PrepCom Consultations Continue in Santiago

Every five years, leaders gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to review implementation of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In the lead-up to each NPT Review Conference (RevCon), three preparatory meetings are held to help set the stage. The first of these Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings for the 2020 RevCon will be held 2-12 May in Vienna.

NTI’s Isabelle Williams, senior advisor to the Global Nuclear Policy Program, traveled to Santiago, Chile to observe a meeting hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) organized in support of their role as Chair of the 2017 NPT PrepCom. Here is her report:

  

The meeting in Santiago, organized in coordination with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the final regional conference organized by the Dutch government before the May PrepCom meeting (previous conferences were held in Jakarta and Dakar).

These meetings have given the organizers an important opportunity to consult with regional leaders and hear diverse perspectives and priorities on the three pillars of the NPT – nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. NTI and our partners also provided valuable input to the Dutch MFA as they developed their plans.

The Santiago conference was well attended with participants representing a number of Latin American countries (each country was invited to send a representative). Irma Arguello from NPSGlobal Foundation (based in Buenos Aires) presented to the group, as did other members of the Latin American Leadership Network (a group of senior former political and diplomatic leaders from across the Latin American and Caribbean region working to develop policies, capacity, and political leadership to reduce nuclear threats in their region and globally).

The region has an important voice on these issues. This year is the celebration of fifty years of the Latin American and the Caribbean Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, otherwise known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco. This treaty took effect in 1967 and secures the continent as a nuclear-weapon-free zone—a potentially powerful statement to the rest of the world. Argentina recently gave up its highly enriched uranium (HEU) also making the region an HEU-free zone, another important contribution to global nonproliferation and disarmament. It was also noted that Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica was elected chair of the ban treaty negotiations and Ambassador Rafael Grossi of Argentina has been proposed for president of the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

A clear message that emerged was the importance of current negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons and the urgent need for nuclear weapon states to demonstrate their commitment to Article VI of the NPT - “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

 

Many countries in the region view the ban treaty negotiations as an essential process, although there are varying levels of enthusiasm and different perspectives on issues raised in the treaty negotiation process. Although there is awareness of the concern that a ban treaty could undermine the NPT, the view held by certain states is that it is not an alternative but a complementary process that will strengthen and support the NPT. According to a few countries, the real threat to the NPT comes not from the ban treaty but from nuclear weapon states that continue to rely on, and modernize, their nuclear weapon arsenals.

One interesting theme raised during the meeting was the need to strengthen regional cooperation between countries to help better define the regional position on disarmament and nonproliferation issues. There are a number of regional forums that could potentially serve this purpose, including the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC), and the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL). While OPANAL was recognized as an obvious choice, it was noted that countries should ensure the agency has the resources and political attention necessary to serve this role. 

Another interesting discussion was on the experience of the Argentine-Brazilian Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) and whether this model could be replicated in other regions, for example between India and Pakistan. ABACC was established in 1991 and is a binational safeguards agency responsible for verifying all the nuclear materials in Argentina and Brazil are used exclusively for peaceful purposes. ABACC is the only binational safeguards organization in the world and its operating model, based on principles of building trust, has so far been highly successful. It was noted that the ABACC experience deserves more attention from the global community.

The Dutch government should be commended for organizing these consultations across different regions. Fostering inclusivity and transparency within the NPT process is extremely important given the differing positions among states on the future of the treaty and the potential impact of pursuing a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons. There is also a serious need for outreach and trust building between the nuclear weapon states (UK, U.S., France, Russia, and China) and the non-nuclear weapon states to develop better understanding of different perspectives and security concerns, and to build bridges between supporters of a ban treaty, nuclear weapon states, and those states under the “nuclear umbrella” but sympathetic to the ban.

 

April 26, 2017
Authors
Isabelle Williams
Isabelle Williams

Senior Advisor, Global Nuclear Policy Program

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