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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Briefing 1, May 10, 1999

1999 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 1 Objectives for 2000

The Third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) opened on 10 May with a one minute silence to remember those killed and injured when NATO planes inadvertently bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia was then unanimously adopted as Chair, with Ambassadors Markku Reimaa of Finland and Eugeniusz Wyzner of Poland appointed Vice Chairs.

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Saying that the third PrepCom must work on both substantive and procedural issues, Reyes emphasised that its principle task was to prepare effectively for a successful Review Conference in 2000. He accordingly obtained agreement for a timetable for two weeks' work that began with a general debate, focussing on what the NPT parties wanted the review process to achieve, especially what sort of documents or agreements the PrepCom and, more importantly, the 2000 Review Conference should aim to produce.

The first week would include a session focussing on the procedural decisions necessary for organising the 2000 Review Conference, followed by an afternoon in which NGOs would discuss their priorities for implementation of the Treaty with delegations. Three days would then be assigned to 'cluster debates' on the main areas of the treaty: nuclear disarmament, safeguards and nuclear energy. In addition, to the surprise of several delegations, Reyes successfully proposed that the third PrepCom should follow the precedent set by decisions taken at the first PrepCom and devote special time to issues of particular concern: in this case to nuclear disarmament (with emphasis not only on Article VI but also on the more practically defined programme of action in the 1995 Principles and Objectives); the ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons (fissban); and the Middle East.

According to the timetable, most of week two would be spent on drafting and deciding on procedural and substantive recommendations to the review conference. It is likely that sidebar consultations, probably under the auspices of the vice-chairs or 'friends of the chair', would attempt to resolve any problems with the procedural and organisational decisions, with a view to submitting them for decision again at the beginning of week two. If agreement is still lacking, sufficient time would be left to seek a compromise before the final deadline.

General Debate

Although Reyes had emphasised his hope that delegations would focus particularly on the practical consideration of what kind of products (documents and agreements) the review process should aim to deliver, it was inevitable that many of the 37 statements also gave national positions on the subject matter of the NPT.

The following issues were referred to most frequently:

  • the importance of the NPT and non-proliferation regime and the risks of undermining it by failing to implement the strengthened review process constructively;
  • concern about the impasse in the START process, the necessity for more effective progress on nuclear disarmament and suggestions for steps that could be undertaken;
  • condemnation of the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan a year ago;
  • the importance of getting sufficient signatures and ratifications for the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) to enter into force;
  • the bombing by NATO of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia and the effect of NATO's actions on future prospects for arms control;
  • concern about the destabilising impact of missile defence plans;
  • the importance of getting negotiations on the fissban underway;
  • security assurances;
  • universality and full adherence to the Treaty; and
  • nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZ), especially in relation to the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • Many also mentioned nuclear energy, the importance of safeguards, nuclear safety, security and export controls.

As all these issues of substance are addressed in more detailed debates through this week, ACRONYM NPT Briefings will summarise the key positions more fully in later briefings.

Products and Outcomes

The discussion on the objectives and purpose of the review process focussed particularly on the kind of documents the Review Conference should aim to produce. While at least ten statements failed to mention this question, many others seemed to endorse New Zealand's hope that the PrepCom would be able to offer a "framework paper recommending agreed or possible options". Four distinct options began to emerge, though there were also nuanced differences and some blurring of the edges:

  • two documents: one forward-looking beyond the year 2000, along the lines of (but not by means of amending) the 1995 Principles and Objectives (P&O), in effect, a 2000 P&O; and a second to cover reviewing the treaty's implementation from 1995 to 2000. The two-document option was a clear front runner, advocated by South Africa, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, most of the European Union (EU) countries and, it appeared, various others.
  • one document, combining both forward and backward-looking elements, preferred by Iran and France, but with significant differences. Iran suggested that the final declaration should be in two sections, one reviewing the treaty's implementation, article by article, while the second would update the Principles and Objectives. France surprised its EU colleagues by making a strong argument for retaining the pre-1995 pattern, advocating three reports from the Main Committees (nuclear disarmament, safeguards and nuclear energy). Each would look both forward and backwards, with a common "chapeau" or synthesising document prepared by the Conference Chair, which might incorporate recommendations.
  • three documents: a 2000 Principles and Objectives; a review summary; and (if deemed necessary) a document clarifying the purpose, powers and limits of the strengthened review process. Canada and Japan specifically advocated this approach, with South Africa and New Zealand recognising that some additional work in this area may be required, without necessarily specifying a third document on the review process.
  • a set of decisions and/or resolutions mirroring the 1995 package: e.g. a decision on further strengthening the review process; decisions on Principles and Objectives and a programme of action on non-proliferation and disarmament; and a resolution on the Middle East (proposed by Myanmar).

Ambassador Mark Moher of Canada made some very detailed proposals, also reiterating his 1998 argument that the PrepComs themselves should be empowered to comment on their work and decisions and on treaty-related events deemed significant or urgent, such as nuclear testing and the CTBT or the Middle East. Japan was among those that agreed, although others, like New Zealand, suggested that a statement from the Chair might also fulfil this objective. The United States remains opposed to giving the PrepComs an independent or more public role, although it would not completely rule out the option of a Chair's statement.

Canada questioned the allocation of issues to the three main committees, suggesting that reviewing the treaty article by article might be more efficient and appropriate, a point New Zealand supported.

Some, such as the United States and France emphasised the need for full consensus on all documents. Others, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, considered that the review document would not necessarily have to have all its elements agreed by consensus, as that approach has tended to result either in failure or in anodyne expressions pitched at the lowest common denominator of agreement. Instead, the aim could be to adopt by consensus a review document that reflected agreement where possible, with a factual summary of differing views where necessary. There was general agreement that the Principles and Objectives should be agreed by consensus.

Due to France's alternative proposal, the EU, whose collective statement had been expected to endorse the two-document option, with a 2000 Principles and Objectives and a review document, was only able to reaffirm that the outcome of the 2000 Review Conference should contain both forward- and backward-looking elements.

Written by Rebecca Johnson with the assistance of Nicola Butler.