October 13, 2009
It is an oft-repeated truism to assert that the 2010 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must succeed if we are to meet the 21 st century threats posed by nuclear weapons. However, what success in May looks like is often undefined. The Middle Powers Initiative, at an October 13 seminar co-sponsored by the Government of Switzerland, attempted to clarify the meaning of a Review Conference success. Seventy-four representatives from governments, NGOs and UN staff gathered for the event.
Ambassador Jürg Streuli of Switzerland opened the panel discussion by reaffirming the “shared understanding that failure (at the Review Conference) is not an option.” He noted several harbingers of success, such as the adoption of Security Council resolution 1887, brought about through a Security Council meeting of heads of state, led by President Obama, and the upcoming nuclear terrorism conference to be hosted by the United States next year. He expressed hope that discussions such as these are needed “to give new life to the NPT bargain, of which no alternative exists.”
At the most basic level, according to Ambassador Henrik Salander, MPI Chairman, 2010 success can be defined as “one or more consensus documents with which all states parties feel that they can live for the foreseeable future.” Further, he added, that consensus outcome must be perceived as meaningful to some extent, and largely representative, and which is not promptly ignored or reinterpreted, as after 2000.” Previous conferences which achieved this degree of success did so by varying ways; in 1995, Conference President Jayantha Dhanapala’s “innovative conference management” and “creative individual diplomacy from delegations” paved the way for the package of decisions, despite the lack of a representative negotiating structure. In 2000, the achievement of the Thirteen Steps was the result of the efforts of the New Agenda Coalition, which Ambassador Salander believes “will probably not be coherent enough and bridge-building enough to be a driving force… like it was in 2000”. He warned, though, that the nuclear five will “come looking for a negotiating counterpart” again, and implied hope that “there will be other clusters or coalitions of states parties willing to step up and take a coordinating role.”
Amb. Salander highlighted several key issues to be addressed in 2010, paramount of them are the failure to diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies and the Middle East, two key features of the 1995 and 2000 documents, respectively. Of the latter, Amb. Salander viewed positively the “quite tangible steps” that “managed to live through the different drafting stages” at the last PrepCom, such as proposals to establish a special coordinator, a subsidiary body and/or a future special conference on the subject. Regarding the role of nuclear weapons in policy, Salander asserted that “clear expression is needed of what the ambitions are of the nuclear weapon states to downgrade their reliance on nuclear weapons,” citing specifically the need to eliminate counterforce and counter-value doctrines.
Ambassador Susan Burk, US Special Representative of the President on Non-Proliferation, utilized both her formal presentation and her extemporaneous comments in the discussion period to emphasize the Obama administration’s commitment to multilateral processes and, within those, to strengthen all three pillars of the non-proliferation regime. She highlighted some of the key objectives of the US Government, as laid out in Obama’s Prague speech, including: reducing the number of nuclear weapons in existing arsenals as well as their salience in national security strategy; entry-into-force of the Comprehensive nuclear Test-Ban Treaty at the “earliest possible time”; the negotiation and conclusion of a verifiable Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty; increased resources for the International Atomic Energy Agency; strengthened safeguards; universalized Additional Protocol; enhanced consequences for withdrawal for the treaty, and; the creation of an internationally-administered fuel bank. Ambassador Burk urged non-nuclear weapons states to view calls for strengthened non-proliferation, not as increased burdens on them, or as a “favor” to the nuclear weapons states, but as part of the “collective responsibility” of the entire international community.
Simply put, Mexico defines success as having produced a “substantive outcome document,” adopted by consensus or by vote, according to the Director-General for the United Nations, Ambassador Pablo Macedo. While he acknowledged the positive, new conditions, he warned that, at the PrepCom, once negotiations got down to “the nitty gritty,” most delegations continued “business as usual” and maintained their same positions. Amb. Macedo also warned against over enthusiasm for the change in the US position, noting that other nuclear weapons states, such as China and France in particular, have been more “ambiguous” in their commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world. He echoed Amb. Salander’s high value on the Middle East, stressing that without “realistic” agreement on next steps there, any outcome document will be “a recipe for failure.”
All presentations succeeded in their aim of providing food for thought, as demonstrated by the lively and dynamic discussion that ensued. Issues relating to universality and the Middle East, as well as disagreements over what engendered success and failure in the past, were raised. There is a general acceptance of the need to maintain past documents in some form, but equal acknowledgement that some core elements are now irrelevant in today’s changed geopolitical landscape, including the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the changed dynamics in the Middle East.
Several participants voiced a preference for the Conference to adopt “practical and concrete steps” to be taken in a timeframe with a mechanism to examine progress. With broad recognition to maintain balance of the three pillars, whatever steps are agreed upon will have to be undertaken by all States parties, which share an equal responsibility for ensuring a strengthened non-proliferation and disarmament regime.