Share and disseminate via:

Adam Bugajski

About the author

2020 NPT Review Cycle in Full Swing: On the Way to the II PrepCom

Summary: With the 2020 NPT Review Cycle entering its second stage I would like to present a concise overview of the non-proliferation landscape in the run-up to the II PrepCom. The Committee to take place in Geneva in April-May next year is considered to be an important building-block for the Review Conference. I will briefly scan the horizon and give my assessment of chances for its successful outcome. I will dwell briefly upon the most topical current issues, notably the North Korean nuclear and missile program, and the new initiatives in the field of disarmament. I will evaluate them from the perspective of their influence on the prospects for the II PrepCom and towards the 2020 NPT Review Conference. The concept of the review cycle is a sequence of building-blocks in form of the output of consecutive PrepComs. The RevCon itself will not produce satisfactory results if work is not prepared beforehand. 

A paper by:  Adam Bugajski

With the 2020 NPT Review Cycle entering its second stage I would like to present a concise overview of the non-proliferation landscape in the run-up to the II PrepCom. The Committee to take place in Geneva in April-May next year is considered to be an important building-block for the Review Conference. I will briefly scan the horizon and give my assessment of chances for its successful outcome. I will dwell briefly upon the most topical current issues, notably the North Korean nuclear and missile program, and the new initiatives in the field of disarmament. I will evaluate them from the perspective of their influence on the prospects for the II PrepCom and towards the 2020 NPT Review Conference. I will of course stop for a while to give due appreciation to the topic of Middle East WMD Free Zone as the most topical issue for the region. I will complete my intervention by a presentation of goals, methods of work applied and desired outcomes of the II PrepCom as seen from the Chair’s perspective.

Since its entry into force, the NPT has been the central piece of the global regime for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and as such an essential part of the modern collective security system. Current geopolitical challenges only underline this role of the Treaty and the necessity to strengthen it. Despite the setbacks, shortcomings and suboptimal performance in many respects that we are all aware of, NPT continues to be the bedrock of international activities and the ultimate point of reference for the initiatives in non-proliferation. Even if it so often gives rise to frustration, we all owe the 50-year-old Treaty due respect and understanding for its imperfectness. The upcoming Review Conference will be an opportunity to reaffirm the integrity and viability of the Treaty. 

But it is not going to be easy. The sky for the RevCom is rather cloudy and although there are occasionally patches of sun one is well advised to be a realist rather than optimist. Nonetheless, turning to the tentative assessment of today’s non-proliferation landscape let me first concentrate on some of the developments which may positively stimulate our work.

• First and most relevant, the deliberations of the Ist PrepCom in Vienna were held in a constructive spirit, which had not been given. Discrepancies of opinions we slightly less pronounced than we expected after the unsuccessful 2015 RevCon. Though much of it could be credited to the able Dutch Chair, self-restraint and realism felt among the delegations also contributed significantly to the judgement that: actually, it could have been much worse. The factual report and especially the Chair’s reflections can serve as a valuable point of reference for further work.
• The discussions in the I Committee of the UNO General Assembly proved that despite the substantial differences, cooperation is possible. Although flare-ups, as always, could not be avoided, delegations were also looking for areas of cooperation. Some may have the feeling that opinions have become more polarized, but my assessment is that eventually the necessity to cope with real-life challenges prevailed over ideology.
• We can also point to positive developments in the NPT-related fora. We have had constructive and substantial work of the I session of the FMCT Expert Preparatory Group in Geneva. Nuclear Suppliers Group Plenary in Bern ended with a consensual outcome. Similarly, the CTBT art. XIV Conference resulted in the adoption of a ministerial declaration by consensus. And finally, one should record a very encouraging debate and outcome of the 61 IAEA General Conference, including the adoption by consensus of the resolution on DPRK.

Unfortunately, clouds are on the horizon already. Some of them are heavy ones with a potential for fallout of long duration.

• The recent advances of DPKR nuclear and missile programmes and the country’s political regime’s aggressive messaging augur an unprecedented crisis. So far no good or at least clear solution has been put on the table. The double freeze proposal by China and Russia has not met with any warm receipt from other states that have a stake in the matter, not least from the US. The general acknowledgement that any military solution is not an option being still the baseline, in some corners the thinking is slowly taking roots that the issue shifted from non-proliferation to deterrence with all its consequences for possible and justifiable countermeasures.
• A certain degree of vagueness torments the JCPOA between P5+1 and Iran. The US ultimate position still pending, the question the viability of the agreement remains open. If mismanaged, this individual issue may cause fallout that would be felt throughout the whole sphere of non-proliferation.
• With its approval by the UN General Assembly on 7 July this year the Ban Treaty has emerged as yet another yardstick on the non-proliferation and disarmament landscape. However, as the initial vigour slowly gives way to more sober assessment of what it can achieve, there is an ongoing debate whether the more radical approach associated with Ban Treaty proponents could be reconciled with the incremental NPT-based one.
Let me stress that in my current role, I expect all countries that promoted the Ban Treaty to be strong, engaged and constructive actors of the NPT Review Cycle.
• A sober assessment suggests that there are hardly any real prospects for progress in disarmament. It remains to be realistic and pragmatic. Probably no further reductions after the full implementation of post-START accord are on the horizon. Whether the return to an effective arms control between the US and Russia is feasible, remains to be seen.

There is, however, one thing of special attention which is and - I dare say – will be so until the end of the current review cycle, not only for countries of the region but also for all active participants around the NPT negotiating table. It is of course the issue of the creation of the zone free from the weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, with special focus on nuclear weapons.

One could argue that the essence of the problem goes far beyond the scope and the duration of NPT. There is no definitive answer whether it started in 1974 or even earlier when the text of the treaty was negotiated, or maybe before the commencement of the Review and Extension Conference in 1995. Nor is there any precise estimation of its climax. One thing is clear, however – this issue has the potential to overwhelm the whole NPT review process.
The history of the NPT review cycles shows that the Middle East Resolution adopted during the 1995 Conference sets the guidelines how the path towards the zone can be found, navigated and driven. RevCon 2010 set the expectations high by the provisions of the Action Plan and the RevCon 2015 eventually failed to deliver due the political circumstances as well as the lack of our ability to achieve consensus on how to move forward once the 2012 conference had not materialized.

So, is Ambassador Mahmoud Karem – with whom I had a pleasure just a while ago to be together in one panel – right by saying at the Moscow Non Proliferation Conference that over the last years “nothing happened and we are back to square one”? This is a valid point. At the same time we would be unjust discarding the legacy of the Glion process, the work of the facilitator, intellectual and diplomatic efforts of the co-conveners and, last but not least, discrediting political positions of the states of the region.

Moreover, if we diligently took stock of the diplomatic efforts involved, we would realize that the international community is not empty-handed. And maybe we should dive deeper down and beyond the frameworks of the NPT in order to avoid one-dimensional approach.

What is therefore available here and now, in the midst of the 2020 review cycle?
Except for the “ordinary NPT tool box”, as the 1995, 2000 and 2010 resolutions and decisions, there are other frameworks to build on. Although the United Nations Disarmament Committee (UNDC) has perhaps not a very impressive list of achievements, in 1999 it managed to adopt by consensus the Guidelines and Principles for the Nuclear-Weapons Free Zones. They are a sound reference document for the establishment of any new zone and in any case they cannot be ignored. Moreover, a careful analysis reveals, that all existing nuclear-weapons-free-zone treaties were born beyond the NPT process and only then taken on board as examples of efficient disarmament and non-proliferation. Just to be noted, Treaty of Tlatelolco was adopted in 1967, three years before the NPT.
Let me remind you one important event in that regard. Exactly six years ago in November 2011, during the Polish Presidency of the European Union, the IAEA Director General Y. Amano realised the idea of his predecessor dr. El Baradai and convened in Vienna the Forum on Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Free Zones. Representatives of Tlatelolco, Rarotonga, Pelindaba, Bangkok and Semipalatinsk could freely and without prejudices share their expertise and experience to show how the decision making process for the zones had been steadily built. Maybe it would be useful to look again at the files of that conference and find out whether we can draw from that legacy.

The NPT first PrepCom of this cycle also did not leave the subject unattended.
A careful reading of the Chair’s Factual Summary reveals nine paragraphs devoted to the issues of nuclear weapons free zones and six of them (96-101) focused only on the nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Moreover, regardless of the Tariq Rauf`s snappy observation in his recent article on 50th anniversary of the NPT that the working papers are becoming more lengthy and more difficult to go through, six working papers on the Middle East zone have been tabled. Some of them can be perceived as one-dimensional but some present interesting ideas how to go forward.

Let me highlight the substance of the Working Paper 31 tabled by one of the co-conveners. It proposes concrete steps and venues for the decision making process to convene the ME Conference, including concrete places of the PrepComs for the Conference as well as the appointment of a new facilitator. This approach has some seductive attraction in its simplicity but apparently not enough of it as it did not allow Russia to table a respective resolution at the last I Committee which would contain the blueprint. This is a work in progress as I understand.
There is also interest in and engagement for the issue among the parties of the region itself, as testified by the Working Paper 30, tabled by the States of the Persian Gulf. It suggests inter alia that the conference should begin before 2020 Review Conference with no specific date of commencement. It seems however, that the ideas did not meet half way with the views of all the states from the region. It shows that major dilemmas persist even in the region.

It seems reasonable that the solution would best be found within the region as it is in the region that the stakes are best understood. But others could also bring in ideas or serve as honest brokers along the process. The Co-conveners could for instance consider taking active part as well as some international organisations, including the UN and the EU. We all have a stake in resolving the problem so eventually all parties can shoulder their share of the burden of responsibility.

History shows us that any radical approach will not be conducive to lasting solutions. Nor will it be a wait and see approach – we need concepts to start working on them during the subsequent PrepComs. The same history teaches us that the radical steps towards the review process as such had taken us nowhere either. By the same token we were nowhere nearer to the solution for the zone nor to the effective implementation of other provisions of the Treaty. And if the NPT is derailed what is left to underpin legally the issue of the WMD FZ in the Middle East?

To summarize, I believe that a solution is still conceivable, although rather not at hand today. It can be found either within the scope of the NPT mechanisms and provisions or beyond it. We need to treat all available and possible components as some kind of mutually reinforcing and completing “building blocks” leading us to the goal. The NPT will be the main one, but possibly not the only one, if we mean a pragmatic and efficient process. We need consistency combined with patience to move forward. We have still some time until 2020 RevCon to develop and test different solutions, though we need to realise that time is not unlimited.

Let me complete my presentation on somewhat lighter note, turning from the political to more factual and organizational matters.Here, I will outline briefly how I see the work of the Second PrepCom of 2018. First of all as Chair I see myself as a caretaker of the Treaty. The overarching objective for Second PrepCom from my perspective is therefore to uphold integrity and credibility of NPT. The working goal in turn is to contribute to its better implementation across its three main areas: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. 

I hope that these objectives can be shared by all States Parties to the Treaty, despite different views on the pace of implementation of the NPT commitments.

My concept of the review cycle is a sequence of building-blocks in form of the output of consecutive PrepComs. The RevCon itself will not produce satisfactory results if work is not prepared beforehand. So I expect substantive discussions already before and during the Second PrepCom session in Geneva so that enough stuff can be transferred to the III PrepCom from my side.

I see my utility as Chair mostly in creating the right environment for an open, inclusive, mutually respectful and transparent dialogue. I will therefore encourage an open and frank, yet target-oriented discussion, especially on issues where diverging opinions persist. I would expect engagement, mutual respect and good faith from the discussants. Otherwise we would only waist our precious time. I will try, whenever possible, to stimulate the discussions by my own proposals and ideas where I would feel they may be expedient to finding compromise. I do not intend to change the procedures or introduce new instruments of work. I would rather stick to the well-established methods of work and customs, trying to improve wherever and whenever possible, mostly on the output side of the process.

This approach in practice means intensive consultations with States Parties, regional groupings and participation in events as the one today. I have already visited a few countries and had many bilateral consultations. Towards the end of the year I plan to visit more States Parties, including important stakeholders on whose positive and meaningful engagement the outcome of the Conference is very much dependent. Individual meetings with the major NPT Groups in Vienna and in Geneva have been planned for early next year. You are encouraged to actively use this opportunity to discuss issues of interest from your side. We are moreover going to step on the wakes of our Dutch colleagues and organize a series of regional seminars in Africa, South America and Asia.

All this is geared to serve as practical steps towards the 2020 Review Conference. I hope the Second PrepCom is able to develop a reasonably clear vision of the potential Review Conference achievements which could be widely supported. A list of issue that parties disagree on will also have to be drawn up so that the IIIrd PrepCom may pick-up on them to better prepare the work of the Conference itself.

I am encouraged by many States Parties to draw up a factual, crispy, and to-the-point chairman’s report. The Dutch Chair’s reflections will also be an important guidance for my work and if there is enough support I could take the work on them forward.

To expedite the work an early nomination of the chairperson of the IIIrd PrepCom would be crucial as it would pave the way to the establishment of the Bureau of the Conference. It would strengthen in practical terms the review process itself. Rumour has it that there is already a volunteer in Asia and efforts are made that the requisite decision is taken swiftly. 

In 2018 we are supposed to mark positively the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of negotiations and in 2020 - 50 years of the Treaty as one of the most crucial norms of the international law. Let us approach this date with self-confidence and open-mindedness at the same time. It should raise our chances for a reasonable success. I hope that the RevCon in 2020 will be an occasion to be proud of the NPT and not to worry about its future.

In conclusion, the author wish to thank Dr Ayman Khalil, Director of the Arab Institute for Security Studies for facilittating this dialogues with Arab intellectuals.

* Paper presented at the 8th Session of the Nuclear Forum held by the Arab Institute for Security Studies and its partners.

Super User



More in this category: « Gawdat Bahgat