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11 May 2012, No. 9

Editorial: Taking stock and moving forward
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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At 6pm on Thursday, Ambassador Woolcott released his summary as the Chair of the first preparatory committee (PrepCom) of the 2015 NPT review cycle. The document is not intended to be adopted by consensus and was submitted as a working paper.

At a first glance, the document accurately reflects the discussions during the two weeks of the PrepCom. The discussions have in many ways resembled those of the 2010 Review Conference, with the usual arguments on lack of progress on disarmament from some states and discussions on the additional protocol as the new verification standard from others. However, the discussions here in Vienna and therefore also the Chair's summary highlight some crucial developments since May 2010.

In particular, the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and the relevance of international humanitarian law are described in three paragraphs. The summary notes states' deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and highlights that many stressed that in case of use, such consequences would be unavoidable and emergency relief could not be provided to affected areas. It was further noted that the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons would be addressed during the current review cycle. Since 2010, the concerns over the destructive power of nuclear weapons, the unspeakable human suffering they cause, the difficulty of controlling their effects, and the threat they pose to the environment, our climate, and future generations have increased, culminating in a call by the Red Cross and Red Crescent for states to work on outlawing nuclear weapons "with urgency and determination". It is apparent that this topic has been placed firmly on the NPT agenda.

A second important development is the reference in the Chair's summary to concerns raised over continued modernization of nuclear arsenals, "including in connection with the ratification of nuclear arms reduction agreements, and the development of advanced and new types of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and related infrastructure." This reference shows that the significant modernization programmes ongoing and/or planned in all nuclear weapon states is viewed as a major obstacle to nuclear disarmament by many states. It demonstrates that stronger commitments to the elimination of nuclear weapons must be achieved in order to prevent these weapons from being extended indefinitely.

The Chair's summary also reflects several other crucial developments, such as the appointment of the facilitator and host government for the 2012 conference on a WMD free zone in the Middle East. It welcomes the report by Mr. Laajava and looks forward to his continued work on the issue. Unfortunately, the report also accurately reflects the lack of comments at the PrepCom about the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima in March 2011. The report indicates that states only noted that the "accident ... demonstrate the need to strengthen nuclear safety". As noted yesterday, only a few delegations took the opportunity to use the first NPT meeting since the catastrophe to discuss the risks and costs of the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear power generation. Instead, most delegations continued to devote attention to the "inalienable right" to develop nuclear energy. The section of the Chair's summary on "peaceful uses" of nuclear energy focuses on describing support for the IAEA, enhancing nuclear safety and security measures, and discussing multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle, but does not reflect the statements by those delegations that spoke about the negative effects of nuclear power.

While not a consensus document, the Chair's summary manages to continue the positive tone set at the 2010 Review Conference, while carefully moving forward and acknowledging recent shifts in debate, progress made, and initiatives undertaken. It signals that while states parties are focusing on implementing the commitments made in 2010, many are also ready to consider what additional steps need to be taken in 2015 to fulfill the commitments of the Treaty.

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