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5 May 2008, No. 5

Transparency, accountability, credibility
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will


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Kicking off the Friday morning meeting, delegates from Canada and Mexico renewed their calls for greater transparency and official reporting by NPT states parties, calls that were echoed throughout the day by other delegations. These calls are not new, nor are they based on a desire for increased bureaucracy or paperwork. Project Ploughshares’ latest report, Transparency and Accountability: NPT Reporting 2002–2007, notes, “The indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 was agreed in the context of a collective commitment by States Parties to strengthening the Treaty’s review process and, in particular, with a heightened sense of the need for mutual accountability in the implementation and furtherance of the aims of the Treaty.”

Yet, as this report also notes, only 48 states parties to the NPT have submitted a report since the 13 Practical Steps (of which the obligation to report on the implementation of Article VI is the twelfth step) were adopted at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. At the 2007 PrepCom, only nine states submitted a report, the lowest on record. So far this year, only three states have submitted reports—Canada, Japan, and Iran. Of the nuclear weapon states, only Russia and China have ever submitted formal reports (both to the 2005 Review Conference). Project Ploughshares says, “All of the NWS that are party to the NPT have reported informally through a variety of statements and background materials.... For the most part, however, NWS have chosen not to provide formal reports, in defiance of the promise made when they agreed to the 2000 reporting provision.”

In the past, Canada has routinely called for standardized and consistent reporting pursuant to Step 12, while Brazil has recommended that the NPT bureau track measures that nuclear weapon states have taken to implement article VI of the Treaty. On Friday, Mexico’s representative called for a legally-binding mechanism for transparency and accountability that would include requirements for states to report not only on their reductions but also on their holdings and future plans. Canada’s delegate also wanted to hear reports on the operational status of nuclear weapons, as did Japan and New Zealand. Japan’s Amb. Tarui pointed to his delegation’s working paper on nuclear disarmament (WP.10), which includes a non-exhaustive list of possible categories for reporting (see Working Paper Review on page 7 for more information).

New Zealand’s Amb. Mackay echoed the call for a formalized reporting mechanism, arguing that its development is a realistic objective, as it would be consistent with what some nuclear weapon states are already doing unofficially. He suggested that one reason the nuclear weapon states feel they don’t get enough recognition for their “disarmament measures” is because they don’t supply the information pursuant to a standardized process.

In addition to failing to formally articulate their compliance with Article VI, the nuclear weapon states have also failed to implement Article VI. Amb. Mackay reminded the delegates that dismantlement does not equal disarmament, though it is a “useful interim step,” and that transparent, irreversible, and effectively verifiable disarmament is essential. He argued that standardized reporting would help facilitate this process, foremost by strengthening confidence and trust between nuclear weapon states. Responding to the United Kingdom’s proposal for an NPT-nuclear weapon state scientific conference on disarmament verification, Amb. Mackay commended the effort as a good transparency measure among the nuclear weapon states and requested the same type of transparency be extended to non-nuclear weapon states.

The fundamental objective of transparency is accountability, credibility, and the building of confidence. As South Africa’s representative said, we need to have confidence in each other to ensure that nuclear weapons will never be used again. Short of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, legally-binding negative security assurances and consistent, comprehensive reporting is key to building this confidence. South Africa’s delegate also argued that states “exercising their right of peaceful uses of nuclear energy” have an obligation to build confidence in the international community and that some states, particularly those in the Europe, need to drop their “do what I say, no what I do” attitude in order to preserve their credibility as states committed to nuclear disarmament. He suggested that instead of simply calling on other states to develop nuclear weapon free zones, countries in Europe should begin a movement for a nuclear weapon free zone there.

The deficit of trust and confidence was brought to light by Syria’s right of reply on Friday afternoon. Responding to the Australian delegation’s comments on the alleged nuclear assistance between North Korea and Syria, the Syrian representative questioned Australia’s credibility in the international community, accusing Australia of war crimes and crimes against humanity due to its involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He further questioned the United States’ credibility, arguing the US has violated the NPT by providing nuclear assistance to Israel, a non-NPT state.

This exchange demonstrates the political tensions serving as a backdrop to multilateral deliberations and the linkages inherent in governments’ decision-making processes. It starkly reminds us of the importance of transparency as a means to accountability and credibility—and ultimately, to confidence in the good faith of our neighbours.

To download a copy of Transparency and Accountability: NPT Reporting 2002–2007, go to www.ploughshares.ca.

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