Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: NPT PrepCom decides agenda and ends without adoption of "recommendations"

by Noritaka Egusa, Editor/Senior Staff Writer (dispatched from New York)

The third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which was held at U.N. headquarters in New York, ended its two-week session after unanimously adopting the final document on the afternoon of May 15, the last day of the gathering. The final document includes the agenda and schedule for the NPT Review Conference next year. The PrepCom decided not to adopt recommendations to the 2010 NPT Review Conference, which had been a focus of the PrepCom.

Sumio Tarui, the Japanese ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, held a news conference after the gathering and commented, “We have overcome the biggest challenge by reaching an agreement on the agenda. The PrepCom sufficiently fulfilled its role for the NPT Review Conference next year.”

The PrepCom decided not to adopt recommendations, as many NPT member nations sought to avoid a “breakdown” of the gathering. The member nations continued their attempts to build a consensus on draft recommendations presented by Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku, the chairperson of the PrepCom, until the morning of the last day. Though a serious conflict of opinion did not come to the surface, the member nations failed to reach a final agreement. The PrepCom thus preserved the record of the discussions about the draft recommendations and managed to avoid a situation in which the gathering, as a whole, was viewed as a failure.

The agenda that the PrepCom has adopted for next year’s NPT Review Conference consists of 20 items in total. It contains an item which stipulates that the final document produced at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, which included “an unequivocal undertaking” toward nuclear abolition, will be taken into account. In light of the fact that the previous NPT Review Conference in 2005 eventually ended in failure after the arguments over its agenda went round and round and got nowhere, the foremost achievement of this PrepCom is a quick agreement on the agenda for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

The NPT Review Conference next year will be held from May 3-28 at U.N. headquarters. The PrepCom nominated Libran Cabactulan, the Philippine ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, as a candidate for president of the conference.

Comment: "Obama effect" enables breakdown to be avoided
by Noritaka Egusa, Editor/Senior Staff Writer (dispatched from New York)

It is difficult to assess the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), which ended without adopting “recommendations” to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next year. With the expectation that the nuclear policy of the United States, where discussions of the PrepCom were held, will evolve steadily from here on, it can be said that the PrepCom was a step forward.

U.S. President Barack Obama was “behind the scenes” at this PrepCom but he arguably took a leading role just the same. He has embarked on negotiations for a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia and pledged to strive for an early ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In April, he delivered a speech in Prague, the Czech Republic, in which he vowed to pursue “a world without nuclear weapons.”

The change in U.S. posture provided “a tailwind” for the floor of the PrepCom. Notably, many non-nuclear weapon states that criticized the nuclear powers for their lack of effort for nuclear disarmament have praised Mr. Obama’s speech in Prague or expressed their hopes for the implementation of his pledges made in the speech. It can be said that the whole atmosphere brought about an early agreement on the agenda for the NPT Review Conference next year and that many member nations hoped not to spoil the positive atmosphere in pursuit of nuclear disarmament, which led to avoiding a breakdown through the discussions about “recommendations.”

However, “the Obama effect” is a double-edged sword, fragile in a way. The change in U.S. posture is yet to appear in concrete form. How will the U.S. Department of Defense compile the “Nuclear Posture Review,” which serves as a foundation of the U.S. nuclear strategy? How will the nation address the issues in the Middle East, including how to deal with Israel, a de-facto nuclear weapon state and a non-member of the NPT? Future developments could suddenly turn the expectation of the NPT member nations into disappointment and even produce a headwind.

The essential point is whether a road map for nuclear abolition can be clearly drawn at the next NPT Review Conference, which will begin in a year. Though the A-bombed nation of Japan may not be entirely happy that the U.S., a nuclear superpower, holds the key to this outcome, we have no option but to continue to observe and encourage the trend toward pursuing nuclear abolition. In that sense, tireless efforts related to nuclear abolition, including the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), which will hold its final meeting in Hiroshima in October 2009, will also play an important part over the next year.

(Originally published on May 17, 2009)

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