Enhanced NPT Review Process Gets Underway at First PrepCom Session


Sami Fournier

DELEGATES FROM 148 countries met at the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) first session in New York, April 7-18 to lay groundwork for recommendations to the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in 2000. The session, the first meeting of NPT statesparties since their 1995 indefinite extension of the treaty, ironed out procedural issues and heard substantive statements on ways to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Chaired by Pasi Patokallio of Finland, the PrepCom produced a largely procedural final report with two annexes, including a set of general recommendations for future sessions.

The annexed "Chairman's Working Paper" lists three areas for which discussion time will be allotted in upcoming sessions. At least two and possibly three annual PrepCom sessions will be held in the runup to 2000. This list, termed "the recommendation on quality time" by U.S. negotiators, attempts to balance demands of various groups of states which wanted to cite specific areas in need of greater attention.

For example, the nonaligned states, led by South Africa, insisted that the list include a commitment by the nuclearweapon states to discuss giving binding assurances not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any nonweapon state NPT party. Egypt led a call for inclusion on the list of a Middle East resolution, a leftover point of contention from the 1995 Review and Extension Conference. Germany and Canada promoted listing the fissile material production ban, which had dropped out of the PrepCom agenda.

When Mexico raised the objection that this list neglected disarmament measures, many countries countered that nuclear disarmament was at the heart of the entire process. Nevertheless, in response mainly to the Western states' unwillingness to put disarmament discussions on the agenda of the 61nation Geneva Conference on Disarmament (CD), a Mexican statement of dissent is included in the final report.

The five nuclearweapon states issued a joint statement affirming disarmament progress, including the START process and the achievement of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. Members of the nonaligned group urged the nuclearweapon states to begin discussing the elimination of nuclear weapons in a subgroup of the CD. But the nonaligned were not generally organized in their efforts. "A lot of countries were not prepared when [the PrepCom] took off as dramatically and substantively as it did," according to Susan Burk of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

The chairman's paper contains substantive issues presented at the PrepCom such as Canadian proposals, supported by several states including Ireland and New Zealand, for prohibiting nuclear testing prior to entry into force of the CTB Treaty and securing commitments by the nuclearweapon states not to produce new types of weapons of mass destruction. A Belarussian proposal for a Central and Eastern European nuclearweaponfree zone was also presented.

Though the meeting did not resolve any of these outstanding questions, it managed to orient the future agenda toward substantive issues. Initiating the enhanced review process was part of the 1995 agreement to indefinitely extend the NPT, and procedures which were agreed to at the meeting, such as the "rolling report" format for review conference recommendations will help shape progress at the next session, tentatively set for April 1998 in Geneva.