2003 NPT Preparatory Committee: Business as Usual?

Jean du Preez
Emily Schroeder*
May 2003

Palais des Nations in Geneva

Palais des Nations in Geneva

The Second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2005 Review Conference (RevCon) of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is currently underway (28 April to 9 May 2003) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, under the chairmanship of Ambassador László Molnár of Hungary. The purpose of the PrepCom is to prepare for the RevCon in terms of assessing the implementation of each article of the NPT and facilitating discussion among states parties prior to the start of the Conference. The April/May 2003 meeting is the second of three sessions that will be held prior to the 2005 Review Conference.

The PrepCom is held amid fears about the nuclear nonproliferation regime overall, particularly given the lack of commitment by some states parties — nuclear weapons states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) alike — to their respective Treaty obligations. Despite Cuba’s long-awaited accession to the Treaty in November 2002, the NPT continues to face both internal and external challenges. This PrepCom takes place amid increasing global attention to the issues of nonproliferation and disarmament. The September 2002 US National Security Strategy doctrine that established pre-emptive strikes as official US policy, the US invasion of Iraq to rid it of weapons of mass destruction, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) decision to withdraw from the NPT and restart its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, in addition to the clear lack of commitment by the NWS to implement their nuclear disarmament obligations, have all served to focus attention on the test of political will regarding nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, and the role that the NPT will take in leading these efforts.

Despite the sense of pessimism about the potential outcome of the PrepCom and the possibility that the meeting would not be able to make progress towards substantive recommendations at the next PrepCom (for the 2005 RevCon), the PrepCom Chairman, in a display of diplomatic skills and political resolve, started the meeting on a relatively positive note by avoiding a procedural debate over North Korea’s withdrawal. Ambassador Molnar announced that he would take custody of the DPRK’s nameplate and that it would not be displayed among those of the states parties, but that it would remain in the conference room. As if the withdrawal from the Treaty by North Korea were not a hard enough blow to the regime, the states parties’ acceptance of this “soft” reaction to one of the most significant challenges to the Treaty is of real concern. Although intended to defuse a potentially divisive issue, the acceptance of this approach is indicative of the states parties’ inclination to accept “business as usual” and to focus on procedural rather than substantive approaches to difficult challenges to the Treaty.

If Ambassador Molnar’s approach on how to deal with the North Korean issues were designed to ensure a smooth start to the meeting, then the approach by the NNWS led by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) and the Non-Aligned States signaled a showdown with the NWS over nuclear disarmament. The NAC noted that although there had been some positive developments (such as Cuba’s accession and progress towards a nuclear weapon free zone [NWFZ] in Central Asia), progress with regard to nuclear disarmament has been “dismal.” The United States deflected the criticism over its own apparent lack of commitment to nuclear disarmament by accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons, thereby setting the stage for a confrontation between the supporters of two of the main pillars of the Treaty — those states parties concerned over the nuclear weapons states’ lack of compliance with their nuclear disarmament obligations, and those states concerned over the lack of compliance by some states, such as Iran, with their nonproliferation obligations.


Held from 8 to 19 April 2002 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the first session of this review cycle was significant in two regards. First, it was the first NPT meeting since the tragic events of 11 September 2001, which directed greater attention to the tremendous risks of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, this was the first meeting of a new cycle following the successful 2000 NPT RevCon at which the final document was unanimously adopted. This Final Document included 13 practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the NPT and Paragraphs 3 and 4(c) of the 1995 Decision on “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.”

Since the “revised” strengthened review process decision at the 2000 RevCon does not require the first two sessions of the PrepCom to enter into negotiations, but rather to “consider principles, objectives and ways in order to promote the full implementations of the Treaty as well as its universality,” the first PrepCom did not attempt to produce any negotiated report. Instead, the Chairman of that meeting, Ambassador Salander of Sweden, prepared a Chairman’s factual summary under his own responsibility, of the Committee’s consideration of the issues, contained in Annex II to the report of the 2002 PrepCom. This document comprised of 37 paragraphs captured the Chairman’s factual distillation of the views expressed by states parties on a number of substantive matters, including nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament, safeguards, export controls, NWFZs, regional issues (DPRK, Iraq, South Asia, and the Middle East), strengthened physical protection of nuclear material, and reporting.

2003 PrepCom: Addressing Issues of Non-Compliance and Nuclear Disarmament

The first five days of the current session of the PrepCom have largely focused on issues of compliance with the nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament obligations undertaken by states parties to the Treaty, with many states placing emphasis on a balance between these two obligations. As Brazil stated, “The maintenance of a robust nuclear non-proliferation regime is not sustainable without parallel positive developments in the field of nuclear disarmament.”

I. North Korea’s Withdrawal and Non-Compliance

Although the Chair decided not to include a discussion on the status of the DPRK, stating that the differing views of states parties would be unlikely to lead to a constructive dialogue, many states still expressed their condemnation of the actions taken by the DPRK in violation of its Treaty obligations, and urged the DPRK to reconsider its decision and rejoin the NPT. As expected, states have expressed their hope for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution. The DPRK’s case, however, has provoked some states, as well as non-governmental organizations, to consider ways to address the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism for cases of non-compliance and to prevent states from withdrawing from the Treaty.

The scope and sophistication of the nuclear program being pursued by Iran has also given rise to questions and concerns by several states with regard to Iran’s compliance with its NPT obligations. The United States, using its opening debate statement to start its campaign against Iran, accused it of “conducting an alarming, clandestine program to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities that we believe makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program.” The United States, among others, has repeatedly questioned the economic justification for such an advanced nuclear program — which includes pursuit of the entire nuclear fuel cycle — and has called on Iran to demonstrate its peaceful intentions through increased co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including the signing and bringing into force of an Additional Protocol. This Protocol would allow for more comprehensive verification measures. Iran has stated that such accusations are neither credible nor substantiated.

In an interesting and rather unexpected way, the Iran responded to the US allegations (as part of its own national statement) by throwing a series of questions back to the United States:

How many nuclear weapon states other than the United States have prescribed the use of nuclear weapons in conventional conflicts and developed new types of nuclear weapons compatible with its combat scenarios? None. Which other nuclear weapon states have sought to utilize outer space for nuclear purposes more than the United States? None. How many nuclear weapon states other than the United States have legislatively rejected the CTBT and practically doomed its future? Why did the United States through its unilateral withdrawal from the ABM and its abrogation of step 7 of the 13 steps threaten the strategic stability of the world? Which NPT party other than the United States has left such a record of undermining so many international instruments, on disarmament and other issues alike? None.

The Iranian statement also included a strongly worded and apparently unequivocal condemnation of the development of nuclear weapons. As such it stated that “unlike some others, we consider the acquiring, development and use of nuclear weapons inhuman, immoral, illegal and against our basic principles.”

II. Nuclear Disarmament

Stressing that compliance also applies to nuclear disarmament obligations, NNWS once again expressed frustration with the lack of progress toward this goal. They recalled the NWS’s unequivocal undertaking to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals, as expressed in the 2000 Final Document. This frustration is particularly targeted at the faltering commitment demonstrated by the NWS to the 13 practical steps to nuclear disarmament, agreed upon in the 2000 Final Document.

While Australia, Japan, the European Union states, and other states welcomed the May 2002 signing of the US-Russia Moscow Treaty, many also cautioned that the importance of the principles of irreversibility and transparency should not be disregarded. In this respect, several NNWS, most notably the New Agenda Coalition and the NAM expressed their disappointment that the Treaty does not constitute a real contribution to the goal of disarmament.

III. Security Assurances

Given that little progress has been made towards nuclear disarmament, and that security doctrines have included the potential use of nuclear weapons against NNWS, the issue of negative security assurances (NSAs) has gained renewed attention by NNWS during this PrepCom. Many NNWS have stressed that NNWS parties to the NPT have the right to unconditional and legally binding NSAs as a transitional measure until the goal of nuclear disarmament has been fully achieved. South Africa stated, “Security assurances rightfully belong to those who have given up the nuclear weapon option as opposed to those that are still keeping their options open.” In this regard, one state noted that NNWS parties to the Treaty are in a “less enviable” position than that of non-states parties, as NNWS parties are subject to verification and compliance measures and may still have their peaceful intentions questioned. Non-states parties may possess nuclear weapons and thus circumvent all security standards and Treaty provisions.

The New Agenda Coalition submitted a working paper on this issue, detailing provisions on scope, format, and other aspects. Attached to the working paper was a draft document that could take the form either of a Protocol or an agreement. The draft document includes both positive and negative security assurances, but allows for the cessation of security assurances in the event that a NWS is attacked by a NNWS in association or alliance with a NWS.

Some NWS, for their part, restated their assurances as given in April 1995, stating that their respective policies on this issue remain unchanged. China reiterated its unilateral no-first-use and negative security assurance policy, and urged the other NWS to confirm their commitments in a legally binding form. Russia supported the application of legally binding NSAs through Protocols to NWFZs, but also noted the possibility of establishing an ad hoc committee within the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a universal and legally binding agreement on security assurances. The Republic of Korea also encouraged the pursuit of NSAs through the establishment of NWFZs, stating that this approach was the “most realistic.”

IV. Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

The issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons has gained increased importance, both since the events of 11 September 2001 provoked greater awareness and fear of the threat of nuclear terrorism, and also due to the leaking of the January 2002 US Nuclear Posture Review, which advocated research into modified and new generations of low-yield nuclear weapons to combat the increasing threat of hardened and deeply buried targets. Several characteristics of non-strategic nuclear weapons increase the possibility that they might be subject to theft without detection. These include their portability, weaknesses in credible inventory, lack of reliable security in transport and storage, and their often close proximity to areas of conflict. Although non-strategic nuclear weapons have traditionally been overlooked in the formal arms reduction process, the 2000 Final Document mandated that the PrepCom should make recommendations on this issue to the 2005 RevCon. Germany submitted a detailed working paper (NPT/CONF.2005/PC.I/WP.4) at the first session of the Preparatory Committee, advocating a gradual approach on this issue. The New Agenda Coalition also submitted a working paper, which was later expanded in an October 2002 resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly (57/58). These papers proposed, inter alia, codification and reporting on the implementation of the 1991-92 unilateral US and Russian Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, as well as further confidence-building and transparency measures.

Building on these past proposals, the New Agenda Coalition, as part of its working paper on nuclear disarmament, made substantive proposals, while Austria, Mexico, and Sweden presented a separate working paper at the PrepCom session entitled “Reductions of non-strategic nuclear weapons.” In addition to the codification and expansion of the 1991-92 Presidential Initiatives, other ideas included: support for the establishment of an ad hoc committee within the Conference on Disarmament on nuclear disarmament, including further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons; confidence-building measures such as the exchange of data on holdings and status of non-strategic weapons, safety provisions, types of weapons, yields, and ranges of their designated delivery systems; reduction of operational status of non-strategic nuclear weapons; and enhanced security and physical protection measures for transport and storage of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The paper suggested the prohibition and elimination of certain types of non-strategic nuclear weapons, including those that have already been removed from nuclear arsenals (i.e., nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells, etc.). It also emphasized the principles of verifiability, transparency, and irreversibility, and urged the PrepCom to continue discussion with a view to making recommendations to the 2005 RevCon. Many countries have expressed support for this paper as a foundation for further discussion.

Russia expressed some support for addressing the issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the context of reductions of other kinds of nuclear armaments, taking into consideration the maintenance of strategic stability. The United States, however, stated that after reviewing the potential for further arms control instruments on non-strategic nuclear weapons: “We concluded that such an approach is not possible. The nature of the remaining non-strategic nuclear weapons and their delivery systems makes it far more difficult to have confidence in treaty implementation than is the case for strategic systems.”

V. Utilizing the Strengthened Review Process through Regular Reporting

Building upon the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference decision on strengthening the review process for the Treaty, Step 12 of the 13 practical steps agreed upon in 2000 mandated regular reports by all states on the implementation of Article VI and paragraph 4(c) of the 1995 Decision on “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.”

Canada submitted a working paper to this session of the PrepCom, expanding upon its proposal at last year’s session and outlining the feedback received during its informal consultations over the past year on the issue of regular reporting. While the paper did not make specific recommendations, it highlighted issues in further need of consideration, such as the format, scope, and timing of the reporting requirement. This paper has been supported by most NNWS. Many states have emphasized that reporting can serve as a tool for increasing transparency and accountability, and can increase confidence with regard to compliance of states parties.

NNWS have generally supported the regular submission of reports to each session of the PrepCom and the RevCon, but the content of reports submitted thus far have reflected the different views with regard to what aspects of the Treaty should be included. Although some reports have covered only implementation of Article VI, others have included the 13 Steps while still others have reported on each article of the NPT. NNWS generally noted a need for a standardized format for reporting in order to ease comparison of implementation progress and efforts. However, several states, including Australia, the Republic of Korea, and Bangladesh, pointed out that an overly cumbersome process may discourage some states from submitting reports and may also place a disproportionate burden upon developing countries; they encouraged flexibility and practicality in this regard. Mexico proposed the establishment of a subsidiary body to discuss a reporting format during the inter-sessional period, a proposal that was supported by Canada.

The NWS continued their tradition of orally reporting on their efforts and activities towards nuclear disarmament, although the content and specificity of those reports varied widely among the countries. The United Kingdom included in its report detailed information on the approximate number of warheads and the alert status of its one remaining Trident system, as well as on its ongoing project to seek technological methods of verification for future agreements on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia also provided relatively specific accounts of their nuclear arms reductions and the implementation status of their various arms control agreements, but continued to express opposition to attempts to define reporting structure and format, or efforts to make reports obligatory. However, the United States submitted a fact sheet on its implementation of Article VI, and included aspects of its nuclear policies. To a lesser extent, France also offered general assessments of its nuclear arsenal holdings, although no specific numbers were provided, and outlined its efforts to support the CTBT and to halt fissile material production. China was especially lacking in substance in its oral report, only reiterating its nuclear policies and stating that it has developed only a “minimal level” of nuclear weapons for defense purposes.

Several NNWS, especially South Africa, Sweden, Canada, and Cuba, have encouraged the use of reports to enable active interaction among states parties, and have already used this opportunity to pose questions and comments to reporting states. This aspect of the PrepCom is a relatively new one in the strengthened review process. As pointed out by Japan, this PrepCom, at which the factual summary by the Chair again takes the place of negotiated text, is the last opportunity before the 2005 RevCon in which to engage in a discussion on substance rather than text. The usefulness of this interaction has yet to be fully developed, but if its potential were fully realized, it might allow for more substantive and constructive discussion on the implementation and strengthening of the Treaty.

Of further interest was a proposal by South Africa to again review the strengthened review process at the 2005 RevCon based on the outcome of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) 2001/2002 Review Conference decision following the demise of the ad hoc group negotiations. The South African proposal suggested that the BWC approach to undertake substantive work on an annual basis could provide a model to achieve further progress and to strengthen the implementation of the Treaty. The South African delegation, however, indicated that delegations should consider the content of their proposal “on the basis that our next PrepCom meeting in 2004 may consider recommendations on the issue to the Review Conference.”

VI. Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education

As was the case during the last PrepCom in 2002, several delegations, most notably those who were represented on the United Nations Secretary-General’s expert panel on disarmament and nonproliferation education(e.g., Sweden, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, etc), emphasized the importance of education as a tool, currently underutilized, for strengthening disarmament and nonproliferation education.

VII. The Remaining Issues to Be Discussed During the Second Week

The second week of the PrepCom will address regional issues, nuclear safety and security issues, including the application of safeguards agreements and export controls, as well as the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The last three sessions will focus on the Chair’s factual summary. In this regard, it is interesting that Ambassador Molnar, in an effort to be as transparent as possible, invited delegations to meet with him bilaterally and to submit specific written proposals for possible inclusion in the factual summary. Although the draft summary is only expected to be circulated late during the second week, indications are that the Chairman will base his summary on the elements contained in the Chairman’s summary of the last PrepCom.


The second session of the PrepCom thus far, similar to the first session, has progressed in a relatively smooth manner. Several issues have been highlighted, such as security assurances and non-strategic nuclear weapons, with working papers offering concrete and constructive proposals as food for thought. Although some delegations, including some NWS, have been attempting to engage in more active and substantive interactions, others have stayed notably quiet, both in engaging others and responding to others’ attempts to engage them. Interaction between delegations, however, seems to be held in a vacuum. As one delegate pointed out, “scripted interactivity” could just as well be conducted via the Internet, leaving the impression that the PrepCom has become a “chat room.” Real progress and prospects for agreement should not be judged by the number of interactions between delegations, but should be measured in terms of agreements among the states parties. Progress in this regard remains questionable. This week represents the last opportunity for states to “chat” to each other. The decision taken at the 2000 RevCon on “Improving the effectiveness of the strengthened review process for the Treaty” requires that the next PrepCom make recommendations to the 2005 RevCon, taking into account the deliberations and results of its previous sessions. To this end the next PrepCom and the 2005 Review Conference will have to face the questions of how to effectively address cases of non-compliance and potential withdrawals from the NPT as well as how to prevent any rollbacks from undertakings given and agreements reached in the context of the strengthened review process.

*Jean du Preez (Director, International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program [IONP] at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies), attended the 2003 PrepCom while Emily Schroeder (Monterey Institute graduate research assistant at the IONP) provided assistance in compiling this report.

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