2019 Preparatory Meeting for 2020 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference Ends in Failure

NPT Looks Ahead to 2020 Review Conference Without Consensus Recommendations

BY ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE | armscontrol.org

NPT states-parties failed to adopt a common set of recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference on the final day of the two week-long 2019 PrepCom on Friday, May 10. Nevertheless, most states expressed optimism in concluding statements about prospects for next year’s review conference and underlined the importance of action in the intervening 12 months on key NPT-related commitments.

The recommendations drafted by the chair, Syed Hussin of Malaysia, failed to garner consensus especially after a round of revisions that sought to take into account the suggestions of the majority of NPT states-parties led several nuclear-weapon states and some of their allies to express their displeasure and their support for the earlier draft. Since NPT states did not adopt the revised draft recommendations by consensus, the document will be issued instead as a working paper submitted by the PrepCom chair. The chair also issued an 8-paragraph reflection on the PrepCom.

In his closing remarks, the incoming president-designate of the 2020 Review Conference, Rafael Mariono Grossi of Argentina promised to “begin work on Monday” on an ambitious plan for consultations with states-parties.

He later tweeted: “As #NPT2019 closes work starts to prepare a successful Review of Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2020. I will consult extensively reach out to all. Everybody’s goal is success. No less. ⁦


2020 Review Conference President-Designate Rafael
                  Grossi addresses the conclusion of the 2019 NPT
2020 Review Conference President-Designate Rafael Grossi addresses the conclusion of the 2019 NPT PrepCom.

Reactions to the Second Draft Recommendations

The PrepCom chair unveiled the first draft recommendations for the review conference last Friday and the second draft Thursday afternoon.

The Non-Aligned Movement, representing over 100 states, welcomed the second draft on Thursday, stating that it was “significantly” improved from the first draft, while several nuclear-weapon states and some others sharply criticized it.

The United States said that it had nothing good to say about the second version of the draft recommendations because it failed to bridge differences, increased polarization and represented the view of one regional group. The United Kingdom and the United States lamented that the revised draft did not include any of their suggestions. Roughly a dozen states, including France, the United States and the United Kingdom called for a return to the original draft of the chair’s recommendations.

South Africa countered by stating that the original draft had been superseded by a revised version that reflected the conference’s conversation, and delegates would need to work from the revised text.

The United States buckled down on its assessment after the recommendations were presented as the chair’s working paper. Speaking on behalf of the U.S. delegation, U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood asserted that the chair’s revised working paper should not serve as the basis of work for the 2020 Review Conference.

Key Changes in Revised Draft

The revised draft recommendations strengthened language on the need to implement the treaty, calls for action on nuclear disarmament by the declared nuclear-weapon states, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and the importance of achieving greater gender diversity, but it included weaker language on strengthened safeguards standards.

A new paragraph acknowledged “the need for a legally-binding norm to prohibit nuclear weapons in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” and the draft recommendations retained a paragraph acknowledging “the support of many states for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and its complementarity with the NPT.”

It also added an explicit reference to the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

The second draft took out language from the first draft which stated that the comprehensive safeguards agreement and the additional protocol represent the “enhanced verification standard,” and added that it is the “sovereign decision” of any state to conclude an Additional Protocol.

A paragraph calling on Syria to comply with its safeguards obligations and resolve all outstanding concerns was deleted. The United States on Friday presented a statement on behalf of 52 states expressing concern about Syria’s failure to comply with its safeguards obligations and calling on Syria to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The second draft deleted language on the importance of Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), after several countries objected to only calling on Iran to implement the deal, and instead noted the strong support for the continued implementation of the deal and added a reference to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon all states to respect the commitments they made in the JCPOA.

The second draft added a call for North Korea to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the paragraph calling for continued dialogue and engagement for the full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

On Friday, France presented a statement on behalf of seventy states deploring the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs to peace and security, welcoming U.S.-North Korean and inter-Korean summits and calling on North Korea to turn its words on denuclearization into action. China said that it did not see the NPT as the right forum to settle the issue on the Korean peninsula.

The second draft also added explicit calls on Israel, India, Pakistan and South Sudan to accede to the NPT and added an encouragement for states-parties to support gender diversity in NPT delegations and a reference to the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women and girls.

For a full list of revisions in the draft recommendations, see Reaching Critical Will’s May 10 News in Review.

Looking Ahead

Despite the failure to reach agreement on the chair’s recommendations, in concluding statements, diplomats largely praised the respectful tone that pervaded throughout the conference and looked ahead to the upcoming 2020 Review Conference.

The respectful tone diplomats referenced was challenged yet again on Friday by lengthy disputes between Iran, Russia, Syria and the United States. Russia lambasted the United States on issues ranging from the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA to its failure to issue sufficient visas for Russian diplomats to attend the PrepCom. Iran, Syria and the United States sparred on Syria’s compliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations, U.S. compliance with the NPT’s prohibition on the transfer of nuclear weapons and U.S. nuclear modernization.

States largely praised the PrepCom’s success in clearing procedural hurdles, including deciding on the path forward for the confirmation of Review Conference President-Designate Rafael Grossi, but several states emphasized that the success of the review conference will depend on actions that states take in the intervening period. South Africa stated that what gives the NPT meaning is not the treaty itself, but states-parties’ progress in fulfilling obligations undertaken under the treaty.

The importance of the upcoming twelve months for the success of the 2020 NPT Review Conference was certainly not lost on its president-designate, Ambassador Grossi. In the final statement of the PrepCom, he declared that he would begin pursuing his plan for extensive review conference consultations on Monday, which, he said, would include a range of actors and take place in every region of the world.

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