Dreaming of butterflies and unicorns as the nuclear arms control architecture collapses (Pt3)

A Special Report by Tariq Rauf

Tariq Rauf, Alternate Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) NPT Delegation 2002-2010, explains in this personal, three-part account how the third and final session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) unfolded in May, and how it fizzled out in disagreements over the pace and extent of nuclear disarmament at United Nations headquarters in New York. Rauf is known as ‘an encyclopedia’ on nuclear non-proliferation and the NPT. Personal views are expressed here.

Chairman’s Draft Recommendations

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 Hasrin (of Malaysia), circulated his draft report to delegations on Friday, 3rd May. 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;
  • A 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;
  • A call for entry into force as soon as possible of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and pending its entry into force the need to maintain moratoria on nuclear test explosions;
  • Reaffirmation that the IAEA is the competent authority responsible for verifying and assuring, in accordance with the Statute of IAEA and the IAEA safeguards system, compliance by states parties with the safeguards agreements undertaken in fulfilment of their obligations under the NPT;
  • Noted that the comprehensive safeguards agreement and the additional protocol represent the enhanced verification standard which enables the IAEA to provide increased assurances on the non-diversion of declared nuclear material and on the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities;
  • Reaffirmed the central role of the IAEA in strengthening the nuclear security framework globally and in coordinating international activities in the field of nuclear security;
  • Recalled that nothing in the Treaty should be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with the Treaty;
  • Acknowledged that each state party has the right to define its national energy policy and that nuclear power is expected to continue playing an important role in the energy mix of many countries;
  • Reaffirmed the central role of the IAEA in promoting international cooperation on nuclear safety-related matters, including through the establishment of nuclear safety standards;
  • Continuing 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;
  • Noted strong support for the continued implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; and
  • Urged 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 9th May that inter alia included:

  • Reaffirmation of the responsibility of all states parties to the full implementation of the Treaty and the importance of open, inclusive and transparent dialogue to achieve this end;
  • Expression of concern at the erosion of the treaty-based disarmament architecture and underscored the mutually reinforcing relationship of its relevant treaties;
  • A call for the elaboration of measures that can contribute to building confidence and to reduce the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, either intentionally, by miscalculation, or by accident, in the context of achieving nuclear disarmament;
  • Reiteration of the deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, including any intentional or accidental nuclear explosion and a call for further consideration to prevent the devastation that would be visited upon all humanity by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples; and reaffirm the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law;
  • Acknowledgement of the need for a legally-binding norm to prohibit nuclear weapons in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons;
  • Recognition that comprehensive safeguards agreements have been successful in their main focus of providing assurance regarding non-diversion of declared nuclear material and have also provided a limited level of assurance regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. Note that the implementation of measures specified in the model additional protocol provides, in an effective and efficient manner, increased confidence about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a state as a whole. Note also that numerous states are of the view that those measures have been introduced as an integral part of the IAEA safeguards system

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    . Also note that it is the sovereign decision of any state to conclude an additional protocol, but once in force, the additional protocol is a legal obligation;
  • Recognition of the indispensable role of science and technology, including nuclear science and technology, in achieving social and economic development for all states parties … call on the United Nations development system to work closely with the IAEA to maximize the potential role of nuclear science and technology for development;
  • Noted significant progress made on the establishment of the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan; also that the creation of mechanisms for assurance of nuclear fuel supply should not affect state parties’ rights under the Treaty and should be without prejudice to their national fuel cycle policies, while tackling the technical, legal and economic complexities surrounding these issues, including, in this regard, the requirement of IAEA full scope safeguards;
  • Recalled that all states should abide by the decision adopted by consensus at the IAEA General Conference on 18 September 2009 on prohibition of armed attack or threat of attack against nuclear installations, during operation or under construction;
  • Stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nuclear issue, and encourage efforts towards continuing dialogue and engagement for the full denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula;
  • Called upon India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states promptly and without conditions, and to bring into force comprehensive safeguards agreements as required by the Treaty; and
  • Encouraged states parties to be represented at a high level at the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

In his revised draft, in effect the Chair inter alia 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, 10th May, 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.

Conclusion

At 11:22 EST New York on 10 May, 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!

The main divisions between delegations were primarily over nuclear disarmament, Iran, Syria, the IAEA additional protocol, nuclear security, access to peaceful uses of nuclear technology, the Middle East WMDFZ and other related matters. In general, EU, NATO and “nuclear umbrella states” opposed the revised draft recommendations; while NAM, African and other states expressed supported for them.

In the closing session, a numbers game was played in response to NAM states’ assertions that NAM statements were on behalf of 122 states; as France read out names of 70 states supporting a call for DPRK denuclearization and the US read out names of 52 states on Syrian non-compliance with IAEA safeguards. China criticized the French coordinated statement and stated that the NPT review process was not the right forum for DPRK matters. The Russian Federation bitterly complained about problems in getting visas to attend NPT and UN meetings and even suggested moving the 2020 review conference to Vienna or Geneva if the visa problems was not resolved. This author has been proposing since 2017, that the NPT review conference should be held in Vienna, as unlike New York and Geneva, all “three pillars” are represented in Vienna given the presence of the headquarters of the IAEA and the CTBT Organization (CTBTO). The author was responsible at the 2005 review conference in moving the first session of the PrepCom to Vienna from New York starting in 2007.

The reversion to loss of civility in discourse in the second week of the PrepCom was an unwelcome reminder of the rancour at the end of the 2015 NPT review conference. Iran, Russian Federation, Syria and the United states engaged in frequent “rights of reply” that sometimes resorted to language not usually heard in diplomatic forums and left a bad taste all around. This was reflective of the general discourse in international relations prevalent today and the NPT review process is not immune to this slide in civility.

Despite the doom and gloom referred to above there were a couple of positive developments. In an enhancement of the strengthened review process, the Chairs of the 2017 and 2018 PrepCom sessions made a useful innovation in submitting an “Inter-Chair working paper: conclusions and recommendations for the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” And, in 2017 the Chair circulated on his authority his paper, “Towards 2020: Reflections of the Chair of the 2017 session of the Preparatory Committee;” the Chair in 2018 followed suit in issuing “Chair’s Reflections on the state of the Non-Proliferation Treaty”; and the 2019 Chair put out his “Reflections of the Chair of the 2019 session of the Preparatory Committee.” This author has been proposing since 1998 that each session of the PrepCom issue a “statement on the state of the NPT” document that would be parsimonious yet cover all important matters and reflect the general views of states parties on the prevailing international situation as it relates to the NPT at the time of the PrepCom. This practice of issuing “Reflections”, i.e. a statement on the state of the NPT, should be continued in the next review cycle of 2020-2025.

NPT states parties will next gather at the United Nations in New York for the 2020 NPT Review Conference from 27 April to 22 May to mark the 50th anniversary, the Golden Jubilee, of the world’s most important and fundamental nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament treaty and to chart the course for the next five years (2020-2025). Some states favour a high-level segment on the first two days that would result in a Ministerial Declaration on the high importance of the NPT and believe that this ought to suffice as the outcome rather than negotiating a final document as is mandated by the strengthened review process. Many other states support negotiating a final document and regard any Ministerial Declaration as insufficient. Over the next 11 months, unless all states parties honour their declarations on the importance of the NPT and work to develop common ground to strengthen the authority and integrity of the Treaty and its full implementation along with the agreed obligations from the 1995, 2000 and 2010 review conferences, the chances of a consensus outcome in 2020 would be slim and result in an unprecedented two back-to-back failed reviews with all the predicted dire consequences.

An earlier version of this report can be found here.

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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.

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay.

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