarte.

Egypt is insisting that the words “in light of” be replaced with the words “taking into account”, and that the words “and the outcomes” be added after the word “resolution”. The latter addition would, Egypt asserted, “cover what we have agreed by consensus”, while the more active phrase “taking into account” would fortify the verbal reference to previous Conferences.

With this objection, Egypt aggregates all culpability for blocking consensus. Ironically, however, it is the power of consensus that Egypt is seeking to preserve. For how effective is consensus if agreements reached within its framework can be so easily discarded a few years later? Shouldn’t more States– if not all– also be fighting for the preservation of consensus as such a “very important tool”?

President Duarte adjourned the meeting early on Friday, and announced the suspension of the Conference until Tuesday.

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