Behind the Scenes: How Not to Negotiate an Enhanced NPT Review Process

November 2, 2023
William Potter

The following is an excerpt from Arms Control Association.

When more than 100 delegations assembled in Vienna this summer for two sets of meetings to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), expectations among most diplomats were low.

There was good reason for skepticism given the failure of the 10th NPT Review Conference in August 2022, the second consecutive conference that was unable to produce a consensus final document. More significantly, the international environment was even less welcoming than the previous year as Russia continued to wage its brutal war on Ukraine, Chinese-U.S. relations plummeted to their lowest level in decades, and prospects faded for resolving nuclear challenges in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula.

It was a surprise, therefore, that the one-week meeting of the working group on further strengthening the NPT review process got off to a good start. Most delegates abandoned their standard practice of reciting highly scripted and predictable remarks in favor of more spontaneous, interactive deliberations. Delegates even appeared to listen to one another at the meeting, the first of its kind in the history of the NPT review process. Could it be that states were sufficiently frightened by a world in disarray that they had awakened from sleepwalking toward a nuclear catastrophe? Might they demonstrate the common sense and flexibility necessary to strengthen one of the few remaining international bulwarks against the spread of nuclear weapons? The short answer is no, but the manner in which negotiations collapsed at both events—the working group meeting and the first preparatory committee meeting for the 11th NPT Review Conference scheduled for 2026—is even more disturbing than their barren outcomes and bodes poorly for the future of multilateral nuclear diplomacy.

Searching for Solutions

The working group, which met July 24-28, was mandated by the 2022 review conference to “discuss and make recommendations to the preparatory committee on measures that would improve the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, accountability, coordination, and continuity of the review process of the treaty.” The intent was not to renegotiate the 1995 decision to strengthen the review process, but to improve how the review process operated in order to make it more effective and efficient.

Continue reading at Arms Control Association.

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