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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prepcom Briefing 6, May 4, 1998

1998 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 6 Cluster 1: Nuclear Disarmament

Around 30 delegations spoke during the closed Cluster 1 debates on nuclear disarmament, of which some 23 papers were made available. Recurring themes included: calling on all States to sign and ratify the CTBT; expediting the start of negotiations on a fissile materials production ban as early as possible (as the subject of a specially allocated session, the FMCT/fissban issue will be addressed separately in NPT Briefing 7); welcoming progress in the bilateral START process and urging the ratification of START II by the Russian Duma plus the encouragement of further measures under the rubric of START III; urging progress involving all the NWS, especially with regard to measures identified by the Canberra Commission for immediate action; increased levels of transparency, confidence-building and information sharing by the NWS; and instituting an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament in the CD, with or without a negotiating mandate.

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1998 NPT Index

The NAM working paper reiterated its position from 1997, for the CD to negotiate a phased programme of nuclear disarmament leading to a nuclear weapons convention, a position stressed by several states including Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico and Egypt. As China, Russia and the United States had done in the General Debate, France and Britain outlined the steps they have already taken towards compliance with the NPT obligations on nuclear disarmament. None of the NATO States responded to the criticism by NAM states questioning their compliance with Articles I and II. The NAM have urged the NWS and NNWS to refrain from "nuclear sharing for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements" and Egypt specifically proposed that the PrepCom recommend to the 2000 Review Conference to state in "clear and unambiguous terms that Articles I and II...allow for no exceptions and that the NPT is binding on States Parties at all times".

Implementing P&O programme

Many of the statements outlined national positions with regard to nuclear disarmament and some proposed language to be included in a 'rolling text' of recommendations to the 2000 Review Conference. Several delegations made direct or oblique reference to item 4c of the P&O, "to pursue systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons", and to the importance of the steps identified by the Canberra Commission which should be undertaken by the five NWS without delay, such as: taking nuclear weapons off alert; transparency measures for nuclear weapons and military stockpiles of fissile materials; restrictions on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons; opening the ABM Treaty to accession by Britain, China and France; commitments not to modernise or increase the size of nuclear arsenals, and so on.

Also building on the practical proposals put forward by the Canberra Commission, US National Academy of Sciences and others, South Africa went a step further with a pragmatic proposal for using the NPT Review Process to give the P&O programme concrete content. Taking the implementation of item 4c as its starting point and recognising the need for "a structured opportunity to deliberate on the practical steps" for implementing Article VI and the programme of action outlined in the P&O, South Africa proposed i) specific time to be allocated at the Third PrepCom in 1999; ii) for the 2000 Review Conference to decide to allocate specific time to practical consideration of nuclear disarmament steps at future PrepComs; and iii) the establishment at the 2000 Review Conference of a subsidiary body to Main Committee 1 to provide more structured and focused deliberations on the implementation of the nuclear disarmament provisions of the P&O and Article VI.

The NAM states, including Mexico, have welcomed these proposals as a positive step forwards. Although western countries such as New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium have expressed interest in this practical approach to addressing nuclear disarmament issues in the review process, others have seemed reluctant, either because they argue that nuclear disarmament gets sufficient attention in the cluster debates, or on the grounds that such focused action by NPT Parties could detract from the work of the CD or the bilateral START process underway. South Africa, however, had emphasised the continued importance of the bilateral reductions (and also future negotiations involving all the NWS). Pretoria's recent role at the forefront of efforts to enable the CD to address nuclear disarmament more effectively also clearly demonstrated its commitment to addressing nuclear disarmament issues in both fora, as is appropriate. In many ways, the South African proposal to provide a structured mechanism for information exchange between the NWS and NNWS regarding practical steps towards nuclear disarmament is also consistent with growing calls for greater transparency coming from many sides, including the NAM, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, Finland and Belgium.

Furthering START

A large number of delegations stressed the importance of furthering the START process and hoped that Russia would ratify soon. While some appeared reasonably satisfied with current progress, others, notably the NAM states, expressed concern that such "limited agreements" did not go far enough. A number of States, including Russia, Sweden, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, and several NAM delegations have alluded to the importance of involving China, Britain and France more in the future and to encouraging five-power talks on nuclear disarmament issues. Arguing that NPT Parties should be able to take a direct role, as well as evolving text for future review documents, Canada proposed a 'Draft Statement on Current START Standstill', intended to be issued either by the PrepCom or as a Chair's statement at the end of this meeting. The statement built on the 1997 UN General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by the US and Russia (among others), and was intended to encourage START II ratification and further progress on START III. Although Canada's proposal has attracted interest from a number of delegations, Russia and the United States have so far shown little enthusiasm for issuing such a statement from the PrepCom.


Many States also want the NPT Review process to urge all States to accede to the CTBT. The NAM statement further called on the NWS to refrain from "conducting all types of tests" and to "comply with the letter and spirit of the CTBT". While Switzerland underlined the CTBT's role in limiting the development of new or qualitatively improved nuclear weapons, others were even more explicit. Sweden, for example, urged the NWS to exercise the "utmost restraint regarding any activity that could undermine the fundamental objectives of the CTBT, including so-called sub-critical experiments." Canada proposed that the NPT PrepCom endorse calls for the political conference to facilitate the CTBT's entry into force (as per Article XIV of the Treaty) to be convened in 1999, before the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Canada's proposal is supported by many States, although there have been reports that Russia and possibly others are pushing for the Conference to take place after 2000.

CD Nuclear Disarmament Committee

The NAM working paper called explicitly for the CD to establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament, "taking into account all proposals which have been submitted by members of the Group of 21...". This would include proposals made in 1997 by Egypt and by 26 NAM members of the CD for multilateral negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament, including time-tables, and also South Africa's proposal for it "to deliberate upon practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to identify if and when one or more such steps should be the subject of negotiations..." Several Western States also now back CD work on nuclear disarmament, ranging from support for South Africa's non-negotiating mandate or Canada's proposal for "substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues with a view to identifying if and when one or more such issues might be negotiated multilaterally" to Belgium's very mild proposal for an "ad hoc group for reflection and study". Japan called for information exchange and discussion of practical issues in various fora, including the CD and the NPT review process, and hoped that a session of the UN Disarmament Conference in November in Nagasaki would be devoted to practical aspects of nuclear disarmament.


China and Russia's positions on nuclear disarmament questions were outlined and reported on earlier. France and Britain both gave similar accounts, which also mirrored many points emphasised by the United States, which elaborated further on its general statement. Emphasis was placed on nuclear safety and security, bilateral negotiations and also French and British unilateral steps to end their deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, as well as increasing transparency and halting fissile materials production. All pushed for commencement of FMCT negotiations in accordance with the Shannon report and mandate, as well as stressing other States' responsibility for making progress on nuclear disarmament possible. Many States have commended the early ratification of the CTBT by France and Britain, of which both were justifiably proud, and the NWS all urged support for the test ban treaty and its early entry into force. France described closing its Pacific test site and dismantling operations at Moruroa and Fangataufa, and also pointed out that it has taken a further step of decommissioning its plutonium and HEU production facilities at Marcoule and Pierrelatte.

 Most of the nuclear disarmament debate was general, with much rhetoric on making further progress. Proposals fell into two categories: text for taking to the 2000 Review Conference, and specific proposals for action to be taken by this PrepCom, such as Egypt and South Africa's recommendations and Canada's proposals on START and the CTBT. However, there was little agreement on how to move forwards.