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The Reckoning Begins
By Rebecca Johnson

Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 11, May 12, 2000

As the Sixth Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty nears the end of its third week, the Main Committees are scrambling to complete their work by the deadline of Friday May 12, set by the Conference President, Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria. The Conference has an air of unreality, as if going through the motions, without any immediacy or urgency. The major events all seem to be taking place somewhere else: US-Russian pre-summit negotiations on the ABM Treaty; out of control forest fires consuming Los Alamos, home of Little Boy, Fatman and every generation of US nuclear weapon since then; the army reportedly on standby in case they have to get the plutonium out before the fire causes a major plutonium dispersion disaster...

Here at the United Nations, the talk is of working papers and paragraphs. Presenting the Chair's working paper from Main Committee I on nuclear disarmament, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia asked the Committee members to agree that the paper reflects the "state of progress in our work" and transmit it to the Conference as a whole to consider. While accepting Reyes' characterisation of the paper as describing the main problems, Mexico underlined some of the areas where the New Agenda and non-aligned states would not be able to accept the language as it stood.

Ambassador Clive Pearson of New Zealand then presented his Subsidiary Body 1 working paper on the 'practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts' to implement article VI of the NPT and paragraphs 3 and 4 (c) of the 1995 Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. He called it a "compact and finely balanced package", which reflected the deliberations and his assessment of the realistic measures that could take the NPT parties forward. Stating his willingness to continue his efforts to find grounds for consensus, Pearson offered his paper as a framework for further deliberations. China thanked Pearson but pointed out the several areas in which the paper did not reflect its proposals or position. Mexico wanted to ensure that the President would use Pearson's paper as the basis for its further work on a programme of action. The United States backed Pearson's continuing to consult "in some form or other". The working papers of both SB 1 and MC.1 were then accepted by the Committee to be transmitted to the Conference.

The work is far from over. By contrast with previous years, the Chairs are steering clear of negotiations resulting in an accumulation of brackets around disputed or alternative versions of text, so the papers read fairly coherently. Nevertheless, there are about eight or nine issues where playing with text is not going to reconcile the views of the majority of NPT Parties and the nuclear weapon states. Of these, probably four are 'bottom line' political differences.

Despite colluding in US attempts to get missile defence off the agenda by agreeing to the ambiguous language of the N-5 statement of the five nuclear powers, China has continued to push a range of proposals on disarmament issues, as contained in papers issued on May 1 and May 5. There are, of course, many contradictions. China wants all the NWS to "commit themselves to the goal of the complete prohibition and total elimination of nuclear weapons and to negotiate and conclude as soon as possible a convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons". According to the next paragraph, however "any nuclear disarmament measures should follow the principle of maintaining global strategic stability and undiminished security for every State". Sadly, each of the weapon states continues to stress how their security (for the foreseeable future) relies on nuclear weapons. They have to reject that belief before they can recognise that nuclear disarmament would enhance rather than diminish their security. In order to join the NPT, the non-nuclear states (including South Africa, which gave its nuclear weapons up) made the assessment that possessing nuclear weapons would not enhance their security. For the weapon states to come to the same conclusion takes a leap of imagination, which is something in short supply at this Conference.

In common with many others, China regrets that the CTBT has not entered into force and expresses deep concern at the US Senate's rejection of the Treaty; but fails to say why China itself has so far failed to ratify the test ban treaty. Though China again proposes that the NWS should commit to no first use and unconditional security assurances, the focus of the working paper is the importance of abiding by the ABM Treaty and the risks arising from "ongoing intensive research on and testing of outer space weapons, which will lead to the weaponisation of outer space and a new arms race". China stresses that "any amendment to the ABM Treaty will undermine both the cornerstone of strategic stability and the basis for further nuclear weapons reductions". The paper therefore calls for ad hoc committees in the CD to address: prevention of an arms race in outer space; nuclear disarmament; and a fissile material cut-off treaty. China opposes any mention of a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and disagrees with full-scope safeguards as a condition for the supply of nuclear-related material or technology. While China's concerns about missile defence and the dangers of weaponising outer space are shared by most if not all the non-nuclear weapon countries, there is a widespread belief that China's real negotiating position is in the minimalist language of the N-5 statement; the rest is political rhetoric.

Shipments and Environmental Harm

Elsewhere (in no particular order): A group of countries, including the Caribbean states in Caricom, Pacific Island nations, Ireland and New Zealand, have followed up concerns expressed in many of their national statements about the sea shipments of nuclear materials plying (mostly) between Japan's nuclear facilities and the reprocessing plants at Sellafield (Britain) and La Hague (France). They have made a comprehensive proposal calling for better safety provisions, consultation and a "liability regime that includes full indemnification for damage resulting from accidental or deliberate events". The proposal, some of which is vigorously opposed by Japan, Britain and France, also calls for "consideration within appropriate international organisations of an effective and comprehensive regime of prior notification and prior consultation with affected States on the transport of radioactive material".

In another strange twist, Australia and Canada for a time joined forces with France in opposing a proposal by five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) to include language from the Main Committee III report to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference covering the "serious environmental consequences" resulting from "uranium mining and associated nuclear fuel-cycle activities in the production and testing of nuclear weapons". The Central Asian proposal called for governments and international organisations with expertise in the field of clean-up and disposal of radioactive contaminants to consider giving assistance. The text did not bind them to give assistance, just to consider it. Even the United States, with an environmental record associated with its nuclear weapon production in places like Hanford, Washington, Nevada and the Pacific nuclear test grounds, backed the proposal. Canada and Australia, which had joined consensus on this in 1995, were reportedly worried that environmental activists might use this to focus attention on disputed uranium mining back home. Late on Thursday, however, it looked as if the language was through to the next round.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

One issue that was practically ignored in 1995 has come to the fore in 2000: the need to address non-strategic/tactical nuclear weapons. Twelve statements, including Austria, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway, raised this in the general debate. Hoping to see non-strategic nuclear weapons included in the framework of arms reductions, Portugal on behalf of the European Union welcomed the 1991 unilateral declarations of the US and Russia regarding their declared intention to explore transparency and reduction measures. The EU statement to MC.I went further, calling specifically for tactical nuclear weapons to be brought into negotiations "with the objective of their reduction and eventual complete elimination". Yet the language in the EU working paper to SB.1 was noticeably watered down, going back to vague comments about "the importance of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the framework of nuclear arms reduction efforts". Norway's Foreign Minister argued that tactical nuclear weapons could be rapidly deployed and played a "politically destabilising role". Norway suggested starting with increased transparency as a confidence-building measure, and then moving on to "a programme for warhead destruction", underpinned by bilateral verification procedures. Also welcoming the 1991 US-Russian declarations, Norway called for them to be reconfirmed "and a time frame set for their elimination".

Finland, as in the past, has submitted a working paper focussing on tactical nuclear weapons. At the second PrepCom In 1998, Finland had called for such weapons to be brought under a regime of contractual nuclear disarmament obligations with the objective of removing short range nuclear weapons from operational use. The Finnish paper to the 2000 Review Conference was weaker. It welcomes the 1997 Helsinki agreement that the US and Russia would explore in the context of START III negotiations on confidence-building and transparency relating to tactical nuclear weapons, and calls on both countries to implement their mutual unilateral announcements of reductions in their non-strategic nuclear weapons. Finland also supported increased transparency regarding the withdrawal and dismantlement of short range/tactical nuclear weapons and wanted the NWS to provide information on the steps they are taking in this regard.

At present, the working paper from SB 1 calls for "the further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons in a transparent and irreversible manner leading to their total elimination as an integral part of the nuclear arms reduction and disarmament process" but puts this "in the context of strategic stability".

Corrections department

Briefing # 4 incorrectly wrote that Belarus had spoken against NATO expansion, which they did not do. Russia denies all knowledge of the Briefing # 7 reference to its alleged reservations about fullscope safeguards as a condition of supply, as reported in Nuclear Fuel, and we look forward to further, preferably documented, clarification from either Mark Hibbs or the Russian delegation to confirm or dismiss the concerns we raised. Re Briefing # 9, the sentence referring to China's opposition to irreversibility, transparency and de-alerting was incorrect; China says it does not oppose the principle of irreversibility. If Briefing # 10 implied French support for Egypt's proposals for a special envoy or other NPT representative to conduct discussions with Israel about acceding to the Treaty and the necessity for putting its nuclear facilities under safeguards, that should be amended. France, like the United States, opposes anything which might entail intersessional work by representatives or NPT parties.

During the NPT Rebecca Johnson and Jenni Rissanen can be contacted at mobile phone 917 302 2822 and fax 212 935 7690.

2000 The Acronym Institute.

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