Go to Home Page
  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prepcom Briefing 3, April 7, 1997

First NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 3 Nuclear Disarmament

Written by Rebecca Johnson.

By the end of the fourth day of the first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) under the enhanced review process, States Parties had discussed the first cluster of issues, on nuclear disarmament, and considered some procedures for reporting and transmitting proposals or recommendations to the next PrepCom and to the 2000 Review Conference. Acting on South Africa's proposal, the Chair of the PrepCom, Pasi Patokallio, convened a group of around 25 key states for focused consultations on how debates and any decisions or proposals might be reported to future meetings. No It is too early for any decisions. Since the sessions were closed to NGOs for most of Wednesday and Thursday and statements were not always obtainable, this

Printer Friendly

See Also
1997 NPT Prep Com 

briefing cannot be comprehensive but will attempt to give a fair picture, notwithstanding those restrictions.

Reporting on the PrepComs

South Africa and Canada proposed that each PrepCom should produce a report in three parts. Canada suggested a part 1 on procedural agreements, part 2 on substance, structured according to the articles in the Treaty, and part 3 containing recommendations to the next PrepComs and the Review Conference. There was also some interest in attaching a compilation of proposals, indicating the degree of support each had garnered. South Africa's suggestions were only slightly different: part 1 would deal with substantive or procedural issues 'where there is a possibility of achieving a consensus'; part 2 would cover issues to be addressed at the next PrepCom; and part 3 would include draft recommendations to the Review Conference. South Africa also suggested that part 3 should contain a listing of proposals supported at the PrepCom, which could also form an initial basis for a rolling text. Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Ireland and others endorsed or contributed to this general approach. At the same time, there was a widely held view that the PrepComs should avoid getting locked into negotiating a bracketed text too early in the process, although elements could be compiled with a view to elaborating a rolling text during the final PrepCom before the Review Conference. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) called for rolling texts to be developed at the second and third PrepComs, as a basis for a final document. However, there are differences of opinion about whether this means beginning early negotiations on a full bracketed text or to compile paragraphs that are drafted or agreed during the early PrepComs so that they can be 'rolled over' for negotiations at the Review Conference.

NAM Statement

Following the plenary statements on the second day, Indonesia insisted that the PrepCom be briefly opened on Thursday for the public to hear the NAM statement, which had been delayed in part due to the NAM Foreign Ministers Meeting in New Delhi, which finished on April 8. Calling the NPT a 'key international instrument in stemming both vertical and horizontal proliferation', the NAM stressed that the three decisions and the resolution on the Middle East adopted in 1995 were 'an integral and interlinked undertaking'. They underlined the importance of balancing the obligations and responsibilities of the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). In particular, the NAM prioritised: universality; legally binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states; a fissile materials production ban (fissban); the elimination of nuclear arsenals, ' to be pursued through the establishment of an ad hoc committee' in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), taking into account the programme of action for nuclear disarmament, proposed by 28 members of the G-21 (non-aligned states in the CD); nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZ) 'where they do not now exist'; and unimpeded and non-discriminatory access to nuclear materials and technology for 'peaceful' purposes 'on an assured and long-term basis'. Without naming Israel, the NAM called on that country to accede to the NPT without delay and place its nuclear facilities under full-scope IAEA safeguards. No reference was made to NAM members who are not party to the NPT. It was particularly noticeable that the reference to the fissban omitted mention of stockpiles and the call for a nuclear disarmament committee in the CD did not specify a mandate to negotiate the G-28 programme, but rather to take it into account.

The NAM statement made reference to a working paper to be circulated at the NPT Conference. This was unavailable at time of writing, but deals with nuclear disarmament in 'a specified framework of time'. Two members of the NAM [Chile and South Africa] wanted their reservation on the specified time-frame for elimination to be noted, but stressed that they remain committed to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and have 'sought to engage' the NWS on 'the practical steps and negotiations required to adopt a programme of systematic and progressive steps to totally eliminate nuclear weapons in the shortest time possible.'

Nuclear Disarmament

The first 'cluster' to be discussed was that corresponding to Main Committee I, with delegations putting forward their views on nuclear disarmament, security assurances, nuclear-weapon free zones and also universality. On nuclear disarmament, many delegations focused on the three point programme of action in the 1995 Principles and Objectives decision (P&O). Apart from the NAM statement and South Africa, the main interventions during the two day debate were from western delegations. Australia, Sweden, Britain, the United States, France, Germany, New Zealand and others wanted the PrepCom and Review Conference to welcome the CTBT and call for full ratification and early entry into force. Canada wanted it noted that article V (relating to so-called peaceful nuclear explosions) has been redefined and overtaken by the CTBT and is now 'an historical footnote to an old debate' on which no more time should be spent. South Africa suggested that article 4a of the P&O could be updated with a call for all NPT parties to ratify the CTBT and work for its early implementation.


Most of these states also stressed the importance of getting negotiations on a fissban started in the CD on the basis of the mandate and report agreed in March 1995. Canada proposed that 'pending conclusion' of the fissban the NWS should be urged to commit themselves to 'forever cease production of fissile material' for weapons, to reduce their fissile material stockpiles and place more under IAEA safeguards. Norway proposed voluntary measures to be undertaken by all nuclear capable states 'to increase transparency on holdings of weapons grade fissile material, plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU)', including declaration, clarification and inspections of the stocks. Norway called for strict accounting and secure handling and storage procedures. Understood not to cover the fissile materials still in nuclear warheads, Norway's proposal for transparency could offer a preliminary way of addressing the problem of stocks in parallel with fissban negotiations in the CD. Britain wanted to obtain agreement that all NPT parties would back CD negotiations on the basis of the March 1995 mandate, as supported by them in 4b of the P&O.

Further Progress

Statements from France and Britain, as well as Canada, Ireland, Germany, South Africa and Australia, welcomed the Helsinki Summit agreements with regard to START II and III. Some also welcomed unilateral measures by France and Britain, which those countries had listed in their statements. South Africa called on the three minor NWS to 'join in the process of structured and verified nuclear disarmament'. Canada called on these 'other' NWS not to increase their arsenals and to engage in five-power nuclear disarmament negotiations in parallel with START III. Canada had earlier put forward ideas for all the NWS to undertake measures such as demating nuclear warheads, verifying warhead destruction, further reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, reduction in delivery systems, commitments not to pursue development of new types of weapons of mass destruction and so on.

Referring to a long term objective of negotiating the complete elimination of tactical nuclear weapons, Finland proposed a regime of transparency and unilateral constraints on the deployment and stockpiles of tactical weapons. Voluntary withdrawals already declared could be given more legal weight and possibly verified under the auspices of the NPT framework. With regard to a 'series of external opinions' on the obligations of the NWS under article VI, Ireland listed the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the Canberra Commission's recommendations, the March 14 resolution passed by the European Parliament and the model nuclear weapons convention recently launched by lawyers, scientists and disarmament experts. Ireland, Canada and New Zealand supported NAM calls for a nuclear disarmament committee in the CD, suggesting that it could usefully discuss ways forward and identify issues which the CD might negotiate.

South Africa reiterated its concerns about the proliferation risks of NATO expansion, which prompted vehement opposition from Britain, France and the United States. They considered it irrelevant to the NPT and indignantly denied that the transfer of nuclear weapons among NATO members might violate the Treaty's articles I and II. In their lengthy statements, the three western nuclear powers listed the ways in which they had reduced their arsenals, curtailed fissile material production and so on. In response to arguments from South Africa, Canada and others that all five should engage in nuclear arms reduction talks, Britain repeated its version of the 'Chinese thesis', that when the US and Russian arsenals were in the hundreds, the UK would be prepared to join talks on nuclear disarmament. France said that its 'participation in international negotiations on nuclear arsenals is not relevant now' and quoted President Chirac regarding France's deterrent capacity compared with that of Russia and the United States.

South Africa's call for subsequent PrepComs to work on security assurances was supported by others, including Australia. There was some support for further NWFZ, with South Africa giving explicit endorsement to the work on this by five Central Asian countries, although this had been dropped from the NAM statement.


It is understood that debate on the nuclear disarmament cluster has now been concluded. The debate appeared limited to fewer than 20 NPT parties. Some interesting ideas have been put forward, but until the procedure for reporting and transmitting recommendations is decided, their status is unclear. There were a couple of sharp exchanges, with the United States objecting to Ireland's mention of the nuclear weapon convention and its desire for the NWS to 'set out their perspective' on what further steps could be undertaken. Most contributors, including South Africa (a NAM state), underlined the importance of the step by step approach, rather than what Britain called a 'blueprint' for nuclear disarmament. Comments by Britain and the US that nuclear disarmament could not be separated from efforts to promote global stability and conventional disarmament prompted Canada to reject such linkage 'when every last bow and arrow or Swiss army knife is gone.'