18 May 2010, No. 12
Implementing the vision should not be a bridge too far
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will
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As the Main Committees (and in private, the subsidiary bodies) engage in discussions on the draft texts released on Friday, we will begin to get a better sense of which direction an outcome document will move. Some states are linking their consideration of issues across the three committees, perhaps gearing up for a cross-issue horsetrade. Unfortunately, many delegations and regional groups have not yet established their position on these draft texts. In addition, several delegations have so far only been willing to make general comments in the Main Committee meetings, opting to submit their suggested revisions in written form directly to the Chairs of the committees and subsidiary bodies instead of debating their views in the open.
Even still, the Main Committee debates today did reveal a small picture of how far some states are willing to go in terms of actual steps and commitments.
In Main Committee I (MCI), the US argued that progress on non-proliferation and compliance is central to its ability to make “solid progress toward a vision of a world without nuclear weapons [emphasis added]”. Employing similarly underwhelming language to describe the goal of MCI, the European Union argued that the MCI draft text language concerning the obligation inscribed in article VI “presents some discrepancies” and suggested the text reaffirm “the commitment to seeking a safer world for all to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the NPT [emphasis added].” This apparent undermining of the language of article VI by the EU, together with only a commitment to “progress towards a vision” from the United States, seems very far away from what the draft action plan on disarmament suggests. It remains to see what their written suggestions for revising the text will look like. The South African delegation called on the nuclear weapon states to recognize how long non-nuclear weapon states have been waiting for progress on nuclear disarmament and to agree to sufficiently strong language to move things along.
In Main Committee II, the EU requested that resolute and effective language addressing non-compliance cases should be included in the final text—and it specifically highlighted Iran as constituting such a case. This led the Iranian delegation to question the EU’s “genuine commitment to a successful conference.” Many western states argued that the draft reflected many of their priorities, but since the Non-Aligned Movement has not finalized its position on the draft yet, further disagreement on the draft's provisions regarding safeguards and additional protocols is expected.
In Main Committee III, a few delegations criticized the one-sided view on nuclear energy, with the Norwegian delegation arguing that the draft text does not make it evident that nuclear power is not necessarily a sustainable technology and the Austrian delegation noting that the text also does not reflect that more than 100 countries are not interested in nuclear power as an energy source. Many other delegations highlighted diverging opinions on including issues of multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle and nuclear security in MCIII's work.
In addition to these items, a parallel process is taking place on the implementation of the 1995 on the Middle East. Bilateral and multilateral negotiations on this issue have been kept out of the official NPT meetings so far, but the outcome will play a significant part in the Conference's ability to conclude a final document.
So after two weeks of constructive dialogue, positive atmospherics, and encouraging rhetoric, governments are now entering the actual negotiations phase with some significant challenges to deal with in order to come up with an acceptable outcome document.
However, while adopting a strong outcome document is crucial for the success of this Review Conference, it does not automatically mean a successful outcome for the NPT regime as a whole--or even that any real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons has been made. The outcome documents from 1995 and 2000 have been highlighted and “reaffirmed” many times over the course of the last two weeks, but the implementation of those agreements has not yet taken place. If a final document is agreed upon this year, it must avoid the same fate as previous agreements—it needs to have clearly defined commitments that can be measured and evaluated.
As the draft documents are being amended, we will see how far the nuclear weapon states are willing to go in order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
This time, we cannot let another “unequivocal undertaking” and “vision of a world free of nuclear weapons” be simply stated and then ignored. We cannot accept that retaining and modernizing nuclear arsenals is compatible with the NPT. We must insist on substantive and measurable actions for disarmament, including a commitment to negotiate a legally-binding instrument that will prohibit nuclear weapons.