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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

The 1998 PrepCom: Summary and Snapshots
By Rebecca Johnson


The second meeting of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2000 Review Conference of the States Parties to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was held in Geneva from 27 April to 8 May. A full analysis and review of the PrepCom will be featured in the next issue of Disarmament Diplomacy. In this issue, we feature a summary of the outcome of the PrepCom, plus extracts from a series of reports compiled during the meeting by Rebecca Johnson. The full text of all these updates is available on our web-site together with a full-length report produced for the PrepCom, ACRONYM 11 - Reviewing the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Preparing for the Future. The focus in the following extracts is on the debate about the nature and role of the PrepComs in the context of the enhanced review process agreed at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, and on specific proposals and recommendations put forward by delegations. For more general summaries of debates, open and closed, at the PrepCom - including statements by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) - readers are referred to the full-text updates, available on our website.

Summary of Outcome

Agreement Denied

The second PrepCom, chaired by Ambassador Eugeniusz Wyzner of Poland, ended after midnight on 9 May 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 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 in advance 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 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the various established NWFZ.

The main sticking point was the request by fourteen Arab States, backed by the Non-Aligned Movement (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 proposals 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 given 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 nuclear-weapon States (NWS) and those of the vast majority of non-nuclear-weapon States (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, Britain organised as President, so France was perceived as holding the line on behalf of itself and Britain to prevent the positions of anti-nuclear partners from being expressed in EU statements. On the floor of the PrepCom, however, France and Mexico were 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, Convenor of the Western Group and Chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Though Britain engaged in busy backroom drafting, in view of the constructive role it might have played, its 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, and particularly at a time of high political tension and little concrete progress in 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.

The general feeling among delegates at the end of the PrepCom was that although they 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.

Snapshots of The PrepCom

27-28 April: The General Debate

The first two days were devoted to general debate, with one whole session set aside for NGOs to address the meeting.

On 28 April, in an early move indicative of more effective coordination, the NAM tabled a comprehensive working paper and proposed that "recommendations which have been deliberated upon throughout [the] preparatory process should be forwarded to the Review Conference in 2000 for further finalisation and adoption." The paper comprised 37 substantive paragraphs, related to the Articles of the Treaty.

Nuclear Disarmament

The NAM working paper referred constructively as well as positively to the unanimous International Court of Justice (ICJ) opinion which reinforced Article VI; the paper urged that the ruling be built upon by instituting regular information exchanges among the States Parties, but especially the NWS, on their efforts towards implementing their international legal obligations on nuclear disarmament.

Canada referred to START being "at a standstill" and proposed text to reaffirm the importance of the US-Russian bilateral process and further progress on nuclear disarmament, including the engagement of the other three NWS. Myanmar called on the Second PrepCom to make recommendations for the CD to negotiate "a universal and legally-binding multilateral instrument... committing all States to the objective of the total elimination of nuclear weapons".

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).


One issue on which all the nuclear-weapon States (and several others from the Western group) seemed to agree was the necessity for getting negotiations on a fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT) underway. Japan made a particularly strong pitch, condemning three "wasted" years of deadlock in the CD and calling on the NPT PrepCom to express "as a whole, its firm determination to commence FMCT negotiations" on the basis of the 'Shannon Report' and mandate agreed in March 1995. Norway reiterated its call for voluntary transparency measures from all nuclear-capable States, with particular responsibility on the NWS. Canada proposed language for a P&O rolling text supporting the FMCT commitment and urging the NWS to increase transparency with regard to military stocks of fissile materials and "increase the amount of fissile material declared excess", putting this under permanent safeguards.

One of the more innovative proposals came from Australia, building on the statement of the Foreign Minister to the CD in February. Recognising that if approaches to a FMCT are to succeed, they must take account of the security situations of the NWS and non-NPT states and their regions, Australia put forward the view of a cut-off treaty not as a stand alone, one-off negotiation, but rather as "a framework instrument which evolves into a comprehensive regime governing the production, stockpiling and disposition of fissile material". Accordingly, Australia proposed that the conclusion of a first treaty codifying a basic FMCT should be followed by "a second agreement providing for greater transparency over fissile material inventories and gradually bringing fissile material stocks under strict and effective international control". Verification would also require "an innovative, multifaceted approach involving a balance of bilateral, plurilateral and appropriate international - and possibly regional - arrangements..."

Some observers drew hope from a positive call in the NAM working paper for the CD to get going, without preconditions, on negotiating "a treaty banning the production and stockpiling of fissile material for nuclear weapons..." and implying acceptance of the Shannon report as a basic mandate.


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.

The NAM working paper included a strong call to all States to sign and ratify the CTBT. To "build confidence [in] the full implementation of the Treaty", the NWS were enjoined to "comply with the letter and spirit of the CTBT", to "refrain from conducting all types of tests in conformity in conformity with the objectives of the CTBT" - presumed to be an indirect reference to subcritical testing and other controversial programmes associated with the ongoing nuclear weapons programmes of at least some of the NWS.

Furthering START

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.

CD Nuclear Disarmament Committee

The NAM working paper called explicitly for the CD to establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament. 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.

Strengthening the Review

Several countries underlined that the post-1995 review process was intended to be "substantive" and "qualitatively different". South Africa, Switzerland, Canada and Indonesia suggested that it was time to begin to develop a rolling text or document. Canada even provided substantial examples of text on the range of issues covered by the Treaty and P&O, as "input for [a] possible revised Chair's working paper".

Mexico made clear its view that the Review Process should go beyond the "first exercise" and results of the 1997 PrepCom, in order to put together a coherent compilation of ideas, principles and concrete methods that could serve as recommendations for the full implementation of the Treaty's objectives, and "above all, nuclear disarmament". Sri Lanka stressed that the nuclear disarmament cluster should have priority and be given sufficient focus and time. Iran argued for the establishment of a "follow-up mechanism" to ensure full implementation of the Treaty and recommendations, and proposed creating an "open-ended standing committee" to address all aspects of the NPT, including compliance issues.

Chile suggested that the ideal method for progress should utilise the Chair's paper from the first PrepCom and incorporate national positions and new elements with the aim of formulating concrete and constructive proposals. Chile also expressed support and interest in Canada's proposals. Australia backed South Africa's view that it would be "logical and desirable" to work for a new P&O document "which would guide our nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts in the period after the 2000 Review Conference..." Egypt proclaimed that the "ultimate aim of the NPT is universal nuclear disarmament" and proposed that NPT States should "submit written reports on the progress achieved to date and their future plans to implement each provision of the Principles and Objectives" (P&O).

P-5 Statement

The five declared NWS have continued with the precedent, set in 1997, of presenting a paper with their "shared views" regarding NPT implementation. Read by a British representative, the P-5 statement called on all States to "contribute to the success" of the CTBT and urged immediate commencement of negotiations of a FMCT in accordance with the 1995 Shannon report to the CD. Most of the statement was a bland but collective reaffirmation of support for various aspects of the Treaty, with particular emphasis on the enhanced IAEA safeguards regime and nuclear security and safety issues, including transparency in the development of nuclear energy. The P-5 interest in transparency did not appear to extend to nuclear weapon-related activities, however.

Although they reaffirmed their "determination to continue the pursuit...of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally..." and welcomed their countries' achievements so far in the START process and in steps towards placing fissile materials "no longer required for their defence purposes" under IAEA safeguards, the NWS seemed particularly keen to emphasise the responsibility of other States Parties in implementing the Treaty, including Article VI. The P-5 concluded, however, by promising to "continue to work together for the success of the preparatory process and the 2000 Review Conference and on related issues".[Emphasis added]

Assessment of Issues Raised

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 - and, in the end, the differences proved too great for any agreed outcome at all.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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