Learning From Prepcom 2008


Nuclear Abolition News | VOICES of the South on Globalization

The 2008 NPT PrepCom from April 28 to May 9 was probably as good as it can get in the current review process, says Rebecca Johnson in a study for the UK-based Acronym Institute for disarmament diplomacy. Unlike in 2007 - or the previous Review Conference in 2005 - there were no major obstacles to get in the way of a smooth process.

"Paradoxically perhaps, this actually serves to focus attention on the systemic inadequacies and the political disconnect between the NPT processes and the real challenges of preventing the further proliferation, development and use of nuclear weapons;" writes Johnson.

In her view, it is not difficult to identify the elements that need to be worked on to make 2010 a success within NPT terms. The Chair's summary lists them: U.S. ratification of the CTBT - or if that is not possible, a visible, president-led strategy and timetable to win the requisite majority in the Senate - would boost confidence and stimulate strategies for bringing the test ban treaty into force at last.

Ideally President Obama should use 2009 to lay the groundwork for the Senate to take a fresh look early in 2010. If the numbers are not there for the treaty to be ratified before the Review Conference, which would of course be the best scenario, then as long as the U.S. administration could demonstrate its political will and strategy for ratification, the impact on the NPT would be positive, says the study.

Reaffirmation of the undertaking to eliminate nuclear arsenals will need to be given practical credibility through commitments to identify and start work on taking implementation of the relevant parts of the 13 steps to the next stage.

Johnson is of the view that the U.S. and Russia need to negotiate deeper (and verifiable) cuts in their strategic arsenals to follow on from START and SORT. Creating the conditions to negotiate the fissile materials production ban and get the CD back to work would likely be high on most states parties' agendas.

Taking an important point, the study says that the devaluation of nuclear weapons and measures to address nuclear insecurity in the Middle East will be essential, and the sponsors of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East need to be initiating consultations now with all relevant states - including Israel - to work out what is feasible and necessary in this area.

Even if NPT parties are able to express agreement on these issues, implementation will only come about through actions undertaken in national capacities and if the international community as a whole accepts the imperatives of nuclear disarmament. Therefore, when looking at what can realistically and constructively be achieved at the 2010 Review Conference, civil society and states need also to look beyond 2010 and consider how best to create and use political opportunities to fulfil the NPT's core objectives and aspirations even if these may entail the use of non-NPT fora and institutions.

An example of this is the growing movement for negotiations on nuclear abolition. Though much of the pressure is coming from outside the NPT, including calls for a nuclear weapon prohibition convention, it should be clearly understood that as with the CTBT and fissile materials ban, such a treaty would strengthen the non proliferation regime by codifying and establishing verification mechanisms for the fundamental obligations contained in Article VI.

Johnson considers it absurd for some governments to argue that calling for a global nuclear disarmament conference or negotiations on a nuclear weapon convention risk undermining the NPT. On the contrary, such initiatives would amplify the NPT's abilities to prevent proliferation and would constitute an unrivalled mechanism for engaging the three nuclear weapon possessors outside the NPT.

Similar fears were raised when government and civil society partnerships found it necessary to negotiate outside the Inhumane Weapons Convention (CCW) in order to develop treaties that banned anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions respectively. With the demonstrated successes of the Ottawa and Oslo Processes, the majority now recognize that such treaties have an important role to play in building norms, contributing to humanitarian law and establishing verification and monitoring systems.

Moreover, if advocates of those bans had been guilttripped to confine their efforts to within the direct parameters of the CCW, the governments would still be making statements about their objectives to ban landmines and cluster bombs. Instead, they are now making statements - and taking actions - about what they are doing to implement the bans and remove these weapons from their arsenals and policies, says the report.

To continue to be relevant, states parties to the NPT need to consider not only how to strengthen the regime's institutions and have a constructive, forward looking Review Conference in 2010. They also need to think about what medium and long-term approaches and strategies will best fulfil the fundamental security, non proliferation and disarmament objectives and goals of the treaty.

"This will entail looking beyond the NPT to pursue nuclear abolition. It will require non-discriminatory objectives and the development of mechanisms that engage India, Israel and Pakistan without conferring benefits," writes Johnson. Most of all, the non-nuclear countries will have to be convinced that nuclear disarmament is really on the agenda and that their compliance with the NPT will not leave them to be treated as second class citizens in a world ruled by nuclear weapon possessors. – Jaya Ramachandran