Doomsday clock

By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Acronym alert! Until 3 May, the Second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference (RevCon) of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be meeting at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva.

Still with us? The following alphabetical lists provides a flavour of what can be expected at this two-week gathering of states parties to the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Unlike some previous PrepComs (e.g. 2007), this session already has one – which should avoid procedural delays.

The Arab League considered boycotting this year’s committee after the 2012 Helsinki conference on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone was postponed. Arab states will now attend, but remain unhappy about the lack of progress on an MEWMDFZ.

CTBT ratification
North Korea’s nuclear test this February (see N) will almost certainly prompt renewed calls for pendingAnnex II states to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty. Several groupings have submitted working papers urging the entry into force of the treaty and for states to respect the existing moratoriums on nuclear testing until then.

The five nuclear states signed up to the NPT (‘the P5’) have not participated in two new disarmament processes, claiming they did not wish to detract from the main Conference on Disarmament (CD) and NPT review processes. The US, UK, China, Russia and France argue that disarmament should be discussed in existing multilateral forums and they were not at the international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo this March (see H for more), nor have they demonstrated much enthusiasm for the open-ended working group established by the United Nations General Assembly (see O for more).

Extra day
The canton of Geneva does not observe 1 May, Labour Day in most of the world, as a public holiday, so it will be business as usual for PrepCom delegates.

Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)
The lack of a mechanism to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear arms is seen as a major loophole in the non-proliferation regime, leading some countries to prioritise the negotiation of an FMCT. Despite the many difficulties inherent in this process, Canada and Spain have submitted aworking paper on the FMCT to this PrepCom.

Group dynamics
Decades after the end of the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) remains a major player in disarmament politics, and with Iran as its current chair it will be making itself felt at this PrepCom. Two newer groups, the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) and the the Vienna Group of Ten are gaining momentum. The NPDI wants to encourage practical steps to advance the64 agreed points of the 2010 NPT Action Plan, but the group’s credibility suffers because of the fact that seven of its ten members are under the US or NATO umbrella.

Humanitarian dimension
This is a subject dividing PrepCom participants, for while the P5 stayed away from the Osloconference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, another 127 states (including two non-NPT states parties, India and Pakistan) pledged support. The P5 states consider that the Oslo process could lead to a ban on nuclear weapons, which would not sit well with their own national-security policies.

Iran’s stand-off with the international community over its nuclear programme continues, but its national diplomatic agenda is expected to be tempered in the multilateral NPT review process by its role as chair of the large NAM group.

Japan asked to join anti-nuclear statement
Kyodo News reports that Japan, as the only country to ever suffer a nuclear attack, has been asked by Switzerland to endorse a statement to be issued by the PrepCom urging that nuclear weapons ‘are never again used, under any circumstances’. The statement has been drafted by South Africa and has more than a dozen backers, including some NATO states.

‘Expectation management’ is an oft-repeated phrase around multilateral nuclear meetings. At this PrepCom, certain expectations may be downright surreal, distorted or unrealistic.

Laajava’s report
Ambassador Jaako Laajava, the facilitator of the delayed MEWMDFZ conference, is due to report to the 2013 PrepCom.

Where the follow-up conference on the humanitarian dimension of disarmament will be hosted, probably later this year.

North Korea
International concern has been growing about North Korea’s behaviour since this February when the DPRK performed its third nuclear test and began threatening military action against its neighbours and enemies. Pyongyang’s actions are expected to be overwhelming condemned at the PrepCom.

Open-ended working group
The open-ended working group established by UN General Assembly Resolution 67/56 is due to meet in Geneva in September 2013, later reporting its proposals to the General Assembly and, via the UN Secretary-General, to the CD and the Disarmament Commission.

P5 statement
The P5 recently held its fourth meeting on the implementation of 2010 NPT RevCon Action Plan Points and takes the joint statement from this meeting to the PrepCom, essentially reaffirming P5 states’ commitment to nuclear disarmament and continuing to work together ‘in implementing the 2010 NPT Review Conference Action Plan’. The fourth meeting was chaired by Russia; whether China will host the fifth round remains unclear.

Questions about transparency
With the P5 due to report on their relevant activities across all three pillars of the 2010 NPT Action Plan at the 2014 NPT PrepCom, there will be renewed calls for increased transparency by all of the five nuclear weapons states, including on tactical nuclear weapons. Among other things, the P5 are developing a glossary of key nuclear terms to increase understanding and facilitate further discussions. This will be submitted to the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

Romanian chair
Romania’s Ambassador Cornel Feruta fought off stiff competition to clinch the role of chair. This young diplomat understands the complexity of multilateral nuclear diplomacy, having been president of the 55th IAEA General Conference, but can he control the bumpy ride that this particular committee session is predicted to be?

Iran, Syria and North Korea will be called on to fully adhere to their IAEA safeguards obligations to account for and control their use of nuclear materials. After recent E3+3 talks in Almaty ended without firm agreement, the spotlight will remain on Iran. Meanwhile, moves continue to strengthen safeguards by trying to make the IAEA Additional Protocol the universal norm.

actical nuclear weapons
These battlefield weapons aren’t covered by the new strategic arms-reduction treaty (New START) between the US and Russia, allowing Washington to controversially upgrade nearly 200 B61 bombs stockpiled in Europe. The NPDI is now calling for tactical nuclear weapons to be included in arms-control dialogue; NATO also proposed this at its 2012 Chicago summit.

Although four states with nuclear weapons remain outside the NPT, the mantra of the treaty’s ‘universality’ will be repeated. One hundred and 89 states are parties to the treaty.

A briefing by the UK and Norway on their joint verification exercise relating to disarmament will take place on the sidelines of the PrepCom.

As this list suggests, arms control and multilateralism minutiae will be the order of the day.

Withdrawal from the NPT is governed by Article X.1 of the treaty, and a recent G8 declaration and the joint statement from the fourth P5 conference both highlighted the need to prevent abuse of this sovereign right. Measures needed include the codification of ‘modalities under which NPT states parties could respond collectively and individually to a notification of withdrawal’, and ‘efforts to broaden consensus among NPT states Parties’ on the issue. These efforts by the G8 and P5 mirror earlier work by Russia and Ukraine.

Yes to disarmament education
An NPDI working paper to the PrepCom is indicative of the continued broad support for investment in disarmament and non-proliferation education and civil-society efforts.

Despite differences of opinion on how to reach it, leading nuclear weapons states are still eyeing the goal of global zero, as outlined in President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech. At last week’s conference, the P5 reaffirmed ‘the historic contribution of the pragmatic, step-by-step process to nuclear disarmament’ and stressed ‘the continued validity of this proven route’.

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