13 May 2009, No. 8

The importance of being earnest
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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On Tuesday morning, the Chair opened the floor to general comments on his draft recommendations to the 2010 NPT Review Conference (RevCon). Before the meeting, many representatives from diverse regions expressed hope that the document could be adopted with minimal changes in order to maintain a positive spirit going into the RevCon. However, when the floor opened for general comments, a few cautiously suggested specific areas in which they felt the draft could be improved.

Nineteen delegates provided general comments on the draft. The primary complaint expressed was of a perceived lack of balance between the Treaty’s three pillars. Some delegations, such as Australia, argued that the high degree of specificity articulated in the nuclear disarmament section is not reflected in other sections, particularly that on non-proliferation. The French and Russian delegations suggested that since Section 2 contains an action plan for nuclear disarmament, Sections 3 and 4, on non-proliferation and nuclear energy, should likewise contain action plans. Alternatively, the French delegate proposed, a single joint action plan could be developed.

All three sections do contain action plans to some degree. Section 2 specifically lists several “practical disarmament initiatives” to be identified by the RevCon and recommends it examine ways and means to commence negotiations on a nuclear weapon convention. Section 3 does not list specific initiatives but rather recommends the RevCon itself identify ways to universalize and strengthen the safeguards system and to achieve legally-binding security assurances. Section 4 makes some suggestions on how the RevCon could move forward on the issue of multilateralizing the fuel cycle while addressing concerns about additional restrictions and discrimination. The action plans as currently formulated in Sections 3 and 4 are not as explicit as that for Section 1, though the intent is similar, calling on the RevCon to identify ways forward on all of these issues.

Despite the variety of suggestions, the vast majority of speakers called for flexibility and compromise to guide the Committee in its work. Many emphasized the importance of the Chair’s introductory, or chapeau, paragraph, which specifically notes that the recommendations do not preclude future initiatives nor stand as declarations of states parties’ positions. The Brazilian delegation said this paragraph is sufficiently clear that the recommendations do not preempt the work of the RevCon in any way.

Despite this clarity, the US delegation called on the Committee to “defer” some of the details in the recommendations until 2010, because they contain “a level of substantive detail” that the United States is “not fully able to address at this time.” It requested the Committee wait until the US administration is ready to engage with the rest of the world on these issues—specifically until after it has completed its upcoming defense and nuclear posture reviews, which, in turn, will determine how hard and how fast the Americans are willing to push (or allow themselves to be pushed) toward achieving nuclear disarmament.

The rest of the world has waited a long time for the United States. We can no longer put off substantive work with which every other state party is ready to move forward. Hopefully the US delegation will understand, as the other delegations do, that the recommendations in no way bind their positions or create commitments to be undertaken between this year and next. It would be devastating for the NPT and the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes if the US delegation were to stall the momentum created by its President’s pledge in Prague to work for a nuclear weapon free world.

In order to give a chance for states parties to discuss specific modifications to the text, the Chair facilitated consultations between delegations on Tuesday afternoon and will hold another session Wednesday morning. As noted by the Cuban representative, who urged the Committee to act “pragmatically and realistically,” there is little time left to take apart these draft recommendations and put them together again. It is essential that the Committee forward consensus recommendations to the RevCon, both to give a strong signal of states parties’ commitment to the Treaty and the review process and to ensure that the RevCon has sufficient guidance for its substantive work—something severely lacking in 2005.

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