States at the current NPT PrepCom are now considering an ambitious program of action intended, according to the draft, to lead “to the elimination of nuclear weapons.” The recommendations put forward by the meeting’s chair certainly imply positive change to the political environment in which disarmament is pursued, but that is no guarantee that consensus will be reached.

“Practical initiatives that stand a reasonable prospect of producing a consensus” is how the chair of this year’s Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom)[i] characterizes his recommendations, all drawn from points put forward by States Parties to the Treaty[ii] over the course of three PrepComs. Issued in draft form at the end of the first week of this final PrepCom of the current cycle, the recommendations[iii] consolidate a range of widely accepted disarmament priorities and set the stage for the Review Conference next year.

The current series of very positive declarations from the United States and other nuclear weapon states (NWS) will translate into a successful Review Conference next year only if they yield at least some tangible achievements over the next 12 months. Only positive action in both disarmament and horizontal nonproliferation measures will save the NPT from being further discredited, but in the meantime the Chair’s attempt at building a consensus agenda for such action is well worth the careful attention of states.

The document begins by asking states to make a number of clear affirmations, including three important principles:

The first notable principle is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “is an expression of fundamental principles of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation that are universal in scope,” and that Treaty obligations are “legally binding.” The implication is that, even for the three states that have never signed the NPT, its provisions are normative.

Second, the draft states that implementation of all the provisions of the Treaty “is vital to international peace and security.” This basic judgment conforms to the conclusion of the 1992 Security Council summit which declared that “the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”[iv] The 1992 declaration, as well as Resolution 1540 in 2004, also reaffirmed “the need for all Member States to fulfill their obligations in relation to arms control and disarmament,” and encouraged “all Member States to implement fully the disarmament treaties and agreements to which they are party.” Thus, since the NWS, acting as the Permanent Five in the Security Council, have already affirmed this principle they should have little hesitation in endorsing the Chair’s formulation.

Third, the draft acknowledges that several of the decisions and commitments made in the 1995 and 2000[v] review conferences have yet to be implemented, but need to be implemented through an action plan of “practical, achievable and specified goals, and measures leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Then follows a list of 10 familiar elements to the this action plan:

1. “entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and, pending its achievement, maintaining the moratoria on nuclear testing;”

2. commencing negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament on a verifiable fissile materials treaty and, pending the conclusion of negotiations, encouraging a moratorium on the further production of weapon usable fissile material” (it is an interesting and welcome departure from the usual wording that it is not described as a “cut-off” treaty, indicating that controls over existing stocks should be included in the negotiations as well);

3. “achieving deep and verifiable reductions in the nuclear arsenals;”

4. “expanding the transparency in implementing disarmament commitments” (this PrepCom has seen very little attention to the 2000 commitment to regular reporting, making this broader reference to transparency a welcome inclusion);

5. “ensuring the irreversibility of disarmament activities;”

6. “reducing the operational status of the nuclear forces;”

7. “diminishing further the role of nuclear weapons in security policies;”

8. “refraining from the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons;”

9. “reducing non-strategic nuclear weapons pending their elimination;
10. “placing fissile material recovered from dismantled nuclear weapons under IAEA monitoring and verification.”

Then, in a surprising but also welcome addition, the draft proposes that states explore the commencement of negotiations on “a convention or framework of agreements to achieve global nuclear disarmament” and in the process also engage states that are not parties to the Treaty. The reference to “a framework of agreements” acknowledges that a nuclear weapons convention is not to be conceived as a replacement to the NPT, but rather as a kind of omnibus bill that would consolidate all relevant disarmament and non-proliferation measures into a single and legally-binding instrument.

Much of this agenda is familiar (reflecting in particular the 13 steps from 2000), but in some cases familiarity has bred, if not contempt, then certainly ongoing resistance. While there is evidence of a broad intention to act on the first three recommendations, many of the rest are more contentious for at least some of the nuclear weapon states. How they are ultimately received will become clearer over the next few days of discussion.

The draft also includes a large number of recommendations related to other elements of the Treaty (some of which will be considered in later posts).

[email protected]

Notes


[i] The current May 4-15 meeting is preparing for the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which is to take place a year from now.

[ii] “Draft Recommendations to the Review Conference,” 7 May 2009 (NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/CRP.4), available at: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/papers/CRP4.pdf.

[iii] Reaching Critical Will has produced three excellent documents on recommendations – one summarizing the chair’s document (http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/NIR2009/no6.html), another reviewing the broad range of recommendations put forward by states this PrepCom (http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/NIR2009/wpsurvey.html), and the third compiling the recommendations presented by NGOs (http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/ngostatements/Recommendations.pdf).

[iv] S/23500, 31 January 1992.

[v] The 2000 Review Conference agreed on the well-know “13 practical steps,” and the Carnegie Endowment’s Sharon Squassoni has just produced a new report assessing progress on their implementation: “Grading Progress on 13 Steps Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” May 2009, Policy Outlook, No. 45. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=23101&prog=zgp&proj=znpp.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.