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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Briefing 5, May 15, 1999

1999 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 5 Fissban and Safeguards

At the end of the first week, the Chair of the 1999 NPT PrepCom, Ambassador Camilio Reyes of Colombia issued two working papers. One contained draft recommendations about products for the 2000 Conference, particularly the number and type of documents which the NPT parties should aim to adopt. Responding to the majority of views put forward on the first day and in consultations, the working paper suggested two main documents, one covering the review and the other looking forward, with the possibility of further documents on strengthening the review process, or other decisions or resolutions. The paper encapsulated an approach that until last week seemed close to convergence. Egypt, however, has now joined Iran and France in preferring a single document covering both the forward and backward looking elements, with reports of others, including the United States, possibly wavering.

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Some seem to hope that going back to the single-document format will restore pre-1995 conditions and reduce the impact of any objectives or programme of action the 2000 Conference may put forward. Others seem to believe that a single document, comprising both forward and backward looking elements, will act as a more effective lever, since its success or failure could hold the Conference hostage. It is likely that there will be further discussion of these issues, but since it is not essential for the PrepCom to make formal recommendations on the products, the decision might best be left for the 2000 Review Conference, before which further consultations could be held by the President-designate.

Reyes' second working paper offered 31 paragraphs on the seven themes in the 1995 Principles and Objectives plus the Resolution on the Middle East. His aim is clearly to seek consensus for recommendations to be transmitted to 2000, without watering down important concerns to a level of lowest common denominator banality. Given the spectrum of views to be accommodated, this is a difficult task, so it is expected that the May 14 working paper will be the focus of further debate throughout the second week. It now looks likely that the PrepCom will be able on Monday to adopt the rules of procedure for 2000 and some of the outstanding procedural issues. Bilateral discussions between the United States and Egypt have gone up and down, with reportedly no agreement yet on how to address the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. In that event the PrepCom is expected to remit its decision on background documentation to later this week.

Briefing 5 summarises the special session devoted to attempts to facilitate negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes and the cluster 2 session on safeguards, covering article III. Security assurances, nuclear weapon free zones, and the special session on the Middle East will be covered in Briefing 6.


More than half the statements to the general debate, as well as around 14 interventions in the special session on fissban attested to the importance of this issue. All expressed frustration about the stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament. In general, when referring to the proposed treaty prohibiting the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), western delegations and the NWS tend to speak of a cut-off treaty or FMCT, emphasising the halting of future production. Non-aligned countries more frequently refer to a fissile materials treaty or FMT, while others (including the Acronym Institute) prefer the abbreviation 'fissban', which does not prejudge the scope and approach. Though there appeared to be general acceptance that the responsibility for verification should be assigned to the IAEA, Russia and others preferred to speak of it as a 'controlling mechanism'. Some, like South Africa, supported the IAEA but considered that "certain proliferation and resource constraints" would have to be addressed.

Germany on behalf of the EU and 11 other European countries said that "an FMCT is not only a contribution to, but an integral and indispensable part of nuclear disarmament and an important step towards a world free of nuclear weapons". The EU called on NPT members to "demonstrate their commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and to nuclear disarmament by doing everything in their power to facilitate immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations...[and].. to send a strong and unambiguous signal" to the CD. Australia accused the CD of "possibly frittering away a short-lived opportunity" and underlined all the reasons why the fissban was important to international security, non-proliferation and was "an essential and unavoidable step" towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. The United States, Britain and especially France, which has irreversibly shut down its facilities for the military production of plutonium and HEU, also catalogued the ways in which a fissban would contribute to nuclear security, non-proliferation and disarmament. Russia clearly stated that it would not be appropriate to consider current stocks in the fissban's scope. China, which had earlier reiterated that negotiations should commence without further delay, appeared to question the point of negotiating new agreements when the settlement of important strategic issues like missile defence, the expansion of NATO and the "indiscriminate" bombing of a sovereign state (in Yugoslavia) were of "much higher priority". Many applauded the trilateral discussions between Russia, the United States and the IAEA, suggesting that the arrangements for placing surplus material under IAEA supervision could be built, including all the NWS.

The NAM statement called for negotiations on a treaty "banning the production and stockpiling of fissile material for nuclear weapons" or explosive purposes. The NAM regretted the "continuing lack of progress on items relevant to nuclear issues" in the CD. Commenting that the responsibility lay on all, Algeria noted that there remained differences in perceptions regarding what the treaty should cover. Though not placing conditions on the negotiations, Algeria wanted the treaty to play its role in developing an international regime to address the weapons usable stocks held by all nuclear capable states.

Some entered into more concrete discussion of the key issues and the approaches they advocated. There were many similarities in the points made by Canada, Japan, Norway and South Africa, but also some differences. Japan called for the NWS to announce a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for weapons, which Britain, France, Russia and the United States say they have in de facto terms already done. Canada wanted an official moratorium to be declared by "all states concerned". Japan identified five principles for the fissban: universality, especially adherence by all states capable of producing nuclear weapons; non-discrimination, to ensure that the treaty did not create differential obligations between the NWS and others in terms of rights and obligations; cost-effectiveness; that the treaty should not affect the use of nuclear energy 'for peaceful purposes'; and "that the issue of existing stocks must be dealt with" in "parallel discussions" if it is not realistic to find a comprehensive solution in the fissban negotiations.

Saying that focussing exclusively on a cut-off of future production was not enough, Norway called for "the entire field of weapons usable fissile material" to be addressed "in a comprehensive manner". Praising the 'pathbreaking initiative' of the US-Russian Joint Statement of Principles for Management and Disposition of Plutonium, Norway identified four aspects that should be addressed multilaterally: future production as envisaged by the CD's negotiating mandate (contained in the Shannon report); stockpiles related to excess weapons material, including the development of norms covering irreversibility, safety, security and standards for national control, auditing and transparency; HEU for non-explosive purposes and naval propulsion; and military stocks, as outlined in Norway's 1997 four-step proposal for increased transparency and confidence-building through voluntary measures.

Building on its own experiences, South Africa substantially agreed with the foregoing suggestions for how the negotiations and verification system might address "non-proscribed" uses of "weapons-grade" materials, surplus stocks and irreversibility. South Africa further argued that verification arrangements should be worked out for facilities where production is closed down or redirected into non-military uses. Noting that an essential function of a fissban was to contribute to a "quantitative capping" of nuclear arsenals, South Africa suggested that it would be better to focus beyond fissile materials and include "certain other transuranic elements from which nuclear explosives can be made". Recognising the practical difficulties of providing fully accurate and complete declarations about past production and stocks, South Africa considered that declarations of historical production could be made as a "political gesture of goodwill".


During the closed debate on safeguards, many states emphasised their support for the IAEA Model Protocol, developed under the 93+2 programme to strengthen the safeguards regime. The EU statement announced that its member states would endeavour to conclude their ratification procedures in time for the 2000 Review Conference, while the United States said it intended to submit its additional protocol to the Senate for advice and consent by the end of 1999. Although Russia and China reportedly contributed to the safeguards debate, no papers or English translations were made available to enable NGOs excluded from the session to assess what was said. There were several calls for all remaining states to conclude Additional Protocols with the IAEA without delay, with New Zealand proposing the goal of universal subscription to the Additional Protocol by the year 2000. In addition, there were calls for greater integration of traditional safeguards with Model Protocol safeguards, with the objectives of increased efficiency, cost effectiveness, and establishing both methods as the norm for safeguards and the full implementation of article III in the future.

In addition to references to non-compliance during the general debate, several states expressed concern about the lack of progress in implementing safeguards in the DPRK. A number also condemned Iraq's non-compliance with UN Security Council resolutions on the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction and supported efforts to re-establish an effective disarmament and monitoring regime.

Several states raised the problem of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. The United States in particular proposed that the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material be extended to cover nuclear material in domestic use and storage, a point with which Canada and others concurred. The IAEA Director General will convene an experts meeting in Vienna in November to consider this further. France, however, expressed reservations about the sensitivity of verification in this area, arguing that "the best is liable to be the enemy of the good".

There was support for further efforts on the part of the NWS to put 'excess' fissile materials under IAEA safeguards, including the US-Russia-IAEA trilateral initiative. The UK also outlined the steps announced in its Strategic Defence Review to place more nuclear material under international safeguards and to increase transparency in relation to all its holdings of nuclear materials. France highlighted its plans, along with Germany, Italy and Russia, to reprocess excess weapons plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

Written by Rebecca Johnson and Nicola Butler.

The section on nuclear energy will be held over to a later briefing.