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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 91, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 91, Summer 2009

Laying Substantive Groundwork for 2010: Report of the 2009 NPT PrepCom

Rebecca Johnson

The third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2010 Review Conference for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was heralded as a much-needed success story. This was largely credited to the Obama administration's more positive approach to multilateral diplomacy and arms control, though the Chair of the meeting, Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe was widely commended for his careful preparations and effective leadership style.

In a more constructive atmosphere than seen at NPT meetings for a long while, the PrepCom expeditiously adopted the agenda and all significant procedural decisions for the review conference, which will be held in New York, 3 - 28 May, 2010. Barring any unforeseen and dramatic deterioration in relations, this means that the review conference next year has the best possible chance of opening smoothly and getting down to work without the kind of frustrating procedural delays that marred the 2005 Review Conference.[1] Though the PrepCom was not able to agree on substantive recommendations to transmit to the review conference, the negotiations on the Chair's three successive drafts have laid some useful groundwork. In particular, they provide a reality check on the commitments that different states will want to achieve - or prevent - next year and offer a useful structure for forward-looking recommendations. If states parties choose to adopt this format it would enable the recommendations for future work to be negotiated separately from the review of past implementation, which will also need to be carried out in 2010.

Notwithstanding their rhetoric encouraging Chidyausiku to keep trying because "we are nearly there", few delegates really believed that consensus on any significant recommendations would be achievable a year before the real decisions need to be taken. Somewhat to their surprise, they found themselves closer to accomplishing this task than any previous PrepCom, but the negotiators next year will have cause to thank them for not locking the possibilities down prematurely.

The PrepCom has given a boost to hopes of a productive review conference in 2010, but it also demonstrates how much work will need to be done over the next year, politically as well as diplomatically, to achieve the kind of agreements that will genuinely strengthen the non-proliferation regime and provide a basis for building security in a world free of nuclear weapons.

President Obama's speech in Prague on 5 April set the context for the United States to engage more constructively on disarmament issues. The timing was opportune, and though the President's non-proliferation team was not yet fully in place, the constructive engagement of the US delegation, headed by Dr Rose Gottemoeller, contributed to the positive atmospherics and successful adoption of the procedural agreements for 2010. The United States took a more progressive position than its predecessor on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and highlighted its forthcoming negotiations with Russia on verifiable nuclear arms reductions before START expires in December, which were warmly welcomed. It also reiterated recent positions that placed emphasis on the need for full compliance and the strengthening of tools to detect and punish treaty violations.

Though the P-5 intended to demonstrate unity by issuing a joint press release on the last day, this could not mask the fact that there were visible differences among the major nuclear-weapon states on a number of issues. Apart from being able for the first time in years to mention the CTBT positively and welcome the US-Russian negotiations for a follow-on START agreement, the statement was bland and brief. With the group of nonaligned states (NAM) also unable to agree on anything but the basics, it was interesting to see the growing number of cross-group and cross-regional alliances coming together to pursue shared objectives. These contributed to better multilateral dynamics - very different from 2005 - which enabled Chidyausiku to pilot the PrepCom through its decisions and debates, if not the recommendations for 2010.

The agenda and procedural decisions

In multilateral diplomacy, the agenda is viewed as providing a basis and framework for discussion, and those wishing to obstruct negotiations can make the agenda their first battleground. This happened in 2005, when states parties to the NPT learned the bitter lesson that failure to adopt a review conference agenda in advance can lead to days - even weeks - of wasted time. The failure of the 2005 review conference was presaged at the 2004 PrepCom when (with France aiding and abetting) the United States refused to accept the agenda that had been proposed by the Chair and Secretariat. US opposition to that agenda, a strategy that had been masterminded by Bush administration rottweiler John Bolton, opened up a can of worms. A small number of delegations joined in by insisting on introducing or removing references in subsequent drafts. Each suggestion was viewed through the political lens of opponents as providing legitimation either for states parties to walk away from consensus decisions taken by previous review conferences or, alternatively, to pile additional issues on to the NPT plate. Since the PrepCom could not adopt an agenda or other procedural decisions, these had to be addressed before the 2005 Review Conference could organize its work. The consequence was weeks of time-consuming, bad-tempered and debilitating procedural debates at the Review Conference. In the end an agenda was only adopted in the third week of the four-week meeting, held together with an asterisk and footnote. Little time was left for substantive discussion and no agreement was possible on either the review or any recommendations.

This year, the United States was clearly determined to avoid a repetition of the 2004-5 mess. Taking a more flexible approach, the Obama administration signalled that it was keen to enable the 2010 Conference to start from day one with a workable agenda. Chidyausiku consulted widely, and concluded that without the toxic political atmosphere of 2004-5, the simplest approach would work best. Basing his proposal on the agenda used in the successful 2000 Review Conference, which took into account the "decisions and the resolution adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference", he added "and the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference".

Associated with the agenda, the PrepCom also agreed to allocate specific issues for consideration by the three main committees. While broad questions of strengthening the tools and institutions of non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, peace and security, and making the NPT universally applicable are to be covered by all the committees, Main Committee 1 is specifically tasked with reviewing the operations of the key provisions relating to the non-transfer of nuclear technologies, Articles I and II, and to nuclear disarmament, as specified in Article VI and the '13 steps' disarmament action plan agreed in 2000. Main Committee 1 is also required to address the use of nuclear weapons, including security council resolutions 255 (1968) and 984 (1995) on security assurances by the nuclear-weapon states not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT.

Main Committee II is intended to focus more directly on Article III, which contains the obligation on non-nuclear states to conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA. This is where proposals will be considered that deal with issues such as strengthening the safeguards regime and making full-scope safeguards the standard for receiving nuclear technology. This Committee also addresses Article VII on nuclear-weapon-free zones and other regional issues. The 1995 Resolution on the Middle East is considered part of this Committee but it looks likely now that the Review Conference will establish a special 'subsidiary body' to give separate attention to this issue. Since the UN General Assembly's study and subsequent adoption of annual resolutions on disarmament education, both committees are also expected to deal with ways to promote public education on these issues.

Developments related to safety and security of fissile materials and what delegations call the "peaceful uses of nuclear energy" comprise the subject matter of Main Committee III, together with "other provisions of the treaty". Since North Korea's announcement of its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, these debates have generally focused on article X, with consideration about how to respond and what conditions to impose if states parties wish to leave the treaty. The aim of most proposals to date is to dissuade potential proliferators from withdrawing from the treaty and developing nuclear weapons, by addressing their stated security concerns or increasing the political and economic costs of withdrawing. The issue is highly sensitive, however, raising concerns among some states that their right to withdraw could become restricted or subject to sanctions.

To the great relief of all concerned, the Chair's proposals on the agenda and allocation of items were adopted without any opposition on the third day of the PrepCom. Another decision that has caused problems in the past but received unanimous assent from this PrepCom concerned agreement on background documentation to be prepared by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and various nuclear-weapon-free zone secretariats.

Amongst the other procedural decisions that will smooth the way for the 2010 Review Conference, the PrepCom agreed draft rules of procedure and designated the main Chairs and post-holders for the Conference. Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan of the Philippines, nominated by the NAM, has been endorsed as president-designate for 2010. In accordance with usual practice, these designations will need to be confirmed at the beginning of the 2010 review conference. In a further decision, the 2010 Review Conference dates were set back one week, and will therefore take place from May 3-28, 2010. This shift was necessitated by the UN's "Capital Master Plan" for conference services and facilities while its New York headquarters are being refurbished.

Contrasting Action Plans for Future Work on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Once the critical procedural decisions for 2010 had been taken, the rest of the meeting was devoted to matters of substance, as decisions taken in 2000 formally required the third PrepCom to develop recommendations for consideration at the review conference. With the unusual luxury of time, delegations had the next six days in which to address their substantive concerns and ideas for future action, This was done through statements and working papers and covered many of the most important non-proliferation and disarmament issues. These contributions added to a range of proposals and ideas that had been put forward during the previous two PrepComs[2] , which had been summarized in working papers issued by the Chairs of those meetings, Ambassador Yukiya Amano of Japan[3] , and Ambassador Volodyrmyr Yelchenko of Ukraine[4] . Using the previous chairs' working papers and states' various proposals and arguments as a basis, Chidyausiku and the NPT Secretariat did their best to identify areas of agreement that could be recommended to the 2010 review conference. [The first two drafts are appended at the end of this article for purposes of comparison.]

Divided into eight sections, the first draft reconfirmed or indicated ways to implement commitments deriving from consensus agreements adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 Review Conference, the two most recent meetings at which NPT parties were able to take decisions. It then looked further forward, suggesting recommendations that would take into account the transforming commitments of deeper disarmament, such as marginalizing nuclear weapons to pave the way for the world free of nuclear weapons that is increasingly being evoked by leaders around the world, including President Obama. Though this draft took into account many of the ideas and proposals for making future progress, it was inevitable that it did not please everyone.

After receiving formal and informal objections and alternatives, the Chair put forward a revised draft a few days later. This appeared to satisfy even fewer delegations. A bit like the three bears' porridge, the first draft was regarded as hot on disarmament, but unappetizingly lukewarm on compliance, with no mention of full-scope safeguards. The second draft was warmer on safeguards and compliance but so cool on disarmament that many considered it to be a step backwards from the 2000 agreements. By the time a third draft showing tracked options was circulated on the last morning it was clear that the PrepCom was not going to get agreement on substantive recommendations to send to the review conference. There was something for everyone, but not enough all round.

Though it would have been a mistake to lower the common denominator until there was enough agreement in 2009 to adopt the recommendations, the drafts demonstrate useful areas for potential agreement that will help governments as they prepare for 2010. They also highlight a number of important issues that may require certain governments to consult with each other and revise their own positions with the aim of resolving their differences sufficiently to enable sensitive subject matter to be addressed without deadlocking or derailing the review conference.

Perhaps the most striking development was contained in the recommendations on the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East, which survived all three drafts. Calling the resolution "an essential element of the outcome of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference and of the basis on which the treaty was indefinitely extended", the recommendations included establishment of a subsidiary body at the review conference "to consider concrete practical steps to promote the earliest implementation" of this resolution, and for the review conference to consider appointing a special coordinator and convening a future conference on the issue. These recommendations were based on proposals from the League of Arab States, the NAM and others. Many are now hoping that with constructive US leadership in 2010, it will be possible to move forward on the basis of these proposals. This could prove very important in view of the fact that disagreements related to proliferation and security concerns in the Middle East - notably the nuclear programmes of Israel, a non-NPT party, and Iran - have brought past review conferences to the brink of failure.

Also welcome was the reappearance of commitments to bring the CTBT into force, after years of opposition from the Bush administration. President Obama's promise to pursue US ratification has ensured that CTBT entry into force was prominently advocated in the first draft of the recommendations. This underscored the importance of Article VI and "the growing expectations for progress to achieve nuclear disarmament", and called for an "action plan" setting "practical, achievable and specified goals, and measures leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons".

In addition to the CTBT and negotiations on a "verifiable fissile material treaty", a further paragraph updated the practical disarmament commitments adopted in 2000, listing further deep and verifiable reductions in both strategic and non-strategic nuclear arsenals, expanding transparency, ensuring irreversibility, reducing the operational status of nuclear forces, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies, refraining from the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and strengthening monitoring and verification for nuclear dismantlement and fissile materials.

Reflecting growing momentum for a nuclear weapon prohibition treaty to be put on the agenda for serious consideration, as contained also in the UN Secretary-General's five-point action plan for disarmament, the first draft also called on the review conference to "Examine, inter alia, ways and means to commence negotiations, in accordance with article VI, on a convention or framework of agreements to achieve global nuclear disarmament and to engage non-parties to the Treaty". The nuclear-weapon states - particularly France and Russia - lobbied hard against this language, and so it was dropped from the second draft, despite majority support from the non-nuclear-weapon states.

The second draft also reflected the nuclear-weapon states' insistence that any reference to a fissile material treaty should include the word 'cut-off' to underline their position that a fissile materials production ban should not address stocks. Additionally, China opposed text that encouraged all nuclear-weapon states to declare a moratorium on the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons pending conclusion of such a treaty. Though China is widely believed to have halted such production years ago, its persistent opposition to declaring a moratorium may continue to be a problem in 2010 and beyond.

Russia pushed for caveats that would make the fulfilment of any disarmament commitments contingent on "international stability and the principle of undiminished security for all". Though they may sound innocuous, such phrases are included to provide a let-out for states that want to hang on to the status quo. The security of non-nuclear-weapon states (and, some might argue, of the nuclear possessors themselves) may have long been diminished by the nuclear arsenals and policies of the nuclear-weapon states. Yet if certain nuclear powers associate their own possession of nuclear weapons with stability and security, they could argue that any step towards disarmament would change the status quo and might diminish the security they feel. The context of such conditionalities can be particularly significant. As placed in the first revision to the Chair's draft, the phrase appeared to provide the nuclear powers with a ready-made justification for refusing to take any disarmament actions. The third draft sought to address some of the contradictions, but left loopholes that could continue to constitute a barrier to further disarmament undertakings.

Western insistence ensured that the second and third drafts contained stronger language on compliance, with specific references to the importance of universalizing full-scope safeguards and increasing the IAEA's "ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities". Elsewhere, the draft recommendations on nuclear safety went beyond the nuclear waste and accident concerns of earlier review conferences. Covering nuclear terrorism and the need to prevent blackmarket supply networks, trafficking and acquisition of nuclear weapons or related materials by non-state actors, these recommendations referred to the importance of implementing a number of relevant security council resolutions, such as 1540 (2004), 1673 (2006) and 1810 (2008).

The purpose of this brief analysis is to give a flavour of the process and some of the key issues, not to provide a comprehensive representation of the recommendations or the working papers and proposals from which they were derived. The first two Chair's drafts on recommendations are reproduced verbatim after this article for readers to judge for themselves. In any case, the PrepCom was unable to adopt any of the drafts, so though these drafts may serve as guides, there is all to play for in May 2010.

Dynamics and Key Players

While the Obama administration can claim most credit for improving NPT dynamics, others played their part. Iran, which had nearly derailed the 2007 PrepCom by blocking agreement on the agenda, did not try to impede consensus on the agenda or other procedural decisions. After tabling several substantive working papers, Iranian delegates gave their familiar combative speeches but chose to support the Chair and go along with positions put forward collectively by the NAM. Egypt vied with Iran to raise concerns about lack of progress on disarmament, but on seeing three core elements of its proposals on the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East reflected in the draft recommendations, Egypt had an important vested interest in maintaining constructive dialogue with the P-5 on this issue.

Like the United States, Iran and Egypt were more willing to compromise at this PrepCom than in recent years. Iran's relatively constructive attitude was perceived by some as indicating a desire to come in from the cold and renew engagement with the United States and other NPT parties to resolve international mistrust over its nuclear programme. Since the PrepCom was taking place just weeks before an important election, it is likely that domestic and pre-election politics were also influential. A further factor likely to have influenced Iran's behaviour at this PrepCom (but which cannot be counted on in 2010) was its friendly relations between with Zimbabwe, as two states that have incurred international censure over human rights (and in Iran's case, its nuclear programme). Having supported Zimbabwe as the NAM's nominee to Chair the PrepCom, it would not have been in Iran's interests to undermine Ambassador Chidyausiku.

The change in NPT dynamics put the spotlight on other players. In the delicate negotiations on the agenda, France, which had partnered the United States in opposing a similar agenda in 2004[5] , was unsuccessful in its attempts to reinstate contested language from 2005 that would take into account developments since 2000. In view of clear opposition to this from NAM countries, and with Britain supporting America's flexible approach, France came under pressure from the rest of the Western group to join the consensus and allow the Chair's proposed agenda to be adopted without this additional language. Signalling its continuing resistance to implementing the 2000 commitments on disarmament, France reasserted itself later.

In a partnership that may have challenging implications for 2010, France and Russia together played the most prominent role in diluting and distorting the disarmament recommendations put forward in the Chair's first draft. China, too, belied the virtuous exhortations of its public statements, giving concern with some of its behind-the-scenes tactics. As noted above, China reportedly exerted heavy pressure on the Chair to remove references to a moratorium on fissile materials production.

Though there were a number of cross-issue, regional and cross-regional groups submitting collective working papers, none appeared candidates for taking the kind of leadership role in 2010 that was played by the New Agenda Coalition in 2000. The New Agenda Coalition is still alive, but internal differences for much of the past decade have diluted their ability to formulate an effective strategy and relevant programme of action beyond advocating a protocol on security assurances. Some NAC members, however, are involved in other initiatives and may join with other like-minded governments to work on a new initiative and strategy.

Since 2005 Norway has continued to coordinate the seven nation initiative (N-7) and has provided leadership for progressive groupings of NATO states, though it is not clear whether any of these will be taken up more widely. As the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) is due to report before the Review Conference, this could be an opportunity for Australia and Japan to bring a cross-regional group of states together to call for implementation of its recommendations. This would only be useful if the Commission were able to put forward new and progressive recommendations, such as Security Council action to prevent the use of nuclear weapons or, at the very least, calls for the nuclear-weapon states to adopt no first use policies.

As interest grows in getting the objective of a nuclear weapons convention onto the mainstream political agenda, it may be that a group of non-aligned and other non-nuclear-weapon states could strategise to take that demand forward. Malaysia and Costa Rica have to date taken the lead on promoting this in both the United Nations and NPT contexts, and have circulated the NGO-drafted model nuclear weapon convention to stimulate discussion on the issue. Now, to increase the chances of bringing the objective of a nuclear weapon convention from the margins into the mainstream, a more strategic approach will be necessary, preferably led a cross-group alliance. This would no double include Malaysia and Costa Rica but others need now to take more responsibility to make this happen. At the very least (as a first step) multiple calls and collective action would be useful to overcome the resistance of the nuclear-weapon states to any mention of this objective in NPT documents.

Implications for 2010

Though there were ritual expressions of disappointment and accusations that some delegations had not been willing to "go the extra mile", the failure to agree recommendations for 2010 was not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, many participants were actually relieved.

The drafts may have been hedged around with caveats claiming that they would be "conveyed without regard to priority, without prejudice to other initiatives that States parties may wish to offer, and without any intention to represent a comprehensive summary of all initiatives proposed". These are belied by the fact that in diplomacy, once text is agreed it tends to get embedded in the minds of advocates who then use the prior agreement to resist revisions.

The process and the Chair's three drafts were useful because they highlighted the major areas of contention and aspiration that need to be worked on over the coming year. By not adopting recommendations in 2009 the PrepCom has avoided tying the hands of delegations to the 2010 Review Conference to lowest common denominator positions when it may be possible to achieve more next year. With the United States only just getting its non-proliferation team together and undertaking a review of its strategic security and nuclear posture later this year, whose interests would have been served by adopting text on recommendations now?

The drafting process also demonstrated the kind of relatively short decision document on forward-looking recommendations that might be possible in 2010. The structure of the first draft, which resembles the precedent set by the Decision on Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference[6] , was retained in the subsequent revisions, though there were disagreements over section headings. This format made sense, and was regarded as having ticked the essential boxes of universality; nuclear disarmament; strengthening safeguards to prevent proliferation; peaceful uses of nuclear energy, safety and security; regional non-proliferation and disarmament, including the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East; measures to address treaty withdrawal; institutional measures to strengthen the regime; and engagement with civil society, including disarmament and non-proliferation education.

Such an approach, if carried forward in 2010, could be helpful in enabling states parties to negotiate next steps in parallel with their review of the treaty's operation. In previous review conferences it has been particularly difficult to gain consensus on how to characterize past performance, so it would be helpful if states agreed to separate out the tasks of deciding on future actions and reviewing the past record. It will be ten years since the 2000 review conference, the last time NPT governments managed to agree anything substantive, so there are likely to be highly contested differences of view on whether there has been adequate compliance by some states or sufficient progress on disarmament. The 2010 Review Conference will also have to navigate around some states' combative sensitivity to criticism. This is likely to be especially fraught with regard to the nuclear-weapon states that are in the process of renewing or modernizing nuclear weapon systems and countries that have been investigated for non-compliance with their safeguards or NPT obligations, such as Iran and Syria.

Attempts to name specific countries or criticize the nuclear powers for failing to live up to their obligations have caused deadlock in the past. Even the 1995 Review and Extension Conference failed to agree on a final document covering the review of the treaty. It may be helpful for governments to be reminded of the strategy employed by the President of the 1995 Conference, Jayantha Dhanapala, to ensure that the most important decisions could be adopted even though the review negotiations in the main committees had become bogged down in disagreements about whether the previous five years should be characterized positively or negatively. While the committees kept working to resolve their differences about the past, Dhanapala conducted separate negotiations on the forward-looking principles for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and strengthening the review process. The committees failed, so without these decisions, as well as the resolution on the Middle East, it would have been made extending the NPT more difficult.[7]

Similarly, in 2000, while the main committees focused on the review, the 'thirteen steps' programme of action on nuclear disarmament was negotiated first in a subsidiary body on practical disarmament measures and then in a minilateral side-bar meeting of the P-5 and New Agenda Coalition, chaired by Norway. On this occasion, though the negotiations on the review of the treaty's operation and commitments for the future were negotiated separately, the political environment was sufficiently positive to enable the forward-looking commitments to be combined with the review and adopted as a single final document.

It is too early to predict what might happen in 2010, but a constructive outcome would be greatly facilitated if states parties recognize and accept that the forward-looking recommendations and the text reviewing and evaluating the past decade's developments need to be negotiated separately.

Substantive challenges

Among all the relevant issues that were debated, three issues emerged from the PrepCom that will determine the success or failure of the review conference:

  • practical nuclear disarmament steps, which many think need now to go well beyond just managing the status quo to encompass measures that marginalize nuclear weapons in security doctrines and lay the groundwork for negotiations on agreements leading to the abolition of nuclear weapons;
  • mechanisms to take forward the objectives of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East; and
  • strengthening the NPT regime to deal more effectively with questions of compliance, withdrawal and implementation.

By airing these issues through statements, working papers and the Chair's drafts on recommendations in a context that was reasonably cooperative and forward looking, the PrepCom performed a very useful service.

The major change in debates on disarmament is that NPT parties want practical steps to be framed in terms of nuclear abolition ((whether called a nuclear weapon convention or something else) and not just status-quo management. President Obama's leadership is necessary for this: starting with the US-Russian negotiations on a follow-on START treaty bear fruit and US ratification of the CTBT, which would reinvigorate efforts to bring the treaty into full legal effect. International eyes will be watching to see whether Obama will adopt a new nuclear posture that de-emphasizes the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence, a precondition for building security in a world without nuclear weapons.

He has made a good start by re-establishing a constructive arms-control relationship with Russia, but must reach out to China, both to allay its concerns about future threats from missile defences or space-based weapons and to forge a more effective partnership to address the proliferation challenges coming from North Korea. Though North Korea is now outside the NPT, the shadow of its 2003 withdrawal from the treaty and subsequent development and testing of nuclear weapons pervaded the PrepCom, most notably in discussions on the importance of the CTBT and how to interpret and apply the Article X provision on withdrawal.

Like President Obama, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also expressed support for a world without nuclear weapons. In view of the Labour government's expressed wish to become a 'disarmament laboratory', perhaps we could see closer British and American cooperation to provide leadership to bring the other nuclear possessors - the non-NPT parties as well as the declared nuclear-weapon states - onto the path towards disarmament. The UK is expected to release the report of its research project on verifying disarmament before or during the 2010 Review Conference. The British Ministry of Defence and Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment carried out this project together with Norway and the UK-based Verification, Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC).

The summaries from the 2007 and 2008 PrepComs and the 2009 PrepCom Chair's draft recommendations suggest that states will want to update - but not roll back - the 13 Steps from 2000. In addition to calls to identify further concrete steps and negotiate a more urgent action plan to implement these commitments, many want to go further. A number of non-nuclear-weapon states were unhappy that the moderate reference to a nuclear weapon convention was dropped out of the draft recommendations, and more are likely to include it as a practical objective in their statements and working papers in 2010. Some may seek to have debate on a time-table for nuclear abolition or at least a target date for concluding negotiations on a nuclear weapon convention, which would itself need to identify a time-table for implementing its various provisions, including elimination schedules. Precedents include the Global Zero Action Plan, issued on 29 June 2009[8] , with endorsement from many eminent people, and the much earlier G-21 Programme of Action for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, published in August 1996 by 28 members of the non-aligned states in the CD.[9] There will also be further calls for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in doctrines and policies, for taking existing weapons out of continuous deployment (or at least for de-alerting), for eliminating tactical/non-strategic nuclear weapons and, of course, for deeper reductions in the arsenals of all the weapon states.

It is widely recognized that the problems besetting the Middle East cannot all be addressed or resolved in the NPT context. Nevertheless, it is clear that strengthening the non-proliferation regime means that more must be done to engage with the concerns of people and states in the Middle East, where Israel's nuclear arsenal and Iran's nuclear ambitions constitute a proliferation-driving subtext that continues to undermine regional stability and could derail efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime in 2010 and beyond. During the PrepCom, Iran and Egypt both showed signs of their internal dilemmas, not least over whether to court the Obama administration or remain aloof and condemnatory. The recommendations on the Middle East resolution offer a good start, but the international community also needs to find better ways to engage Iran and reduce the proliferation dangers arising from its nuclear programme.

Finally, the PrepCom has demonstrated yet again that there is a need to develop some concrete and practical options for strengthening the NPT's institutional powers, resources and authority, whether through converting the current review process into one with annual decision-making meetings or by giving intersessional powers to a secretariat or nominated bureau.[10]


Because it proved impossible to agree on recommendations for 2010, some diplomats have characterized the 2009 PrepCom as a procedural success but a substantive failure. This assessment is based on a misunderstanding of both the role and the significance of the PrepCom. The chief role of the third PrepCom is to lay the groundwork for the 2010 Review Conference. A critical part of this preparatory task is to decide on the agenda, officers and background documentation, which this meeting achieved. A further, equally important function of the PrepCom is to bring issues of expectation and contention to governments' attention so that they can be addressed in the months leading up to the review conference. The PrepCom managed this too, and probably better than if the Chair had insisted on securing consensus to transmit some of the recommendations. All in all, the PrepCom's conduct and debates give cause for hope, but show that leadership and quiet diplomacy will be necessary to turn hopes into agreed action plans to reduce nuclear dangers and promote sustainable disarmament and non-proliferation.

In sending the NPT a direct message in which he reiterated his commitment to seeking the "peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons", President Obama had a beneficial influence on the conduct and outcome of the 2009 PrepCom and has begun to restore the NPT's credibility. It had been hoped that the new mood would carry over to the Conference on Disarmament, and at first that appeared to be so. Two weeks after the PrepCom ended, the CD was able to agree on a programme of work, including negotiations on a verifiable fissile material treaty. Regrettably, however, the CD was unable to operationalize its programme of work and thus failed to move beyond the last eleven years of paralysis. Next year will be critical.

For the review conference in 2010 to be judged successful, there will need to be agreement on renewed principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, together with an action plan and some practical steps for reducing nuclear dangers, strengthening the non-proliferation regime, and accelerating progress on nuclear disarmament. The real challenge, however, is not about what kind of document can be adopted in 2010, but what kind of agreements and commitments are undertaken, and whether the NPT parties have the political will and institutional capacity to ensure their implementation.

Although the positive atmospherics of the 2009 PrepCom give cause for hope, the 2010 Review Conference will only be successful if it results in decisions that are taken seriously and implemented. For this, the key governments need to look beyond 2010 and work hard over the next year to address the proliferation challenges and develop convincing action plans with the requisite resources to carry forward to objective of a world free of nuclear weapons. There are many challenges ahead and the President of the 2010 Review Conference, Ambassador Cabactulan, has his work cut out!


[1] See Rebecca Johnson, 'Why the 2005 NPT Review Conference Failed', Disarmament Diplomacy 80 (Autumn 2005) pp 3-32; and Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, 'President's Assessment of the 2005 NPT Review Conference', Disarmament Diplomacy 81 (Winter 2005), pp 3-5.

[2] See Michael Spies, "Proposals, Positions and Prospects: Issues facing the 2010 NPT Review Conference", Disarmament Diplomacy 90 (Spring 2009), pp 12-29.

[3] See Rebecca Johnson, "Back from the Brink? The 2007 NPT PrepCom Report", Disarmament Diplomacy 85 (Summer 2007), pp 3-17.

[4] See Rebecca Johnson, "The 2008 NPT PrepCom: Good Meeting, but was it Relevant?", Disarmament Diplomacy 88 (Summer 2008), pp 3-26.

[5] See Rebecca Johnson, "Report on the 2004 NPT PrepCom", Disarmament Diplomacy 77 (May/June 2004), pp 23-31.

[6] 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, Part I, New York, 1995, NPT/CONF.1995/32

[7] See Rebecca Johnson, Indefinite Extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Risks and Reckonings, ACRONYM Report No. 7 (London, September 2005), at

[8] Global Zero Action Plan, 29 June 2009.

[9] Proposal for a programme of action for the elimination of nuclear weapons, CD/1419, 7 August 1996. See also Disarmament Diplomacy 7 (July/August 1996), pp 27-29.

[10] Michael Spies, "Proposals, Positions and Prospects: Issues facing the 2010 NPT Review Conference", op. cit.

Dr Rebecca Johnson is Executive Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. Grateful thanks to Carol Naughton for sharing her notes and observations.

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