Prospects and challenges for the 2nd session of the NPT PrepCom

Apr 25 2013
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Sonia Drobysz, Geneva
On Monday, 22 April, the Preparatory Committee to the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons opened its second session in Geneva. VERTIC will attend part of the two-week event, the purpose of which is ‘to consider principles, objectives and ways in order to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, as well as its universality, and to make recommendations thereon to the Review Conference,’ as agreed in 1995 by NPT states parties when they decided to indefinitely extend the treaty and strengthen its review process.
The PrepCom involves reflections on the state of the NPT’s three pillars of disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The summary of the discussions will give a good indicator of the common denominator within states parties as well as of persistent disagreements on the NPT’s implementation.Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania, who presided over the 55th IAEA General Conference, in 2011, is the chair-designate for this second session. As he explained in his opening statement, he has been consulting intensively with states parties, NGOs and academia to assess the context for the session.
The climate surrounding the review process does not, however, seem favourable to smooth discussions. Cases of non-compliance with safeguards and non-proliferation obligations are far from being solved. North Korea’s recent nuclear test—its third—and repeated threats by it against the United States and South Korea constitute a serious challenge to the NPT and to international efforts aimed at strengthening the global non-proliferation regime, as the UN Security Council noted recently in resolution 2094. Discussions with Iran haven’t shown great progress either. After the ‘E3+3’ meeting in Almaty at the beginning of April, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton noted ‘it became clear that the positions of the E3+3 and Iran remain far apart on the substance.’ What’s more, while the sudden resignation of IAEA assistant Director General Rafael Grossi, officially announced on Sunday, 21 April, and the upcoming departure of IAEA Deputy Director General for safeguards Herman Nackaerts will not necessarily have much impact on the Iran talks, it will deprive ‘ the agency of the two officials who have spent the most time in the last two years talking with Iranians at senior levels,’ as Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has noted.
More generally, states and NGOs have deplored the lack of progress in implementing the action plan adopted by NPT states parties in 2010—especially in the field of disarmament. The monitoring report published in March by the Geneva-based NGO Reaching Critical Will highlights many yellow and red ‘traffic lights’, indicating that additional progress is needed to give full effect to the 64 measures agreed upon in 2010 and ensure that the purposes of the Preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realised.
Other measures discussed during the last review conference—while not part of the action plan per se—have also lacked support and seen only halting progress. Organising a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction was a key practical step of the 2010 NPT Final document, but that conference has yet to materialise, threatening a successful outcome at the next review conference, set for 2015.
Such difficulties will not necessarily lead to complete failure of the Geneva meeting. Threats from the Arab League to boycott the event after failure of the Middle East WMDFZ conference have, for instance, been dropped. Many non-proliferation experts have pointed out that ‘skipping the NPT meetings would mean forgoing an opportunity to use a high-profile gathering to spell out disappointment at the failure thus far to implement the Mideast zone objectives arising out of the 2010 review conference.’ In fact, in its opening statement to the PrepCom, the League of Arab States declared that NPT parties who had agreed to take responsibility for convening a conference in 2012 had ‘breached their responsibilities’ to do so.
The League also explained that ‘despite the resentment of the Arab States of the unjustified delay of the conference [they] have come to the Second Preparatory Committee to call upon the States parties to adopt a clear position demanding the conveners to hold the conference no later than the end of 2013.’
More importantly, states parties still value the importance of the NPT and are willing to join the discussions to help strengthen the regime. As Cornel Feruta reminded participants in his opening statement, ‘it is unanimously acknowledged that the NPT is the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime’ and ‘an essential instrument to our collective security.’
Furthermore, progresses on certain non-proliferation actions are noticeable. As underlined by the aforementioned monitoring report by Reaching Critical Will, ‘on the 23 action points related to non-proliferation, three are red (relating to the lack of universalization and export controls), nine are yellow, and twelve are green’, so ‘there has been more success in implementing in the area of non-proliferation than disarmament.’
One perennial challenge is to strengthen implementation of Article III of the treaty, which relates to detection and prevention of the diversion of nuclear material, equipment and technology through IAEA verification of nuclear material and activities. In that respect, states have yet to agree on a strengthened verification standard including a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol. It is worth noting, however, that 119 additional protocols are now in force, an increase of 18 since May 2010, when the last review conference was held. Moreover, many states, including the European Union members as well as Switzerland, encourage implementation of the so-called state-level concept to all states, promoting a safeguards approach that is more objectives-based and that considers all safeguards-relevant information about a state. By so doing the IAEA is able to focus its efforts where the risks of proliferation are greatest.
Extension of the IAEA’s verification mandate to other non-proliferation and disarmament obligations is also being promoted. The Non-Aligned Movement has, for instance, stressed ‘the statutory role of IAEA in nuclear disarmament, including applying safeguards on nuclear materials derived from the dismantling of nuclear weapons, and recognizes the capability of the Agency to verify nuclear disarmament agreements.’
In addition, the PrepCom should give NPT states parties an opportunity to emphasise the role of the IAEA not only in the field of safeguards and verification but also in ‘efforts to improve the global nuclear security framework and to promote its implementation,’ as noted by the ‘Vienna Group of Ten’, which gathers Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. Discussions in Geneva should help further the reflection on the future of the nuclear security summits process and its articulation with IAEA’s activities in the field of nuclear security, especially in light of the upcoming International Conference on Nuclear Security that will be held by the Agency this July.
Expectations on the success of the PrepCom should not be overly high, but one can reasonably hope that current tensions will not deadlock discussions and that the event will be a good opportunity for states parties to show support to the treaty and the regime and to come together in a constructive fashion. As UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane hoped in her opening remarks, the review process should not only be a ‘diagnosis instrument’ but also ‘a means for making prescriptions.’

Last changed: Apr 25 2013 at 3:30 PM