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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

NPT Report
By Rebecca Johnson

The NPT Third PrepCom: What Happened and How

The Third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which took place in New York 10-21 May, 1999 was both success and failure. Around 107 States Parties participating in the third PrepCom managed to adopt a report which contained the essential procedural decisions for the next review conference, to be held in April/May 2000. Compared with last year, this was certainly a positive achievement, much to the credit of the Chair, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Venezuela. But this pragmatic success was obtained at the price of shunting a number of political disagreements and contentious issues to be dealt with by the review conference. If judged on its ability to address substantial issues, which are fundamental to the health and longevity of a strong non-proliferation regime, the PrepCom - and indeed the review process over the past three years - must be judged as far from successful.

Eschewing the unadopted working paper from the gridlocked second PrepCom in 1998, the Chair put forward his own draft paper, based on the debates in the first week of the third PrepCom. After lengthy discussions, the draft was revised. Since objections were registered on at least half of the paragraphs, principally in the sections on nuclear disarmament and the Middle East, the working paper was not adopted into the report. Instead, both versions of the Chair's working paper, from 14 May and the 20 May revision were annexed to the report together with 38 amendments or proposals made by delegations during the consultations.

Some of the proposals put forward and discussions generated by the Chair's working papers dug deeper than in previous NPT meetings. Taking place during a war in Europe and growing conditions of suspicion and hostility between some of the important countries, the PrepCom at times appeared to be surrealistically cocooned in its own cloistered processes. Nevertheless, its debates and its inability to adopt any meaningful recommendations reflect the deepening crisis in international relations and arms control. The PrepCom proceedings also served to highlight the growing chasm between the aspirations and ideas coming from a wide section of non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) and the five NPT nuclear-weapon States (NWS) on the eve of the 2000 Review Conference, the first after the NPT was indefinitely extended.

Adoption of the final report of the PrepCom was possible for two principal reasons: a common desire not to bear the blame for another debilitating failure after the deadlocks at the 1998 PrepCom, and skilful management and mediation by the Chair, who had prepared carefully and consulted widely in advance. There were indications part way through that some of the delegations which had predicted in 1995 that the review process was nothing more than a tool to facilitate the indefinite extension decision might not be averse to another PrepCom failure, which could be portrayed as proving their point. The NWS, in their different ways, likewise showed a marked reluctance to have the strengthened review process utilised for better progress on nuclear disarmament issues, although four out of the five provided greater detail on the steps they have taken to comply with their Treaty obligations, particularly article VI. In the end, however, the ultimate importance of the non-proliferation regime to the security of all its parties persuaded both the minimalists and maximalists not to risk harming the credibility of the NPT and its review process by blocking on single issues. Just enough flexibility was shown by all sides to enable the essential decisions to be taken.

From the very first day, a marked deterioration in political relations overshadowed the proceedings. All participants stood in silence to remember the people killed when the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was bombed a few days earlier. The war over Kosovo pervaded the meeting. There were no apologists for the brutalities of the Milosevic regime, but serious concerns were raised, particularly by China, Russia and some non-aligned States, about the role of NATO and its use of technology and overwhelming force against a much weaker opponent. US-China relations were also spotlighted by China's growing anxiety over US and Japanese missile defence plans and a climate of hostility over the 'spy scandal' (the alleged theft of US-nuclear secrets by a Chinese-American physicist working at Los Alamos), which coincided as a hot topic in the US Congress and media during the PrepCom.

Decisions Taken

The 2000 Review Conference will take place in New York from 24 April to 19 May. It will be presided over by Jacob J. Selebi, formerly South Africa's ambassador in Geneva, where he participated in the Conference on Disarmament and chaired the Human Rights Commission, as well as the first PrepCom of the CTBT Organisation in 1996 and the Oslo meeting, which finalised the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.

Some delegations have challenged the division of issues among three main committees, which they contend is confusing and inefficient. Canada and New Zealand argued instead for an article by article review. Since it was assumed that any alternative format would have to be decided at the review conference, the third PrepCom decided that the committees would be re-established in 2000, pending a debate and any future decision on a more appropriate way of addressing the issues. The following chairs were designated:

  • Main Committee I on nuclear disarmament - Camilo Reyes of Colombia;
  • MC II on safeguards and nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) - Eugeniusz Wyzner of Poland;
  • MCIII on nuclear energy - Markku Reimaa of Finland.
There were challenges to the recommendations that the Eastern group should additionally chair the drafting committee, with the NAM taking up the post of Credentials Committee Chair. These posts are important as, together with the depositary States, Britain, Russia and the United States, they comprise the Bureau, which acts as a conduit for planning and coordination of decision-making.

The agenda and rules of procedure to govern the 2000 Conference were adopted after States parties agreed to an amendment on subsidiary bodies. The issue preventing adoption of the rules in 1998 was a row over whether rule 34, which referred to the establishment of 'working groups' should be amended to reflect the provision on subsidiary bodies in paragraph 6 of Decision 1 (1995) on Strengthening the review process. In 1998, South Africa, backed by most of the NAM and others, had argued for subsidiary bodies to be specifically denoted in the rules; Russia, the United States and others had objected, mostly arguing that working groups were the same thing by a different name. In 1999, the amendment went through smoothly on the second day. Though some of the NWS reiterated that this was only a cosmetic change, other parties believed that the rule change paves the way for the establishment of subsidiary bodies in 2000. Egypt and South Africa also insisted on 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. An additional question from Austria over observer status for the CTBT Organisation was resolved by agreeing to the CTBTO having the same observer status as the agencies for overseeing the various nuclear-weapon-free zones, but not the same status as the IAEA, which acts as the Treaty's verification agency through the safeguards agreements undertaken bilaterally between the IAEA and each States party.

The question of which background documentation should be provided for the 2000 Conference had got stuck in 1998 on Egyptian insistence on documentation relating to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, which the US refused. Late on the last day of the 1999 PrepCom, it was finally agreed that the UN 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 has reinforced the perception of the resolution on the Middle East as an integral 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 assigned to the depositary States (Britain, Russia and the United States), who had sponsored the resolution in 1995. Some expressed surprise that the United States had 'given in' on this issue, but from the beginning of the PrepCom its more flexible approach had lent hope that a compromise agreement would be possible.

Deferring Decisions Or Dodging the Issues?

The 1995 decisions charged the PrepComs with making recommendations to 2000, although as the process proceeded from 1997 it became obvious that there was a lack of clarity or agreement about what kind of recommendations should be made, and what their status should be. The first PrepCom started a rolling text covering the subject matter of the Treaty. This was intended to be worked on by each successive PrepCom and then sent to the review conference as agreed recommendations. Some delegations considered that such recommendations, if agreed and transmitted by the PrepCom, would therefore have to be included in any review conference outcome. Others, arguing that 'The Review Conference is Master of its Work', considered that the recommendations could only ever be a resource for the Review Conference and not binding in any way. As it is (and partly due to the different views of the status and weight of PrepCom recommendations), the third PrepCom was unable to transmit any recommendations on substance. This was acknowledged by all to be a failure.

Although not required, many considered it would also be useful to make recommendations on the outcomes for 2000. Reyes' attempts to encapsulate a majority position in favour of two documents were resisted by a few determined delegations. The PrepCom eventually adopted recommendations on outcomes for 2000 that were so watered down that they did little more than reiterate the intentions outlined in the 1995 decisions.

Other questions that were deferred to 2000 included: the role of the PrepComs, particularly Canada's proposal for statements on contemporaneous events; ordering the subject matter of the Treaty and P&O for debate and review (e.g. article by article versus clustering in main committees); and subsidiary bodies. While some delegations may have wanted agreement in 1998 or 1999 at least to make recommendations on these subjects, others fell back on the argument that only the 2000 Review Conference can legitimately decide on anything. In any event, whether dodged or merely deferred all these questions will now need to be addressed at the 2000 review conference.

Products and Outcomes for 2000

Reyes opened the PrepCom with a general debate, encouraging delegations to give their views about what agreements, decisions and/or documents ("products") the 2000 Conference should aim for. 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 and reasons. 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 wanted essentially to retain the pre-1995 pattern, with three reports from the Main Committees, looking both forward and backwards, with a common "chapeau" or synthesising document prepared by the Conference Chair, which might incorporate recommendations. As the week progressed, more non-aligned delegations, notably Mexico and Egypt, became interested in having one document, seemingly on the grounds that it would provide better leverage on the nuclear-weapon States by denying them the option of claiming partial success if they agree on only part of the review or programme for implementation.
  • 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. On the grounds that the review process had revealed the need to revisit and clarify some of the 1995 provisions, Canada and Japan advocated this approach. South Africa and New Zealand acknowledged that some additional work in this area may be required, without necessarily specifying a third document on the review process. Few others gave their views one way or another on this, although some expressed concern that 'reopening' the 1995 consensus could be dangerous.
  • 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 or possibly other issues, as deemed relevant (proposed by Myanmar).
Some delegations, including 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 or reflection of differing views where necessary. There was general agreement that any forward looking programme such as the Principles and Objectives should be agreed by consensus.

On 13 May, Reyes circulated a working paper on products, intending to reflect the majority view. With it he sought agreement for recommending two basic 'products' for 2000, a forward looking 'objectives' document and a review and assessment document, leaving open the question of other possible agreements. The Chair's paper was supported by several delegations, including Brazil, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Britain, though some had suggestions for changes. France again argued for a composite document based on the work of the three main committees, and was especially adamant on the importance of consensus. Mexico, Egypt and Iran refused the paper, contending that it was premature to make a commitment to two principal documents and a possible dual track negotiating structure at 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 managed to insert 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. Having fudged the central question, however, the Chair's paper at least leaves Selebi, as President in 2000, a reasonably free hand to undertake consultations over the next year.

Substance and Implementation

After the general debate, the first week was devoted to closed plenary sessions on the various clusters of issues grouped under the headings of nuclear disarmament, safeguards and nuclear energy. Although no decision had been taken in 1998 to recommend special time for focussing on particular issues, most delegations welcomed Reyes' proposal to devote three sessions to practical nuclear disarmament issues, the fissile material ban, and the Middle East, respectively.

These debates largely consisted of statements of national positions or common positions from groups. As expected there were statements from Indonesia on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned States (NAM), which was accompanied by a working paper similar to last year's, from Germany on behalf of the European Union (EU) and associated States, and from Algeria on behalf of the League of Arab States. For the first time the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), formed by the foreign ministers of eight nations in June 1998, also made a presentation, which was co-sponsored by 32 States parties. The NAC working paper issued a few days later drew 44 co-sponsors, including Switzerland, Indonesia, Chile and Nigeria. (1)

Drawing from Reyes' view of the main issues addressed during the general and cluster debates, the first draft Chair's working paper was issued on 14 May. Comprising 31 paragraphs covering eight themes, the working paper was intended to offer a starting point for developing recommendations on substance for the 2000 Conference. The themes were the seven in the 1999 Principles and Objectives plus the Middle East: universality, non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, security assurances, safeguards, the resolution on the Middle East and 'peaceful uses' of nuclear energy.

May 14 Draft

After reaffirming commitment to the Treaty, the 14 May draft Chair's working paper welcomed new accessions from 9 countries since 1995 and urged States not yet party to the Treaty to accede. It contained paragraphs reaffirming the importance of full implementation of article II and calling on NPT parties to refrain from nuclear sharing within military or security alliances. Concerns about NATO nuclear sharing had particularly been raised in the NAM working paper and by Egypt, South Africa and China, but the argument that these security arrangements impinged on their NPT obligations was vigorously rejected by NATO States. Addressing the nuclear test explosions in South Asia in 1998, three paragraphs affirmed earlier condemnations and called for full compliance with UN SC resolution 1172, pledging not to give recognition or status to any additional States possessing nuclear weapon capabilities.

There were five paragraphs on nuclear disarmament, ranging from general declarations of "unequivocal commitment" to eliminating nuclear weapons to more specific calls, including for ratification of the CTBT so that it can enter into force without delay, immediate negotiations on a fissile materials treaty at the CD, further progress in START, including increased transparency on the dismantlement of tactical nuclear weapons and for the rest of the nuclear-weapon States to join US-Russian efforts "at an appropriate stage". Two paragraphs endorsed existing and nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ), such as in Central Asia, and also expressed support for proposals for such zones in the Middle East and South Asia. One paragraph on security assurances urged re-establishment of a committee in the CD, which angered South Africa and others who wanted security assurances addressed rather in the NPT context. South Africa had submitted a working paper containing a draft protocol on security assurances, which it would like the 2000 Review Conference to consider attaching to the Treaty.

Six paragraphs supported the additional protocol to the IAEA safeguards agreement negotiated as part of the 93+2 programme, urged States to ratify, called on all States not party to the NPT to accept comprehensive IAEA safeguards and also urged strengthening of the current regime on the physical protection of nuclear material. Two paragraphs urged full implementation of the resolution on the Middle East and stressed the "urgent need for Israel to accede to the Treaty without further delay" and place its nuclear facilities under fullscope IAEA safeguards..."to avert the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East". The final five paragraphs reaffirmed commitment to implementation of article IV on nuclear energy and expressed support for initiatives on nuclear safety and security. Although Reyes had taken care to represent views with substantial support as a basis for seeking consensus, it was inevitable that some paragraphs pleased some delegations while infuriating others. Some delegations wished to start immediate negotiations, seeking to insert their proposals into the text or delete paragraphs they did not like, but Reyes opted for an open discussion on the paper. More than 30 delegations offered verbal and written proposals in any case. After enabling the States to discuss the paper and related ideas for a few days, Reyes brought out a revised draft on 20 May. Covering the same eight themes, the revised draft ran to 61 paragraphs. In a highly controversial strategy, Reyes then devoted a day to eliciting delegations' responses to gauge the strength of acceptance or opposition to each of the paragraphs.

May 20 Revised Draft

In the 20 May revision, there were eight reaffirmations of the principles and provisions of the Treaty and the 1995 decisions, which were largely accepted. Iran had problems with one of the paragraphs on universality, which referred to the enhancement of regional security, particularly in areas of tension, such as the Middle East and South Asia. The United States did not object to urging by name all States not party to the Treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon States, i.e. Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan. The more direct reference to nuclear sharing was omitted from the eight-paragraph section on non-proliferation, which contained less specific exhortations not to transfer devices or control over devices, directly or indirectly. Iraq objected to a paragraph expressing concern about two cases of non-compliance by NPT-parties, though Iraq and North Korea were not mentioned by name. There were also objections to a paragraph which condemned the South Asian nuclear tests, with some viewing it as too strong and others considering it to have been weakened too much. Gone was the explicit reference to UNSC 1172 in the first draft.

One or other of the nuclear-weapon States objected to almost all the paragraphs on nuclear disarmament. They accepted one which recognised the progress undertaken by the NWS unilaterally and under the START process, and paragraphs urging entry into force of the CTBT and negotiations on a fissile materials production ban. France was unhappy about making an unequivocal commitment to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. China did not like the call on all the NWS to "declare collectively a moratorium on the production of such material for such devices". The US and Russia objected to recommending a subsidiary body at the review conference and the provision of special time at subsequent PrepComs for "a structured opportunity to deliberate on the practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons" as had been proposed by South Africa. Nor did they want to urge the CD to establish a committee to address nuclear disarmament.

They objected to a set of calls to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, based on New Agenda, Japanese and Canadian proposals, among others, such as revitalising the START process, a "seamless process" by which the other NWS would join the US and Russia in negotiations, addressing non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, transparency, steps to reduce nuclear dangers, such as de-alerting, de-activating and de-mating nuclear warheads, and to review strategic doctrine, as urged in the New Agenda resolution to the UN General Assembly (53/77Y), which had gained 114 votes in December 1998. Inevitably they also objected to a paragraph identifying that a nuclear weapon free world would ultimately require the underpinnings of a multilaterally negotiated instrument or framework of mutually reinforcing, legally binding instruments. No-one objected to a paragraph welcoming the significant contribution to article VI of actions by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in withdrawing all the nuclear weapons from their territories.

The section on NWFZ fared rather better, though the United States registered its inevitable objection to a paragraph urging urgent steps towards establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East as a first step towards a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Similarly the US objected to almost the whole section on the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. While some of the NWS were unhappy with some of the language on security assurances, South Africa and others disliked the emphasis on addressing security assurances in the CD. Unsurprisingly, the main points of the long sections on safeguards and nuclear energy, safety and security were almost all accepted. South Africa did not like approving the framework of voluntary safeguards which the NWS arrogate to themselves, however, and China reportedly disliked the wording on nuclear control regimes.

During the last two days a split emerged between those who wanted to differentiate between the paragraphs which had or had not been formally objected to, and those who argued that such a procedure would badly misrepresent the priorities and work of the PrepCom. Attempts were made to establish the 'status' or 'standing' of the working paper and the UK, Belgium, France and others offered different kinds of introductory paragraph(s) to place the paper in an acceptable context (the 'chapeau').

France, Russia and the United States were in favour of identifying and possibly attaching the 'agreed' sections to the PrepCom Report, with the rest given secondary status or relegated to the mass of non-negotiated proposals from previous PrepComs. Such a ploy would have delivered substantive recommendations on energy and safeguards, but only a few sparse, bland lowest-common-denominator references to progress on nuclear disarmament, testing, non-proliferation or the Middle East. Since the recommendations which would have been omitted were of greatest importance to a large and significant number of States parties, Egypt, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and others refused to consider such an artificial separation.

Time was running out. Though most would not permit inclusion of only the least controversial half of the Chair's paper, few wanted another total deadlock. Indonesia warned that this year the non-aligned would not accept just a truncated procedural report, shorn of all reference to substance. In the end Ireland and New Zealand brokered a solution acceptable to all. Paragraph 17 of the PrepCom report gave a brief account of the discussions on the Chair's papers and annexed both the 14 May and 20 May papers, together with the various written proposals. This compromise was hailed as a victory by those who wanted the text to be forwarded to the 2000 Review Conference as representative of the priority issues the PrepCom had discussed and worked on, while those who wished to, such as Russia, France and the United States, could claim victory in preventing the paper from having special authority or status.


The third PrepCom was a limited success in that it finalised the main arrangements for the 2000 Review Conference without necessitating a further meeting, as was threatened at one stage. But together with the previous PrepComs, it has clearly failed to address substance in the meaningful ways intended by the majority of those who crafted and agreed the decisions on strengthening the review process. Although many delegations expressed disappointment at the PrepCom's failure to send recommendations on substance to the Review Conference, there was also an undercurrent of relief, and a feeling that Reyes had probably achieved the best result possible in the circumstances. If that is the case, then the problems are systemic rather than specific. In the interests of a meaningful contribution to strengthening the non-proliferation regime, it is not helpful to paper over all the political cracks for the sake of getting an agreement, no matter what. Similarly, a row of deadlocks and failures year after the year will weaken the credibility of the treaty and its collective norm against proliferation and nuclear weapons. If these are the two systemic alternatives, the circumstances need to be examined and perhaps changed. Looking back at all three PrepComs, it is clear that the 2000 Review Conference needs to think through some important questions and clarify the powers, limits and tasks of what are called PrepComs, but which should more properly be regarded as 'implementing committees'.

External political realities were about as bad as they could have been, but in many ways they intruded less than might have been expected, which is both good and bad. Although a strong non-proliferation and disarmament regime undoubtedly contributes to greater security (and the regime has taken many blows over the past year), it is impossible to predict the international political circumstances within which a particular meeting will take place.

The circumstances that can be changed are those relating to the review process itself, particularly tasks and expectations. Canada and others have already posed some of the basic questions and sought to clarify the purpose of the review process. The PrepComs have, each in their own way, disappointed more than they have satisfied.

What is wrong with how their brief from 1995 has been interpreted? What needs to be changed? Does it make sense to use a series of three annual meetings to churn out a generally platitudinous rolling text of recommendations for the next review conference? Could the PrepComs be better employed focussing their debates more systematically on facilitating implementation of the principles and objectives agreed at the previous Review Conference? In that case, would it be more relevant for them to try to negotiate agreement on how well the P&O are being implemented in that particular year - to provide a kind of snapshot, against which the next year's progress can be compared? Rather than being delivered a rolling text of recommendations, the review conference could receive and take into account the three snapshots, to compare and contrast progress over the five year period. Such an interpretation would place the forward-looking responsibility almost entirely on the five yearly review conferences. The misnamed 'prepcoms' would have the main function of measuring implementation of the Treaty and Principles and Objectives and ensuring year-by-year accountability through their 'annual reports' or snapshots, which would also take into account the international and political environment. The last PrepCom could be assigned the additional tasks of procedural preparations for the next Review Conference, of course.

As forecast, the major hurdles for the 1999 PrepCom were in connection with the Middle East and nuclear disarmament. 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 would not name Israel on its own in relation to the Middle East. Intensive US-Egyptian negotiating sessions, and also regular and close consultations 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 in 2000, MC I on nuclear disarmament, where he will no doubt need all the skill, perseverance and humour that he displayed this fortnight in New York.

The United States came across as more engaged and flexible this year, with Egypt, in contrast, looking somewhat divided, raising concerns even among NAM colleagues that its tactics might become 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 they 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, warning that overly high expectations or unacceptable demands could undermine the sense of collective ownership of the Treaty. Able to announce the decisions of the 1998 UK strategic defence review, Britain appeared more comfortable and was most prepared to demonstrate flexibility on a number of issues, actively seeking solutions for procedural questions and what to do with the draft recommendations.

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 EU practice of negotiating among themselves and presenting a collective statement has two counterproductive consequences: firstly, most of the initial EU presentation (especially on disarmament issues) is at the lowest common denominator since the interests of nuclear weapon and non-weapon States, and States within and outside the NATO nuclear umbrella are significantly different; secondly, this process deprives the early stage of a meeting the more creative and constructive ideas from European countries. Since these early debates, when ideas and assessments are aired, may be a principal source for a Chair's interpretations of the tenor and priorities of States parties, European input is effectively diminished. Similarly, all the NWS but Britain and France make substantial statements, but the European NWS wait for the cluster debates, which attract less attention. Notwithstanding a strong EU proscription on breaking ranks, some do. In this PrepCom, France exerted its opposition to two documents within the EU meetings to prevent such a recommendation being put forward either by Germany on behalf of the group, or by its various members individually; having effectively gagged its colleagues, France then went ahead with its own individual proposal, to the fury of some others in the EU. In fact it is not France which deserves criticism, but the practice of tying the diversity of EU opinion into unified EU statements in inappropriate situations, such as the NPT.

The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade just days before the PrepCom started ensured that the Chinese would raise security questions about the use of 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 20 May Chair's working paper echoed NAC language and approaches.

Finally, it was a mixed PrepCom for the non-governmental organisations. NGOs had made considerable contributions to discussions and planning in the run-up to the PrepCom. Following a fairly well attended informal plenary session in the first week, which heard 13 NGO statements on a range of treaty-related issues (2), 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, including France and Britain, and representatives from some 10 other delegations, including the United States, Japan and South Africa, and addressed questions relating to NATO nuclear sharing, no first use and measures to advance the elimination of nuclear weapons. The NGOs hope that such roundtables can become a regular feature of the NPT review conferences and prepcoms.

On the other hand, access to the debates and proceedings have 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. (3) If the reason for excluding NGOs from hearing the cluster discussions is to avoid having 'formal' sessions requiring summary records, then discretion could be employed to admit the NGOs as observers to 'informal' sessions, not requiring summary records. The Chair would always retain the authority to exclude NGOs at any time, if for example exchanges of views became sensitive negotiations for which the delegations requested privacy. 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 they afraid of? and ii) is it better for NGOs to receive reports of positions filtered through hearsay and the opinions of opposing delegations than to hear directly and judge for ourselves?


International political events over the past year are flashing dire warnings about the health of the nuclear non-proliferation norm and prospects for arms control: nuclear tests by two neighbours and rising tension in South Asia; Clinton's apparent go-ahead for research and development funding for missile defence programmes, causing increased concern internationally, but especially in Russia and China, who fear a diminution of the credibility of their own nuclear arms; NATO's Summit and reaffirmation of a strategic concept embedding nuclear deterrence; NATO expansion of membership and missions, highlighted by its air war on Yugoslavia, causing greater tension with Russia and further and possibly fatal delays over START ratification; worsening relations between the US and China, exacerbated by the "spy scandal" over "stolen" nuclear weapon designs and the inadvertent NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade; collapsing commitment to arms control, exemplified by political games in the Russian Duma and US Congress over START, the ABM Treaty and ratification of the CTBT; widely publicised debates in Belarus and Ukraine in which their decisions to give up nuclear weapons, taken as the Cold War ended, were criticised by parliamentarians as over hasty, with the inference that had they known then what they know now, they would not have surrendered their nuclear weapon 'status' so quickly.

Though the Chinese were the only ones publicly to wonder if NATO would have bombed Belgrade if Yugoslavia had also been nuclear armed, there were many in the corridors who made the obvious connection. Over the past year nuclear weapons seem to have been reinforced as a currency of power, influence, and by reference to a demonstrated vulnerability in their absence, of security. Though fears of a renewed interest in nuclear weapons as a result of the South Asian tests and NATO's "aggression" bubbled beneath the entire PrepCom, the tensions in the real world intruded remarkably little on the actual proceedings. True, China had reason to boycott Britain's attempts to pull together a collective statement by all five weapon States, in which transparency might have figured more strongly than China would find comfortable. But in the multilateral proceedings as a whole, China participated as much as ever, protecting its positions as vigorously as did all the other NWS.

What do the politics, conflicts and conduct of the 1999 PrepCom say about the prospects for 2000? I will be bringing out a Red Report with a fuller assessment in October, but here are some preliminary views.

  • Nuclear Disarmament is an inextricable component of non-proliferation. Until the article VI goals are substantially achieved in the way that most parties consider the other articles to be, nuclear disarmament will continue to be the major subject of debate and disagreement, a reality that the NWS must acknowledge and address more constructively.
  • There will again need to be intersessional bilaterals between Egypt and the United States to try to establish ground rules for how to address the possession of nuclear weapons by one Middle East State, a proliferation issue within the NPT context, without overloading the treaty review with the related regional and security demands.
  • Nuclear testing and the self-declared nuclear 'status' by the two South Asian non-NPT members will need careful handling if the basis of the non-proliferation norm is to remain intact and credible.
  • Preparation and advance consultations by the President/Chair are vitally important in soliciting ideas, trouble-shooting likely problems, and building a sense of collective ownership and responsibility for the outcome.
  • The outmoded group system is increasingly irrelevant and could be quite counterproductive in terms of managing the conduct, information flow and decision-making of the Review Conference and future PrepComs. Issue based coalitions, such as the New Agenda Coalition are likely to play a greater role, but may not be the most effective conduits for facilitating the exchange of information and collective decisions with the Chair and Bureau.
  • Voting, though provided for in the Treaty, should not be regarded as an easy option to bypass consensus, as forcing a vote may have unintended political consequences and may become very messy and complicated.
  • Some thought must be directed to interpreting the 1995 decisions so that the review process can work better. The role of the PrepComs, the meaning and status of any "recommendations" and other issues need to be debated and perhaps refined.

Notes and References

1. A more detailed summary of proposals and papers is available on The Acronym Institute website, NPT briefings 1-8, 1999.
2. See NPT briefing 2 by Nicola Butler.
3. For this reason, the author regrets any errors in this report but does not take responsibility for them, as they are due to the difficult circumstances of obtaining information.

Documentation from the PrepCom is also available here.

Rebecca Johnson is Executive Director of The Acronym Institute. The author wishes to thank delegates and friends for sharing information and impressions. I would especially like to express my appreciation to Nicola Butler for her support and help at the Third PrepCom.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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