On 14 March 2017, the VCDNP hosted a panel discussion devoted to the upcoming Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting, scheduled to take place in Vienna in May 2017. The speakers were Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna; Ambassador Rafael Grossi, Permanent Representative of the Argentine Republic to the International Organizations in Vienna; Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, Director of International Organizations and Non‑Proliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and Pieter Hendrik Schroor, Deputy Head of Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN and other International Organizations in Vienna. The panel was moderated by Dr. William Potter, Director of CNS at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey. An eager audience of close to 150 participants was a testament to the timeliness of the topic and high interest among the diplomatic and expert community.
Reflecting on the 2015 Review Conference, which failed to agree on a final document, the speakers identified areas where common ground could be sought and noted important procedural aspects that should be addressed early in the review cycle in order to help facilitate progress on substantive matters. The speakers remarked that the international community was entering the next NPT review cycle in uncertain times, highlighting in particular the tensions between Russia and NATO and potential risk of escalation, along with stalemate in the US-Russian arms control, and deep divisions among NPT State Parties on nuclear disarmament, calling attention to the commencement of the negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons (“Ban Treaty”). They also noted the lack of clarity on next steps regarding the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as another complicating factor for the 2017 PrepCom. Ambassador Grossi, however, observed that the NPT review process has been conducted in difficult circumstances before and emphasized that the Treaty has a system and mechanisms in place to address problematic issues in uncertain times. He urged States to enter the upcoming review cycle with an open mind and with a view to examine the current nuclear situation through the NPT lens, in order to productively evaluate how the Treaty is working and how it could be more effective.
Two issues resonated in all of the panelists’ remarks: on the one hand, the relationship between the NPT review process and the nuclear weapons ban negotiations and on the other, the relationship between the preparatory committee meetings and the review conference. On the former, it was advised to proceed with caution on how States choose to determine the relationship between the ban negotiations and the NPT. Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova stressed that the NPT review process cannot pretend that the ban negotiations are not happening, but argued that states supporting and opposing the negotiations could agree to disagree on the matter and mutually refrain from making it the central issue at the upcoming PrepCom. She suggested that States could then focus on ways to review and build on the 2010 Action Plan, the last consensus document adopted by the NPT State Parties. In this regard, she emphasized the importance of nuclear-weapon states presenting a strong, forward-looking agenda on nuclear disarmament. Ambassador Grossi added that the timing of the first round of the ban negotiations, taking place at the end of March in New York, and the first PrepCom session in May 2017, could help States in addressing the relationship between the two processes, as the ban negotiations would still be at an early stage when the PrepCom meets.
On the second issue, all panelists noted the existing disconnect between the preparatory committee meetings and the review conference and discussed opportunities for improvement. Ms. Mukhatzhanova suggested that if States were to focus their efforts on reviewing and updating actionable items from past documents, such discussions should commence early in the review process rather than be postponed to the review conference itself. She also suggested that time allocated for interactive debate at each PrepCom could be used for panel discussions with experts to facilitate an exchange of views on specific substantive issues. Pieter Hendrik Schroor reminded participants that the NPT does not mandate how parties should review the Treaty nor what kind of document should be produced as a result of the review process. As the Netherlands will be chairing the 2017 PrepCom, Mr. Schroor urged States to be flexible in their approach to the organization of the review process, emphasizing that rules can be changed and that leeway does exist in the way the PrepCom sessions are held. Mr. Schroor further highlighted the close relationship between the Netherlands and Poland, the designated chair of the 2018 PrepCom, emphasizing the ongoing dialogue between the two delegations in attempts to enhance the continuity between the PrepComs and the NPT Review Conference.
Ambassador Kitano argued for a balanced approach to the three pillars of the NPT (disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy) and particularly stressed the importance of the peaceful uses pillar and the contribution of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s technical cooperation programmes in this regard. Mr. Schroor accentuated that the Netherlands chairmanship will focus on the peaceful uses dimension, agreeing that it is far too often neglected in the review process.
During the question and answer period, audience members echoed the panelists’ concerns about the international security context in which the 2017 NPT PrepCom meeting will take place and asked follow-up questions about ways to improve the review process.
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