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Midnight Oil on Troubled Waters
By Rebecca Johnson

Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 14, May 16, 2000

Whatever is happening at the Sixth Review Conference of the NPT in New York, it does not look good for the future of nuclear non-proliferation. So many compromises are being forced through so as not to offend political elites in countries whose actions are placing international security and arms control at risk (including India, Pakistan, Israel, the United States, Russia and China), that one wonders what message is being conveyed about the seriousness of the Treaty's role and obligations on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Recent (unconfirmed) newspaper reports that India and Pakistan may be preparing to 'do a Chirac' by conducting further nuclear tests and then signing the CTBT are deeply worrying. That such rumours are not being dismissed as nonsense suggests a lack of confidence in the efficacy of the international community's response to the nuclear tests of May 1998. Hardly surprising, for this Review Conference is revealing deep divisions in attitudes, fuelled by the eagerness of some NPT parties, particularly Russia and France, to sign more contracts with India's nuclear industry.

As the President of the NPT Conference, Abdallah Baali of Algeria, chaired a late night group of key delegates from over 35 of the Treaty's 187 States Parties, France and, reportedly, Russia and (unconfirmed) China argued against including concerns about the South Asian nuclear tests under the heading of 'non-proliferation', as Canada, Japan and others were insisting; France considered that the likely-to-be agreed call on India and Pakistan to fulfil the requirements of UN Security Council resolution 1172 (1998) belonged only in the context of regional concerns.

The President's Consultations, which began after 8.00 p.m. and went on to well past midnight, appeared to be at times as confusing for those behind the closed doors as for the handful of NGOs and Japanese camera crews patiently waiting to glean snippets of information from diplomats desperate for a smoke or a stroll down the empty UN corridors. Baali, returning from London to find that the Drafting Committee had found itself unable to draft the final report until political decisions were taken regarding structure and the relation between different parts of the envisaged document, invited around 30 countries to participate in President's Consultations. The initial list included the five nuclear weapon states, South Africa, Mexico, Portugal (EU presidency), Germany, Japan, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Poland, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, New Zealand, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, Myanmar (Burma), Argentina, Peru, Finland, and of course Algeria.

The initial invitation excluded Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden, viewed by many as having played an important role in initiating and brokering some of the main ideas on which the Conference is deliberating. After some polite direct action, in which representatives from some of the excluded Parties were invited by more privileged (non-aligned) colleagues to occupy spare seats in the President's consultation's meeting room, it appears that Baali has agreed to invite those four into the Consultations. The Western group continues to hold that for legitimacy of decision-making such Consultations should be open-to-all and transparent, while acknowledging that not all delegations have the desire or resources to participate at so detailed a level. In addition to representatives of the above States Parties, NGOs, playing 'spot the country' outside Conference Room 6, saw diplomats also from Greece, Luxembourg and Denmark, who may or may not have been on the first list. Although Baali's original intentions were to keep the Consultations to a small, closed group, it now appears that delegations which feel strongly enough to stay into the wee hours are permitted to participate.

They heard some strange positions being put forward as Baali facilitated discussions on various contested elements drawn from the MC.I report transmitted by Camilo Reyes (Colombia), which had inconclusively reviewed progress on nuclear disarmament. Baali's paragraphs, intended to focus attention on key issues which would need to be resolved, were grouped into category A, indicating difficult to resolve, and category B, which were thought to be more amenable to compromise. Some agreements appeared to emerge from this process, but as initial reports were confusing and most delegations expect Baali to come up with a synthesised paper the next day, now is not the time to attempt detail.

However, many advocates of the CTBT will want to ascertain if reports are true that four of the nuclear weapon states repudiated a paragraph recalling their own statements during the test ban negotiations asserting that testing would not be conducted "for the further development and modernisation of nuclear weapons". This paragraph arose from discussions earlier in the Conference following the submission by South Africa of a paper reproducing, with dates, the statements on this issue made to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) by the various nuclear powers during the CTBT negotiations 1994-96.

Continuing Discussions

During Monday and Tuesday, there had been continuing discussions under the auspices of Clive Pearson (New Zealand) and Christopher Westdal (Canada), aimed at getting closer to agreement on some forward-looking objectives and actions on nuclear disarmament, and on regional issues, especially the Middle East. There have also been working groups or closed-group consultations on export controls, and on nuclear weapon free zones, particularly focussing on the Belarus proposal for a nuclear weapon free space in Central and Eastern Europe (which has now been formally opposed by Poland on behalf of many former Soviet and Warsaw Pact European countries, and by the EU, on the grounds that the proposal does not have the support of the countries in the region). In addition, Markku Reimaa (Finland) and Adam Kobieracki (Poland) have coordinated informal meetings to resolve some of the outstanding issues on safeguards and nuclear energy (see briefing # 15).

Practical Steps on Disarmament

On May 15, Pearson offered a second draft of his paper on practical steps for nuclear disarmament. To the surprise of many, the first criticisms came from some of the NATO-5 countries. They highlighted three major areas in which they considered the revised draft had veered too far towards the NWS and become unacceptably weak: they disliked the linkage made between getting negotiations underway on a fissile material (cut-off) treaty and the adoption of a programme of work by the CD; they were unhappy with the changed language in the paragraph on transparency which dropped from requiring the NWS to provide more open information on their nuclear arsenals and fissile material inventories, to transparency "with regard to their nuclear capabilities and agreements as a voluntary confidence building measure"; and they considered that the paragraph on non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons had been watered down too far.

The NATO-5, an informal grouping comprising Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Norway had originated in 1999 with a Belgian proposal for a CD working group for talks on nuclear disarmament (as opposed to an ad hoc committee). Its members have come to play an unexpectedly interesting role at the 2000 Review Conference, with papers to MC.I and on the review. The MC.I paper, put forward as "complementary" to the EU position, last week attracted support from Finland and Sweden (in a joint Baltic bridge-building statement intended to show that the different approaches of the New Agenda and NATO-5 were not mutually exclusive), Denmark and Spain (though Spain expressed reservations about the paragraph on fissile materials). Furthermore, it appears that Japan and Canada are also liaising with this group, at least on some issues, such as the Norwegian-Netherlands proposals for strengthening the review process. However, as reported previously, there are also stresses within the NATO-5 (who don't like that label) over emphasis and tactics.

During Monday's discussions on Pearson's first revised draft, the nuclear weapon states opposed a number of paragraphs, despite the softer language. Among other problems, Russia wanted the call on tactical nuclear weapons to be wrapped in conditionalities or thrown out; China still opposes transparency; and France and Russia continue to block the paragraph enshrining the "unequivocal undertaking" to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear arsenals. Pearson had dropped the specific references to de-alerting and de-activation, calling only for "concrete measures to reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems". In much of the disarmament discussions, the United States is keeping unusually quiet, letting other NWS state their objections. Britain periodically tries to make helpful drafting suggestions, and is letting it be known that it could accept the unequivocal undertaking if the phrase relating to the 2000-2005 review period is omitted. France, on the other hand, continues to assert that it would be prepared to give an unequivocal undertaking only to the "ultimate" elimination of nuclear weapons, but not to the actual elimination of nuclear arsenals. When NNWS complained that such a position was no advance on the 1995 decisions, France reportedly argued that its commitment in 1995 had been equivocal, so that an unequivocal undertaking to the ultimate goal was a step forward. It appears that no-one bought this argument, but it was a nice try!

Mexico, on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, took up the argument against "strategic stability", which had been evoked four times at the NWS' request - in connection with "preserving and strengthening" the ABM Treaty, reducing nuclear arsenals unilaterally, tactical nuclear weapons, and diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies. Antonio de Icaza argued that 'strategic stability' used in these contexts amounted to little more than the assertion of a nuclear status quo in which the NWS' belief that their nuclear weapons were important for national or international stability and security is somehow endorsed by all. If this were carried forward in NPT consensus documents the NWS would evoke it as an excuse for dragging their heels or not fulfilling the measures and steps agreed to. This, de Icaza averred, the non-nuclear states parties to the NPT could never underwrite. Various other changes had been made, including: annual reporting from the NWS dropped down to 'regular'; and irreversibility characterised as a guide rather than a requirement in effecting nuclear disarmament measures.

By late Tuesday, reflecting the comments he had received during his two days of meetings, Pearson brought out a further draft on practical nuclear disarmament steps. Among the changes, the conditionalities associated with strategic stability were gone, except for language on the ABM Treaty taken from the P-5/N-5 statement. It is understood that this third draft will be considered on Wednesday.

Regional Issues

Westdal's discussions on regional issues, including the Middle East and South Asia, had gone through several stages, including a period late last week when several delegations spoke glumly of deadlock. Without going into too much detail at this stage, it is understood that Iraq has now accepted that some reference will have to be made to its failure to comply fully with its safeguards obligations under the Treaty, as insisted by the United States; the question now hinges on finding language that both can live with. Similarly, it is now widely accepted (even by the United States, if not yet formally) that Israel will be named as one of the countries which is called on to adhere to the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. The question, again, is how, and that has not yet been finalised. The concepts of non-adherence and non-compliance will both be featured, but not linked. The South Asian nuclear rivalry will also be addressed, in separate paragraphs (see above), as well as the situation in North Korea. Malaysia has withdrawn its proposal for promoting universality by having representatives of the NPT hold discussions with the hold-out states. Egypt's more specific proposals for a special envoy or other NPT-representatives to discuss NPT adherence with Israel now also seem to have been given up, faced with heavy opposition from the United States and a lack of enthusiasm from several others, including France and Britain.

An update on MC.II and MC.III issues will be combined with an overview of proposals on security assurances in Briefing # 15. Rebecca Johnson would like to thank Jenni Rissanen and Mary Beth Nikitin for their investigative assistance.

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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