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Majority Views Sidelined at NPT Review Conference

By Jim Wurst
Global Security Newswire

UNITED NATIONS — The failure on Friday of the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference to come to even the most minimal consensus solidifies the divide between the United States, which wants to focus only on the proliferation concerns raised by a few states, and those states, in particular Iran, that do not want to be singled out.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of nations are caught in-between, arguing that the balance between disarmament and nonproliferation that is at the heart of the treaty must be maintained (see GSN , May 27).

While speeches and working papers issued during the four-week conference clearly showed that most nations agreed on a range of vital issues, the consensus rule gave a handful of countries veto power over any substantive decisions. There was an extraordinary show on the final day of undiplomatic frustration, and even anger, that the conference had become bogged down over procedural issues and that it had produced little of value. Participants agreed that the treaty and the arms control regime as a whole is under extreme stress.

The conference has “missed a vital opportunity to strengthen our collective security against the many nuclear threats to which all states and all peoples are vulnerable,” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a statement released Friday. He warned that states’ “inability to strengthen their collective efforts is bound to weaken the treaty and the broader NPT-based regime over time.”

The conference ended Friday afternoon after the three main committees —dealing individually with disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology — failed to reach consensus on any substantive issue.  The disarmament committee submitted a report without achieving consensus on the text, while the other two panels could not even agree to that.

That meant that the conference produced no recommendations for reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and cannot until the next review session in 2010.

Behind the scenes, diplomats blamed Iran and Egypt for intransigence over a few keys issues, notably restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology and on Israel’s nuclear weapons program. However, the bulk of the criticism was levelled at the United States for pursuing an agenda guaranteed to fail: condemning Iran while dismissing the disarmament commitments the United States and the other nuclear-armed powers made at the 1995 and 2000 review conferences.

“We have let the pursuit of short-term, parochial interests override the collective long- term interest in sustaining this treaty’s authority and integrity,” Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer said.

In an obvious reference to the United States, Meyer said, “To deny or denigrate the agreements of the past is to undermine all the political commitments made in implementation of the treaty and to cast doubt upon the credibility of engagements entered into by governments.  If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never be able to build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.”

New Zealand’s Ambassador Tim Caughley said he was “frustrated”that there was no progress on “addressing our profound proliferation concerns” and “frustrated too that our efforts to build on the practical steps on nuclear disarmament agreed by consensus in 2000 … have reaped such a limited return.”  The outcome “needs to be viewed in the context of our broader malaise and paralysis that abounds in multilateral disarmament diplomacy,” he added.

Iran had no interest in mincing words. Ambassador Javad Zarif blamed the “extremist attitude” of the United States, not only for the deadlocked conference, but also for the precarious state of arms control.

“The policies and practices” of the United States over the last five years “clearly indicate what lies ahead if they remain unchecked,” Zarif said.

“The abysmal record, achieved unilaterally by the United States in the short span of five years, testifies to a mentality which seeks solutions solely through demonstration of power,” he added. The United States wanted the conference “to fail so that it could pursue its own unilateral initiatives and priorities through other, more exclusive bodies.  That we should not allow,” Zarif said.

French Ambassador Francois Rivasseau sought to stress the points of agreement during the negotiations, rather than the outcome.

“The common elements among the broad majority of countries are much stronger than the divisions,” he told reporters after the conference. While there was no substantial outcome, he added, “Nevertheless, we have an outcome.”

Another positive development, Rivasseau said, was that the European Union “has been quite constructive all along and it’s something new. … The EU has emerged as a consensus builder, absolutely key in getting consensus on some decisions. … We have not been divided, [that is] maybe an encouraging factor.”

The United States was even more positive about the outcome.   Building consensus “remains far from complete,” said Ambassador Jackie Sanders, but the United States “is convinced that we, the parties to the NPT, have taken important steps here, which need to continue” on issues such as noncompliance indicators and consequences for withdrawal from the treaty.

Most of Sanders’ speech at the end of the conference focused on other nonproliferation initiatives initiatives, including the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Group of Eight Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.  None of these arrangements are treaty-based or legally
binding, reflecting the preference of the Bush administration for ad hoc agreements over treaties.

Nongovernmental critics saw this as part of a pattern.

“The U.S. [believes] objectives for the treaty, in other words, nonproliferation, can be achieved through other, more preferable means, some which do not contain disarmament or other accountable measures to be imposed on them,” said Rhianna Tyson of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  “That’s why her [Sanders’] concluding statement focused on PSI and the G-8.  They will use the failure of this conference as further justification for abandoning multilateralism and pursuing these unaccountable, nontransparent plurilateral initiatives instead.”

Under a program called Reaching Critical Will, Tyson edited a daily report of government and nongovernmental activities during the review conference.

Other nongovernmental experts tracking the conference were equally blunt. Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy called the results “spineless.”

The failure, she wrote in an e-mail report, “was due to politics, especially the entrenched positions and proliferation-promoting policies of a tiny number of influential states, including the United States and Iran, as they pursued their narrowly defined self- interests and sought to keep open their different nuclear options. At the expense of the security interests of the vast majority, a few others facilitated or coasted behind.”

Greenpeace said the delegates “failed to seize the opportunity of reducing the nuclear threat, putting their own nuclear self-interests before the desire for disarmament.”

“This meeting needed to strengthen the treaty and send a strong signal on disarmament and on proliferation of nuclear weapons.  It has failed to do that and as a result the world is a far more dangerous place,” the organization said in a statement.

What is in the Nonexistent Reports

Even though none of the main committees entered any consensus documents into the official record, drafts circulated outside the conference rooms and several nongovernmental organizations posted them on the Internet.  Most delegations argued that — despite not reaching consensus — valuable ideas were floated that could still be pursued in other forums.

The following are overviews of some of the key elements at the conference:

Nuclear Disarmament: Article 6 of the treaty and the most of the decisions made at the 1995 and 2000 review conferences call on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament.  During this year’s review conference, the United States pursued a policy of downgrading those decisions.  Such a position found little support even among the other nuclear powers.

The draft paper from Main Committee I repeats the language of the 13 disarmament steps agreed to at the 2000 conference, including “the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”  The draft only “recognizes the importance” of the Moscow Treaty on reducing the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, reflecting countries’ unease that a pact that would never be verified or enforced is not ideal (see GSN , May 17);

The draft also includes a number of additional goals, including: looking forward to the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which the United States rejects; calling on “the nuclear-weapon states to forgo any efforts to research and develop new types of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and calling on the nuclear powers “to resolve further to restrict the deployment of nuclear weapons,
their operational readiness and their potential role as defined in national security doctrines.”  The latter is a clear reference to the U.S.’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (see GSN , March 11, 2002).

Security Assurances: Non-nuclear-armed treaty members have long argued that they deserve legally binding assurances that the nuclear powers would never use atomic weapons against them. There is no such legal instrument and only China has made an unequivocal pledge in this regard.

Papers from Main Committee I ask the nuclear states “to respect fully their existing commitments with regard to security assurances pending the conclusion of multilaterally negotiated legally binding security assurances” and suggest such an instrument could be concluded by the 2010 review conference. On the other hand, the text says such assurances would be “not applicable if any beneficiary is in material breach” of its treaty commitments.

Iran:  The United States stood virtually alone in condemning Iran for lying about the intentions of its nuclear program.  While the majority of nations clearly felt the Iranian case needed attention, countries were unwilling to endorse the U.S. hard line.

As a result, the language in Main Committee II was unacceptable to both the United States and Iran. The draft language “notes” that Iran has “committed itself to full transparency,” while citing the view from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Tehran’s lack of disclosure about its program has created “a confidence deficit.”  The text calls on Iran to “fully implement” the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and to “provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes through the cessation and dismantlement of its enrichment and
reprocessing programs.” It also called for a settlement “through diplomatic means.” The United States rejected the language as too soft, while Iran did not want to be singled out in any fashion and has stated publicly many times that it will not permanently end its uranium enrichment activities (see related GSN story, today).

North Korea: No language on North Korea’s program was produced.  Main Committee II had asked the states participating in the six-party talks to write some language.

The Middle East: As part of the package for the treaty’s indefinite extension in 1995, the parties adopted a resolution endorsing negotiations on a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The draft Main Committee II document said the 1995 resolution “remains valid until the goals and objectives are achieved,” that “the establishment of such a zone would also contribute to the aims and objectives of the Middle East peace process,” and that all states in the region should place their nuclear facilities under
safeguards.  Israel, the only country in the region not party to the treaty, is the only state without safeguards.

Noncompliance: The United States made treaty noncompliance the centerpiece of its agenda at the review conference. While no one disputed the treaty is under stress because of a few parties not complying with their obligations, countries were hesitant to lay too much emphasis on a nonproliferation concern when so many disarmament issues were not being addressed.

The Main Committee II draft notes “the importance of addressing all compliance challenges. These challenges pose a significant test for the treaty and need to be met firmly in order to uphold the treaty’s integrity and the authority of the IAEA safeguards system.”

In a clear rebuke to any unilateral action to deal with noncompliance, the paper calls the International Atomic Energy Agency the “competent authority” to deal with verifying safeguards and “notes its conviction that nothing should be done to undermine the authority of the IAEA in this regard. States parties that have concerns regarding noncompliance with the safeguards agreements of the treaty by the states parties should direct such concerns, along with supporting evidence and information, to the IAEA”

Peaceful Uses: The grand bargain of the treaty is that states parties that renounce nuclear weapons will be granted access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Here the text reflected the concerns of most states that access to nuclear technology should be available but with a view to tighter controls to avoid abuse.

The Main Committee III text “reaffirms” the “inalienable right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” On the other hand, that right is not unconditional —a key argument of the United States. Nations “must conform with the obligations under [the treaty] and the pursuit of peaceful purposes in good faith,” the paper says.  The conference “agrees” to “actively cooperate … for the peaceful applications of nuclear energy, conditional upon adherence to IAEA safeguards agreements and NPT commitments,” to “suspend nuclear cooperation with states found to be in violation with” those commitments, and to “seek to further the
development of a new generation of proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors and to minimize the need for highly enriched uranium for peaceful purposes.”

Safeguards: Closely connected to issues of peaceful uses is the question of safeguards, the system of inspections to ensure states do not cheat.

“The conference calls upon all states parties, which have not yet done so, to conclude and bring into force comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreements without further delay,” the Main Committee III’s draft document says. “The conference affirms the importance of the Additional Protocol as an integral part of the IAEA safeguards system and urges all states, particularly those with significant nuclear activities which have not yet done so, to sign and bring into force Additional Protocols without further delay.”

However, the text stops short of declaring that the protocol should be the universal standard for compliance, as some states argued.  Addressing the revelation of illicit supply networks, the text said, “States parties recognize the increased need for all states to reinforce their efforts towards the establishment of improved control mechanisms and enhanced coordination among states and among international organizations, in accordance with the United Nations charter and international law.”

Withdrawal: North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty highlighted the problem that there are no penalties if a country abandons the pact to pursue nuclear weapons.

The Main Committee III draft recognizes this problem but equivocates on a definitive solution, noting that “withdrawal remains a sovereign right for states parties” and if a state wants to exit, others should “address the legitimate security needs of the withdrawing party.”  The draft says materials acquired by withdrawing party “must remain subject to peaceful use under IAEA safeguards” and that supplying countries “should consider negotiating the incorporation of dismantling and/or return clauses in the event of withdrawal.”  A key proposal floated on this point was to make such clauses mandatory in contracts.

Universality:  The texts of all the main committees call on the three nuclear-weapon states outside the treaty — India, Israel and Pakistan — to join the NPT as non-nuclear states.

Conference on Disarmament:  The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has been
deadlocked for years, unable to agree on what issues to place on its agenda.

The Main Committee I draft calls on the conference “to pursue and implement options for enhanced multilateral and other action on nuclear disarmament, including compliance aspects” and encourages states “to demonstrate the necessary flexibility to enable adoption of a program of work that will advance crucial NPT-related tasks.”


June 2005


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