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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Reporting on the 2019 NPT PrepCom
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Arms Control NOW

Authored by Alicia Sanders-Zakre on May 10, 2019

NPT Looks Ahead to 2020 Review Conference Without Consensus Recommendations
May 10, 2019

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 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.


States Discuss Nonproliferation, Peaceful Nuclear Uses and Draft Recommendations
May 9, 2019

In the middle of week two of the 2019 NPT PrepCom, states parties took up discussion of the nonproliferation and peaceful nuclear uses portions of the treaty.

The Iranian nuclear program was a key topic with many states expressing support for implementation and compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and further negotiations with North Korea on denuclearization, but key parties remain divided on an upcoming conference on a zone free of WMD in the Middle East.

Iran Nuclear Deal in Crisis

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal addressed a longstanding threat to the NPT by curtailing Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activities, expanding IAEA monitoring of Iran’s program, and creating a framework for resolving longstanding concerns about past nuclear weapons related research undertaken by Iran in the pre-2003 period.

On Wednesday, May 8, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani delivered a televised speech announcing that he was giving the other parties to the JCPOA (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Russia and China) 60 days to take more robust actions to thwart American sanctions on oil sales and banking transactions or Iran would take additional retaliatory measures.

To start, he said, Iran would no longer abide by limits on its stockpiles of low enriched uranium and of heavy water. This could possibly result in Tehran violating its commitments in the coming months, depending on the rates of production.

If these states fail to deliver sanctions relief, Iran says it will resume construction on the unfinished Arak nuclear reactor. If the Europeans and the Chinese do not take more serious steps to allow for legitimate Iranian petroleum exports and banking transactions, Iran also threatened to take more consequential measures, specifically resuming uranium enrichment to levels above the 3.67 uranium-235 level allowed by the JCPOA. These steps would likely trigger efforts to take the JCPOA file to the UN Security Council.

In response, key European states pledged their support for the JCPOA but cautioned Iran not to take actions that would exceed the nuclear limits and requirements established under the agreement. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a statement that said, in part: “Our message remains clear. We and our partners stand by the nuclear deal and we stand by it in full. That is why we also expect Iran to implement the agreement in full.”

Before the news of the Iranian announcement arrived in the Trusteeship Council chamber, more than two dozen states expressed strong support for the JCPOA. The European Union expressed its “resolute commitment” to the JCPOA and called on Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the deal “in full,” adding that JCPOA implementation strengthens the NPT in a May 3 statement.

On Monday, the United States called on Iran to “change its behavior,” including addressing “why it retained an immense archive of files from its past nuclear weapons program” and urged NPT states to support the International Atomic Energy Agency’s verification work in Iran.

Again, Iran and the United States engaged in heated right of reply exchanges. Iran claimed that the United States had “no moral standing” given its rejection of the JCPOA in the face of overwhelming global support for the agreement. The United States in return called Iran the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

Late on Wednesday, the United States doubled down on its “maximum pressure” tactics and announced additional sanctions on Iran’s metals exports.

The JCPOA and the NPT

Iranian press reports published Wednesday, May 8 indicate that Iran’s leadership is threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA and, perhaps from the NPT, if the JCPOA file is referred again to the UN Security Council.

Under Article X of the NPT, "a state may withdraw from the treaty, requiring three month's advance notice should "extraordinary events" jeopardize its supreme national interests.”

In the opening statement by Iran during the first week of the PrepCom, Iran’s delegate said:

"The U.S. continues to exert maximum pressure to dismantle the JCPOA and UNSC resolution 2231. These pressures, if continued, will be detrimental not only to the stability and security in the Middle East region, but to the NPT. The anti-JCPOA and other unlawful and coercive measures by the U.S. administration against Iran allude to the fact that this administration is driven by the Rule of the Jungle in its international relations. Such policies will not be left unanswered and Iran will adopt appropriate measures to preserve its supreme national interests.”

Withdrawal from the NPT by Iran would, obviously create a new and severe crisis for the treaty that be extremely counterproductive for Iran and for global security.

North Korea Nuclear Crisis Takes a Back Seat at the PrepCom

While many states gathered for the NPT PrepCom have welcomed the off-and-on negotiations between North Korea and the United States, they also underlined the continued threat posed by North Korean nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Japan continued to take a hard-line, calling for the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, as well as related programs and facilities in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions” and urged states to continue to implement UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

On Saturday local time, North Korea launched a salvo of short-range ballistic missiles. It also test-fired at least one projectile Thursday afternoon local time.

Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East

States focused on the topic of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East on Monday morning, and debated the controversial UN conference to be held in November on taking forward the zone.

The Arab Group, in a statement delivered by Mauritania, emphasized the need for the three depositary states of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East - Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - to work to realize the zone, adding that the Arab Group had already done its part. It welcomed the upcoming November UN conference on taking forward the zone, arguing that it would advance the NPT.

Russia claimed that it would take part in the conference and called on the other nuclear-weapon states to participate as well.

The United States stated that it regretted the call for the conference, which is being convened as a result of a UNGA resolution. The United States told the NPT PrepCom that it would not attend without the participation of all regional states (i.e. including Israel). The United Kingdom stated that it was concerned that the conference was tabled without the agreement of all regional states, and that it remained undecided about whether it would attend, and would hold additional consultations before making a decision.

Peaceful Nuclear Uses and Strengthening the Review Conference Process

On Monday and Tuesday, states discussed the peaceful applications of nuclear energy.

Many states underscored the value of peaceful nuclear applications to global development and the importance of nuclear safety and security practices to sustain peaceful nuclear activities.

The presumptive 2020 Review Conference President Rafael Grossi stated in the Argentine national statement that the next Review Conference provides an opportunity to “strengthen the implementation of Article IV so that all States parties can have access to research, production and use of nuclear energy, and can sustain the widest international exchange on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”Argentine Ambassador Rafael Grossi addresses the NPT PrepCom. Photo: Alicia Sanders-Zakre.

On Wednesday, the PrepCom decided to punt the nomination of the Review Conference President to the last quarter of 2019, at which point the new chair of the Non-Aligned Movement is expected to recommend Ambassador Grossi for the post.

On Tuesday evening, states discussed methods to improve the effectiveness of the review process. The Netherlands, on behalf of 48 states, recommend creating a working group to discuss this topic at the 2020 Review Conference.

Japan encouraged creating a standard reporting form for states to enhance transparency about which Russia expressed skepticism.

Ireland urged NPT states to incorporate a gender perspective, including a gender analysis, diverse participation and overcoming a traditional security policy discourse that perpetuates gendered stereotypes of “hard” and “soft” issues.

Chair’s Draft Recommendations Under Scrutiny

The chair circulated his first draft recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference on Friday evening. States began their discussion of the recommendations Tuesday afternoon and will continue through the week with the goal of adopting consensus recommendations on Friday. For more detailed coverage of the NPT PrepCom, read Reaching Critical Will’s NPT News in Review. —ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE and DARYL G. KIMBALL


Disarmament Cluster Reaffirms Support for Treaties, Debates New Ideas
May 3, 2019

Dozens of NPT states-parties re-iterated support for many existing nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, weighed-in on new and somewhat controversial initiatives and on nuclear risk reduction measures during the disarmament cluster debate on Thursday, the fourth day of the 2019 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2020 Review Conference.

Strong Support for Existing Treaties

The disarmament cluster debate further highlighted the growing concern about the absence of progress on previous NPT-related disarmament goals and alarm that existing instruments, including the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, are at risk.

Dozens of states urged others to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, frustrated by the slow pace of progress on both treaties.

The state of U.S./Russian arms control sparked concern among many states, which pressed the United States and Russia to extend New START and preserve the INF Treaty.

Russia claimed that it would support extending New START but that the United States would need to address concerns about the U.S. implementation of the treaty first. These Russian concerns center around verification of the conversion of nuclear delivery systems to conventional roles. Russia blamed the United States for its decision to terminate the INF Treaty, which is scheduled to occur on August 2. In a right of reply by U.S. Conference on Disarmament Permanent Representative Robert Wood, who regularly takes the floor to challenge other delegates’ statements, the United States rejected Russian allegations about its New START implementation record.The United Nations headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

In the formal U.S. statement on disarmament, Wood, who is now the U.S. representative on the New START Bilateral Consultative Commission, did not address whether the Trump administration will agree to extend New START or when such a decision might be taken.

Wood did not make any mention of the initiative from the White House for a potentially broad and more ambitious nuclear arms control arrangement with China and Russia. (For more details, see: “U.S. Seeks Broader Arms Control Pact,” Arms Control Today, May 2019.) 

Wood also suggested that: “The traditional, numerically-focused “step-by-step” approach to arms control has gone as far as it can under today’s conditions. The dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals that took place when Cold War tensions eased have largely run their course, and security conditions have become much less favorable.”

On the other hand, dozens of national statements underscored that NPT members should implement existing agreed steps, including those from the 1995, 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences.

New Initiatives

Roughly two dozen states welcomed the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), emphasizing in particular its complementarity with the NPT and its role in fulfilling Article VI, which obligates all NPT members to pursue good-faith measures to work towards disarmament.

France and Russia expressed opposition to the TPNW.

The U.S. “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND) approach generated varied responses. A number of states, including Japan and the United Kingdom, expressed support for the CEND approach explicitly, and the Republic of Korea noted that it would attend its working group plenary meeting in July.

Iran explicitly rejected the CEND approach, while others warned against adding conditions to implement NPT commitments, claiming that progress on disarmament is necessitated, not impeded, by a difficult security environment.

“We reject the notion that nuclear disarmament is pre-conditioned on a certain set of circumstances,” the Philippines argued. “This endeavor is a matter of collective responsibility, particularly between and among the nuclear weapons states, and it must not be made conditional on the interests of a few.”

Ireland noted that: “...despite the grave existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, some States have argued that the present environment is not conducive to disarmament, and that pursuing the elimination of nuclear weapons is not realistic at this time. Ireland fully aligns with the Secretary-General's view that disarmament is more essential in a deteriorated security environment. We equally believe that it is unrealistic to wait for, or expect, a perfect security environment to emerge; no such utopia exists, and if such conditions were necessary for progress, we would never be able to agree or achieve anything, including the Treaty currently under consideration.”

A few states also spoke about a new Stockholm initiative designed to build support around key disarmament “stepping stones.” Sweden stated the goal of the approach was to find “common ground” steps on “concrete progress.” New Zealand noted that the approach applies “pragmatism to the process for implementation of the established disarmament agenda.” On Tuesday, Sweden announced it would host a ministerial-level meeting on June 11 on “mobilising political support for an ambitious yet realistic agenda.”

Reducing Nuclear Risks

While emphasizing the need for arsenal reductions, over a dozen states also promoted incremental steps to reduce nuclear risks and advance disarmament, including disarmament verification and increasing transparency and reporting.

Many states welcomed the April report of the group of governmental experts on nuclear disarmament verification and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. The United Kingdom speaking on behalf of Sweden, Switzerland and the United States announced it published a new report on lessons learned from a 2017 joint verification exercise. France and Germany mentioned an upcoming joint verification exercise this fall.

Many states highlighted the need for more transparency about nuclear weapons arsenals and policies. China, France and the United Kingdom all described how they promote transparency in their nuclear weapon arsenals and policies.

Negative nuclear security assurances were the topic of discussion Friday morning, with the United States reiterating its weakened iteration of the traditional assurance against nuclear attack on states in good standing with their NPT obligations, with other states, including Indonesia pressing for legally-binding, non-discriminatory assurances against nuclear attack on non-nuclear weapon states.

Diplomats will continue to discuss additional thematic issues - nonproliferation on Friday and peaceful nuclear uses on Monday - before moving on next week to preparing recommendations for the Review Conference. 


General Debate Opens: Old Divisions Reappear
May 1, 2019

Although the 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee commenced with a procedural success - the adoption of the agenda for the 2020 Review Conference by consensus - the first day of the general debate concluded in vitriolic rights of replies between the Iran, Russia and the United States.

The agenda for the 2020 Review Conference is modeled after the agenda for the 2015 Review Conference, with minor updates, according to the PrepCom Chair, Syed Hussin of Malaysia.

In the first right of reply of the conference, the United States defended its compliance with treaties that Iran and Russia accused it of violating, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the NPT itself. The United States and Russia each blamed each other for the demise of the INF Treaty and Iran and the United States accused each other of promoting terrorism.Chair Syed Hussin addresses the 2019 NPT PrepCom. Photo: Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The harsh words came in spite of pleas for civility and respect preceding the start of the general debate from the chair of the conference and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran warned in its right of reply and during its general statement that it would take action in response to U.S. policies to pressure Iran, arguing that they would not “be left unanswered” and that it would “adopt appropriate measures to preserve its supreme national interests.”

Iranian state broadcaster IRIB quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday saying that Iran was considering withdrawing from the NPT as one option to respond to increased U.S. pressure.

Dozens of states expressed support for JCPOA and encouraged all parties to continue implementing the deal. The European Union stated that the lifting of sanctions is an “essential part” of the Iran nuclear deal and highlighted the Special Purpose Vehicle initiated by France, Germany and the United Kingdom to help facilitate legitimate trade with Iran and its role to improve trade with Iran, as well as the lives of Iranian people.

The United States recently announced that it will not re-issue sanctions waivers for some countries to continue to import Iranian oil past Thursday, but must still decide on re- issuing sanctions waivers for some nonproliferation projects to continue in Iran past May 2.

Creating the Conditions ...

Amongst numerous calls for nuclear-weapon states to take additional steps to reduce their nuclear arsenals, the United States continued to advance its “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” approach, including in a new working paper, in which it announced that the first Creating an Environment Working Group Plenary will take place this summer in Washington, D.C.

Reactions to the "CEND" approach in the general debate were mixed. Iran stated that any initiative that aims to create conditions for nuclear disarmament should be “categorically rejected.” South Korea welcomed the initiative, as did Brazil in an April 30 side event hosted by the United States on the subject.

Sweden announced that it would convene a ministerial-level meeting on disarmament on June 11 in Stockholm on disarmament, as part of its “stepping stone” approach, which it debuted in a PrepCom working paper.

China delivered a summary from a meeting of the "P5" nuclear-weapon states in Beijing, announcing that the P5 agreed to submit national reports to the 2020 Review Conference and begin consultations on a side event on P5 nuclear policies and doctrines at the Review Conference. China also stated that the P5 made progress on its nuclear terms glossary and that the next P5 meeting will take place in London in 2020. 

The U.S.-Russian Arms Control Impasse

Many countries also called on the United States and Russia to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in 2021. Finland added that New START “increases predictability and stability… contributes to reducing the risk of strategic surprise, mistrust and miscalculations” and urged an early extension of the treaty.

Over 40 experts and nongovernmental representatives endorsed a statement demanding that all NPT states-parties “press Presidents Trump and Putin to relaunch the dialogue on strategic stability, pledge to reach early agreement to extend the New START agreement and refrain from pursuing deployments of INF-prohibited missile systems in the European theater (or elsewhere) that produce a dangerous action- reaction cycle.” Civil society statements were delivered on the morning of May 1 and are available here.

North Korea

More than two dozen states also encouraged continued dialogue between North Korea and the United States to achieve North Korea’s disarmament.

Procedural Maneuvers

Despite early success in agreeing to an agenda, in the days ahead, the conference could face challenges in clearing several procedural hurdles.

Several Non-Aligned Movement states, led by Venezuela, have reportedly opposed confirming Ambassador Rafael Grossi, who was nominated to become the Review Conference president, meaning that Grossi may not be confirmed as president by the end of the PrepCom.

The United States and several other countries encouraged states to finalize the Review Conference leadership team, including the Review Conference president, as “a matter of pressing urgency.” Deliberations have “dragged on longer than is warranted” Grossi claimed in his May 1 statement to the general debate.

The conference also may struggle to adopt consensus recommendations for the Review Conference. PrepCom Chair Syed Hussin announced that he would circulate a first draft of the Review Conference recommendations on Friday to give states-parties time to discuss and reach agreement.

For more details of the conference proceedings, see Reaching Critical Will’s next upcoming NPT News in Review newsletter.


An NPT Update Ahead of the 2019 PrepCom
April 26, 2019

Representatives from the states parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet for two weeks beginning Monday, April 29, for the last Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session ahead of the 2020 Review Conference. At this final PrepCom, states are tasked with adopting recommendations for the Review Conference, including setting an agenda and electing a president, but agreement on both substance and procedure could be challenging given persistent disagreements that have played out between key governments in the months leading up to the meeting.

Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid, currently the Malaysian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, will oversee the PrepCom, replacing Shahrul Ikram, permanent representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, who was originally slated to chair the meeting.

Developments on NPT Debates Since 2018

The crisis in U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control and disarmament has only worsened since the last PrepCom in 2018.

On Feb. 2, the United States announced that it intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty Aug. 2 in response to an unresolved dispute with Russia over its compliance with the treaty. Poor U.S.-Russian relations soured the 2018 meeting, as Russia criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral agreement that has verifiably curtailed Iran’s capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the United States accused Russia of using chemical weapons and violating the INF Treaty.

States continue to disagree on the right path forward for nuclear disarmament. At an April 2 high-level UN Security Council meeting, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States criticized the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) while six others welcomed its adoption and emphasized its compatibility with the NPT. The UN Security Council meets to discuss the NPT on April 2. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

A UK Parliament report released April 24 accepted the United Kingdom’s opposition to the TPNW but encouraged the government to “adopt a less aggressive tone” on the treaty and seek opportunities to work with TPNW supporters on advancing disarmament. Twenty-three states have now ratified the TPNW.

Meanwhile, the United States is pursuing a project that it calls “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament,” first introduced through a 2018 PrepCom working paper. The initiative seeks to foster a dialogue about the “security conditions that have made the retention of nuclear weapons necessary” in order to move closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. The United States aims to convene working groups with around 25 to 30 regionally and politically diverse states to discuss several of these conditions, which should be “in full swing” by the 2020 Review Conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Chris Ford told a UK conference in December 2018.

The Conference on Disarmament discussed the approach in a late March meeting and the Netherlands hosted an academic colloquium on the idea April 15. At the April conference, Ford added that he would have “much more to say at this year’s PrepCom in New York about how we hope to operationalize this effort, as well as about the kind of questions it might be useful for the CEND working group to address.”

Without a resolution to the dispute at the 2015 Review Conference over the agenda for a meeting to discuss a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ), plans for a UN-convened meeting on the Middle East zone in November could also impact PrepCom discussions. Russia announced that it would attend the conference, while the United States and Israel will not attend. The United Kingdom abstained on the December 2018 UN General Assembly resolution, which mandated that the meeting should be held.

An April report by the Group of Eminent Experts, which is convened by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, recommended that all states participate in the November conference.

Key Resources

The Arms Control Association will be reporting on the PrepCom with regular blog posts throughout the two weeks.

The 2019 PrepCom schedule is as follows:

  • April 29 to May 1: General debate, including statements from nongovernmental organizations on the morning of May 1;
  • May 1 to May 2: Cluster 1 (disarmament);
  • May 3: Cluster 2 (nonproliferation);
  • May 6: Cluster 3 (peaceful nuclear uses);
  • May 7 to May 9: Organizing the Review Conference;
  • May 10: Consideration and adoption of the PrepCom report and Review Conference recommendations.

The official 2019 PrepCom website is here and a calendar of side events during the conference can be found here. Most of the proceedings will be webcast live and archived via UN Web TV. A number of PrepCom working papers have already been posted. Austria and the Netherlands have submitted national reports on implementing the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

Need a refresher on the NPT before the conference? Check out our NPT at a Glance and Timeline of the NPT factsheets.