Dim Prospects: A Guide to the 2019 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee

United Nations Office in Geneva. Image credits see below.

By Tariq Rauf


The third and final session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2020 Review Conference (RevCon) of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapon (NPT) will be held at the United Nations in New York from 29 April to 10 May 2019. The first two sessions of the PrepCom were held respectively in Vienna (2017) and in Geneva (2018). The 2020 NPT RevCon will be held at the UN in New York from 27 April to 22 May, marking the 50th anniversary of entry-into-force of the NPT. The treaty is the world’s most widely adhered to international nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament treaty, with 193 member States – the outliers being India, Israel and Pakistan and North Korea which left the NPT in April 2003. (All four countries possess nuclear weapons).

The chair of the 2019 NPT PrepCom will be Ambassador Syed Mohamad Hasrin Tengku Hussin of Malaysia, assisting him will be Ms. Marjolijn van Deelen of the Netherlands (on behalf of the Chair of the 2017 PrepCom), Ambassador Adam Bugajski of Poland (Chair 2018 PrepCom) and Ambassador Rafael Grossi of Argentina (candidate for President on the 2020 RevCon).


In keeping with past precedent, the Preparatory Committee will be opened by Ambassador Adam Bugajski (Chair 2018 PrepCom), who citing NPT Article VIII.3 on the review of the treaty, will announce the candidacy as chair of Ambassador Mohamad Hasrin. Following past practice, as states parties will unanimously elect the Chair,. Amb. Hasrin, as the newly elected chair, will then give a short opening statement, probably expressing some preliminary views on the conduct and organization of the work of the PrepCom and seek the support of states parties present for a harmonious and productive session.

The first official speaker will be UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Ms Izumi Nakamitsu as the Representative of the UN Secretary-General; she will be followed by Amb. Cornel Feruţă, Chief Coordinator of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Dr Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization CTBTO)

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The “Agenda” of the PrepCom was agreed at its 2017 session focuses on:

Preparatory work for the review of the operation of the treaty in accordance with article VIII, paragraph 3, of the treaty, in particular, consideration of principles, objectives and ways to promote its full implementation , as well as its universality, including specific matters of substance related to the implementation of the treaty and Decisions 1 and 2, as well as the resolution on the Middle East, adopted in 1995; the Final Document of the   000 Review Conference; and the conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions adopted at the 2010 Review Conference.

The “Programme of Work” deals with the organization of the work of the PrepCom. On the first two days, 29-30 April, states will deliver their general statements outlining their positions on the “three pillars” of the NPT: nuclear non-proliferation; nuclear disarmament; and peaceful uses of nuclear energy; in addition to security assurances from nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The main objective of this session of the PrepCom is to agree on a set of “Recommendations” to the 2020 RevCon on the implementation of the treaty and related matters. Thus far the portents for a successful outcome of the PrepCom appear dim because of the worsened relationship between the West, the Russian Federation and China, as well as among Middle East states. There are major differences on nuclear disarmament between the nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, the collapsing architecture of Cold War arms control treaties, such as the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the failure to extend the New Strategic Arms reduction Treaty (START) between the Russian Federation and the US, and the resulting loss of civility in diplomatic discourse leading to name-calling and even insults.

Statement/Reflections on the “State of the NPT”

In order that the PrepCom session focus on taking the pulse of the treaty and recommend appropriate actions as necessary to strengthen the implementation, authority and credibility of the NPT, and especially given the lack of agreement between States, this author has been recommending that the PrepCom should be able to adopt a “Statement” by the PrepCom on the “State of the NPT” in each of its sessions. Such a statement, patterned on the statement by the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Council, would reflect the general views of states parties on the prevailing international situation as it relates to the NPT at the time of the PrepCom.

Fortunately this recommendation was first taken up by Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast of the Netherlands (Chair of the 2017 PrepCom) when he produced his “Towards 2020: reflections of the Chair of the 2017 session of the Preparatory Committee” that in eight concise paragraphs summarized the key issues of the day concerning the NPT
. In 2018, Ambassador Adam Bugajski of Poland (Chair 2018 PrepCom), followed suit in his “Chair’s Reflections on the State of the NPT” that concisely commented on the role and achievements of the treaty as well as the challenges ahead and identified key issues for further discussion towards the 2020 RevCon.

The chairs of the 2017-2018 NPT PrepCom sessions together made an important contribution to the strengthened review process of the Treaty when in a novel but relevant initiative have submitted 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,” that contains substantive recommendations and provides an output-focused outlook to help increase continuity between PrepCom sessions
. The focus of the working paper is on areas where general opinion among states converged as possible starting points for progress, and are based on the reflections by the two chairs that articulate a number of basic views on the NPT and its review cycle that appear to be shared by its states parties. This important innovation of an inter-chair working paper should be continued through the 2020-2025 NPT review cycle.

Should, as is unfortunately likely, states parties are unable to coalesce around an agreed set of “Recommendations” to the 2020 RevCon, in the view of this author, Amb. Hasrin (chair 2019 PrepCom) could briefly “enrich” the inter-chair working paper to reflect the assessments and recommendations of all three NPT PrepCom chairs (2017, 2018, 2019) and forward it to the 2020 NPT Review Conference. Ideally, if states were to act responsibly in the overall interest of the NPT and overcome their narrow disparate idiosyncratic (and sometimes erroneous) views, they could endorse the Inter-Chair working paper (of the three chairs) on 10 May – the final day of the 2019 PrepCom!


The effective implementation of a well-designed, results-oriented, strengthened NPT review process is central to the fulfilment of the principle of “permanence with accountability” of the treaty as agreed in 1995 when it was extended in force for an indefinite period, i.e. permanently. The review process, comprising the PrepCom sessions, the RevCon itself, and any other mechanisms agreed by the states parties should address two basic questions: for what are states parties accountable, and how is that accountability to be exercised? The strengthened review process must be “product-oriented” and structured to facilitate the attainment of the objective of permanence with accountability, that entails accountability by all NPT states for compliance with and fulfilment of undertakings under the treaty and the 2010 “actions” (and previous commitments from 2000 and 1995).

Download Tariq Rauf’s full article here.

Tariq Rauf is a Director of Atomic Reporters; he was Senior Advisor to the Chair of Main Committee I (nuclear disarmament) at the 2015 NPT Review Conference and also to the Chair of the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee. From 2002-2011, he was Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Image by Ondine B., https://www.boell.de/en/2016/05/25/european-union-and-nuclear-disarmament-sensitive-question, license: CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.de)