The Blame Game Obstructs the Path to NPT 50th Anniversary

Viewpoint by Tariq Rauf

Photo: Syed Hasrin Syed Hussin, Chair of the Third Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference, briefs press on the closing of the third and final session prior to the 2020 Review Conference. 10 May 2019. UN Headquarters, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tariq Rauf was Alternate Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) NPT Delegation 2002-2010, and has attended all NPT meetings as an official delegate since 1987 through 2019. Personal views are expressed here. Click here for his previous article.

NEW YORK (IDN) – In addition to discord and divisions over nuclear disarmament, between the five nuclear-weapon States (NWS) parties, along with their allies, and most of the non-nuclear-weapon States, a contentious issue concerns the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the region of the Middle East (MEWMDFZ). [2019-05-21 | P06] HINDI | ITALIAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | 

At the 1995 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review and Extension Conference, the decision had to be taken on the future course of the Treaty. In order to get the support of the States of the Arab Group and of Iran, the three depositary States of the NPT – the Russian Federation (USSR), UK and the USA – co-sponsored a Resolution on the MEWMDFZ that became an integral part of the inter-linked package that allowed for the indefinite extension of the NPT.

The 2000 NPT review conference called upon Israel by name to accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon State and for the implementation of the 1995 resolution. The 2010 NPT review conference mandated a regional conference on the zone to be convened by 2012; however, the U.S. unilaterally postponed that conference leading to criticism by the Arab States, Iran, the Russian Federation and the Group of Non-Aligned States (NAM)

The 2015 NPT review conference collapsed into failure when the U.S. followed by Canada and the UK vetoed a proposal to hold such a conference by 2016 under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General.

In 2018, the General Assembly adopted a decision by vote mandating the UN Secretary-General to convene a MEWMDFZ conference before the end of 2019. According to unconfirmed reports circulating at the PrepCom, it is alleged that some Western States are working behind the scene to prevent the convening of such a conference, but it is known that some States remain opposed to the proposals advanced by the Arab States.

In general, led by the U.S., Western Group and EU States, have opposed putting pressure on Israel to attend such a conference leading to unhappiness and anger on the part of the Arab States, Iran and NAM. This issue once again stumped agreement at the 2019 NPT PrepCom. Even though now there are serious divisions between some members of the Arab Group, and also with Iran and Syria; nonetheless on the matter of the MEWMDFZ the group manages to coalesce behind a common position.

Given the precipitous decline in international relations over the past few years, not surprisingly there is growing fatigue and frustration in the inability and powerlessness of the majority of non-NWS to move on nuclear disarmament through the NPT review process.

Consequently, many diplomats and research institute experts are flailing around attacking the efficacy of the review process, while largely ignoring the corrosive effects of worsening political relations, hardened positions, lack of flexibility, decline in negotiating skills for compromise and growing ignorance of the sophistication of the strengthened review process.

NPT review conferences were never designed to be forums for either negotiating legally binding treaties or conventions on nuclear weapons, for nuclear verification measures for IAEA safeguards, or for battling over major international political controversies and resolving differences especially relating to ‘compliance’ with IAEA safeguards by non-NWS.

Since 2014 in particular, the NPT review process has been eroding and deteriorating with loss of civility and respect in discourse, lack of political will and competence to develop common ground in support of the NPT, retracting agreed steps and actions under the NPT review process, disregard of international law while touting the preservation of a so-called “rules based international order”, and blaming the review process for the inability of States parties to join hands to strengthen the integrity and authority of the NPT.

Just as the band playing on the deck of the Titanic could not prevent its sinking, diplomats are unable and unwilling to reverse the steady undermining of the NPT strengthened review process as they persist in defending entrenched positions, are unwilling to find common ground in the interest of preserving the NPT, and are failing to fully implement the relevant guidance from the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT review conferences.

In accordance with the mandate for the third and final session of the PrepCom to prepare a report containing recommendations to the review conference, the Chairman, Ambassador Syed Mohamad Haskin (of Malaysia), circulated his draft report to delegations on May 3. The draft recommendations which on the whole were relatively balanced and broadly reflected the views of States, inter alia, included:

  • Reaffirmation of the commitment to promote the full implementation of the provisions of the Treaty, as well as the reaffirmation of the previous commitments of the 1995 NPTREC, the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences;
  • Call on nuclear-weapon States to cease the development of new types of nuclear weapons, and refrain from qualitative improvements to existing nuclear weapons, and further minimize the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies;
  • Call for the entry into force as soon as possible of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and pending the entry into force of the need to maintain moratoria on nuclear test explosions;
  • Continue efforts towards the full implementation and the realisation of the objectives of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and take into account the conference for the negotiation of a binding treaty on the creation of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction to be held in 2019;
  • Note the strong support for the continued implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal); and
  • Urge the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

Given the prevailing deleterious international security situation and ongoing squabbling among States it was not a surprise that, on May 8 and 9, the Chair’s draft report while perfunctorily praised was attacked from all sides for not adequately reflecting various idiosyncratic views of different States and many suggestions were made for “improving” the document.

As is usual practice, the Chair then circulated a revised draft on the evening of May 9, which in effect strengthened the text on nuclear disarmament, referred to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and included a call on India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon States.

On the last day, May 10, there was near bedlam as State after State mostly from the Western side criticized the revised draft as being unacceptable and these States then stated that they were prepared to work on the basis of the original draft which they now miraculously found either as a basis for moving forward or to be adopted unchanged!

On the other hand, many though not all NAM States praised the revised draft and indicated their willingness to accept it despite its shortcomings. The complaints related to the language on nuclear disarmament, the additional protocol to safeguards agreements, the JCPOA and Iran’s compliance, non-compliance by Syria with the NPT regarding its undeclared construction of a nuclear reactor in 2007, the Middle East, nuclear security, North Korea denuclearization and other matters.

It is noteworthy that the Chair performed his duties with grace and humour and maintained the confidence of the PrepCom throughout, though on the last two days his luck ran out when several States expressed their criticisms of his draft recommendations as discussed in this report.

At 11:22 EST New York on May 10, the 2019 NPT PrepCom Chair announced that in the absence of consensus on both the original and revised draft recommendations, he would circulate them as “Recommendations by the Chair to the 2020 NPT Review Conference”.

Yet again, NPT States abjectly failed to agree on Recommendations after harping for nearly two weeks on the importance of the NPT as the cornerstone of the global nuclear governance system and highlighting the significance of the 50th anniversary of the NPT in 2020. One astute participant was heard to mutter under his breath rather cruelly that the right and left brain hemispheres of some delegates were disconnected and they were suffering from acute disconnection syndrome! [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 May 2019]

Photo: Syed Hasrin Syed Hussin, Chair of the Third Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference, briefs press on the closing of the third and final session prior to the 2020 Review Conference. 10 May 2019. UN Headquarters, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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