by Tariq Rauf
VIENNA, 10 May 2017: Atomic bombs and associated nuclear materials pose the greatest risk to humanity, not civilian nuclear facilities, or nuclear activities under IAEA full-scope safeguards, Brazil has warned the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom).
Only a small amount of the most sensitive nuclear material – highly-enriched uranium and separated plutonium in possession of a few nuclear-armed states – is subject to any multilateral verification or oversight mechanism Brazil said. Its comments were made on day seven of the PrepCom in discussion on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the strengthened review process for the NPT, and ways of preventing withdrawal from the NPT. The meeting paves the way for the 2020 review conference of the NPT.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it recognized the right of every member state of the NPT to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and as a means of addressing climate change and energy security concerns. It emphasized the importance of increased accessibility and broader application of nuclear technology in fields such as human health, agriculture, water management and industrial applications. The UAE stated that nuclear power programmes should be developed in a fully transparent manner, abiding by the highest standards for nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.
Canada proposed all member states, including weapons possessors, could contribute to strengthening the NPT review process by regularly reporting their fulfillment of commitments to all articles of the Treaty. Step 12 of the “13 Practical Steps” from the NPT 2000 review, and actions 20 and 21 in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, called for such commitments. Canada urged all NPT States to voluntarily provide information on their efforts to implement all articles, as well as key political agreements from previous review conferences, given the intertwined nature of the Treaty’s three pillars (non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses).
Canada said it had already led by example by submitting annual reports to NPT meetings on its efforts to implement all articles of the Treaty, the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, the 13 Practical Steps from 2000 and, most recently, the 2010 Action Plan. It said this type of reporting provided the highest level of transparency and could contribute greatly to confidence-building among states. To facilitate the filing of country reports on commitments under the 2010 NPT Action Plan, Canada and its Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) partners had submitted a working paper on transparency [WP 17] that set out a common reporting template for all 64 action plan items all NPT members could use and submit to the 2020 Review Conference.
Thailand proposed seven actions to strengthen the review process: 1) the identification and nomination of chairs for all the PrepCom sessions and for the Review Conference for each review cycle as early as possible, to allow the chair-designate sufficient time to prepare and coordinate to ensure the smooth conduct and success of each PrepCom and the RevCon; 2) convening regional dialogue and meetings to collect members views and regional perspectives prior to a PrepCom; 3) each PrepCom to follow a streamlined and outcome-oriented approach – with the chair identifying key issues under each ‘cluster’ for the PrepCom to concentrate on – not limiting discussion on any other topic of relevance and focussing on the objective of arriving at possible action points or recommendations to be incorporated in the final outcomes document of the RevCon – and for succeeding PrepCom sessions; 4) the importance of transparency regarding the implementation of commitments under the NPT; 5) NPT members to discuss a standard reporting format and appropriate reporting intervals; 5) further efforts to promote the universal adherence to the Treaty led by chairs-designate as well as the depositary governments of the NPT in reaching out to and engaging with all states that remain outside the NPT, in particular the nuclear-armed states; 6) further strengthening of Article X on withdrawal to discourage any member from withdrawal despite each state’s sovereign right to do so; and 7) to benefit from the participation of civil society, industry and academia in the review process.
Australia said the NPT review process had generally worked well and provided a crucial avenue for States to work collectively to strengthen the NPT despite its imperfections; and that as with progress in any multilateral context, the most important ingredient always would be “political will.” Australia said it was open to considering ideas for re-energising the review process. It supported exploring ways to capture progress at each PrepCom and feed it into the next meeting, such as the concept of a “rolling” outcomes document even though at present no consensus had emerged in support of this. Australia recommended increasing effective participation of women in the review process, and across the three pillars of the NPT more broadly, and that it had been heartening to hear several statements delivered by women delegates but these still were too few. Australia noted that achieving gender equity in this and other NPT discussions was not just good policy but also had the potential to enhance the capability and effectiveness of NPT processes and their outcomes.
The United States proposed developing a “culture of consensus in decision-making” and work on the basis of consensus in the NPT review process. It said that the culture of consensus building and consensus-based decision making had protected members’ individual interests and promoted collective interests for nearly a half-century and that this culture of consensus should provide guidance for the next three years for a productive review in 2020, and into the next half-century. The US said that the need for consensus forces a focus on common interests—the security and development benefits that all states gain from the Treaty, the collective threats faced from challenges to it, and the shared obligation to build the capacity needed to support the Treaty and strengthen its implementation. The US further stated that while positions on specific issues may clash, the need for consensus helps to recall the fundamental harmonious interests that rest at the core of the Treaty and larger non-proliferation regime to which it is central. In this regard, the US looked forward to continuing the dialogue to recall common interests, to build on areas of longstanding consensus, and to identify new areas where consensus should be possible.
Speaking on the item on withdrawal from the NPT (Article X), Iran stated that contrary to some arguments there is neither necessity nor urgency to focus on this issue and instead the consideration should be of priorities and challenges emanating from the non-implementation of disarmament obligations, the development and modernization of nuclear weapons, and nuclear-weapon sharing arrangements. Iran noted that the right to withdraw from international treaties is a sovereign right explicitly reaffirmed in article X of the NPT; any proposal that went beyond its provisions or was aimed at limiting or conditioning this sovereign right could not be accepted. It added that the text of article X left the determination of the existence of extraordinary events jeopardizing a state’s national interests solely at the discretion of the withdrawing state; as such, there was no room for reinterpretation. For that reason, Iran stressed that any proposal aimed at reinterpreting the articles of the NPT was tantamount to amending the Treaty – which required following the procedures stipulated in article VIII. Iran reiterated that the main challenge facing the Treaty was the lack of progress on fulfilment of their nuclear disarmament obligations by the nuclear-weapon states.
The US responded that since North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Treaty in January 2003, three Review Conferences had been unable to reach consensus on ways to discourage similar action in the future. The US clarified that there were no proposals to amend the Treaty or to limit the legitimate right of withdrawal – a right that had been woven into the fabric of the NPT. However, it was a basic principle of international law that a withdrawing state remained responsible for any unresolved non-compliance prior to its withdrawal. The US stated that vigorous enforcement of this principle, and holding a withdrawing state fully accountable for such violations did not infringe its rights but protected the interests of all other NPT states.
South Africa stated that the withdrawal provision contained in article X acknowledged the right of sovereign states to withdraw from the NPT and was not an unusual provision in multilateral treaties. It noted that article X of the NPT clearly provided that a state may withdraw from the Treaty in the exercise of its sovereign right in certain defined circumstances and in accordance with the procedures set out in that article. Therefore, the question of withdrawal was not an issue open to interpretation. It cautioned that care should be taken that proposals to interpret article X did not create ambiguity, as such legal uncertainty was undesirable and could undermine the Treaty itself. Malaysia noted that loose interpretations of the provisions of the Treaty could create greater uncertainties, or even loopholes, that would not serve the interests of the Treaty. South Africa said that through the faithful and balanced implementation of the Treaty, no state would feel the need to invoke article X.
The NPT opened for signature in 1968; it is the most widely adhered to multilaterally negotiated arms control treaty with 193 member states – only India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and South Sudan remain outside the treaty.
(Tariq Rauf, a director of Atomic Reporters, was alternate head of the IAEA NPT Delegation 2002-2013. All views expressed are his own)