Day 22: NPT President’s consolidated draft declaration
Posted by Rebecca Johnson
If you went to the UN Mission of the Philippines on Fifth Avenue at midnight on Monday you could pick up the first draft of a potential final document from the President of the NPT Review Conference, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan. The rest of us got this 29 page draft at 9.00 a.m. and found a compilation of the drafts delivered by the three committees and subsidiary bodies at six o’clock on Monday. This has been consolidated in accordance with the NPT’s articles, followed by a section on “Conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions”, which contains three “action plans”: on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and “peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.
For most of the rest of Tuesday, delegations went through the motions of painstakingly debating the draft in a closed session (once the main conference room was vacated by the NAM, which needed a lengthy set of negotiations of its own to coordinate the positions of over 110 non-aligned countries). The real political negotiations underlying the textual distinctions, of course, were taking place in smaller rooms dotted around the UN North Lawn, involving the main protagonists on the fundamental issues that could still derail the conference outcome.
Though it is looking increasingly likely that a deal will be struck on a conference and process to take forward the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and that compromises will be brokered between the opposing positions on the IAEA additional protocol, export controls, multinational fuel cycle arrangements and assurances of nuclear supply, the positions over nuclear disarmament are still far apart.
The majority of non-nuclear-countries from all regions want to see an action plan with objectives and practical steps that reflect the commitments made by President Obama and many others when they promised to work towards creating the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Some of the nuclear-weapon states, however, are reluctant to make commitments beyond what they agreed in 2000 (but largely failed to fulfill). The United States, though cautious about what could be delivered, came to the Review Conference with the hope of obtaining a constructive outcome that would lay further groundwork towards fulfilling President Obama’s objectives, to build on the New START Treaty, the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit and other related initiatives.
Russia had some “red lines” they did not want to cross, including avoiding mention of non-strategic nuclear weapons. They were also reluctant to agree on the need to consider the idea of a future nuclear weapons convention, but the US-Russian partnership appeared to be sufficiently strong following the START agreement that it appeared possible to find language that would reconcile its concerns with the needs of the non-nuclear-weapon states to have agreement on tangible objectives and progress beyond reaffirming the 2000 undertakings. China appeared to have more problems within the P-5 than in the negotiations with the non-nuclear countries, which led P-5 countries to portray China as a bigger obstacle to agreement than its positions indicated. China broke ranks with the P-5 on a number of issues where its familiar positions came closer to the non-nuclear countries, such as security assurances, no first use and a nuclear weapons convention, but it was out on a limb with its opposition to a moratorium on producing plutonium or highly-enriched uranium for weapons purposes pending conclusion of a fissile materials (cut-off) treaty. This was shaping up as a tough sticking point but was not thought to be outcome-breaking.
Though France was vigorous in arguing its corner during the Conference, there was likewise little suggestion that it would block consensus if things didn’t go its way. Never easy, these factors at least suggested that the dynamic within the P-5 was manageable, thereby providing room to manoeuvre when seeking agreement with the non-aligned states. The UK wading in at this late date with harder-line positions that lower the common denominator has noticeably shifted the balance towards the naysayers among the P-5, with worrying implications for the prospects and effectiveness of a final declaration.
What this new dynamic reminds me of most is the counterproductive behaviour and role of the UK during the 1994-96 CTBT negotiations, when John Major was Prime Minister and Britain opposed the nuclear test ban, despite the fact that President Bill Clinton and the US administration wanted to be “out front pulling” to secure the CTBT in a timely manner. In the first 18 months, Britain and France formed a lowest common denominator partnership to obstruct and delay the more positive US-Russian approach, while China hid its real difficulties behind long-standing rhetoric (no first use, unconditional security assurances and the right to conduct peaceful nuclear explosions). We must never forget that under the guise of being helpful, Britain used its diplomatic skills to encumber the CTBT with the unnecessarily stringent Article XIV entry-into-force provision that has been the test ban treaty’s Achilles’ heel ever since – a monument to the UK’s shortsighted manipulation of dysfunctional dynamics among the P-5. That was then and this is now, and there is no necessary reason why this frustrating history should be repeated… is there?
Another factor in the CTBT endgame was that the NAM failed to coalesce effectively around a collective strategy that would best promote their real security interests. In the card game vingt-et-un, the trick is in knowing when to hold fast with what’s in your hand and when to ask for something more. If you ask for a new card at the wrong time there is a high risk that you will wreck the hand you have and go bust. So it is with negotiations. The disarmament action plan is undoubtedly not as strong or effective as might have been hoped for, but trying to introduce new language and amendments at this stage is more likely to result in losing what’s there than in gaining more. As the P-5 continue to push back to 2000, progressive non-nuclear countries need to hold fast and insist on keeping the action plan intact.
There is still a better than even’s chance that the NPT Review Conference can end with the successful adoption of a substantial final declaration along the lines now put forward by the President. Such a success would demonstrate collective international resolve to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, prevent further horizontal and vertical proliferation, and tackle the myriad challenges of nuclear dangers and insecurity. It would provide a stepping stone that could be used to climb further. All the elements are there now. Leadership and political will are required to make them stick before we run out of time.