Soldiering On: Day 7 of the NPT PrepCom

May 2, 2013

After the Egyptian delegation’s walkout at the end of Monday’s session, no one was quite sure what to expect from Day 7 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). Many were uncertain whether other Arab states would follow Egypt’s lead and refuse to attend the remainder of the meeting out of solidarity. Because there were still many delegations wishing to speak when the plenary closed on Monday evening, attendees also wondered how the Egyptian action would affect the rest of the discussion on the Middle East and the proposed Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. However, the Conference continued at its usual pace with no real surprises, suggesting that Egypt’s walkout may not have as great an effect as its delegation may have hoped.

The day began with an off-the-record briefing for NGOs by the United Kingdom. Many of the NGO representatives left Geneva at the end of last week, and the national positions of delegations on various issues have become increasingly clear through their statements in the plenary, so these briefings are increasingly less well-attended. However, they do still provide an opportunity for NGOs to engage with delegations and ask questions or provide their feedback on what has occurred at the PrepCom.

Plenary Session

When the plenary began, the Chair announced that the PrepCom would temporarily suspend its discussion on issues pertaining to the Middle East and would instead discuss other regional issues. He hoped that this would provide Egypt with some time to rejoin the meeting if it wished to do so. Therefore, he asked delegations to postpone their statements on Middle East-related issues and instead to focus in their comments on matters pertaining to other regional matters.

The delegations responded appropriately, with many statements addressing the current situation in the DPRK as well as concerns about Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria. When it was Iran’s turn to speak, the ambassador expressed dismay that many states were addressing concerns about Iran in the same breath as the DPRK, arguing that it was not fair to compare them. He was particularly critical of the Japanese delegation’s comments, stating that there were instances in the past where political figures in Japan had called for the development of a nuclear weapons program, yet there had been no response in the IAEA or NPT context. He told the conference that Iran would challenge everyone if it continued to feel challenged, and that the states parties should focus on bringing outsiders into the treaty rather than encouraging those within it to leave. The Japanese delegation then exercised its right of reply to state that the Japanese government had never had an official policy in which it planned to develop nuclear weapons.

This concluded the list of speakers who wished to comment on other regional issues, and the Chair then once again opened discussions on the Middle East. The plenary continued much as it had on Monday before the Egyptian walkout, with many delegations expressing their dismay over the postponement of the Conference, arguing that the situation threatened the credibility of the Treaty, and calling for the Chair’s summary to reiterate the 2010 Final Document and state that the Conference will be held before the end of 2013. There is a great deal of disagreement over the multilateral consultations that the Facilitator has proposed to stage in Geneva to address the objectives and outcomes for a potential Conference before the Conference is actually held. Several delegations offered their appreciation and support to the Facilitator for this plan, but others argued that their countries could not possibly participate in such consultations without a further idea of the agenda for discussions and expressed concern that this preparatory meeting might be seen as a substitute for a Conference attended by all states of the region. There is clearly more work to be done on this front. At the conclusion of the session, the Facilitator expressed his thanks to the states parties who had expressed their views. He observed that everyone present shared the view of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction and that this universal agreement was no small accomplishment.

Side Events

There were two main side events during the lunch break on Tuesday. The first was entitled “A WMD Free Zone in the Middle East: Would an NGO mock conference expedite the convening of the Helsinki Conference?” and was hosted by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. The purpose of the side event was to brief attendees on the role of civil society/NGOs in facilitating the convening of the Helsinki Conference, and what a simulation of the Helsinki meeting by civil society may look like and produce. Ambassador Mohamed Shaker has proposed a simulation involving NGOs from the region who would represent their countries. The simulation would be a business-like experience, without the usual impedimental rhetoric, to demonstrate that the WMDFZ idea is feasible. Moreover, bringing, for example, Iranian and Israeli members of civil society together would be a confidence-building measure. It was stressed by both the audience and panel that the results of a Helsinki meeting simulation must be concrete and actionable. The results would aid the Facilitator’s office, contribute to the agenda, and formulate engagement of civil society in the actual Helsinki meeting. Size, duration, and content of the mock conference are still under consideration.

The second side event focused on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons and was hosted by Reaching Critical Will and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Reaching Critical Will presented its report, entitled “Unspeakable suffering,” on the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use. The presentations focused in particular on the effects a nuclear attack would have on the economy and on development, noting the cost of destruction, cost of disruption, and reactionary costs as contributing factors. Presenters observed that a nuclear detonation would have major consequences for livelihoods as well as food prices, particularly in developing countries.

Afternoon Plenary

When the plenary reconvened after lunch, discussions moved on to Cluster 3 issues, namely those pertaining to peaceful uses. Several delegations observed that the Fukushima incident had affected global attitudes to nuclear power, yet many countries nevertheless remain interested in building new reactors and developing nuclear energy sources domestically. Many delegations praised the multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle represented by the IAEA and Angarsk fuel banks, but the delegation of Argentina sounded a note of caution, warning that such initiatives should not limit legitimate access to the fuel cycle that is guaranteed under the Treaty.

A number of delegations called attention to the fact that the Fukushima accident had led to the reevaluation of safety practices and standards, and called for implementation of the IAEA nuclear safety action plan to this end. Nuclear security was also a popular topic: several delegations welcomed the IAEA high-level conference on nuclear security which is scheduled to be held in Vienna in July.

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