29 April 2008, No. 2

The Garden of the NPT
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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During the first two meetings of the PrepCom, delegations and civil society representatives heard general statements from twenty governments, covering a wide range of issues and challenges facing the NPT review cycle and the Treaty itself. Stark divergences over government priorities, ie. of nuclear disarmament verses non-proliferation, were echoed repeatedly, as were concerns about alleged violations of the Treaty and over proposals to multilateralize (and from the perspective of some governments, increase the discrimination of) the nuclear fuel cycle.

In addition, recent events have demonstrated a serious lack of trust between governments. Many delegations expressed concern about Iran's nuclear programme, despite the IAEA's reiteration that it “has continued to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” in Iran and that it has “been able to clarify a number of the outstanding safeguards issues relating to Iran's past nuclear activities.” In addition, the delegations of Canada, France, Japan, and the United States mentioned the allegations of nuclear proliferation between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Syrian Arab Republic, which Syria flatly denied in a right of reply at the end of the day.

Thus common ground and trust—the real key ingredients to a successful PrepCom, a strengthened Treaty, and a chance for humanity's survival—appear to remain a distant dream.

However, Australia’s ambassador Caroline Millar suggested that all delegates share at least one interest—maintaining the strength of the NPT. Clearly, strategies to achieve this goal vary widely. The United States' statement, “A Recipe for Success at the 2010 Review Conference,” focused primarily on ensuring compliance with non-proliferation obligations, which Dr. Christopher Ford said was referred to as “the core of the Treaty” during the NPT's negotiation. This is of course contrary to the understanding of the other delegations speaking today, virtually all of whom emphasized the equality and balance of the three pillars of the Treaty and the obligation for all states parties to fully comply with all of its provisions. While there was general agreement between states parties on the need to respect and implement past commitments, such as the 1995 resolution on a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East, the priority and even the interpretation of these issues varied widely. In addition, what some states identified as “ripe” or near-ripe for agreement were repeatedly shown to be rather contentious, such as the multilateralization of the fuel cycle or universalization of the Additional Protocol.

What, then, can be done to bridge these persistent gaps in priorities, strategies, and goals?

The New Agenda Coalition's delegation emphasized, “to move forward collectively . . . will require a shared vision of the future.” Reaching Critical Will—and many states parties—maintain that the involvement of civil society, en masse, is key to advancing this vision. Governments have constituents. They are supposed to represent the people. The people need to demand their vision of the future—a future free of nuclear weapons. The people need to condemn and resist their governments' policies that act against this vision and support the policies that advance it.

Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, described the NPT as a garden, which is not self-sustaining, but rather, needs to be cultivated. He said, “It requires constant care and diplomatic husbandry of the highest order. The entire review process is essentially an exercise in tending to this NPT garden—to ensure that its various components remain in harmonious balance, and that it has the resources it needs.” We would add that the successful maintenance of the NPT does not just require “diplomatic husbandry,” but also cultivation by civil society. We need to be creative (developing a fertilizer that is both organic and effective, that promotes healthy roots and shoots) and persistent (we can't forget to water the plants!) with our resistance of the status quo and demands for the future.

In terms of diplomatic cultivation, a good place for all governments to start is with transparency of their nuclear weapon and civilian nuclear programmes. The delegations of the New Agenda Coalition, Canada, and Brazil reiterated the importance of transparency and accountability, which the latter two suggested can be enhanced through compliance with the obligation to report as outlined in Step 12 of the 13 Practical Steps adopted at the 2000 Review Conference. Transparency and accountability lead to confidence and trust, which the representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency emphasized as essential to the success of the NPT. He quoted IAEA Director General ElBaradei, who said trust must be established at every stage and at all levels on issues relevant to all three pillars of the NPT.

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