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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Interview With Brazilian Ambassador and NPT Review Conference President Sérgio de Queiroz Duarte
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The nearly 190 states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather next May for four weeks to take stock of the landmark accord that lies at the heart of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The diplomat charged with leading this important meeting is Brazilian Ambassador Sérgio de Queiroz Duarte, who spoke Nov. 4 with Arms Control Today Editor Miles A. Pomper and Arms Control Association Research Director Wade Boese about the challenges facing the treaty and his responsibilities as president of next year's NPT Review Conference.

ACT: What are your objectives as president of the forthcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, and what would be an ideal outcome of the Review Conference?

Duarte: The president has no objectives besides ensuring that the discussions take place in the best possible mood and the results, as much as possible, are consensual and reflect the will of the parties. The parties may have objectives, but I do not, besides having the conference agree on something that will be useful, forward looking, and advance the aims of the treaty. This is the only objective that I can have as president.

ACT: Are you speaking of getting a consensus document as was done at the last Review Conference?

Duarte: There have been six [Review] Conferences. Three of them had final documents, but three of them did not. Some parties are saying, "Well, if we don't achieve a final document this time, it will not be something that did not happen before. It may not be such a disaster."

I do not look so much at the form as the result. The results should be recorded. There should be a trace of what the results are, even if we do not have agreement. We may have a hybrid document, something more succinct than the previous final documents. We may even have some decisions or recommendations. It's pretty much up in the air what the results and the format of those results could be. I have been asking parties what they think the format should be. I will continue to ask that question and hope that whatever answers I get will guide me.

ACT: It sounds like you are getting answers all over the place about whether there will be a final document.

Duarte: It's still early, but I am putting that question to the parties. I am receiving answers and will continue to receive answers until the end of the conference.

ACT: Whom have you consulted?

Duarte: I started at the end of August. I have visited the capitals of the five nuclear countries.1 I have also gone to Geneva, Vienna, and New York. I held many bilateral consultations with many of the parties. I will continue to do that next year. I will travel again, not only to the five, but also to the capitals of other players in the Nonaligned Movement2 and other parts of the world. By the time of the conference, I hope to have consulted with the majority of the parties individually or in groups. It's very hard to consult individually with some 180 parties.3

ACT: Are you making progress toward having an agenda prior to the start of the conference?

Duarte: So far, I do not know. What I am telling parties is that it would be very, very difficult to start the conference without an agenda. The responses that I am getting are usually agreeing with that view. I hope that the parties realize the agenda is only a tool, a commencement, an instrument. You are not going to solve substantive differences in the agenda. I hope the parties help me between now and the start of the conference in putting together an agenda.

ACT: Are there some countries suggesting that an agenda is not that important to have before the conference begins?

Duarte: No. Everyone realizes the importance of the agenda. That is why it gets a little tinted with the substance.

ACT: What are the consequences if the conference begins without an agenda?

Duarte: The mood will be bad. The sentiment that things are not starting on the right note will be present. It will also be more difficult for me to organize a program of work without an agenda. The procedural steps that should be as smooth as possible at the start will probably be difficult to take. So, I hope that, by the time we meet, we have an agenda.

ACT: Is there some deadline for the agenda? Presumably you would have to circulate a draft agenda before other governments sign off on it.

Duarte: A draft agenda exists already. It was presented at the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom).4 The provisional agenda is the 2000 [Review Conference] agenda brought up to date. This is the document that exists. The only problem [at the latest PrepCom] was with point 16, which is basically how to review the treaty. Some parties wanted to take into account what happened in 1995; others wanted both 1995 and 2000; and others wanted events between 2000 and now. This could not be agreed upon at the last day of the PrepCom. So, this is the material that we have to work on.

ACT: As you know, the NPT is comprised of three main elements: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries, providing countries the "right" to peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and a commitment by all countries to work toward disarmament. Are all of these elements equal in importance? Should one be given more weight than others? And how interdependent are they?

Duarte: They are very much interdependent. The treaty was conceived in a way in which these elements were meant to be interdependent. Many of the parties start from the view that they are interdependent. Some parties place more emphasis on some of these elements rather than on others and therein lies part of the disagreements that we have. To have a successful conference, the result will have to be balanced between these elements. It is obvious that they are different in nature. The way in which you implement those obligations, the pace at which you fulfill obligations in the three elements is different. We have to be careful to understand these differences in what we wish the parties to do. But I do not think that we can be selective or give exclusive weight to one of the elements to the detriment of the others.

ACT: Some commentators and states-parties are arguing that the NPT and the nuclear nonproliferation regime are under greater duress today than in many years past. What would you judge is the most significant challenge or threat facing the NPT today, and do you agree that this is a time of greater duress than in times past?

Duarte: I have been involved with these matters for a large part of my professional life. I attended a number of Review Conferences even before Brazil became a member [to the treaty].5 I was at the 18-nation Disarmament Committee when the treaty was presented.6 So, I have seen this treaty off and on in my professional life several times. There have been other moments of duress and difficulty for the treaty.

Perhaps the emergence of the possibility of nuclear terrorism has added an element of more strain to the situation. It is not something that the treaty is specifically addressed to, but it has bearing on the things that the treaty is supposed to control. In that sense, there is more drama involved in the present situation.

You have instances of noncompliance or at least accusations of noncompliance.7 You have one party [North Korea] that withdrew from the treaty, which is something that never happened before. You have a sentiment that the nuclear-weapon powers have been less than forthcoming in the fulfillment of their own commitments.8 I am not saying that this did not happen, but that there is this sentiment on the part of several parties. Then again, on the part of the main powers, there is the sentiment that their efforts have not been correctly understood. So, all of these things add to the difficulties and emotions involved in the treaty. It's very hard to weigh this situation against similar situations in the past. It's complicated enough this time.

ACT: You mentioned accusations of noncompliance. Is it likely that the Review Conference might debate new or innovative enforcement measures or mechanisms to encourage treaty compliance or deter or punish treaty withdrawals?

Duarte: I am sure there will be suggestions or proposals to that effect. You asked me before what are the main difficulties. Perhaps the main difficulty that we will face is how to balance a perceived need for greater controls or more effective instruments of safeguards and controls with treaty provisions that ensure the right to peaceful applications of nuclear technology. How to promote the use of nuclear technology and at the same time how to constrain that use-it's a difficult conundrum that we must address and somehow solve.

ACT: If the Review Conference does not solve that problem, what is the timeline within which it must be solved? Is there a date by which things spiral too far out of control?

Duarte: I trust that most of the parties to the NPT are responsible and serious in their commitments and in the way they develop their programs. But if we do not have action on certain parts of the treaty, then we probably will not have action on other parts. Eventually, the situation may be one in which the treaty ceases to be seen as effective in all its aspects by different groups of parties. So, there is this danger of the unraveling of the whole system. But I do not think anyone could put a time frame on that.

ACT: Do you think the treaty is still effective today?

Duarte: I think it is. You have over 36 years of the treaty's existence. Three countries have not acceded.9 So, instead of the original five [nuclear-weapon states] that the treaty recognizes, you have three additional de facto [nuclear-weapon states], but no more than three. You also have one country that has withdrawn and another that is suspected of breaches, and then you have some 180 countries that have fulfilled and abided by their obligations. Statistically, at least, the treaty has been fairly successful and deserves more credit.

ACT: How would you respond to those who argue that there has been a spate or plague of noncompliance recently, involving not only North Korea and Iran but also Libya and Iraq?

Duarte: Well, both the Libyan and the Iraqi situations have been resolved by different means rather than by the treaty, so I do not think those situations have to be seen in the light of the treaty.

ACT: Brazil is a member of the New Agenda Coalition,10 which contends there has not been meaningful action by the nuclear-weapon states toward fulfilling their disarmament obligations under Article VI. How can the nuclear-weapon states live up to these commitments, and how important is it that they are perceived as doing so?

Duarte: It is very important that they are perceived to be living up to their commitments. I think it's a question of confidence, a question of transparency and of improving the climate of mistrust that exists [between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states]. If the measures the nuclear-weapon parties took for nuclear disarmament were perhaps better understood by the remainder of the countries and were accompanied by very clear gestures of a continued commitment to arrive at that end-a reaffirmation which could be done at the Review Conference-it would help a lot to allay some of the mistrust that exists. It is something that each of the nuclear-weapon states-parties must do on its own. I do not have any reason to doubt the seriousness of any of the parties, nuclear or non-nuclear. If they are seriously committed to some steps, they should continue to be committed and fulfill their obligations, but they must do it in a way that will convince the rest of the parties that they are really complying. It is a difficult thing to do.

ACT: How can the nuclear-weapon states do that in a convincing way to the other states-parties?

Duarte: By being as transparent as possible. Transparency is difficult because it involves many responsibilities that a state has regarding its own security, but a little more transparency would go a long way to increase confidence.

ACT: Are you talking in terms of reports or perhaps maybe opening up their stockpiles to inspections?

Duarte: That would be difficult to ask of them. We have to understand that it's not easy to ask that because it involves security. Lately, they have shown and tried to report more. In the past two years or so, they started reporting and telling the steps they have taken. They should continue to do so and present as many details of not only what they did, but what they intend to do in the future regarding disarmament. It would be very helpful if they did that.

ACT: Should there be a regular reporting requirement as part of the review process?

Duarte: That would be useful. It's not easy to agree on the elements of that reporting, but it would be useful.

ACT: Several countries spoke out strongly at the last PrepCom that any exploration of new nuclear weapons by the nuclear-weapon states violates the spirit of the NPT and is at odds with the 13 steps on disarmament.11 The treaty contains no prohibition against the research or development of new nuclear weapons by the nuclear-weapon states, and in fact they built thousands of additional nuclear weapons following the NPT's conclusion in 1968. Why should the nuclear-weapon states refrain now from any research or development into new nuclear weapons when most of their arsenals are steadily decreasing?

Duarte: Research is one thing, but production is another. The fact that there is research adds to a climate of less-than-complete confidence among the parties. It would be useful if the nuclear-weapon states refrained from doing anything that would be perceived as continued reliance on nuclear weapons. Then again, [research] is not prohibited by the treaty, so we cannot say they are violating the treaty. One can argue that it may be against the spirit of the treaty, but it's very hard to pinpoint a specific violation.

ACT: At the last PrepCom, the United States contended that the 13 steps were essentially past commitments that were no longer relevant. Yet, most NPT states-parties appear to believe otherwise. Can these two positions be reconciled?

Duarte: I hope they can. What the United States said exactly was that it no longer supported some of the 13 steps. We know from their actions, for instance, that they no longer support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). I do not know what else they no longer support. Words are very important in this business. You can not support something and still not be in violation of something.

The CTBT continues to exist as such. It has not entered into force, but parties to the treaty continue to do their best to see to it that [the CTBT] will enter into force as soon as possible. Regardless of the fact that the United States-there are others, of course-does not seem willing to ratify it at this time, this should not be seen with too much despondency. It took a long time for the CTBT to exist. We should continue working on [bringing it into force]. It's not something that we should look at as if no chance exists for further progress. We must keep the treaty alive, waiting for the exact moment.

ACT: It is one thing to not signal support for ratification of the CTBT, but it's another for a possible resumption of nuclear testing, which is something that has been talked about. What impact would a nuclear test have on the nonproliferation regime?

Duarte: If any of the nuclear-weapon countries, which have all been observing a voluntary testing moratorium, resumes testing, it would be a very hard blow to the whole system of nonproliferation, as much as if any non-nuclear-weapon country would be shown to be developing nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear-weapon countries are not bound by any obligation not to test, the blow would be the same.

ACT: One of the other 13 steps was negotiation of a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).12 There was discussion this past summer about resuming such negotiations after a long delay in the Conference on Disarmament. How big of a boost might the convening of those negotiations give the Review Conference?

Duarte: It would give a boost. At the UN First Committee today, a resolution was put forward asking for the establishment of a negotiating mandate for such a treaty with certain characteristics, including verification and irreversibility. But one important nuclear-weapon power [the United States] voted against it. There were 174 votes in favor and two abstentions (see page XX).

ACT: What is the sense among the other NPT states-parties about an FMCT without a verification regime because that is clearly what the United States is espousing?

Duarte: During the 1970s and 1980s, verification was very much a tool that was said to be indispensable to any arms control or disarmament treaty. But suddenly, it seems that it is no longer feasible. The discussion of [verification] has been put on a tactical vein.

I do not know anything about fissile material. I am not a physicist. I do not know whether [a treaty without a verification regime] is feasible. But if you have a treaty of importance on arms control and disarmament that contains no verification provisions, many would perhaps see it as a very weak instrument. Some contend that it would be useful to have even if you do not have verification provisions. The Biological Weapons Convention, for instance, has no verification provisions.13 It has existed for decades without verification provisions.

ACT: How might the NPT state-parties better involve India, Israel, and Pakistan in adhering to global nuclear nonproliferation standards established by the NPT and other agreements?

Duarte: There is deep division in the NPT membership on that. There are those who would wish to have some sort of association of those countries to the NPT that would recognize them somehow as having nuclear [weapons]. You cannot bring them into the treaty unless you amend it. To amend the treaty would raise many other difficulties. I do not think any of the parties is prepared to open the treaty to amendment for the purpose of bringing in those three countries because then you open it to other amendments and the treaty could then be in very grave danger. I do not know of any proposal by governments aimed at bringing those countries into the treaty. If there would be any such proposal at the Review Conference, then the conference will have to examine it. Some countries say that the three should adhere to the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon countries. They, of course, reject that. So, we are at an impasse on that question.

ACT: Does their continued existence outside the treaty have a negative pull on the treaty, or is that something that is more accepted by the states-parties today?

Duarte: Facts are facts. But the fact that nuclear-weapon countries exist-be they parties or nonparties to the treaty-is in itself a matter of concern for the rest of the world.

ACT: Terrorism and the exposure of the A. Q. Khan network14 reveal the great dangers posed to the nonproliferation treaty by nonstate actors. Is the NPT structured sufficiently to guard against this threat? Does the treaty need to be amended or altered in some way to better address the problem of nonstate actors?

Duarte: The treaty addresses states. It does not address any other entities. You do not have to amend the treaty because of the threat that nuclear weapons might get into the wrong hands. There are some structures for that. There is the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the purveyance of materials.15 There are some arrangements of a smaller membership to prevent the easier circulation of materials. There are also several things that are in the making because it's a new situation. The international community takes some time to put together its instruments in the face of such a grave possibility. But the treaty is not the main instrument to deal with that question. By improving the system of safeguards, you can reduce the possibility that fissile material may find its way outside the control of the individual states-parties to the treaty. But there must be complementary mechanisms to deal with that. The treaty cannot be seen as the main instrument in the fight against nuclear terrorism. It is certainly something that helps. Other instruments that are multilateral, nondiscriminatory, and agreeable to the whole international community must be found rather than ad hoc solutions.

ACT: Speaking to the issue of export controls, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has spoken of the need to formalize the export control regime because now there are only political or voluntary commitments by a small group of states. Is there some way that the NPT might put in place a more formalized structure of export controls?

Duarte: You have the NSG for that, and it is a formal structure. You could formalize it further. But again, I do not think that the NPT should be the main instrument to deal with [export controls].

ACT: You mentioned earlier that the toughest challenge you will face is the question of reconciling peaceful uses of nuclear technology with ensuring that nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons purposes. There are a growing number of proposals that are meant to limit national possession of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and ElBaradei has convened an experts group on the subject. Is there any emerging consensus around a specific proposal for restricting these types of nuclear technologies or capabilities?

Duarte: I am not familiar enough with the experts group dealings to know whether there is an emerging consensus.

ACT: But more broadly, as you look forward to the Review Conference, is this issue dependent on what happens in the experts group or is there any discussion beyond that?

Duarte: I simply do not know. There is a concern from several countries that this issue is urgent and should be examined and that effective solutions and measures be taken. The outcome of the current discussion must be nondiscriminatory, and it must be agreeable to all international membership. The difficulty again is how to conciliate that. How do you restrict because you feel a clear threat and at the same time how do you uphold what many see as their legitimate right to a certain technology to improve their condition in terms of development?

ACT: Would requiring that certain technologies be under multilateral control be perhaps one nondiscriminatory approach to dealing with this problem?

Duarte: The question there is whether that control will really be nondiscriminatory. It [depends on] the modalities in which you exercise that control. It is interesting that only when developing countries start to master certain technologies that such technologies suddenly seem to be very dangerous and very necessary to be curbed. There are certainly many other countries in the world that possess this technology, and it did not seem to be such a danger.

ACT: It is widely expected that discussions about the Middle East will dominate a significant amount of time at the Review Conference. How do you expect the states-parties to address this issue, and what might be some possible substantive measures that can be agreed to regarding this topic, such as the possibility for a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone?

Duarte: It has always been an important part of Review Conference deliberations. The next one will be no exception. It has always been a tough question, and it will not be different this time. The nuclear-weapon-free-zone issue will not be solved at the Review Conference. If all the parties involved have an attitude of avoiding too much confrontation and hostility in the deliberations, we may have a chance to preserve what has been achieved and hopefully to progress a little bit. But it is a difficult question, and we have to understand the difficulties that lie in the past. I am not overanxious about achieving final results at the Review Conference because whatever happens is a consequence of other things that the conference cannot control or change.

ACT: Is it possible for the Review Conference to even adequately deal with the Middle East since Israel is obviously not part of those deliberations? How do you account for that?

Duarte: Israel can always come in and become a party to the NPT. It is not barred from coming in. It would be very useful if Israel came in.

ACT: What is North Korea's NPT status, and how might states-parties address this unique situation at the Review Conference?

Duarte: Well, they have addressed [North Korea's] status at previous PrepComs by using a procedural device meant to give a chance to the consultations that are taking place outside of the NPT.16 It was agreed that the best course would be to let the six parties17 continue to talk without taking a stance on the substance of the matter in the NPT. There have been a couple of things that have happened recently that have stalled the six-party talks. The hope is that they will resume soon. If the six parties continue to hold their consultations, it's possible that the Review Conference will once again resort to the same procedural device in order to give the six-party talks a better chance of succeeding. But we do not know what will happen between now and May, so it's only a hypothesis. Parties will have to think about what they want to do.

ACT: A book titled The Nuclear Tipping Point was recently published. The thesis is that, if an additional country were to get nuclear weapons, other countries might rush to get them. Do you think North Korea poses that threat? If it were to declare itself a nuclear-weapon state or show or demonstrate that it has such weapons, would that compel others to move out of the treaty?

Duarte: It certainly is one possibility that might happen. It is very hard to reason with hypotheses; what would others do if such-and-such a thing would happen? The whole effort has been to prevent that situation from arising. The countries in that region that would feel affected by North Korea becoming a real nuclear-weapon power have so far shown admirable restraint and responsibility. All we can say is that the rest of the international community expects that non-nuclear countries will not resort to becoming nuclear because of security considerations, prestige, or whatever, but also that other countries will react in a constructive way to prevent that from happening. But you can only have this with a sentiment of enhanced regional security and responsible country behavior. In the NPT, at least, the immense majority of countries have behaved responsibly, so we have every reason to believe that they will continue to do so.

ACT: Brazil is currently engaged in a public dispute with the IAEA about how much access it should provide IAEA inspectors to its nuclear facilities. Why is Brazil refusing to provide the requested access?

Duarte: First of all, Brazil is not engaged in a dispute. Brazil is negotiating with the IAEA on the application of safeguards18 to a facility that was declared several years ago when Brazil started to build it. It has always been an open and transparent question. The fact that newspapers make dramas about it does not make it dramatic in itself. We have every reason to believe that we will achieve a satisfactory solution. It's not a dispute. It's not a refusal, despite the terms that have been used several times by newspapers. I do not know which interests have fueled those press reports, but the negotiations are continuing in a normal way. If you have a new facility to which safeguards have to be applied, because Brazil abides by the treaties it has signed, you have to discuss with the IAEA the modalities of the safeguards. I am convinced that we will arrive at a solution that will satisfy both parties.

ACT: So, the suggestion that Brazil is trying to prevent inspectors from seeing certain aspects of the facility is not an accurate description?

Duarte: Again, I am not a physicist. The technicians in Brazil say that the technology of the centrifuge is a novel and proprietary technology. It is something they have developed, and they do not want it to be copied. The only thing that I see in the situation objectively is the need to preserve an industrial secret without refusing to have the facility inspected in a way that will completely satisfy the IAEA and the international community as to the objectives of the enrichment. It's a certain grade for Brazil's reactors and not for any other purpose. So, it's a question of protecting the industrial technology and at the same time giving satisfaction as to the complete, peaceful use of the facility.

ACT: There have been suggestions by some American analysts that it's not simply proprietary technology, but technology that may have been used by the Khan network. Is there any basis to those accusations?

Duarte: I do not know. I am not a physicist. I do not know anything about the technology. I only know that it turns and that by turning it transforms something into something else. The important thing is to know for sure that this something else is used for the proper objectives.

ACT: How might this issue complicate your efforts as president of the Review Conference?

Duarte: I do not think the issue complicates it. It's one instance in which you have that basic question: What are the limits of the right to develop and use this technology, and what are the limits of intrusion to ascertain that the right is being used in a way that is compatible with the treaty? It's a difficult thing to solve.

Again, it's interesting that only when a developing country comes up with a technology there is drama. When you have thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons and countries that say they rely on such weapons for their defense, it does not seem so dramatic. But when a developing country tries to make a system that will, in some way, improve its position in the market for fuel, then it becomes a danger for humanity.

ACT: Is there anything that we did not touch on that you would like to add about your forthcoming presidency?

Duarte: Not specifically. As president, I hope that all the parties to the treaty come to the conference with a spirit of compromise to deal with the real questions that are troubling the parties, especially the questions that have to do with improving the mechanisms to prevent proliferation and making progress toward nuclear disarmament, which are two of the basic objectives of the treaty. If the result of the conference is balanced between those two considerations, I think we could claim success.

ACT: Would it be a failure if a balanced product was not reached?

Duarte: I do not know if it would be a failure. It would be a pity and a missed opportunity.