19 May 2010, No. 13

Beyond conference room 2 and 4
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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Delegations continued their debates over the committee draft texts on Tuesday. As only Main Committee II held official meetings, much of the debate concerned non-proliferation issues such as safeguards, non-compliance, and the role of non-parties to the NPT.

The textual amendments called for by various delegations highlighted some key divergences. The western countries continued to propose more specific language on the role of the additional protocol, concrete conditions for export control, and the importance of compliance with IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions.

The Non-Aligned Movement, on the other hand, called for the deletion of all references to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), anything that implies that the additional protocol should be considered as a part of today’s verification standard, and any further measures than the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement (CSA) as a condition for export of nuclear material.

As these opposing positions came to a head inside the UN, a few significant events occurred outside that have a direct bearing on the success of the Review Conference and the future of non-proliferation.

On Sunday, the governments of Brazil, Turkey, and Iran brokered a deal in Tehran for the Iranian government to send the bulk of its uranium to Turkey, under the supervision of the IAEA, for enrichment for its medical reactor. The deal accomplishes the same objective as a western-backed IAEA proposal from last year, which called for the nuclear material to be sent to Russia and then France for refinement and enrichment. The idea is to keep Iran’s uranium enrichment levels below that which is required for a nuclear bomb in order to bolster the international community’s confidence in Iran's activities.

However, on Tuesday, the United States announced that it had reached agreement with the UN Security Council on a new sanctions resolution against Iran. US Secretary of State Clinton “shrugged off” the Tehran deal, arguing that “questions” about the deal still remain. Clinton described the new sanctions resolution to be “as convincing an answer” to this deal “as any we could provide”.

The pursuit of further sanctions at this critical point in time—right after the announcement of an international deal that addresses the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme in a manner previously endorsed by western governments and also right in the middle of the Review Conference—brings up the question if this is an appropriate way of achieving a successful Review Conference or solving the crisis of confidence over Iran’s programme.

Then there is the recent press over the China-Pakistan nuclear deal, which is taking international flack for violating the NPT and for undermining the NSG. In the US media, the deal is also accused of hemming Obama’s push for nuclear non-proliferation. Ironically, most US press coverage has not drawn a parallel between this deal and the notorious US-India deal, for which the United States strong-armed the NSG into granting an exemption for its supplier states to engage in nuclear trade with India, a non-NPT state party. The aftermath of this deal and exemption has entrenched the double standards already inherent within the NPT, making it more difficult for states engaging in trade with India to legitimately argue that non-nuclear weapon states party to the Treaty should take on increased non-proliferation commitments, such as the additional protocol.

The effects of these double standards were clearly visible during the intensive debate in Main Committee II on Tuesday, during which Japan, the EU, and the US questioned the NAM’s call to delete any references to the NSG. In response, the Egyptian delegation strongly argued that it is not possible to speak proudly of the NSG in the context of the NPT. Egypt’s representative asked what it was the Conference actually should reaffirm—that the NSG violated the NPT? “Are we supposed to applaud this and the dire consequences it has for the Treaty?” he asked.

If the outcome of this Review Conference stands a chance of increasing international peace and security, of preventing proliferation, and of achieving disarmament, states parties must seek consistency between their words and actions and between their own behaviour and the behaviour they expect from others.