NPT Day 18: Updates, downgrading HEU and non-strategic weapons

by Rebecca Johnson with contributions from Carol Naughton (on HEU), Meena Singelee (MC III) and Cole Harvey and Miles Pomper of the Monterey Institute (non-strategic nuclear weapons).

Update on Main Committee II

MC II is close to consensus on most issues, but as the Chair, Ambassador Volodyrmyr Yelchenko (Ukraine) noted in his interim report back to the plenary yesterday, there are a few issues where proposals on the table are mutually exclusive.  With the exception of the Middle East, where intensive negotiations are continuing, principally between the United States in pole position for the P-5 and Egypt on behalf of the Arab League, these appear to be how to characterise the Additional Protocol and export controls.

The key issues on the Additional Protocol to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) are whether it can be characterised as the safeguards standard or be treated as a condition of supply so that nuclear suppliers are constrained from selling nuclear materials or technology to any country that has not signed and ratified the Additional Protocol.  For example, Canada’s proposed language for treating the Additional Protocol as a verification or safeguards standard would say that the IAEA can only draw an annual safeguards conclusion that all nuclear material has remained in peaceful activities” when a state has both CSA and the Additional Protocol in force.  To avoid the rows over turning the safeguards considered reliable in the 1960s and ‘70s into a safeguards system for the 1990s, and again for the 2010s, and in acknowledgment of how technology change many also want a mechanism for regularly assessing, evaluating and improving the efficiency of IAEA safeguards. While many are in favour of one or all of these proposals, they are deeply opposed by some influential states, notably Egypt, Brazil and Iran, which have argued that the Additional Protocol is merely voluntary.  Main Committee II’s revised draft report, issued today (May 20),  notes that “the additional protocol, being voluntary in nature, once concluded, represents a legal obligation”. (para 15)

Export controls are the other main headache for the Chair. On the side of wanting recognition for the important role of “effective and transparent export controls” are members of the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, including the 37-member Zangger Group.  The Vienna Group of Ten (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden) argued for language that would underline that “nuclear export controls are a legitimate, necessary and desirable means” enabling states parties to implement their NPT obligations, and that “effective export controls are also central’ to cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.  This approach seeks positive references to UNSC Resolution 1540 (2004), UNSC Resolution 1887 and the Nuclear Security Summit.  On the other side is the NAM, many of whom regard export controls as an illegitimate and coercive imposition on non-nuclear-weapon states.  Efforts have been made to square these circles (or circle the squares?) in the Main Committee II’s revised draft report and in the final analysis it is likely that agreement will be reached on the basis of language agreed at previous NPT meetings which will provide enough fudge to be acceptable to both sides, while satisfying neither.

Minimising highly-enriched uranium (HEU)

Another issue whose time has come is that of halting the use of HEU and, where necessary, converting civilian nuclear programmes to use low-enriched uranium (LEU).  Courtesy of Carol Naughton, here’s a brief summary of how this issue has been raised in Committee II.

The Vienna Group of Ten argued the “non-proliferation and security benefits of the minimization of the use of high enriched uranium in civilian applications, including the conversion of civilian research reactors to low enriched uranium fuel” and welcomed efforts by the IAEA “to assist countries which, on a voluntary basis, have chosen to take steps to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in civilian nuclear applications.”  Indeed, Australia made the point that they had already successfully converted to LEU-based technology and were involved in capacity building efforts on this in South East Asia and Pacific regions.

Norway, another G-10 member, held a symposium on converting HEU fuel to LEU in civilian research reactors and showed that it is do-able and already being implemented by some States as highlighted by Australia.  The United States made reference to UNSC Resolution 1887 (September 2009) and the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in emphasising its support for the conversion to LEU  in civilian applications.  This position was also taken up by the European Union (EU), who argued for “the minimisation, wherever technically and economically feasible, of the use of HEU in peaceful nuclear activities, both with a view to preventing illicit trafficking and nuclear terrorism”.  A working paper from 7 NATO states – Belgium, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and Turkey – also calls for “voluntary measures” to convert research reactors from HEU to LEU where technically and economically feasible.

Main Committee II’s draft report, issued on May 14, had two relevant paragraphs on this issue “The Conference notes with appreciation that many research reactors are discontinuing the use of highly enriched uranium fuel in favour of low enriched uranium fuel.” (para 26). And in the forward-looking action plan: “The conference calls upon all States parties to manage responsibly and minimize to the greatest extent that is technically and economically feasible the use of highly enriched uranium for civilian purposes, including by working to convert research reactors and radioisotope production processes to the use of low-enriched uranium.” (para 61). The Non-Aligned group of NPT states parties put in only minor amendments, and yet neither paragraph appears in the revised report, published today.

Update on Committee III (nuclear energy etc)

MCIII continued its deliberations on Thursday, and the following summary is based on notes from Meena Singelee.  Ambassador Takeshi Nakane of Japan, Chair of the Committee is hoping for a final draft by this Friday. Although there are less heated exchanges in MCIII than in the others, the differences in positions among some parties are still visible. The NAM continues to stress that the report should emphasise support for the transfer of nuclear materials for peaceful uses in a non-discriminatory manner and in conformity with the NPT. Egypt called for wording to include that every effort should be made to ensure that IAEA resources for technical cooperation should be sufficient, assured and predictable (SAP). States including Germany continue to call for language on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, i.e. nuclear waste.

On the issue of multilateralisation of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, parties continue to emphasise the need to ensure that all undertakings will be voluntary and that access will be guaranteed, in line with the legal obligations under the NPT. Indonesia suggested that since the idea of a multinational fuel bank is still in early stages of discussion, and both technically and legally complex, it would not be in the interest of the Review Conference to delve deeper into the issue. Indonesia suggested that instead of including this in a final document, the Conference could consider making a political statement on the issue. Egypt and the NAM continue to emphasise language relating to transfer and conformity without discrimination among parties. The United States however, highlighted that any nuclear supplier would need to look at broader questions which it seemed to consider did not necessarily relate to the NPT, before deciding to export nuclear materials or equipment to an NPT party, mentioning the level of security, the level of enrichment or reprocessing, or overriding concerns about transfers to third parties.

A telling sign that consensus on some of the issues ought to be reachable is that the interactions among and between state parties have been courteous, engaged and productive. National statements are now few and far between, and all interactions, have been focused specifically to changes or amendments to language of the draft text.   Some states, including the UK, which intervened for the first time in MCIII on Wednesday, argued that language on the Middle East, whilst relevant,  would be best placed in an overview passage rather than in the MCIII section. Other areas such as withdrawal and institutional issues are still being dealt with by the Subsidiary Body 3.

Update on MCI

Intense and sensitive negotiations are continuing over a number of key issues on nuclear disarmament.  There appears already to be substantial agreement to updated language that essentially reaffirms and recommits to the progressive implementation of steps based on the Thirteen practical steps agreed ten years ago by the 2000 NPT Review Conference.  Among the significant issues still to be resolved is how to characterise the majority’s calls for commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons through a time-bound framework (the traditional NAM mantra) or some kind of comprehensive negotiating process aimed at achieving a nuclear weapons convention – or at the very least, commitment to the goal of realising the much-heralded world free of nuclear weapons through some form of multilaterally negotiated and verifiable process.

Non-strategic nuclear weapons

Another highly contentious issue is that of non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons.  In the revised draft of the report from Subsidiary Body 1, chaired by Ambassador Alexander Marschik, these are not specifically mentioned. Instead, the draft calls on “the nuclear-weapon States and all other States possessing nuclear weapons to reduce and eliminate all types of their nuclear weapons”  and also: “the nuclear-weapon States commit to undertake further efforts to verifiably reduce all types of nuclear weapons, deployed and undeployed, as well as their nuclear weapon-related materials, including through unilateral, bilateral, regional, and multilateral measures…”  Given how far apart the position of Russia is from that of many European countries on this issue, such code may be the best achievable under the circumstances.  Below, however, we consider the serious attention given to this issue during the conference.

Whatever they are called — and I still can’t work out whether there are political distinctions in the choice of terms to describe short-range nuclear weapons – non-strategic, sub-strategic, pre-strategic (is this a shot across the bows, as Malcolm Rifkind once tried to argue as a useful role for Trident?) tactical, theatre or battlefield weapons — the calls to reduce and eliminate this class of weapons have been more vocal than at any previous Review Conference.   The issue is approached from two angles: calls to withdraw such weapons from the territory of non-nuclear NPT parties (aimed at NATO, which operates a nuclear sharing policy in which US nuclear weapons are deployed in several European countries); and calls for unilateral and negotiated reductions of all such weapons, with possible solutions such as interim storage leading to their total elimination (aimed principally at Russia, which is estimated to possess some 2,000, and the United States, which has around 500).  China, France, Israel, India and Pakistan also have short to intermediate-range nuclear weapons systems which are viewed as having strategic purposes).

I am indebted to Cole Harvey for trawling through the various statements and working papers and providing notes on who said what during the general and MCI debates, noting especially that calls for increased attention to the issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons focused on the need for increased transparency and their inclusion into the broader US-Russian arms control framework.

Referring to the “existence of significant deployed and stockpiled non-strategic arsenals which are not covered by formal arms control agreements” the EU statement called for “reduction and final elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons are integral parts of the nuclear disarmament process to which all States Parties are committed under Article VI of the NPT”.  Referring to the “existence of significant deployed and stockpiled non-strategic arsenals which are not covered by formal arms control agreements” the EU statement called for “reduction and final elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons are integral parts of the nuclear disarmament process to which all States Parties are committed under Article VI of the NPT”.  The EU then called “on all States parties possessing such weapons to include them in their general arms control and disarmament processes, with a view to their verifiable and irreversible reduction and elimination, while agreeing to the importance of further transparency and confidence-building measures in order to advance this nuclear disarmament process.  We also encourage the United States and the Russian Federation to further develop the unilateral 1991/92 Presidential Initiatives and to include non-strategic nuclear weapons in the next round of bilateral nuclear arms reductions…”

Germany, on behalf of itself and nine other countries (Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden), took the EU position further, arguing for increased transparency and the inclusion of non-strategic nuclear weapons into the US-Russian and “broader arms control and disarmament  processes, to advance towards a nuclear-weapons-free world”.  In particular, this paper recommended that the review conference should (a) “commit themselves to include non-strategic nuclear weapons in their general arms control and disarmament processes, with a view to their transparent, verifiable and irreversible reduction and elimination”; (b) pending entry into force of legally binding reductions… bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures could be taken, such as “information exchange on existing deployed and stockpiled arsenals”; and (c) encourage the US and Russia to negotiate “increasingly lower ceilings for the numbers and the eventual elimination of both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons in their arsenals”, building on their unilateral 1991 and 1992 Presidential nuclear initiatives.

The Polish and Norwegian governments have also made this issue a priority: “These positive developments [in nuclear arms control] have already launched the debate on the future arms reduction treaty, which should set new ceilings not only on strategic weapons but also other types of nuclear weaponry, especially those designated as tactical or sub-strategic…. The goal of a world without nuclear weapons, which we all share, cannot be met without addressing that issue head on…  We [Poland and Norway] suggest a step-by-step approach, not limited by any deadlines and thus flexible and realistic.  This process embraces the accomplishment of three stages.  The first two aim at enhancing transparency and introducing confidence-building measures.  Today we should give them the highest priority.  The last stage proposes reduction and elimination of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in conjunction with general disarmament process.”

A few other states endorsed the prospect of non-strategic weapons’ inclusion in U.S.-Russian negotiations.  Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, stated that future negotiations “should deal both with strategic and non-strategic weapons, those deployed as well as those not deployed”.  In an oblique reference to NATO’s debates over nuclear sharing and the role of nuclear weapons in its Strategic Concept, Switzerland added that non-strategic weapons “no longer have a place in today’s Europe.  In this context, Switzerland welcomes the recent debate initiated by several European States.”  The Netherlands also called on the Review Conference to “commit ourselves to include non-strategic nuclear weapons in arms control and disarmament processes, with a view to their transparent, verifiable and irreversible reduction and elimination.”

The New Agenda Coalition, a group of influential ‘middle powers,’ (Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and Egypt), welcomed the conclusion of a new strategic arms control agreement between the United States and Russia, and urged the nuclear-weapon states to “engage in a process leading to further substantial reductions and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, deployed or non-deployed, strategic or non-strategic.”

From a different perspective, the NAM addressed US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe under the auspices of NATO and called on the Review Conference to agree that the nuclear-weapon states “refrain from nuclear weapon sharing, with other states under any kind of security arrangements, including in the framework of military alliances.”

Russia took up the issue, calling for the “real, irreversible and verifiable” reduction and elimination of  “all kinds and types of nuclear weapons as well as non-nuclear systems with comparable tasks and characteristics”, citing both the final goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and the final goal of a step-by-step process to obtain complete disarmament. As it had done in previous statements, Russia homed in on NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements in Europe, arguing that the first, priority step needed to be the “repatriation” of all nuclear systems and termination of related “infrastructures”, with the weapons stored on the territory of their owners, pending elimination.

A row broke out in Subsidiary Body 1 when Germany quoted from this Russian statement and a US position that had called on “all states possessing NSNW to include them in negotiations” and suggested that since no state had spoken against the proposals in the German-led joint statement, these should be considered for inclusion in the disarmament report.  Several states, including Poland (which had been expected to co-sponsor the joint statement but didn’t), Finland, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden all spoke in support.

Russia, however, appeared furious with Germany, reiterating its position that any type of nuclear weapons reductions must be discussed in direct linkage to other kinds of weapons and that the priority was to return all types of nuclear weapons to national territories along with the elimination of their deployment infrastructure in other states.  Russia argued that the problem of non-strategic nuclear weapons must “first and foremost” be resolved within the context of NATO, an aspect of its position that it accused Germany of omitting to mention.

Others hastily stepped in to cool things down. Switzerland stressed the importance of this issue and offered its own proposed text, which was a bit different from Germany’s, saying that it would be willing to support Germany’s text as well.  When the United States argued that the NPT was not the appropriate forum for negotiating on tactical nuclear weapons, Iran riposted that the NPT was the appropriate forum for negotiating all kinds of nuclear weapons, while Indonesia agreed that such non-strategic nuclear weapons needed to be addressed and eliminated.

Meanwhile, outside the NPT Review Conference, the report from a group of former politicians, defence and business honchos from NATO countries, led by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was published on May 17. Titled “NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement”, this report was supposed to assist NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in drafting NATO’s new Strategic Concept,  which is under discussion with a view to being adopted by the Alliance at the Lisbon Summit, November 19-20, 2010.  However, critics have panned the report as a missed opportunity, still stuck in the cold war.

Additional Resources: Acronym Briefing (NPT 2010 and Beyond) on Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A dangerous anachronism, by General Sir Hugh Beach.

All eleven briefings in the NPT 2010 and Beyond series are available from the Acronym Institute website here.

See also the open letter signed by 12 NGOs attending the NPT Review Conference and a hanger on.

One Comment

  1. Ben Sanders
    Posted May 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Dear Rebecca,

    I was most impressed by the summary in your report on Day 16 of the NPTRevCon,
    of the discussions in Main Committee II. The appropriate role and reach of safeguards are very difficult questions which involve the most sensitive aspects of states’ sovereignty. They have long been left undecided and will, I fear, also not be decided at this session.

    I was involved in the drafting of the very first IAEA safeguards system, in the Sixties, and in that which was developed for application pursuant to the NPT, in the very early Seventies. At that time already, the questions discussed now were raised in the IAEA, where the Secretariat indeed wanted to go much further than Member States wished to go. It was at that time mainly the developed non-nuclear nations, led by Germany (Federal Republic) and Japan which restricted the intrusiveness of safeguards. The various references to this in the Treaty were largely the result of Germany’s extremely restrictive approach and its presumed conviction that safeguards by means of special devices and the use of specific points at which measurements could be made, could be rather simple and non-intrusive. Whether they really believed this I do not know (doubt, rather) but we are now faced with the results. The wide rights given States-party in Article 4 were largely introduced on the initiative of Japan and Brazil (I believe) and the consequences of this liberal (and utterly illogical) approach inevitably led to the creation of the nuclear exporters’ lobby.
    All these problems were foreseen at the time by the small group of members of the Agency’s Secretariat who had been tasked with working out the basic principles of safeguards. They have felt frustrated ever since. Yet, judging by the current debates, I wonder if we would ever have been able to achieved more than what is now in the safeguards regime. The concept of voluntariness, to which of course in particular the usual suspects refer, is really unavoidable, I think. The Additional Protocol was a huge step forward, and serves as a norm even if it is not generally accepted.

    Best regards,


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