Disarmament timeline could be deal-breaker at NPT Review Conference

Day 14: There is widespread dismay at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference where the latest draft on the treaty’s disarmament pillar has excised all references to a timetable for the nuclear weapons states to disarm.

Non-nuclear weapons states said that the chairman’s new draft was more favourable to protecting the five nuclear weapons states – Britain, the US, France, Russia and China – than to incorporating demands of the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It seems that unless there is a compromise reached over a timeframe, this could be a deal-breaker at the conference which winds up at the end of next week.

The original chairman’s draft had notably called for a UN-sponsored conference in 2014 to establish a roadmap for the elimination of nuclear weapons. This would follow a meeting “not later than 2011” of nuclear weapons states to review progress on disarmament.

However the chairman’s revised draft removed all references to a timeline. This prompted one senior NAM ambassador to say that the lack of a timebound framework raised the question whether the conference would fail, despite everybody’s hopes for a successful outcome given the goodwill towards President Obama’s nuclear disarmament agenda.

There was also disappointment for the German and some other European delegations as the action plan – now standing at 24 instead of 26 points – ignored Germany’s appeal for the inclusion of tactical nuclear weapons. This means that Russia, which rejected the German proposal in closed-door negotiations, succeeded in keeping the issue of Russian tactical nuclear weapons out of the action plan. Germany wants to keep up the pressure for the removal of the Nato tactical (non-strategic) weapons from Europe.

The draft as it now stands affirms that nuclear weapons states shall undertake further efforts to achieve reductions of “all types” of nuclear weapons. However this is a step backwards from the language of the 2000 in which the nuclear weapons states agreed to the “further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons”. Some diplomats argue that unless the conference can build on the commitments in the 1995 and 2000 review conferences (the 2005 failed to produce a final document and ended in acrimony and recriminations) the current conference will be a failure.

The Review Conference at this stage in the negotiations has gone underground. The real work is being done at lunches and dinners involving various coalitions such as the P5 (the permanent five Security Council members), and the NAM. After one plenary session on the morning of Day 14, negotiations were being held behind closed doors in the afternoon.

Talks on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone – the other deal breaker at the conference – have been going on outside the conference framework from the very beginning, between the P5 and the Arab Group. The negotiations have intensified but no outcome is expected on that important issue until the very end.

Anne Penketh is currently attending the NPT RevCon in New York.

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