NPT Day 24: Future Hope or Failure?

Posted by Rebecca Johnson

After a day of to-ing and fro-ing among small knots of senior diplomats between meetings rooms in the UN and diplomatic missions, the President of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, held a brief plenary at 5.30 pm Thursday to distribute the draft final document (NPT/Conf.2010/L.2) and three procedural documents. Describing this draft as a “carefully balanced document”, he requested delegations to read it carefully, refer it to their capitals and return for a plenary at 11.00 a.m. on Friday to adopt it.

With this, the conference enters its final day. The die has been cast, the compromises forged, and states parties now have to decide if they want to move forward on the basis of these substantive (but limited) agreements and recommendations. If they cling to outdated positions, seek further amendments or block the document’s adoption, they must take responsibility for choosing failure over hope.  After four weeks (and much repetition), the parties’ positions, objectives, desires and fears are well known and nothing would be gained by pushing them forward again tomorrow.  All things considered and after a careful reading of the text, it is our view that adopting this document will constitute a small but significant step towards strengthening global security and laying the groundwork for a transformative, comprehensive approach to build a world free of nuclear weapons.

Content and life

As Cabactulan told the Conference, this draft is based on work in all three Committees, the three subcommittees and additional consultations where the representatives of the interested states “worked together to give content and life to this document”.  Acknowledging that “it may not fully satisfy many”, he said the document “could still be the answer to our prayers” – it was the “very best that can be offered given the complexities of the issues” and the positions of states parties.  He also warned that “trying to change this carefully balanced document could put our work in danger.”

Cabactulan thanked the Conference participants and all his colleagues, paying particular tribute to the chairs of the committees and to Jennifer MacMillan (New Zealand, given responsibility this week to work out a solution on safeguards, the additional protocol and export controls), as well as the three chairs of the subsidiary bodies, whom he had asked to stay on and get agreement on the most difficult issues: Alison Kelly (Ireland, on the Middle East and other regional issues), Alexander Marschik (Austria, nuclear disarmament action plan) and José Luis Cancela (institutional issues including Articles IX and X on universality and withdrawal).

While much of the final document has gone through painstaking negotiations and several drafts and iterations in committees and then in closed plenary on Tuesday and Wednesday, parts have also been the subject of focussed negotiations among a group of some 16-20 ‘Friends of the President’.  In these intense sessions, key parties from all groups and regions worked together to resolve the commitments and recommendations on the most controversial issues that were still mired in difficulties when the committees finished their formal work.  As with the subsidiary bodies, the sensitive nature of these negotiations required cooking time with the lid on.  To facilitate achievement of the best possible outcome, the key civil society observers therefore chose to support the President in not revealing what we knew of the ins and outs, proceedings and frustrations of these talks until the draft text could be issued.

In that same spirit, this penultimate NPT blog will not parse or discuss the draft final document – you can read and decide for yourselves. Similarly, we have decided to refrain at this stage from speculating on different states’ likely responses to the document or the strategies that may come into play on Friday as the Conference faces the final hurdle of adopting the fruits of its four weeks of intense labours.  As the endgame plays out, however, check Acronym’s blogsite for short updates during the day.  When the 2010 Review Conference is over, we will publish analyses that look at what needs to be done to build a better regime to prevent proliferation, reduce nuclear threats and dangers and underpin the necessary “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.

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