The Walkout: Day 6 of the NPT PrepCom

April 30, 2013

The second week of the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) kicked off with a bang – no pun intended. The morning’s session allowed delegations to debate on Cluster 2 issues, while the afternoon was devoted to discussion of regional matters, specifically the Middle East and the proposed Conference on the Establishment of a Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Delegates and observers knew that the Middle East discussion was likely to be contentious, but there were few surprises until the last few minutes of the day. Egypt was the final speaker for the afternoon session and delivered a statement announcing that its delegation was withdrawing from the remainder of the 2013 PrepCom due to the perceived lack of seriousness in establishing a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. This situation is unprecedented in NPT history.

Morning Side Events and Plenary Session

Although the events of 29 April 2013 will likely be overshadowed by the Egyptian statement at the end of the day, there were nevertheless a number of other important developments that occurred throughout the morning and afternoon.

The day began with an off-the-record briefing for NGOs by South Africa, which delivered the statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons on behalf of more than 70 member states last week. The morning plenary then began, during which states continued to offer remarks on nonproliferation-related issues pertaining to Cluster 2.

In addition to the issues identified in Friday’s report as being of particular concern to many delegations, there were several themes that echoed through numerous delegations’ statements today as well. Several states commented on the importance of export control regimes, observing that guidelines such as those provided by the Zangger Committee or Nuclear Suppliers’ Group could be of critical importance in making sure that a state’s exports do not directly or indirectly assist in building nuclear weapons. Another area that came up frequently was that of nuclear security. Many states who spoke on Friday did not mention nuclear safety or security, but several of those who addressed the plenary today noted that nuclear safety was a critical priority and expressed optimism about the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit to be held in the Netherlands. The statement of the Netherlands mentioned that much of the next NSS will focus on industry engagement as well as how to build mutual confidence between countries through existing legally binding and voluntary measures as well as through new mechanisms such as peer reviews.

Iran’s non-compliance continued to be a popular topic among delegations taking the floor as well. Many states called on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA. For its part, when Iran took the floor, it was critical of the United States, United Kingdom, and France for their nuclear sharing arrangements and cooperation with non-NPT members, which it felt constituted non-compliance with the Treaty.

Lunchtime Side Events

There were two side events held during the lunch break on Monday. The first was entitled “Engaging Legislators in Building the Framework for a Nuclear Weapons Free World” and was presented by Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND). This side event presented an overview of relevant issues in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament for national legislators and described options for engaging parliamentarians and parliaments on these issues. In particular, the speakers presented practical legal, political, technical, and institutional measures on how parliaments can encourage ratification of CTBT, realize the UNSG’s five points on nuclear disarmament, and pursue negotiations towards a NWC. The Inter-Parliamentary Union & PNND distributed their implementation Handbook for Parliamentarians on Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and discussed current parliamentary actions taken in pursuit of nuclear-weapon-free zones.

The second side event was a discussion hosted by Canada on the strengthened review process for the NPT. It featured a keynote presentation by former NPT Secretary-General Tom Markram as well as commentary from delegates of Russia, Mexico, and Ireland. Because the 2010 Review Conference did not have sufficient time to address proposals to strengthen the review process, the Final Document calls on the next Review Conference to consider them. The panelists described some of the proposals that have been put forward, such as holding shorter PrepComs, creating an Implementation Support Unit within the ISU, streaming video from the Conferences, and using digital rather than summary records, and outlined the pros and cons of these proposals. This was followed by a lively discussion with many suggestions from the audience. The ambassador of Canada observed that it was up to the delegations to find a way to make the NPT perform better if they were unhappy with the way it was functioning.

Afternoon Session on Middle East Issues

When the plenary reconvened after lunch, the discussion turned to regional issues with a particular focus on the Middle East. The facilitator of the Conference on the Establishment of a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East, Ambassador Jaakko Laajava of Finland, first presented his report to the Chair and the States Parties on the status of his consultations in the region. He informed those present that he had carried out more than 300 consultations since October 2011, but that this is a hugely ambitious process that will require cooperation from all states as well as further confidence-building. He observed that although everyone was disappointed that the Conference could not meet in 2012, there was a significant risk to focus on the negatives.

The facilitator’s remarks were followed by statements from the convening states, the League of Arab States (which has observer status in the NPT), and the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as several national delegations. There were more than 40 delegations wishing to take the floor at one point during the debate. Many of these speakers observed that there would be future negative consequences for the regime if the Conference was not held, and encouraged the PrepCom to reiterate the Action Plan in its final document and emphasize a 2013 deadline for the Conference. Some of the statements, including those of the Non-Aligned Movement and Iran, mentioned how important it is to have Israel accede to the Treaty, participate in the Conference, and place its facilities under IAEA safeguards. Several of these delegations expressed frustration that in their view, the Conference was being held up due solely to the position of Israel. However, other states, particularly Canada, commented that the zone must be a product of regional efforts rather than an imposition from states outside the region, and expressed their view that other states in the region should not use the zone or the Conference to single out one particular state, but rather should address the general proliferation challenges in the region.

Egypt gave the final statement in the afternoon session. In its remarks, the Egyptian delegation pointed out that when Egypt ratified the NPT in 1981, its statement said that the Treaty was in the Egyptian interest if it curbed nuclear weapon proliferation in the Middle East, but that that had since not been the case. Ambassador Hisham Badr observed that the Arab states had worked hard together to draft a working paper outlining a position on the procedural and substantive issues of the Conference, but the conveners responded to this effort by postponing the Conference without consulting the states of the region. He argued that other states parties could not expect Egypt could to make concessions and compromises in exchange for agreements that are never implemented and nevertheless expect Egypt to continue to abide by those concessions. As a result, he announced that Egypt would withdraw from the remainder of the Second PrepCom as soon as he completed his statement. The Chair expressed dismay at this position and mentioned that he had not been notified in advance of this decision, but the Egyptian delegation left the room before he could finish his remarks.


The Egyptian walkout was a popular topic for discussion at the evening reception following the plenary session, but no one from the Egyptian delegation was present, and many of the other Arab states did not attend either. This has raised the question of the implications of this walkout for the other Arab states attending the PrepCom. Prior to the commencement of the PrepCom, rumors were circulating that the Arab Group was considering boycotting the meeting, but that it was generally felt that there would be little to gain and more to lose by such an action. It appears that Egypt felt it was necessary to take unilateral action. However, it is possible that other Arab states will choose not to attend the remainder of the PrepCom in solidarity with Egypt, without feeling the need to make an announcement.

It also remains to be seen how delegations from states outside the region will react. In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, some suggested that the PrepCom does not need to be overly concerned about this development. Egypt is only one state, and the damage to the credibility of the regime could have been much greater if the Arab Group or some other combination of states had walked out rather than a single delegation. Others may well argue that Egypt cannot be permitted to hold the treaty hostage by threatening to abandon it whenever it does not get its way. However, it is also possible that responding to the walkout with complacency will damage the NPT regime even more than the Egyptian action did. It is not yet clear how this will affect the remainder of the 2015 review cycle, so perhaps it is still possible to mitigate the damage. There is clearly an immense amount of frustration not just within Egypt regarding the status of the 1995 Middle East Resolution and of overall NPT implementation, but among other states of the region as well. If other NPT member states do not respond to the Egyptian action with understanding and diplomacy, there could well be a domino effect among other states that could affect the remainder of the review cycle.

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