Day 3 at NPT: P-5 statement and 3 Subsidiary bodies

Posted by Rebecca Johnson

There continued to be a long day of national statements to the Review Conference, some good, some pedestrian.  Wanting to pay attention to these, but stretched between various NGO and sidebar events, it is difficult to distinguish between positions that sound increasingly similar, as almost everything appears to have been said. Rather than overlook a nugget that might be quietly tucked behind the clichés and ritualistic positions, I’ve decided to get a night’s sleep and take a better look when my head is clearer.

The main news of the day came just before lunch.  First, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan achieved agreement on his proposal for three “subsidiary bodies” (diplo parlance for working groups open to all NPT parties, each of which is ‘housed’ in one of the Main Committees). The first two subsidiary bodies –  on practical nuclear disarmament and security assurances (in MC1) and regional issues including the 1995 Middle East resolution (in MC2) were already agreed when Iran, supported to some extent by a few other NAM states, opposed the third, which was designated to address a range of institutional issues for strengthening NPT compliance and operations, including withdrawal.

A subsidiary body on this issue had been convened for the first time at the 2005 Review Conference, after North Korea withdrew from the Treaty and exposed the inadequacy of the tools available to other states parties to respond and try to dissuade another country from withdrawing and developing nuclear weapons.  The debate in 2005 was substantive and thoughtful, and came up with a range of responses, institutional and voluntary, including convening an ‘emergency meeting’ of states parties, and also incentives and disincentives that might be applied on a voluntary basis to address a state’s security concerns with the aim of dissuading its leadership from pulling out of the NPT.   Because nothing was agreed in 2005, the suggestions and proposals in the 2005 subsidiary body had no formal status.  Reconvening such a subsidiary body in 2010 was particularly favoured by the Western and Eastern Groups.

By contrast, SB1 and SB2 were in response to NAM proposals.  Faced with the possibility of losing the special time allocated to practical nuclear disarmament and the 1995 Middle East resolution, key NAM delegations persuaded Iran to accept the President’s compromise. Instead of mentioning withdrawal or institutional issues in the title, SB3’s mandate is to address “other provisions of the Treaty”. It will be interesting to see if this face saver affects how Subsidiary Body 3 operates in practice.

In accordance with this decision, each of the subsidiary bodies will have at least 4 sessions within the respective Main Committees, as follows:

Structure of debates, starting next week:

Main Committee 1 on disarmament, chaired by Boniface Chidyausiku (Zimbabwe)

Subsidiary Body 1 on practical nuclear disarmament approaches and security assurances, chaired by Alexander Marschik (Austria)

Main Committee 2, on safeguards, regional issues and NWFZ, chaired by Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine)

Subsidiary Body 2 on regional issues, including implementation of the 1995 Middle East Resolution, chaired by Alison Kelly (Ireland)

Main Committee 3 on nuclear energy, safety, security and institutional questions, chaired by Takeshi Nakane (Japan)

Subsidiary Body 3 (in Main Committee 3), which will consider proposals for overcoming the treaty’s institutional deficit and strengthening its operations, including consideration of how to respond to potential withdrawal from the Treaty. This will be chaired by Jose Luis Cancela (Uruguay).

P-5 Statement to the NPT by China, France, Russia, UK and US

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s chief negotiator on new-START presented a joint statement from the governments of China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK and the US.  This “P-5 statement” reaffirms their commitment “to carry on the results of the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences” – careful wording that will need to be carefully parsed and interpreted.  The success of UN Security Council Resolution 1887 (September 2009) is underscored, with repetition of its opening paragraph which situates President Obama’s Prague call into something less urgent – an aspiration rather than a determination or commitment — of “seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the NPT”, adding the caveat phrases that reinforce the current status quo and primacy of the US-Russian nuclear relationship, dear to Russia’s heart, “in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all.”

The P-5 statement ticks a lot of familiar boxes: universality (important, tick); nuclear arms reductions and new START, fulfilment of Article VI, CTBT entry into force (tick tick tick – these ticks mean reassuring and supportive mentions, not necessarily binding undertakings or job done),  importance of prohibiting chemical and biological weapons as well (tick tick – these weapons of mass destruction were prohibited and are being eliminated in accordance with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention respectively)…. however, we are not supposed to advocate prohibiting nuclear weapons by means of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (the P-5 have put a x against that proposals, despite support from more than 111 nations).  Other ticked boxes include IAEA safeguards with the additional protocol, which “should become the universally recognised verification norm (tick) and NWFZ (tick, kind of, as the statement only really supports enhanced consultation and cooperation).  Nuclear energy, nuclear security and safety, tightening up disincentives against withdrawal (tick tick tick).  Iran and North Korea are referred to as “dossiers”: “We remain determined to achieve the satisfactory resolution of these dossiers through diplomatic means.”

Paragraph 13 states; “We are committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end. We are ready to consider all relevant proposals, in the course of the Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction.”  What does that mean? We know the P-5 is in dialogue with Egypt and others from the region to try to agree a way forward, building on (but presumably watering down?) the proposals contained in the NAM, Egyptian and Arab League papers.  What is not known is where those negotiations are going and what the red lines will be.

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