NPT Opening day

It was the opening day of the first preparatory committee meeting of the 2015 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Cycle. Today started pretty well.

The sun was shining brightly as I ran into some great new colleagues in front of the Vienna International Center. We walked around a bit before getting into the building- and joining the airport like security line to go and pick up our badges. Surprisingly, the badge pickup was amazingly quick. The Vienna UN office had asked us to upload our photos in advance, and all we needed to do was hand over our confirmation letters, show our passports and voila! We were given shiny yellow badges on blue cords to drape from our necks.

Then into the building. It was just after 8 in the morning, and already people were beginning to meet. I joined the Abolition Caucus.

Since 1995, the Abolition 2000 Network has hosted a daily NGO caucus each morning at the NPT. It is always an interesting meeting. Today we had at least 70 people there- to collectively report and strategize in preparation for the day.

Our agenda was simple. We would talk about the key messages we wanted to convey to NPT delegations, and we would do some preparation for the government briefing from Norway we were expecting at 9am.

The key messages I can report on- we are urging states to include language in their statements recognizing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. We are reminding them of their 2010 agreement to begin examining ways to create and maintain a nuclear weapons free world (preferably through a treaty) and we are asking them to begin negotiations on that treaty without delay.

The briefing from Norway was interesting- but also off the record, so I will not write anything about it here.

After the government briefing, at 10am (already 2 meetings were over and it was only 10 in the morning!) I enjoyed a presentation by Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists.

Hans talked about NATO. He talked about nuclear weapons in Europe- in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, France, the UK and Russia. There are a LOT of European countries who have not yet moved beyond cold war thinking. A lot of European countries who just haven’t yet gotten over their cold war hangovers. One of these days (and hopefully sooner, rather than later), I’m hoping that they recover their senses and get rid of their expensive, useless nuclear weapons.

In the session we also heard from a German lawyer engaged in a lawsuit over the US nuclear weapons in Germany. From the chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, and from a French fellow working with the Parliamentary Network for Nonproliferation and Disarmament.

I thought that Jean Marie, put it very well when he explained there are three things that the French identify with- Bread, Berets and, Bombs. Both he and Kate Hudson from CND talked about how their governments have not yet relinquished the idea of nuclear weapons as symbols of power.

So, the discussion ranged on and others took the floor. We heard that an independent public opinion poll in France showed that more than 80% of the French public have moved beyond the idea of nuclear weapons as good things- and would like to see a treaty eliminating them. We also learned that the majority of UK youth would prefer to see this ancient weapons system relegated to the dustbin of history.

Once the session finished, instead of getting a nice proper lunch, I joined the Crash Course students and students from the NPT Youth delegation to have another off the record government meeting. It was a good discussion with the Canadian representative, but again, I can’t report the details. Rest assured that everything she said will be reflected in statements and working papers produced at this meeting.

The afternoon I spent inside the plenary session. It was great to hear New Zealand remind states that when the next Review Conference comes around, in 2015, it will have been 50 years since governments started negotiating the NPT. 50 years, and one of the key provisions in the treaty- to eliminate nuclear weapons- has not gone very far.

Quite a lot of states (from countries without nuclear weapons- the majority) indicated that the 2010 Action Plan must be fully implemented, especially the disarmament obligations, before they are willing to accept any more intrusive non proliferation obligations. That means serious action on disarmament- as in getting rid of the weapons, reducing the reliance on them in security strategies, changing their status symbol iconography- before any more legally binding intrusive (and, granted, security and safety enhancing) obligations are put on the non nuclear weapons states.

A number of governments called for more transparency. That’s always a good idea- especially since folks pretty much know where and how many weapons there are anyway. (If you don’t, I’d suggest you read one of the new Reaching Critical Will publications- Assuring Destruction Forever- which will give you information about what countries have, and how they’re spending billions modernizing their nuclear arsenals).

The plenary session ended promptly at 18h, and the Chairman thanked the Austrians for such good weather.

it is really sunny and nice in Vienna, so I joined some great colleagues and went for a lovely dinner in a pretty outdoor cafe by the Stephenzplatz.

All in all, a good beginning to the NPT. The agenda was adopted, and the atmosphere in the room was collegial, not really contentious. While I kind of hope some delegation would stand up and yell at the nuclear weapons states “just get rid of these things already! We’re sick of you delaying and delaying and delaying” that’s not necessarily constructive diplomacy.

Hopefully the warm (nearly hot) weather will turn the heat up on the delegations to recognize that the time for these weapons has long passed, and that the collegiality of the engagement will result in a positive and progressive summary at the end of these two weeks.

If you are interested in a more formal report of the today, I’d suggest reading the News In Review, a daily publication covering all aspects of the NPT Prepcom.