14 May 2007, Final Edition

Finding the light
Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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We have emerged on the slightly brighter other side of the first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) in this review cycle of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Governments managed to wrestle a qualified success out of a meeting that teetered on the edge of failure. After four days of fighting over the agenda, governments discussed the NPT, disarmament, and non-proliferation in a relatively congenial atmosphere. The conference adopted a consensus factual summary, but was not able to agree on the Chair’s Factual Summary, which was submitted as a working paper (WP 72). The summary Chair’s Paper contains a reference to a Nuclear Weapons Convention (introduced as a working paper during the session), support for the P6 proposal for a programme of work in the Conference on Disarmament, positive reference to the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion, and more. Nuclear disarmament is officially back on the table, which was clear in substantive discussions, and the agenda for the next two PrepComs includes discussing previous disarmament commitments. During the PrepCom, it was also clear that the role of Non-Governmental Organizations has been strengthened; all of this PrepCom's debates remained open to NGOs, following the 2004 practice. States parties set the next PrepCom for 28 April – 9 May, 2008 in Geneva.

Of course, this success is qualified. The NPT is still rife with divisions and challenges. The conflict between the US and Iran is one of the major divisions affecting the entire disarmament and non-proliferation regime. This conflict delayed the PrepCom's work for 4 days and will continue to affect disarmament negotiations until it is resolved. Additionally, nuclear weapon states continued to downplay their obligations to disarm and non-nuclear weapon states continued to struggle to balance the emphasis placed on non-proliferation with nuclear disarmament. Governments also placed a disheartening emphasis on nuclear energy, despite its production of unending poisonous radioactive waste and its intrinsic link to nuclear weapons production.

Governments struggled to secure both of the PrepCom's major successes: adopting an agenda and then working according to it, and adopting a final report that included the Chair's Paper. Iran made adopting both very difficult, although the Non-Aligned Movement also had problems with the Chair's summary. Iran did not want to have its nuclear programme censured by the PrepCom, and was willing to delay or destroy the process to avoid such censure. Iran objected to language in the agenda that referred to compliance with the Treaty, perceiving that phrase to be aimed solely at Iran. After four days of procedural wrangling, the PrepCom adopted the agenda with a compromise proposed by South Africa, in which the PrepCom decided that “compliance” meant compliance with all provisions of the Treaty. Although it took several days to adopt, this official agenda will be used for the next two PrepComs. It refers to both the 1995 and 2000 landmark agreements, putting the resolution on the Middle East and the 13 practical steps towards nuclear disarmament back on the agenda. The agenda also includes an official understanding that states parties need to assess compliance with disarmament obligations.

The Chair's Factual Summary, now called the Chair's Paper, had a little something in it to irritate everyone, but it was the Non-Aligned Movement that objected to it being annexed to the report. It was instead submitted as a Working Paper. The NAM did not believe the summary was balanced, and particularly objected to suggesting that the Model Additional Protocol be used as a precondition for new supply arrangements (Paragraph 30), and that solving the Iranian issue could help with establishing a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East, without mentioning Israel (Paragraph 36). The NAM also thought the summary did not include enough nuclear disarmament. Iran, a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, objected to a paragraph (37) saying that states parties expressed serious concern over Iran's nuclear programme and strongly urged it “to comply with all the requirements in the UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 and the relevant resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors”. Although the NAM did block the Chair's Paper from being annexed to the report, it did not prevent the Paper from being included in the list of Working Papers from the PrepCom, as Iran reportedly wanted it to do. 
Other successes came with less of a struggle. Although Non-Governmental Organizations were allowed in the thematic discussions at the 2004 PrepCom, at that time, the doors were initially closed and then opened by supportive states. This year, NGOs were allowed in all the thematic discussions, and the doors were never closed. It is gratifying that governments are recognizing our value-added and that this is no longer a controversial issue.

While the atmosphere was tense during the struggles over the agenda and the Chair's Paper, the tone was quite congenial during the thematic debates. However, discussions revealed serious fault lines in the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Nuclear weapon states continued to downplay their disarmament commitments (although China noted that the 13 practical steps “provide important guidance in promoting nuclear disarmament process.”) The vast majority of states recognized the particular significance of the 1995 and 2000 agreements, and called for the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and the 2000 13 practical steps. The US and Russia, for instance, could implement Step 9 by making the Moscow Treaty verifiable and irreversible, a suggestion many states made during the PrepCom. Nuclear weapon states did discuss the type of security environment needed for nuclear disarmament, showing willingness to envision a nuclear weapon free world. We agree that we need cooperative collective security, but we encourage the nuclear weapon states to participate in creating that environment by implementing their disarmament obligations, and working with the rest of the world to get to abolition.

Governments also discussed the “inalienable right” to nuclear energy contained in Article IV of the Treaty ad nauseam. Nuclear energy, with its poisonous radiation and bomb-making potential, is an interest many states share. Nuclear weapon states and nuclear-capable states can make a huge profit from exporting nuclear materials and technology, and non-nuclear weapon states can gain a nuclear-weapon capability by developing a full fuel cycle. Some states may believe that nuclear energy can help with growing energy needs and climate change, even though investment in sustainable energy is the best long-term solution. New Zealand was one of the only states that said nuclear energy was not compatible with sustainable development, noting that they had made a national decision not to invest in such technology. Kyrgyzstan, on behalf of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan submitted a working paper noting the environmental damage caused by uranium mining and calling on states to provide assistance in remedial efforts (WP 62).

There are several lessons to take into the next PrepCom:

First, nuclear weapon states need to get in line with the majority of the world and own up to their commitment to disarm. They need to implement the 13 practical steps from 2000, and comprehensively report to the international community on how they are doing so.

Second, the ideas put forward in more than 70 working papers cannot be left untouched until 28 April 2008. They need to be reviewed and discussed in regional groups, capitals, and cross-regional settings. Governments then need to be build on these ideas to create consensus in 2010.

Third, it helps to address potential problems early on. Consultations conducted by a sole chair are not always adequate. Had the Bureau for this cycle been in place, a cross-regional team could have worked to gain early agreement on the agenda. The institutional deficit of the NPT was made clear during this PrepCom, and plans to rectify this can and should begin. Even bringing an informal “friends of the chair” group, possibly comprised of the last cycle’s Chairs, could have better served this conference.

Finally, NGO involvement in this work is valuable, in the general and thematic debates, and in parallel events. States parties should continue to embrace this uncontroversial cooperation with us, and we should be included it all debates of the upcoming PrepComs.

We have begun another review cycle, and with it, have another chance to make this system work. As Thomas Edison said before creating the light bulb, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don't work.” We still have some time to succeed in turning on the light—but we have to survive long enough to find and agree on the way that does work. May this be the review cycle that we make the NPT do its job, and lead us to a nuclear weapon free world.

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