Go to Home Page
  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prepcom Briefing 10, May 9, 1998

1998 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 10 Agreement Denied

The second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2000 Review Conference of the States Parties to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), chaired by Ambassador Eugeniusz Wyzner of Poland, ended after midnight on May 9 with no agreement on substance, recommendations or rules of procedure. After a day of tense and difficult discussions, and despite long negotiations on the Chair's working paper, which managed to achieve compromise language on fourteen paragraphs of substance, the divisions over the Middle East and the role of the strengthened review process appeared only to harden. In the end, just the first part of the PrepCom report was accepted. This described the procedural aspects of the 1998 meeting, which had been attended by 97 States Parties, and confirmed the decision to hold the

Printer Friendly

See Also
1998 NPT Index

Third PrepCom in New York, from 12 to 23 April, with Andelfo Garcia of Colombia as its designated Chair.

There was no agreement on background documentation for 2000, which is normally prepared inadvance under the auspices of the United Nations and relevant bodies such as the IAEA and the secretariats of the various nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZ), for papers to be discussed and agreed at the Third PrepCom. This means that if official background information is to be prepared in time for the 2000 Review Conference, the decision will need to be taken in 1999, leaving little time for States to review and accept it before 2000, unless a fourth PrepCom is held. Some wanted the documentation to cover the articles of the Treaty only; others wanted several papers following the line of the Principles and Objectives, including universality, non-proliferation (articles I and II), nuclear disarmament (article VI), security assurances; safeguards (article III) and non-military uses of nuclear energy (article IV) and on the CTBTO and the various established NWFZ.

The main sticking point was the request by fourteen Arab States, backed by the NAM, for background documentation dealing with the Resolution on the Middle East. The United States refused, holding that background documents should be limited to addressing the Treaty articles only. The US argued that though the Resolution on the Middle East was adopted at the 1995 Conference, it was inappropriate to have documentation on an issue that is not referred to in the Treaty itself. This was just one of many clashes over whether and how to refer to the Middle East Resolution. The US appeared to want to distance the review process from the 1995 resolution, arguing that it was a one-off, stand alone resolution and not part of the package of decisions adopted to extend the Treaty and strengthen the review process. Their position drew no visible support from other delegations and outraged the Arab States, who considered that their backing for the consensus decision on indefinite extension had been contingent on the adoption of the Middle East Resolution and that the resolution was therefore an integral part of the 1995 agreements.

There was also no agreement on the rules of procedure. The major block was over rule 34, covering the work of Committees. South Africa wanted the mention of 'working groups' to be supplemented by explicit reference to 'subsidiary bodies'. Backed by the NAM and others, they argued that this was the intention of paragraph 6 of Decision 1 taken in 1995, which stated that subsidiary bodies could be established within the respective Main Committees "for specific issues relevant to the Treaty, so as to provide for a focused consideration of such issues". South Africa wanted the concept to be explicitly in the rules of procedure, although it did not insist on the explanatory language. Russia objected to all mention of subsidiary bodies and claimed that the term 'working group' was sufficient. Attempts to include both terms also foundered. Failing to agree, the PrepCom remitted the rules of procedure for consideration at the 1999 PrepCom.

Although appearing to be over a minor difference in terminology, the conflict represented a much deeper division that ran through the entire PrepCom, and in the end caused it to fail. This debate was about the role, purpose and limitations of the Strengthened Review Process initiated in 1995. Objecting to use of the term 'subsidiary body' in the rules of procedure was another way to slam down South Africa's proposal for addressing nuclear disarmament or security assurances more coherently as part of the review.

Although the participants in the Chair's Consultations had worked long and faithfully on trying to achieve agreement on paragraphs to be added to the 'rolling text' of recommendations on issues in paragraph 3 of the 1997 Chair's working paper, few went much beyond the paragraphs agreed last year, so a number of delegates were not sorry to see these fall by the wayside as well. Wyzner has decided to issue the draft working paper and the compilation of proposals from 1998 as official documents of the PrepCom, so the content will at least be available to inform future deliberations.

A further important factor in the PrepCom's failure to adopt a substantive report was the opposition by the major nuclear weapon States to the recommendations proposed by Canada concerning reporting on the special sessions and raising current issues, and from South Africa and Egypt for allocation of time in 1999 for priority discussion of nuclear disarmament and the Middle East resolution respectively. Despite the actually more focused debate on the three issues allocated special time in 1998, the United States continued to argue that such sessions were a waste of time. The US and Russia, in particular, seemed to want to roll back the precedents set last year, as part of a concerted attempt to turn the review process into a talk shop and conveyor belt of text for the next Review Conference to consider. Countries such as Canada and South Africa, which had played important roles in achieving the 1995 agreements, were determined that the promise and intentions of those agreements should be developed appropriately and honoured in the implementation.

Reasons for Failure

What were the reasons for the failure? There were many components, not all negative. Extreme and ideological positions were less in evidence from expected quarters among the non-nuclear-weapon states. The NAM arrived much better prepared than last year, and organised more effectively around the proposals in the NAM working paper and from individual members, such as Egypt and South Africa. Though they fought hard on issues of importance to them, especially nuclear disarmament, they also offered flexibility and compromise. They were quick to support constructive proposals from western delegations, while at the same time western, including EU countries, expressed qualified support for issues of importance to the NAM. Thus some important bridge building was accomplished, including: recognising that existing fissile material stocks cannot be ignored, supporting a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the Canberra Commission proposals on nuclear disarmament and 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, more transparency regarding export controls, and so on.

The fact that the NAM came with more coherent and reasoned positions resulted in the real locus of divided opinion being brought into sharper focus: the fundamental incompatibility of the interests of the five NWS and those of the vast majority of NNWS Parties to the Treaty. The NWS -- prominently the United States -- had made a considerable effort to respond to calls for greater transparency and accountability by providing more concrete information on what they were doing to comply with their obligations in terms of controlling and reducing military stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissile materials, decommissioning and so on. However, they seemed to want to stop there. Acting individually, the NWS appeared to support each other in a primary objective of limiting the potential role and relevance of the enhanced review process.

Russia is enmeshed in its own political difficulties and took an exceedingly conservative position on almost everything. China said little in the procedural debates but was clearly unhappy with the idea of the review process having a role in facilitating and commenting on current issues. In relation to EU positions, France held the line on behalf of itself and Britain to prevent the positions of anti-nuclear partners from being expressed in EU statements, but on the floor of the PrepCom, France was significantly among those seeking constructive ways through the deadlocks. Britain was not positively negative but the absence of new policy (blamed on the delayed publication of the Strategic Defence Review undertaken in 1997) resulted in Britain playing a conservative role and appearing curiously disengaged. Britain had several important hats, as a depositary government, President of the EU and Chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In view of the constructive role it might have played, Britain's forced constraint and passiveness was unhelpful and must be assessed as a real lost opportunity.

Another important lesson learned is the necessity for more preparation in advance of the meeting and for the Chair/Bureau to have some game-plans for dealing with the most contentious issues. There is not much that a meeting can do about external events, but some conflicts are recurring or predictable and might be handled differently in the future. Taking place at a time of NATO expansion and START at a standstill, as well as high political tension and the lack of concrete progress in British and US initiatives on the Middle East peace process, the PrepCom was saturated with the spray thrown up by external political events.

It was difficult for delegations -- and not only from the Arab States -- to accept the US attempts to marginalise the Middle East Resolution. The existence of unsafeguarded nuclear facilities and non-accession by a small number of countries to the Treaty are relevant issues to the content and scope of the NPT and its review process. The US only undermined its own commitment to non-proliferation by its attempts to exempt Israel's nuclear capability from discussion, although it is also important to prevent the Treaty being misused in the pursuit of wider political objectives. The US became increasingly isolated in its approach, inviting comparison with the ludicrous interventions by Bhutan and Mauritius at the end, in which they attacked the references to South Asia in various NPT documents and the NAM statement.

NPT Briefing 10 provides a final snapshot analysis of the issues, dynamics and tactics that led to the failure of the Second PrepCom. A fuller analysis will take more time and is planned for publication in the June edition of Disarmament Diplomacy. The general feeling, however, is that although the PrepCom could not get agreement, the time was not wasted. Substantive issues were addressed; constructive and interesting proposals were offered not only for the NPT review process, but also to facilitate progress in the CD and in nuclear arms control in general, for consideration by the States directly concerned. The outcome of the Second PrepCom is not (yet) indication of a failing review process, as it foundered on real and relevant political differences. If it acts as a warning to those who would subordinate this important cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime to their narrow national interests and if lessons can be learned and applied, the problems of the Second PrepCom may prove to have beneficial consequences for the NPT regime as a whole. But only if there is the political will on the part of all the States Parties, especially the NWS, to make it work for the good of all.