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Successful Conference: Now Words into Actions
By Rebecca Johnson

Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 18, May 20, 2000, including the Conference Agreement on a Programme of Action (Next Steps) on Nuclear Disarmament

The President of the Sixth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, finally brought his gavel down on the adoption of a final document containing the consensus views and objectives of representatives of the Treaty's 187 parties on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Despite being more than 24 hours later than scheduled following several sessions that extended deep into the night, there was applause and relief that the NPT review conference, the first since the Treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995, had ended so well. The successful conclusion was viewed as a triumph for the non-nuclear weapon states (especially the New Agenda Coalition of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden) who had effectively pushed through an unequivocal undertaking and next steps on nuclear disarmament, and for the Conference President, whose determination to produce a success, refusal to give up, and personal style of (exhausting) management forced opposing sides to deal with each other and compromise -- or miss their planes and another night's sleep!

The clock had to be stopped at ten to midnight on Friday May 19, as diplomats continued to struggle to resolve the stand-off between the United States and Iraq over how to describe Iraq's non-compliance under the Treaty. In addition to assessing the implementation of the Treaty over the past five years, the Conference adopted an important agreement on practical next steps for nuclear disarmament, which had been negotiated between the five nuclear weapon states (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) and the key group of 'New Agenda' non-nuclear weapon countries from Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and Europe. Because of long-standing disagreements between the nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states over the fulfilment of disarmament obligations, previous Conferences since 1985 were unable to gather consensus to adopt their final documents. The 2000 Review Conference's achievement is all the more remarkable for taking place at a time of impasse in the disarmament field and deep political divisions between some of the nuclear powers, especially over the ABM Treaty and NATO expansion.

Much has been riding on this Conference, as there has been a growing sense that the non-nuclear weapon states may have given away their leverage in 1995 when they agreed to the indefinite extension of the Treaty in return for principles and objectives on non-proliferation and disarmament, and a strengthened review process. It was therefore fitting that the President of the 1995 NPT Conference, Jayantha Dhanapala, now UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament, should be seated next to the 2000 President, Abdallah Baali, when the gavel came down on this substantive set of agreements. Though much remains to be done, this Conference has shown what can be achieved when the tools of increased accountability provided in 1995 are effectively employed.

Nevertheless, though the agreements on disarmament may be regarded as a breakthrough, they must be measured against what was missing from the Conference. Politically, this was a lost opportunity to address the proliferation dangers inherent in US plans to deploy national (ballistic) missile defences, and to send a strong message to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament to stop haggling and get down to negotiating and concluding a ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons (fissban). Both issues, of great importance to the non-nuclear weapon states and some of the nuclear states, were swept under the carpet by the early agreement among the nuclear powers of a P-5 statement. In effect, the United States sold out its allies by agreeing to China's demand to link the fissban with a CD programme of work, knowing that in China's view such a programme would have to include an ad hoc committee or working group on 'prevention of an arms race in outer space', which the United States has so far been the only CD member to reject. China for its part bought this concession at the price of its practical silence on US missile defence plans. It now remains to be seen whether the CD is able to move forward when it reconvenes on May 25.

The Review Conference final document contained important paragraphs calling on India and Pakistan to adhere to UN Security Resolution 1172, passed after both countries conducted nuclear tests in 1998, and on the Middle East, calling for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and naming Israel among the four remaining states (India, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba) which are urged to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. There were useful agreements on nuclear safety and liability, but most worryingly, sections dealing with export controls on nuclear materials and technology were watered down or lost altogether, and there were disturbing signs that Russia, China and France wished to weaken the agreements on full-scope safeguards. Nevertheless, the Conference did reaffirm the 1995 commitment to making full-scope safeguards a condition of supplying nuclear-related technologies and material, despite China's reassertion of its reservations.

New Pledge on Nuclear Disarmament

In the agreement brokered first in a subsidiary body chaired by Ambassador Clive Pearson and then in intense negotiations with the New Agenda, reproduced below, the nuclear powers pledged an "unequivocal undertaking... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals". The NPT Parties underscored the necessity of achieving the early entry into force of the CTBT and prompt negotiations on a fissile material production ban, presently deadlocked in the Conference on Disarmament. While supporting the full implementation of START II, recently ratified by the Russian Duma, the parties urged the United States and Russia to conclude START III. Raising concerns that the nuclear powers had not been taking their disarmament obligations seriously enough and that progress had stalled since the end of the Cold War, the non-nuclear powers identified several important steps which must be pursued over the next five years in addition to the bilateral strategic arms reductions currently underway. According to the programme of action contained in the agreement on next steps, the nuclear powers have promised:

Furthermore, the programme of next steps for nuclear disarmament called for a moratorium on nuclear testing pending entry into force of the CTBT, and emphasised the 'principle of irreversibility' in nuclear arms control. This is important because of the current tendency among some of the nuclear states to recycle the plutonium, highly enriched uranium or other components from dismantled nuclear weapons so that they can be used again to make new or refurbished nuclear warheads.

The final two days

Early on what should have been the last day of the Conference, China accepted the text on transparency that had been holding up agreement on the P-5/NAC paper on next steps for nuclear disarmament (under paragraph 4 (c) of the 1995 Principles and Objectives), and the negotiations on the disarmament review (from Main Committee I) began to fall into place, after acrimonious discussions among around 16 delegations (P-5 plus New Agenda 7 plus 4, including Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia and Germany) which continued well past midnight on Thursday.

China's agreement and the final compromises from the New Agenda on the disarmament review paved the way for the disarmament sections to be discussed and agreed by the wider conference. At this point, the disagreement between the United States and Iraq became intense, as the Conference realised that it could have a success on its hands.

The US-Iraq stand-off concerned the language of a few paragraphs in the draft paper from Subsidiary Body 2 on regional issues. The chair of this subsidiary body, Ambassador Christopher Westdal of Canada, had been asked by Baali to continue his negotiations. Because of the refusal of the Americans to meet the Iraqis face to face, Westdal had to shuttle from room to room, conveying messages and text between the separate Iraqi and US huddles. As May 19 extended for forty hours, the United States delegation became concerned about rumours that they might have been planning all along for a failed Conference, and may never have intended the earlier agreements on disarmament to stick; having been surprised by the Russian and Chinese concessions on disarmament, the argument went, the United States was now looking to Iraq to provide the scapegoat for wrecking the Conference. Unfortunately, while most delegations agreed with noting the IAEA's statement that it had been unable to confirm Iraq's compliance with its NPT obligations, many felt that this should be done under 'safeguards' and not regional issues, or that it would be more appropriate to raise these issues in the Security Council. There was also concern at the way in which the United States was using Iraqi non-compliance as a counterweight to Egypt's argument that Israel must be named as a non-adherent to the Treaty. Both were important, but the linkage made by the United States was not widely supported. In the end, following high level intervention from Robert Einhorn and John Holum, the United States agreed to a form of wording that Iraq was also prepared to accept, noting the recent IAEA inspections and recognising that since the "cessation of IAEA inspections in Iraq on 16 December 1998", the IAEA "has not been in a position to provide any assurance of Iraq's compliance under UN Security Council Resolution 687".

That agreement resulted in a flurry of activity to resolve outstanding issues from Main Committee II, including Belarus' proposal on a Central and Eastern European Nuclear Weapon Free Space (mentioned in generalities but not explicitly, due to opposition from 15 other states in the region); export controls (mostly deleted); safeguards (muddied); the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion (noted by title but not described); and a further paragraph aimed at Israel, India and Pakistan, which was slightly modified.

By 5.00 pm on Saturday (but still officially May 19) the final document was adopted by consensus. It amalgamated the reports of the three Main Committees and two subsidiary bodies, and included the President's draft on "improving the effectiveness of the strengthened review process for the NPT". There followed around 20 speeches, some of which gave national reservations on the text just adopted, while others were reportedly filled with thanks and congratulations. Since the earphones were generally absent or faulty in the area of the General Assembly roped off for NGOs, and having exhausted all options for requesting the Conference to seat the NGOs where we could hear adequately, I gave up searching for a fully functioning earphone and settled for intermittent sound, not always in English. This was quite entertaining, but since my notes are incomplete for reasons beyond my control, I do not feel sufficiently confident to report on the final, ostensibly public, plenary.

In the hope that more documents and speeches become available, Disarmament Diplomacy 46, due out in early June, expects to carry a more comprehensive summary and analysis of the Sixth NPT Review Conference. Enormous thanks are due to Jenni Rissanen for her research assistance, unfailing patience, and good humour.

Programme of Action (Next Steps) on Nuclear Disarmament

Paragraph 15 of the final document enshrined the forward-looking elements which may be regarded as a Programme of Action (Next Steps) on Nuclear Disarmament. This was crafted first by Clive Pearson and then in the P-5/NAC negotiations [Check text with final document, in case of error]. It was adopted by consensus as part of the final document.

15. The Conference agrees on the following practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and paragraphs 3 and 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament":

  1. The importance and urgency of signatures and ratifications, without delay and without conditions and in accordance with constitutional processes, to achieve the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  2. A moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions pending entry into force of that Treaty.
  3. The necessity of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in accordance with the statement of the Special Coordinator in 1995 and the mandate contained therein, taking into consideration both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives. The Conference on Disarmament is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years.
  4. The necessity of establishing in the Conference on Disarmament an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament. The Conference on Disarmament is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate establishment of such a body.
  5. The principle of irreversibility to apply to nuclear disarmament, nuclear and other related arms control and reduction measures.
  6. An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.
  7. The early entry into force and full implementation of START II and the conclusion of START III as soon as possible while preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons, in accordance with its provisions.
  8. The completion and implementation of the Trilateral Initiative between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
  9. Steps by all the nuclear weapon States leading to nuclear disarmament in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all:

    • Further efforts by the nuclear weapon States to reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally.
    • Increased transparency by the nuclear weapon States with regard to their nuclear weapons capabilities and the implementation of agreements pursuant to Article VI and as a voluntary confidence-building measure to support further progress on nuclear disarmament.
    • The further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons, based on unilateral initiatives and as an integral part of the nuclear arms reduction and disarmament process.
    • Concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems.
    • A diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimise the risk that these weapons ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination.
    • The engagement as soon as appropriate of all the nuclear weapon States in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.
    • Arrangements by all nuclear weapon States to place, as soon as practicable, fissile material designated by each of them as no longer required for military purposes under IAEA or other relevant international verification and arrangements for the disposition of such material for peaceful purposes, to ensure that such material remains permanently outside of military programmes.

  10. Reaffirmation that the ultimate objective of the efforts of States in the disarmament process is general and complete disarmament under effective international control.
  11. Regular reports, within the framework of the NPT strengthened review process, by all States parties on the implementation of Article VI and paragraph 4 (c) of the 1995 Decision on "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament", and recalling the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice of 8 July 1996.
  12. The further development of the verification capabilities that will be required to provide assurance of compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapon free world.

2000 The Acronym Institute.

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