The NPT Review Conference II: The Institutional Deficit

Canada has for some time led efforts to expand and reshape the institutional infrastructure of the NPT, and thus to also improve its review and decision-making processes. The proposals this time were modest, though eminently worthwhile, and the results even more modest.

A working paper,[i] initiated by Canada but with a broad group of co-sponsors,[ii] proposed three specific and fairly far-reaching changes.

The first proposal was to change the present arrangement in which a Treaty conference occurs only every five years, supported by three Preparatory Committee meetings. The proposal was for every five-year review cycle to include three annual decision-making conferences, plus the Review Conference supported by one Preparatory Committee meeting. This proposal was ultimately rejected and received no mention in the final document.[iii]

The second proposal was for a “Chairs’ Circle” comprised of the past, incumbent, and incoming chairs or presidents of the annual preparatory committee meetings and the Review Conference. This group would meet as required to share best practices, provide advice, and transfer knowledge for the benefit of a more effective review process. This proposal was well received, and though it was not part of the Action Plan, the review part of the document reported that “the Conference recognizes the importance of ensuring optimal coordination and continuity throughout the review cycle. In this context, the Conference encourages the past and incumbent Chairs to be available for consultations by the incoming Chair, if necessary, regarding practical matters relating to their responsibilities. Participation in these meetings will be voluntary and without affecting the costs assessed to States parties” (para 111).

Though not a fully mandated action, the incoming chairs obviously would have the support of Treaty States Parties to implement the proposal.

The third recommendation in the Canadian working paper was to establish a Treaty support unit, comprising initially of one officer to support the Chair and the Chairs’ Circle by providing administrative and logistical support, as well as background documentation and analysis. This proposal was endorsed by the Review Conference, again, not as a mandated action, but as a general recommendation for a dedicated staff officer to support the Treaty’s review cycle from within the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (para 112).

Cost implications of the review process are a particularly sensitive matter for NPT, but the working paper offered a detailed assessment of the costs of all the recommended changes, including for a three-person support unit, and showed enough potential savings from a reduction in overall meeting days to more than cover the added costs. It would have been a constructive trade-off – a support unit would lead to better prepared meetings that would not be as long but arguably more productive. But the recommendation to change the pattern of meetings was not accepted; hence the savings will not be realized and the support unit, if pursued, will have to be financed through special contributions.

There was a specific call to further consider institutional changes during the next review cycle (para 113). Change doesn’t hurry when it comes to the NPT’s consensus driven review process – even when the proposed change is clearly modest and, though worth pursuing, marginal to the central nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues.


[i] “Further strengthening the review process of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”

[ii] Australia, Austria, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Sweded, Switzerland, Thailand and Ukraine.

[iii] The final document as approved (NPT/Conf.2010/L.2) is available from Reaching Critical Will at:

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