Looking at this NPT, one of the big questions is whether there will be a document, or not document. At this point, it’s what everyone is talking about- in the halls, in the cafe, around the conference rooms. The discussion raises some questions.
If there is a document, will it be able to deliver an accurate record of whether commitments made five years ago were implemented? Mexico asked point blank during one of the discussions “Does this document reflect anything that was actually done to meet the agreements in 2010?”. If the recognised nuclear armed countries have their way, any outcome document will have no new commitments towards disarmament. If the French have their way, the document will not recognise the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, nor include the word “humanitarian” at all! A number of the nuclear armed states will refuse to allow information to be included on new evidence of risk (they clearly haven’t seen Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control, nor the research published by Chatham House). There are also pushes against including language about the disproportionate impact on the health of women and children by nuclear weapons explosions.
The nuclear armed states are also fiercely opposing language that might suggest timelines or actual benchmarks to measure success. This might be tied to the fact that they can’t demonstrate significant progress in five years on their past commitments, or much progress in 15 years on what was promised in 2000.
It is not just the nuclear armed, but also some of the nuclear reliant countries that are presenting a logically inconsistent arguments. The Dutch, for example, suggested that there is no legal gap when it comes to the disarmament obligations of the treaty and at the same time reinforced the importance of negotiating a legal instrument on fissile materials to support disarmament and non proliferation efforts. Australia and Canada have also argued against the legal gap while insisting on the importance of negotiations on legal instruments to fill the gap by preventing future fissile materials production.
There could be no document at the end of this conference. The Non Aligned Movement has made it clear that they will not accept an outcome that does not substantively move the nuclear disarmament agenda forward. As the agreements from 1995, 2000 and 2010 still stand, as the safeguards agreements remain in place for states anyway.
However, at the end of the day, one must ask the question of whether or not an NPT Review Conference is truly reflective of global opinion on nuclear weapons. The interim report of this meeting’s credentials committee showed only 104 states registered, compared to the 158 that attended the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (or the 126 in Oslo, the 146 in Nayarit). A new publication (The underrepresentation of low-income countries in nuclear disarmament forums) by ICAN partner Article 36 shows that at meetings on nuclear weapons in the last four/five years the one that came closest to equitable representation was the Vienna conference.
This review conference is also clarifying and fleshing out a bit some of the different priorities of states that are participating. Some prefer a strong effort on non proliferation. Some want to see progress on disarmament. Some focus on strengthening the institutional mechanisms around the treaty (including discussions around the withdrawal clause), and ensuring access to nuclear technology. There is of course also the discussion about the Middle East- and prospects for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, but unlike 2010 diplomats aren’t running through the halls with papers flying from their hands in eagerness to gain agreement on this.
Another thing that this Review Conference is doing is illustrating that there are new groupings. Of course some of the old crews remain- the New Agenda Coalition is in particularly good form – but new groups are emerging.
There is the group of 159 States who have made it clear the find the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances unacceptable.
There are also the group of 26 States, which recognise that the use of nuclear weapons cause catastrophic humanitarian consequences, but still think that’s okay sometimes.
There are the group of 84 States who have pledged to join Austria and fill the legal gap on nuclear weapons.
There are the group of around 30 States who are willing for someone else (mostly the US, but maybe the UK) cause catastrophic humanitarian consequences on their behalf, the states that keep nuclear weapons in their security strategies and doctrines.
Of course the same group of 5 nuclear armed states is here, there has been no change in the 45 years of the treaty in their status (despite their unequivocal undertakings to disarm), but they don’t seem to be operating as a collective unit. Of these, it seems the UK and US are a little group of 2, linking themselves policy as much as in the shared Trident system. France, China, and Russia each seem to be operating independently. Several groups of one.
There are of course differences in opinion in these groups (even in the slightly schizophrenic groups of one), but what is clear is there is a majority will for action, and a minority effort to prevent progress.
Costa Rica said it at the outset of this conference “democracy has come to nuclear disarmament”, capitalising on the majority’s will for action is the name of the game now, whether the nuclear armed will block progress is something that will be seen over the next few days.
For daily reports from the NPT Review Conference, see the amazing daily publications from Reaching Critical Will, the News In Review.