Go to Home Page
  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prepcom Briefing 5, April 7, 1997

First NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 5 Substantive Debate Concludes

Written by Rebecca Johnson.

The first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of the enhanced review process for the NPT Review Conference in 2000, chaired by Pasi Patokallio of Finland, has only two working days left. During closed debates on nuclear disarmament, safeguards and energy, more than one third of the 186 states parties to the NPT addressed the PrepCom. As discussion on the final cluster of issues concluded with a desultory session on the non-military uses of nuclear energy, the focus shifted

Printer Friendly

to negotiations among some 25 key states on the structure and content of the report from the PrepCom. Though procedural in nature, questions on how recommendations and proposals are transmitted to future PrepComs and to the 2000 Review Conference are extremely important as they will affect the substantive role, usefulness and credibility of the new process, which was set up in 1995 to enhance the implementation of the Treaty and the accountability of its States Parties.

The vast majority do not consider it necessary or useful for the PrepComs to negotiate a consensus report or declaration as such. As reported in NPT Briefing # 4, a three part report is envisaged, with a technical and descriptive summary under the auspices of the Chair, recommendations to the next PrepCom and draft recommendations to the next Review Conference. The Chair's consultations broke up on Tuesday evening with no agreement on the structure and status of the PrepCom's reports. The major issue is whether Parties will try to get consensus on some of the recommendations to the next PrepCom or the 2000 Review Conference. As the drawbacks and benefits of forwarding some agreed recommendations on substance as well as procedure were debated in chambers and corridors off the main committee room, the ideas first put forward by Canada, South Africa and Japan garnered increasing support. Other delegations, including New Zealand and Britain, also offered language which they hoped might attract consensus on issues such as the IAEA Programme 93+2, nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZ) and universality. A few NAM countries, notably Iran, needed reassurance that forwarding some recommendations by consensus neither precluded future discussion of those issues nor gave them greater or lesser consequence. Linked with the consensus question is determination of the status of the PrepCom report: will the Chair seek consensus on his summing up of the debate, or would it be better for this part of the report to be issued as the Chair's own views? In this regard, Patokallio rounded off the nine sessions of closed debate with his tentative summary on the three clusters. Other decisions facing the NPT Parties include: whether to recommend that time be allocated at future PrepComs to consideration of particular subject areas, as South Africa and others want for security assurances; whether draft recommendations should be summarised by the Chair, listed or annexed in whole or in precis, and how recommendations should be grouped: whether by cluster, or their relation to the relevant treaty article and/or section of the 1995 Principles and Objectives (P&O). There is also the question of whether to have some kind of introduction (chapeau) to the report which could enable Parties to endorse general statements of support for the 1995 Conference decisions and resolution. Some states may want this as a fallback in case consensus is not sought or not obtainable this year on recommendations covering issues such as universality or the fissile materials ban.

Security Assurances

On behalf also of Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan, Myanmar proposed a draft protocol to the NPT on negative security assurances (NSA), calling for 'further efforts at the NPT PrepComs with a view to achieving an international legal instrument on security assurances by the time of the Review Conference in the year 2000'. Nigeria endorsed Myanmar's proposal, calling for 'a procedural mechanism that will ensure conclusion of a protocol [on no-use, no first use assurances] at the year 2000 NPT Review Conference'. The NPT Parties in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) backed negotiations under NPT auspices of a legal instrument on security assurances, but did not specifically endorse the protocol proposal. The United States responded swiftly, saying that 'there is not now enough common ground among the key countries on which to base the negotiation of such a treaty'. Urging further consolidation of security assurances commitments through nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) arrangements and the 1995 UN Security Council resolution 984, the United States was 'opposed to the negotiation of a global NSA treaty, or of an NSA Protocol to the NPT'.

Nuclear Energy

A number of delegations, including Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa and the Netherlands on behalf of the European Union (EU) pledged support for the IAEA's role in promoting nuclear power, especially to developing countries, through its Technical Cooperation Programme. The EU noted that in 1996, the IAEA spent $48 million on the promotion of nuclear energy, which 'comfortably outstripped overall Agency spending'. While backing nuclear power, South Africa questioned its appropriateness for 'least developed countries, bearing in mind the infrastructural burdens that such [transfers of nuclear technology and equipment] place on recipients.' Nevertheless, South Africa argued that the 'optional aspect' of the technical cooperation fund be made mandatory. Japan, Canada, Australia, the EU and others stressed the importance of safety and supported the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which entered into force in October 1996. According to the EU, this Convention 'aims at the implementation of sound safety principles for the operation of nuclear power reactors, whilst respecting the prerogatives and competences of States Parties'. Finalisation of a draft text on a Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management and other initiatives were also mentioned, including recent progress on civil liability for nuclear damage, under the auspices of the IAEA.

The NAM statement reiterated the 'inalienable right' of NPT parties to research, production and use of nuclear energy for 'peaceful' purposes. The NAM called for 'preferential treatment' and 'free and unimpeded and non-discriminatory transfer of nuclear technology' to NPT parties. Australia pointed out that while only a minority [around 40 states] of NPT parties have nuclear power programmes of their own and 'derive little benefit from its application', issues of safety and security are vital to all. Echoing the concerns made earlier by the Marshall Islands, Australia noted the 'potential for harm inherent in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology' and especially stressed the sea transhipments of radioactive materials. The Kyrgyz Republic spoke of 'severe problems' concerning radioactive wastes left over from past, including the unpredictable threat of disaster for its region. Asking for assistance in clean-up and disposal of radioactive contaminants, Kyrgyzstan said that all storage and transports should be in accordance with international agreements, including the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

During the general debate, Argentina and Uruguay had also raised concerns about the export and transport of plutonium and other radioactive materials, especially using shipping routes close to their coasts. Japan, which has recently received controversial cargoes of spent fuel and plutonium by sea from France and Britain, said that nuclear fuel cycle programmes 'should be carried out under the principle of not holding surplus plutonium and keeping the programmes as transparent as possible.' Japan mentioned that nine countries had reached an in-principle agreement on guidelines for plutonium management, including annual publication of plutonium holdings. Norway noted problems related to 'former nuclear operations', including discontinued nuclear weapon programmes, and proposed that the conversion of nuclear materials from military to civilian uses should be looked at more closely in ensuing PrepComs. Norway called for shared resources and assistance in the field of clean-up, storage and disposal of radioactive contaminants and 'sensitive' [weapon useable] nuclear materials.

Several countries, including South Africa, Australia, Japan and Canada, endorsed the EU view that export controls were 'an obligation complementary to safeguards flowing from the Treaty'. However, most delegations also underlined the need for more information and openness from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Zangger Committee. The NAM called for 'unilaterally enforced restrictive measures' to be removed. China endorsed the NAM position and said that non-proliferation measures should 'facilitate rather than hamper the legitimate rights of developing countries for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.'

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones

The Republic of Belarus put forward its initiative on a 'nuclear-weapon-free space' in Central and Eastern Europe, arguing that this would reduce the risk of renewed nuclear confrontation in Europe, contribute to the 'search for solutions to the problem of the expansion of NATO' and to the security of countries in the region 'with different approaches to the pan-European security structure', and contribute to the process of disarmament, as well as other benefits. Belarus went on to describe the different options for setting up such a NWF 'space', including the range of provisions which could be considered. Poland responded by saying that it preferred the word 'enlargement' to 'expansion' of NATO, since the Polish people _wished_ to join NATO. Dismissing the 'possible creation of the proposed denuclearised zone before the NATO enlargement question is solved', Poland said that NWFZs were effective 'in regions of tension which definitely is not the case in Central Europe'. However, Poland welcomed the progress on a NWFZ in Central Asia, as proposed by Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Norway and Mongolia, which had unilaterally declared itself a nuclear weapon free state in 1992, also supported the Central Asian NWFZ.

The United States reiterated its seven criteria for establishment of NWFZs and said it looked forward to further talks with ASEAN states in June, in the hope of resolving its problems with the protocols to the Bangkok Treaty. Echoing Britain's criticism of the proposed Southern Hemisphere NWFZ, the US delegation said that it 'opposes any effort to develop a NWFZ that in any way seeks to impose restrictions of the rights of states to the unfettered access to and use of the oceans and high seas as recognised by international law.'


Almost all the delegations which addressed article III issues explicitly supported the IAEA Programme 93+2 for strengthening the safeguards regime. In this regard, the United States said it would support the IAEA Board of Governors' request for protocols to be concluded with states whose safeguards agreements were not comprehensive, including the US itself. China suggested that the NWS should apply the measures in the model protocol that 'each of them identifies as capable of contributing to the nuclear non-proliferation objectives'. Britain proposed language for possible consensus on 93+2 in the PrepCom report. Japan suggested that the NWS should additionally 'consider voluntarily applying the IAEA safeguards to all of their peaceful-use nuclear facilities, although the NPT does not require them to do so'. Some countries, including Britain, France and Japan, recalled concerns and attempts to remedy non-compliance with their Treaty obligations by Iraq and North Korea (DPRK). The NAM backed fullscope safeguards as a condition of new supply arrangements regarding the transfer of special nuclear materials or equipment. The NAM also required that nuclear materials from dismantled warheads or otherwise transferred from military uses should be placed under IAEA safeguards.

Towards Conclusion

On Wednesday April 16, NPT parties will be addressed by non-governmental organisations on matters relating to the NPT in an open, informal session from 10.30 am to 1.00 pm. Closed consultations will then resume to try and finalise the PrepCom report.