28 May 2010, No. 20

Flexibility, cooperatively, hopefully- principles for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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After a hectic few days of informal closed door meetings—during which many delegates expressed some confusion and concern, oscillating between cautious optimism and skepticism—the President of the Review Conference released the Draft Final Document at a Thursday evening plenary. Introducing the text as “the best that can be offered,” he cautioned that making amendments at this point “may endanger the success of the Conference”. The plenary adjourned with a plan to meet at 11:00 AM Friday morning to (hopefully) adopt the text.

The draft appears to be very carefully crafted to accommodate the principle concerns of all delegations. The last minute negotiations on Thursday seemed to be able to result in agreement on some key contentious issues, though it remains to be seen if the compromises reflected will be met with the spirit of cooperation and flexibility that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for in this letter to the Conference on Wednesday.

Flexibility hasn’t been a strong point so far at this Conference. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have succeeded in watering down the disarmament aspects of the text, particularly the action plan. All four apparently came to the Review Conference with the belief that they have done disarmament and are not interested in doing any more at this time—certainly not for at least the next five years. Perhaps the United States and Russia would be perfectly content to have a one point action plan, consisting of the current Action 4 on seeking the early entry into force and full implementation of New START. France—and most of the others—would have probably been satisfied with limiting the disarmament text to paragraphs 90, 92, 95, and 96 of the review of the operation of the Treaty, which are the paragraphs that “hail the gestures” made by nuclear weapon states (NWS) in the direction of disarmament over the last two decades.

After undertaking these initiatives, apparently the NWS consider themselves “off the hook” and have expressed surprise that non-nuclear weapon states have asked for anything else at this Review Conference. Timelines presented a key sticking point between the P4 and the overwhelming majority of states. Paragraph 83 of the draft document still reaffirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within a legal framework, but in terms of time, only says that “a majority of States parties believe [this process] should include specified timelines”.

The P4 were also averse to language on modernization or development of nuclear weapons. The action that committed the NWS to cease such activities has been deleted. It’s been replaced by some non-action language recognizing “the legitimate interests of non-nuclear-weapon States in the constraining by the nuclear weapon States of the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of weapons.” Similarly, the section of the plan dealing with nuclear testing no longer reaffirms the commitment to ending nuclear testing and constraining the development of new weapons but simply recognizes that the cessation of such testing does constrain such developments.

Action 5, which is based on the old Action 6, no longer calls upon the NWS to convene timely consultations but rather to “promptly engage” on the issues listed within the action. In Action 5a, the NWS are promptly engaging with a view to “rapidly moving towards” an overall reduction of the global nuclear stockpile, where as previously they were to consult on rapidly “pursuing” this reduction (originally, they were to “lead to the rapid conclusion of negotiations” on this reductions). Action 5b on nuclear sharing is rephrased; rather than consulting to “address the question of all types of nuclear weapons and related infrastructure stationed on the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States,” they are now to engage with a view to “address the question of all nuclear weapons regardless of their type or their location as an integral part of the general nuclear disarmament process”. Action 5e on de-alerting has the NWS considering “the legitimate interest of non-nuclear-weapon States” in further reducing operational status of nuclear weapon systems rather than considering ways to reduce this status. Apparently, the Russian delegation still hasn’t noticed that it already agreed to the text in the previous version, when it voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution “Renewed determination” in autumn 2009.

Interestingly, there is now a timeline for the NWS to follow through on these “engagements”: they are to report back to the 2014 NPT PrepCom and the 2015 RevCon will “take stock and consider the next steps for the full implementation of Article VI”. However, the UN Secretary-General is no longer invited to convene a conference to agree on a roadmap for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Bearing all this mind, the text does commit the NWS to “undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons”. While these may seem like mere words now that the majority of actionable, measurable disarmament items have been stripped from the text, there are some important steps forward from 2000. The unequivocal undertaking to eliminate nuclear weapons is reaffirmed in the review portion of the text but more importantly, Action 3 specifically commits the NWS to implementing that unequivocal undertaking. While the framework for this implementation has been weakened in this action plan, it is important to note that the NWS would be, via this text, committed to some specific actions and encouraged to pursue many more. There is also more specific language on reporting on actions than in 2000, which encourages all NWS “to agree as soon as possible on a standard reporting form and to determine appropriate reporting intervals.”

At the same time, efforts have evidently also been made to reach compromise on the more controversial non-proliferation elements of the text. In some areas, the new draft describes the perspective of some states rather than asserting a particular perspective itself. For example, regarding its language on non-compliance, the Conference notes the concerns expressed by numerous states parties with respect to matters of non-compliance. Similarly, the language on the additional protocol mentions that some states think it is integral, but rather than declaring the comprehensive safeguards agreement with the additional protocol to be the verification standard, as in the earlier draft, this text notes that in the case of a state party with the two instruments, the measures contained within them represent the enhanced verification standard.

As for the text on the Middle East—the issue most talked about but least known about—it also appears carefully crafted. As the draft last Friday did, the text convenes a conference in 2012 and appoints a facilitator to prepare for the conference, though it would now be convened by not just the UN Secretary-General but also Russia, the UK, and the US, in consultation with the states of the region.

A great deal of effort has been put into this final document and it does represent compromise on all issues: disarmament, non-proliferation, peaceful uses, withdrawal, institutional reform, and the Middle East. A complete overview of all the changes between this draft and the President’s first draft is available in the Drafts in Contrast section, starting on page 4 of this edition.


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