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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Briefing 8, May 24, 1999

1999 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 8 Decisions Taken

Just after 10.00 p.m. on Friday 21 May, the States Parties attending the Third Preparatory Committee of the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) adopted their report and applauded the Chair, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia, who had brought the PrepCom to a successful conclusion.

Earlier in the day, there were long faces and furrowed brows as many diplomats gave up hope of a positive outcome. The outstanding problems included: allocation of items to the Main Committees for 2000, where Egypt was still holding out for the PrepCom to recommend a subsidiary body on the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East; background documentation,

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particularly whether to cover the 1995 Resolution; whether and how to forward draft recommendations on the products of the 2000 Review Conference; and what to do with the Chair's working paper on substance.

After hours of waiting, during which the Chair met with various groupings which included some of the key non-aligned governments, Arab states, the nuclear weapon states, and 'problem solving' delegations with ideas, the following compromises were finally agreed.

1) Subsidiary bodies and allocation of treaty items to committee Despite a growing concern about the inefficiency and inappropriateness of basing the treaty's review on debates in three committees, it was agreed to allocate the treaty articles and preambular paragraphs (but not the 1995 Principles and Objectives) to the three main committees along the lines followed since 1985, but without prejudice to proposals to change the structure, voiced by Canada and others. The PrepCom also noted that the Review Conference could consider and agree whether to establish subsidiary bodies within the main committees. In response to demands by Egypt and South Africa, there was written acknowledgement that some states parties had proposed subsidiary bodies on nuclear disarmament and the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East, leaving it up to the 2000 Review Conference to decide, in accordance with the 1995 decisions. Egypt had wanted a more definite recommendation, while the nuclear weapon states (especially Russia and the United States) had wanted to leave out the reference to subsidiary bodies. In view of the fact that rule 34 of the rules of procedure had been amended to reflect the reference to subsidiary bodies in paragraph 6 of Decision 1 on strengthening the review process, advocates of establishing subsidiary bodies in the end contented themselves with getting some mentions and leaving the decision to the 2000 Review Conference.

2) Background documentation It was finally agreed that the U.N. Secretariat be asked to prepare documents on the various treaty articles, as well as the CTBT and implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East "reflecting developments since 1995 with a view to realising fully the objectives of the resolution". Documents were also requested from the IAEA and the various secretariats overseeing the NWFZ treaties of Tlatelolco, Rarotonga, Pelindaba and Bangkok. By this means, Egypt was successful in reinforcing its view that the 1995 resolution on the Middle East was part of the package of decisions taken in 1995, while the United States was able to head off any special privileges for this resolution, including avoiding any additional responsibilities being undertaken by the depositary states (Britain, Russia and the United States), who had sponsored the resolution in 1995. While some expressed surprised that the United States had 'given in' on this issue, its more flexible approach from the beginning of the PrepCom had given hope that a compromise agreement would be found.

3) Recommendations on the outcome for 2000 Following a useful general debate during the first day of the PrepCom, in which some delegations outlined their views about what agreements, decisions and/or documents ("products") the 2000 Conference should aim for, Reyes circulated a paper on May 13 which reflected what appeared to be the majority view. France, Iran, Egypt and Mexico objected to putting forward recommendations for two documents, which they viewed as separating the review and forward-looking functions of the conference. After two further drafts, the PrepCom agreed a much less specific recommendation on "outcome" (rather than "products"). Without saying anything about expected reports or documented agreements, it outlined the Review Conference tasks of evaluating the results of the past five years and identifying future action, as well as examining the functioning of the review process and addressing what might be done to strengthen the implementation of the Treaty and achieve universality. Once again, Egypt achieved a mention of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, together with the decisions on principles and objectives and strengthening the review process, reinforcing their validity as a package. South Africa, which will chair the 2000 Conference, was understood to be disappointed that a more specific recommendation for two primary documents had not been made, as this could have assisted its planning and structuring in 2000.

4. Substance Most of the final three days were taken up with considering first the Chair's May 14 working paper on substance and then its revision, issued on May 20. The May 20 revision expanded the original 31 paragraphs to 61. Reyes appears to have included those proposals made during the debate on Wednesday (May 19) which had substantial support with only one, two or a few delegations expressing opposition. Similarly, paragraphs which had substantial opposition, such as nuclear sharing, were omitted from the revised draft. During May 20, states parties had gone through the 61 paragraphs identifying whether there were any objections, but not attempting to draft changes or get agreement where objection was registered. By the end of Thursday, the question uppermost in delegations' minds was: what to do with the paper now that it has been the subject of discussions/negotiations? Could it be transmitted to the 2000 Conference and if so, how?

Attempts were made to establish the 'status' or 'standing' of the working paper through introductory paragraph(s) placing the paper in context (the 'chapeau'). Several alternative proposals for how this might be done were advanced, and for several hours it looked as if the PrepCom would become irrevocably deadlocked. Some, including France and the United States, wanted to differentiate between the paragraphs which had or had not been formally objected to and perhaps to recommend the 'agreed' sections; Russia wanted the paper to have only the same status as any of the national proposals made earlier in the week; since almost all the text on nuclear disarmament and the Middle East had been challenged by one or more of the NWS, the non-aligned and others argued against any preferential treatment for the more innocuous issues, hinting also that they would block agreement on the PrepCom report as a whole if there was no reflection of the substantive discussions and work.

Recognising that without consensus the paper could not go through as agreed recommendations, a growing number of delegations argued for it to be annexed to the report, whole, for consideration in 2000, while acknowledging that there was no agreement on the full text. In the end, the Chair manoeuvred through an Irish-New Zealand proposal, whereby both the May 14 and May 20 Chair's papers were annexed to the PrepCom report, together with the written proposals made by delegations. This compromise was hailed as a victory by those who wanted the text to be forwarded to the 2000 Review Conference as something the PrepCom had worked on, while others could claim victory in preventing the paper from having special authority or status.


After the impasse at the second PrepCom it had been widely predicted that the third PrepCom would be difficult, and that proved to be the case. Nevertheless, all the essential decisions for preparing and planning for the 2000 Review Conference were successfully taken, although certain issues were fudged or remitted to the Review Conference for decision there. For example, the allocation of items was based on the post-1985 main committees structure, with Canada, New Zealand and others determined to discuss better ways for the future, including a possible article by article review. South Africa had wanted the PrepCom to recommend that there should be at least two final documents in 2000, covering review and future principles and objectives. Faced with strong initial opposition to this from France and Iran, joined later by Mexico, Egypt and a few other NAM states, saying they preferred a single document comprising both review and forward-looking elements, the 'recommendations' from the PrepCom on products merely reaffirmed the 1995 decisions and identified some obvious options. Nevertheless, that leaves the Chair-designate, Ambassador Jacob Selebi of South Africa, a reasonably free hand to undertake consultations over the next year.

As forecast, the Middle East and nuclear disarmament carried the major burdens of contention. Blamed for much of 1998's stalemate, and through bilateral meetings with Egypt over the past year, the United States came much more prepared to compromise on some issues. For example, the United States agreed to name Israel together with India, Pakistan and Cuba, in calls for universality, but not to name Israel on its own in relation to the Middle East. Intensive sessions between these two delegations and also among the Arab states, sometimes involving the Chair, enabled the final compromises to be made. In the end the Middle East resolution was linked several times with the decisions taken in 1995, and it was agreed to request the UN secretariat to prepare a document on this, which (like the rest) was to "give balanced, objective and factual descriptions of the relevant developments, be as short as possible and be easily readable".

The way for agreement on subsidiary bodies in 2000 was paved by acceptance of the change to the rules of procedure, which went through remarkably smoothly at the beginning of the PrepCom. Like Canada, which reiterated its proposal for PrepComs to have an independent role in commenting on contemporaneous events, but did not insist on a recommendation on that from the PrepCom, South Africa set down markers regarding security assurances and its 1998 proposal for a subsidiary body to consider practical proposals on nuclear disarmament, but did not insist on recommendations from 2000. Egypt, however, insisting that "nothing was agreed until everything was agreed" tried nevertheless to push for a recommendation on establishing a subsidiary body on the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, before finally agreeing on a mention, with the understanding that the 2000 Conference would consider the proposal.

Ambassador Reyes was generally held to have chaired extremely well. Despite taking over late in the year, he had prepared well and consulted carefully. Although many delegations voiced serious doubts in the second week about his strategy with regard to the Chairs' papers, especially when he took delegations through the process of giving their views paragraph by paragraph on the revised substance paper, he retained the authority and calm to bring the edges together and make use of solution-building suggestions from different governmental and non-governmental sources. Reyes has been nominated to chair the most difficult committee, MC I on nuclear disarmament in 2000, where he will no doubt need all the skill, perseverance and humour that he displayed this fortnight in New York.

I will write a much fuller analysis over the next few weeks, but finish with a few brief comments. The continuing wide differences in intention and perceptions over the Middle East and nuclear disarmament are likely again to be major sources of conflict and disagreement in 2000.

The problem of proliferation in South Asia, precipitated by last year's nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan, was addressed more fully than in past years, but the states parties avoided the temptation merely to condemn, and sought instead to urge constructive solutions, including calling for full compliance with the measures stipulated in UNSC 1172.

The United States came across as more engaged and flexible this year, with Egypt, in contrast, looking somewhat divided and raising concerns even among NAM colleagues that its tactics could be counterproductively divisive. Following the US precedent set in 1998, four out of the five NWS (Britain, France, Russia and the United States) presented some form of factsheet summarising their actions, especially on article VI, but were not disposed to discuss present difficulties or future actions. Russia engaged more, but clearly wanted to keep the lid on any progress or implementation under the review process. Able to announce the decisions of the 1998 strategic defence review, Britain appeared much more comfortable than last year. Of the NWS, Britain appeared the most flexible on a number of issues, actively seeking solutions to enable the PrepCom to lay positive foundations for 2000 and avoid a further PrepCom meeting, as had been threatened earlier in the week.

Questions rumbled below the surface (not least in the European Union) about the role taken by France, which challenged the unity that the German presidency of the EU sought to represent on several important issues, especially products and procedures. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just days before the PrepCom started ensured that the Chinese would raise security questions about force and sovereignty. Despite its refusal to work within the 'P-5' context, China participated fully in the PrepCom. Amongst the familiar positions on no-first use etc, there were clear signals that any discussion of steps towards quantitative or qualitative nuclear disarmament would be met by linked concerns about missile defence, which should be expected to play a larger role in the coming year and through 2000.

Many considered this had been a "good conference" for the New Agenda Coalition, launched in June 1998, just after the second NPT PrepCom. Their first proposal was co-sponsored by 32 states and the working paper by 44. Several of the paragraphs in the May 20 Chair's working paper echoed NAC language and approaches. It will be interesting to see how the New Agenda Coalition builds in the run-up to 2000.

Finally, it was a mixed PrepCom for the non-governmental organisations. NGOs had contributed well to discussions in the run-up to the PrepCom. Following a fairly well attended informal plenary session in the first week, which heard 13 statements on a range of treaty-related issues, a roundtable discussion between NGOs and some delegations was held, the first ever to be put on the NPT agenda for voluntary participation. It was attended by several European ambassadors and representatives from some 10 other delegations. On the other hand, access to the actual proceedings has become worse than ever.

NGOs were excluded from everything except the opening debate and about five minutes on the last day, when the gavel came down on a PrepCom report that the public had had no opportunity to hear. As a consequence, obtaining information on the text of decisions this year has been particularly hard, and would not have been possible without the help of delegation members from all sides.

If the reason for excluding NGOs from hearing most of the session is to avoid having 'formal' sessions requiring summary records, then discretion could be employed to admit the handful of NGOs interested in following these issues to be present at 'informal' sessions, not requiring summary records. NGOs could be requested to leave if exchanges of views became sensitive negotiations. If, on the other hand, the problem is that some delegations are wary of saying what they have to say openly, this begs two questions: i) what are you afraid of? and ii) is it better for NGOs to receive reports of your words filtered through hearsay and the opinions of opposing delegations than to hear directly and judge for ourselves?

Written by Rebecca Johnson.

Grateful thanks to all the NGOs and friendly delegates who made these NPT reports possible, and especially to Nicola Butler, who contributed greatly to getting these reports out.