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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

The 1999 PrepCom: Substantive Issues
By Rebecca Johnson

The 2000 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be the first test of the strengthened review process set up in 1995 when the Treaty was extended indefinitely. As States Parties gather in New York from 10-21 May for the Third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2000 Conference, what should be their objectives for the meeting?

In Disarmament Diplomacy 33 ('Use 1999 to Rescue the NPT Review Process') I argued that to prepare effectively for 2000, the 1999 PrepCom will need to address:

  • procedural decisions for organising the 2000 Review Conference;
  • recommendations on products and organisation for the Review Conference;
  • substance, including the 1997 and 1998 Chair's working papers of draft text; and
  • PrepCom product/statement (whether, how, what form?)
I argued for bringing into the open and clarifying some of the competing perceptions of the purpose and objectives of the review process. The PrepCom should also discuss and make recommendations to the 2000 Review Conference on the form of a forward looking document (i.e. a Principles and Objectives for 2000-2005) and a review assessment. Here I will focus on the important substantive issues that the review process must address more coherently.


Universality was widely agreed as a primary objective of the NPT States Parties. Together with the decisions on indefinitely extending the treaty, strengthening the review process and the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, a Resolution on the Middle East was proposed by the depositary States (Britain, Russia and the United States) and adopted without a vote in 1995. It was viewed at the time as essential in gaining the consent of the Arab States to the procedure of adopting the extension decision without a vote.

The 1998 PrepCom took place at a very sensitive time for the Middle East, when first London and then Washington were attempting to broker deals to put the Oslo peace process back on track. Time had been allocated to discussion of the issue, but without getting to grips with the core disagreements. The PrepCom foundered over attempts by Egypt and the other Arab States to place the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East centre stage, to name and exhort Israel as the only remaining State in the region outside the NPT to join the Treaty and put all its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, and to have the 1995 Middle East Resolution acknowledged as an ongoing commitment for NPT States, for example through provision of background documentation. The United States resisted such attempts, taking the view that the Middle East Resolution was separate from the 1995 package of extension and review decisions and, in effect, has no standing beyond that date. The United States also continues to refuse to allow Israel to be named and 'isolated', despite the fact that since 1995 all other States in the region have joined the NPT.

Little has happened in the past year to give cause for optimism that the Middle East issue will not be a major sticking point in 1999. The five-year period set out in the Oslo accords for the establishment of Palestinian autonomy ends on 4 May. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is expected to mark the end of this transitional period with a declaration of Statehood - but probably not before the Israeli General Election on 17 May. Any such declaration is likely to lead to problems for Israel, regardless of the election result, while failure to declare Statehood would gravely undermine the PLO's position with its own people.

Representatives of the United States and Egypt have held several meetings to consider how to address the Middle East question in the NPT context, but their positions are understood still to be rather far apart. The Middle East issue is likely to cause difficulties in two kinds of ways: the substance of recommendations to the 2000 Review Conference; and procedural questions such as whether to provide background documentation on the Middle East, which is really about the status of the 1995 Resolution and the role of the depositary governments in implementing it. Two things have to happen if the 1999 PrepCom is to stand any chance of avoiding another collision: Egypt and the other Arab States must stop overburdening the NPT with the wide range of issues associated with Middle East security and the United States must accept that Israel's nuclear programme and capability is a legitimate concern for the NPT to focus on. The Arab States need to narrow their demands to areas that the NPT can reasonably address and affect, while the United States must stop treating Israel as a separate and untouchable case, outside the purview of the non-proliferation regime. The US position becomes even more untenable in view of the concerns it has expressed over the escalation of nuclear ambitions and tensions in South Asia.

India and Pakistan were barely mentioned in 1997 or '98, but that will undoubtedly change in 1999. Less than a month after the 1998 PrepCom closed, first India, and then in retaliation, Pakistan, exploded nuclear tests. The signs are that the majority of NPT parties want to acknowledge these serious breaches of the no-testing norm established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), identified in the 1995 Principles and Objectives as the highest priority in the programme of action for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Many want to condemn the nuclear explosions, but the tricky question is: how best to address the South Asian tests and nuclear sabre rattling without provoking a hostile reaction in India or Pakistan that could harm efforts to bring them into the CTBT, the fissile materials treaty and other initiatives for nuclear arms control and non-proliferation.

Some States are talking about revisiting Canada's 1998 proposal to enable the PrepCom to negotiate a statement on this (and possibly other contemporaneous) events, the misleadingly-named 'track two' concept. Others would prefer language to be negotiated as part of the recommendations to be passed forward to the 2000 Conference.

Such language could, for example, evoke the UN Security Council resolution 1172 (June 1998) or the UN General Assembly resolution 53/77G (December 1998), and call on all countries which have not yet signed or ratified the CTBT to do so without delay. Alternatively, it might be possible to have the Chair, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia, make a statement at the end, which could sum up the PrepCom's work, including States Parties views on the South Asian tests.

Nuclear Disarmament

It was generally agreed that if the 1998 PrepCom had not foundered on the Middle East question, it would have deadlocked over nuclear disarmament. South Africa, Mexico, Canada and others had made proposals for how nuclear disarmament might be more effectively addressed by the NPT review process.

The 1995 Principles and Objectives contained a programme of action for nuclear disarmament, comprising three levels of objective: an immediate priority (the CTBT), given a target date for completion; a follow-on measure (the fissban); and a general commitment to "systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally", as described in 4c of the Principles and Objectives.

States Parties are likely to find easy agreement in exhorting States to ratify the CTBT to enable it to enter into force (though, as discussed above, there could be some debate over whether this is combined with criticisms of the South Asian tests). If it is decided to produce a PrepCom statement, either from the meeting or from the Chair, it is possible that this will also encourage full participation in the Special Conference on CTBT Entry Into Force (as established in article XIV of the CTBT), likely to take place in October.

How to address the fissban could be more contentious, since the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has this year failed to convene the ad hoc committee and start negotiations, despite finally agreeing to do so in August 1998. There may be calls to bind NPT parties at least to give active support to reconvening the committee and facilitating uninterrupted negotiations for the future.

South Africa's proposal focussed particularly on 4c of the Principles and Objectives and proposed that a "structured opportunity" be provided, including the special allocation of time in PrepComs and the establishment at the 2000 Conference of a subsidiary body for the practical consideration of steps to implement article VI. Since then similar ideas have achieved greater prominence in the June 1998 declaration by eight Foreign Ministers (of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden) and the subsequent UN General Assembly Resolution 53/77Y 'Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-World: the Need for a New Agenda', sponsored by the 'New Agenda Coalition' and backed by 114 countries (with 18 opposed and 38 abstentions).

It is likely that the New Agenda ideas will be put forward in some way in 1999 and 2000. On past form, however, it is equally likely that the nuclear-weapon States (NWS), particularly the United States, will seek to prevent the NPT from going further than an airing of national views, as provided for in main committees and cluster debates. Viewed by many States Parties as the overriding priority yet to be achieved under the NPT, nuclear disarmament (as many times in the past) could become a major focus for conflict and stand-off, particularly if the NWS show no flexibility in considering 'ways and means' of implementing the nuclear disarmament commitments in the treaty and the 1995 decisions.


In view of continuing concerns over Iraq and North Korea, there is likely to be some discussion of violations of article II and the credibility of the NPT regime's ability to enforce compliance. Debate could be especially sharp now that the inspection and monitoring regime operated by the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and the IAEA has totally collapsed, following the US-UK bombing of Iraq in December.

In the context of articles I and II, it is likely that Mexico, Egypt and other NAM countries will again raise concerns about nuclear sharing and the stationing of US nuclear weapons in European countries which are non-nuclear-weapon States party to the NPT. This debate is given added impetus by moves among some NATO countries (12 of whom abstained on the New Agenda Coalition resolution to the United Nations) to question nuclear policy, the role of nuclear weapons in Europe, and the reliance by NATO and Russia on deterrence doctrines entailing the option to use nuclear weapons first. The recent NATO summit in Washington appeared to confirm current nuclear policy but leave open the possibility of change through a review to be undertaken this year.


There has been considerable disappointment that two nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) agreed since 1995 (the Bangkok Treaty, covering South-East Asia and the Pelindaba Treaty, covering Africa) are not yet operating fully. The NWS have not yet ratified the relevant Protocol to the Bangkok Treaty, due to difficulties over the actual area covered by the zone and the extent and meaning of the written commitments. With regard to Pelindaba, concerns are likely to be raised about the slow rate of ratification by African States. A Central Asian NWFZ proposed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which enjoyed widespread support at the two previous PrepComs, has also now run in trouble, with Russia appearing increasingly negative. Other initiatives will no doubt be raised, with little current prospect of being taken further.

Security Assurances

Viewed by some NPT parties as an essential guarantee from the NWS, pending the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, security assurances have been raised in successive review conferences without much progress. In 1997, South Africa successfully argued for time to be specifically allocated to this issue in 1998. This was done and statements were made, but to little effect. The major questions are: whether unilateral declarations by the NWS, formalised at present in UN security council resolutions 255 (1968) and 984 (1995), are sufficient, or whether a legally binding instrument should be multilaterally negotiated; and whether assurances should be universal and unconditional, and if not, the nature of any restrictions or conditions. Though it is certain that security assurances will be raised in many statements, it is unlikely that this issue will be one of any real or potentially serious controversy in 1999.

Safeguards, Safety and Security

Discovery of the extent of the Iraqi nuclear programme after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, led to the '93+2' programme for strengthening the IAEA's inspections and safeguards powers, resulting in an additional protocol (INFCIRC/540) to the original safeguards agreements contained in INFCIRC/153. There are likely to be calls encouraging all NPT parties to ratify this protocol. There may be some arguments over whether IAEA safeguards, including the additional protocol, be made a condition of supply of nuclear technology or materials, as well as measures on the safety and security of fissile materials, nuclear facilities and transshipments.

Nuclear Energy and Export Controls

Debates on article IV have tended not to be very controversial, apart from Iran's consistent challenges to the system of export controls exercised by technologically advanced countries, such as the Nuclear Supplier's Group (NSG). Iran argues that such controls interfere with its 'inalienable right' to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Participants in the NSG argue that their system of controls and conditions is essential to their own compliance with articles I and II.

Although a few States have begun questioning the relevance of nuclear power to the energy needs of developing States, there has been very little governmental questioning of article IV, a major area of concern for many non-governmental organisations.


In view of the contentious, messy and unresolved legacy of the 1998 PrepCom, most predictions point to a turbulent meeting this year. At the same time, most States Parties will want to avoid a complete shambles, as that could spell disaster for the 2000 review conference and further shake confidence in the relevance and effectiveness of the NPT regime. The Chair will need every ounce of diplomatic skill and support to steer a course between the various reefs and rocks on which the PrepCom could be holed or beached. He must have a prepared and thought-out strategy and be willing to exercise both firmness and flexibility. But however skilful the Chair and his helpers, he cannot hope to achieve a successful PrepCom unless the NPT parties themselves participate constructively. The major protagonists, most particularly the nuclear-weapon States, need to give higher priority in their national policy considerations to the global importance of the non-proliferation regime. They have to come prepared to work positively on reasonable proposals for using the strengthened review process to achieve the stated aims of the Treaty and the decisions taken in good faith in 1995.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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