That early approval of an agenda should be hailed as extraordinary progress speaks volumes about where the NPT review process has been, but this time around early success on the agenda supports realistic expectations for some more tangible achievements.
But the first big challenge was still to get past the agenda dispute. In the failed 2005 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), disputes over the agenda consumed vast amounts of diplomatic energy – the supplies of which were already dangerously depleted. And there was enough worry about the agenda question in the run-up to the 2010 Review Conference that many diplomats and observers had already concluded that if the current Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom, May 4-15) achieved nothing but an agreed Agenda, it would be an important success.
Few thought success would come as early as the third day, but there was the Chairman opening day three with the announcement that his private consultations had produced a new draft. He presented it to the meeting and the ensuing silence meant consent, and that was it.
The dispute was rooted in substance. The 2000 Review Conference of course resulted in some major agreements, the most prominent of which was agreement on a series of 13 “practical steps” toward the full implementation of Article VI, the disarmament article of the Treaty (the 13 steps are listed at the end of the May 5 post). At the 2005 conference the overwhelming majority of states wanted the agenda to refer not only to the Review of the Treaty, but also to review progress in the implementation of decisions made in 1995 and at the 2000 Conference. The United States then led the opposition (the 13 steps had been agreed to by the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration denied being bound by them). This time the US had no objection, but there were indications that France would continue the fight.
In the end the agenda received unanimous support, the item in question reading: “Review of the operation of the Treaty…, taking into account the decisions and the resolution adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and the final document of the 2000 Review Conference.” It is more than technical wording – it is recognition that past agreements mean something and that all NPT States are obliged to give account to each other for actions taken or not taken in support of those decisions.
And this time, the early resolution of the agenda question also gives evidence of a new spirit of cooperation. Delegates are even daring to hope that the use of “progress” and “NPT” in the same sentence will not be a one-time thing, but will spread to other issues and lead to a set of recommendations or at least a finite number of options to focus deliberations at the 2010 Review Conference (the NPT Review Conferences are held every five years and they are the only occasions when the States Parties to the Treaty can actually make decisions).