5 May 2009, No. 2

The mutual responsibility of compromise
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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On 4 May, the third PrepCom, chaired by Ambassador Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe, began in earnest with government representatives delivering their countries’ “general debate” statements and non-government representatives engaging in several interactive panel discussions throughout the day.

The dominant themes expressed repeatedly during the general debate were optimism and concern. The majority of states parties cited the renewed Russian-US dialogue on bilateral reductions and President Obama’s speech in Prague as reasons to have hope that the decade of stalemate is finally coming to a close. At the same time, most states worry that the last ten years have done serious damage to the credibility of the NPT and to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime in general.

However, based on these general statements, it seems that everyone here is looking for a constructive way forward. Aside from the usual criticisms expressed by some delegations about each other’s compliance with various articles of the NPT, most representatives are interested in achieving the two primary objectives of this PrepCom: setting an agenda and drafting some recommendations on substantive issues for next year’s Review Conference.

In terms of setting an agenda for the Review Conference, representatives voiced few concrete proposals. Canada’s delegation suggested using the agenda established for the 2000 Review Conference as a basis for the 2010 agenda.

Regarding the recommendations, several delegates highlighted their working papers submitted to the previous two PrepComs as containing ideas for how to move forward on particular pieces of the NPT. The Chair indicated that he will circulate draft elements of these recommendations by Friday, which will be based on statements and papers identifying practical initiatives to reach consensus on at the Review Conference.

Giving a good indication of what some of these elements might include, the overwhelming majority of delegations emphasized the importance of the implementation of past agreements, particularly those outlined at the 2000 and 1995 Review Conferences. New Zealand’s delegate referred to these as an essential part of the NPT’s “fabrics”.

Confronting a principle challenge to reaching consensus, Switzerland’s delegation suggested a way to smooth the tensions between the three pillars of the NPT. Ambassador Streuli argued that the seemingly opposing priorities expressed by delegations—non-proliferation, disarmament, or nuclear energy—are linked to the three pillars of the Treaty and therefore, “the very sources of disagreement contain in themselves the makings of a possible compromise.” He urged states to “commit themselves toward a re-adjustment of the emphasis to be placed on each of the three pillars,” arguing that since the they are inextricably linked, the fulfillment of each is the best guarantee for the fulfillment of the others.

A common refrain throughout the day was that multilateralism and compromise need to come back in fashion. For too long, these values have been neglected and most delegations are eager to see them reinstated to their proper place. Several delegations stressed that all states share the responsibility of acting in good faith to find a collective way forward this year and next. The time for waiting is over. As Kenya’s delegation argued at the end of the day, a nuclear weapon free world is feasible in our lifetime, if we take bold, deliberate political actions in that direction.


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