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8 May 2008, No.8

Discussions on Article X and institutional reform: Crisis of confidence or ripe for consensus?
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will & Michael Spies | Arms Control Reporter


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On Wednesday morning, the US delegation said that instead of debating all Treaty-related issues, NPT states parties should focus on “developing consensus in those key areas that seem 'ripe' enough to offer the prospect of agreement in 2010.”

This begs the question, what areas are ripe for agreement?

In his statement, Dr. Christopher Ford argued that one of the “ripe” areas relates to the issue of deterring and responding to withdrawal from the NPT, specifically by Treaty violators—in particular, holding Treaty violators accountable for their violations even after they have withdrawn from the Treaty. Dr. Ford indicated his delegation has been in consultation with others “about how best to articulate some general principles in this regard,” but he did not provide a sense of how much “consensus” on this issue his delegation has found or been able to generate.

Based on Wednesday's statements and the interactive discussion related to Treaty withdrawal, there does not appear to be much consensus on this issue at all. There was, for example, concern about who would assess a party's non-compliance: South Africa's representative emphasized that violators should be identified by an objective body, not unilaterally by other states parties. There were also major disagreements about appropriate responses to withdrawal. Many states argued that any nuclear equipment, material, and facilities that a withdrawn state has imported or acquired while party to the NPT would have to be returned to the supplier state or “neutralized”. During the interactive discussion, Indonesia's representative asked who would make that decision and how would it be made—we also ask, how would it be operationalized?

Several delegations indicated that the UN Security Council should convene to consider any withdrawal from the NPT and that it should, as Australia's delegate said, “respond appropriately in accordance with the UN Charter.” However, Indonesia's delegation identified two problems with this approach, arguing in its official statement that the decision-making dynamic in the UNSC, “which is limited in membership and consists of permanent members who have veto rights,” would result in a biased response. In an interactive response, the Indonesian delegation further argued that withdrawal from the NPT would not necessarily constitute a threat to international peace and security—the decision to withdraw could be taken for a variety of reasons, including because the state party has assessed that the Treaty is no longer beneficial to their interests. The speaker suggested that arrangements such as the US-India nuclear deal, from which a non-NPT state party would receive more benefits than many NPT states parties, could undermine the NPT's usefulness. Other delegations, including Indonesia, felt that an emergency meeting of NPT states parties would be the better way to deal with a case of withdrawal.

Turning to another issue under consideration on Wednesday, institutional reform of the NPT, again NPT states face a lack of consensus. Several delegations, including Canada, Switzerland, and New Zealand, spoke in favour of a standing secretariat to coordinate and manage the NPT's meetings and processes. A secretariat would provide consistency throughout review cycles, as it would be able to focus year round on implementing the Treaty's provisions, keeping track of, standardizing, and assessing proposals and reports, and could provide outreach to member states and increase transparency and balance of the implementation all three pillars. It could, in essence, actually become a framework for achieving the objectives of the NPT.

The US delegation, not surprisingly, insisted that this sort of NPT institutional reform is not useful, arguing it would only add more layers of bureaucracy and provide new arenas for procedural squabbles. Dr. Ford argued that the existing institutional structures can deal with the problems of the NPT. However, if an emergency meeting of NPT states parties was called in response to a withdrawal, who would facilitate and service it? Would the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs drop whatever it happened to be working on, pull funds together, and set up a conference wherever it could find space? In its argument in favour of a standing secretariat, Canada made this obvious connection between dealing with the matter of withdrawal and need for a sufficient institutional structure.

Yet the idea of focusing on specific areas in the hopes of making small steps toward progress is welcome. Over the last two weeks, many other delegations have supported the idea of focusing, with a result-oriented attitude, on issues where progress might be possible and/or where it is most desperately needed in order to preserve (or revive) the NPT's credibility. They have outlined what they see as concrete, pragmatic steps towards these ends. Unfortunately, there is no apparent consensus on any of these steps.

Switzerland's Amb. Streuli remarked, it seems that the 2010 Review Conference will have mixed results, as so many states parties are dissatisfied with the gaps in implementing the Treaty and conditions are not yet ripe for fundamental changes. He suggested that in dealing with the issue of withdrawal, it is important to encourage states parties to remain committed to the Treaty by taking a more constructive approach to realizing the objectives of the Treaty. He argued that nuclear weapon states need to respect their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty, as it is the crucial motivation for non-nuclear weapon states to remain committed to the Treaty. During this PrepCom, virtually every delegation except for the United States' has emphasized its commitment to all three pillars of the Treaty. This is one small, concrete, focused step the United States could take during this review cycle in order to restore confidence in the NPT

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