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Updated: April 16, 2013

FAQ: 2013 NPT Review Conference Preparatory Committee

CNS has compiled a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) relating to the PrepCom meeting to be held in Geneva starting April 22 to May 3, 2013.
Author(s): CNS Staff

Posted: April 16, 2013

The Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is scheduled to be held in 2015, and the second Preparatory Committee meeting of the ninth review cycle will be held in Geneva from April 22 to May 3, 2013. CNS has compiled a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) related to the upcoming meeting.

  1. What is the NPT Review process? What is the purpose of a Preparatory Committee?
  2. Who is chairing the 2013 PrepCom meeting?
  3. What is the second PrepCom meeting expected to do? What is the relevance of past Review Conferences to the current Review Cycle?
  4. What is the 2010 Action Plan?
  5. What is the status of implementation of the 2010 Action Plan?
  6. What is the status of implementing the recommendations on the Middle East?
  7. What issues are likely to arise at the 2013 PrepCom meeting?

1. What is the NPT Review process? What is the purpose of a Preparatory Committee?

In accordance with Article VIII.3 of the NPT, every five years States parties convene to review the implementation of the treaty and, since 1995, to set a forward-looking agenda for its further operation. At the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995, States parties decided to "strengthen" the review process and to convene 10-day Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings in each of the three years preceding the Review Conferences (RevCon). If necessary, a fourth PrepCom may be held in the year of the Conference.

The purpose of the PrepCom meetings is to address both substantive and procedural matters ahead of the Review Conferences. At the 1995 and 2000 Conferences, States parties decided that subsequently the first two PrepCom sessions would consider "principles, objectives and ways in order to promote the full implementation of the Treaty as well as its universality." Each of the PrepCom meetings is therefore supposed to allocate specific time for the discussion of substantive issues regarding implementation of the treaty and past review conferences' decisions and resolutions. The chairs of the first two PrepComs are expected to prepare factual summaries of the meetings, while the third (or fourth) preparatory committee meeting should produce a consensus report with recommendations to the Review Conference. In practice, it has proven difficult – if not impossible – for States parties to adopt such recommendations or even factual summaries at past PrepCom meetings. The Preparatory Committee meetings should also make the necessary procedural preparations for the next Review Conference, such as developing the draft agenda and rules of procedure.

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2. Who is chairing the 2013 PrepCom meeting?

The Chair-designate of the 2013 PrepCom meeting is Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania, while the Secretary- designate is Valere Mantels, senior political affairs officer at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. Customarily, the State parties confirm the appointments of the Chair and Secretary at the beginning of the PrepCom.

The Office of Disarmament Affairs of the UN Secretariat (UNODA) functions as the Secretariat of the entire NPT Review Process, as the treaty has no designated implementing organization or permanent secretariat. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), established under a separate statute, only implements safeguards under Article III of the NPT.

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3. What is the second PrepCom meeting expected to do? What is the relevance of past Review Conferences to the current Review Cycle?

One of the most important points on the PrepCom agenda is the substantive preparatory work that should consider ways to promote implementation of the NPT as well as decisions of past review conferences. Of particular relevance in this regard are the outcomes of the 1995, 2000, and 2010 conferences.

In 1995, the Review and Extension Conference indefinitely extended the NPT as part of a "package" agreement consisting of three Decisions and a Resolution on the Middle East:

  • Decision I on Strengthening the Review Process;
  • Decision II on Principles and Objectives on Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation;
  • Decision III on Extension of the NPT, and
  • 1995 Resolution on the Middle East, calling for the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

The 2000 Review Conference produced a consensus Final Document which, among other things, contained 13 practical steps for nuclear disarmament. The 2010 Review Conference was successful in adopting a 64 item Action Plan on disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy as well as a set of recommendations on the implementation of the 1995 Middle East Resolution. The 2013 PrepCom will continue the discussion of progress in implementing the 2010 Action Plan, and particular attention will likely be paid to the disarmament section and recommendations on the Middle East. The Chair will then have to reflect the discussions at the PrepCom meeting in his factual summary, which is subject to approval by the PrepCom participants. As was the case in 2012, it is widely expected that the Chair will issue the summary as a working paper under his own name rather than negotiate a consensus document.

Unlike the first PrepCom meeting, the second session does not have serious procedural tasks, such as adopting an agenda for the 2012-2015 review cycle or for the RevCon itself. The second PrepCom will likely designate the chair for the third PrepCom meeting. Traditionally, the chair of the third PrepCom, as well as the president of the RevCon, comes from a Non-Aligned Movement member or observer state.

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4. What is the 2010 Action Plan?

The Conclusions and Recommendations for Follow-on Actions adopted by consensus at the 2010 RevCon contain 64 action items across the "three pillars" of the NPT: nuclear disarmament (actions 1-22), nonproliferation (action 23-46), and peaceful uses of nuclear energy (action 47-64). The action plan includes commitments by nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to accelerate the reductions in their nuclear arsenals, declare and dispose of the fissile material taken out of weapons programs, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines, and engage among themselves on these and other issues. States that have not yet done so commit to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and NWS should also adopt a standard form to report on their implementation of the disarmament action plan.

The formulation of actions on nonproliferation and peaceful uses is broader, and they pertain, for the most part, to all States parties. The nonproliferation section calls, among other things, for further support for the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and wider adoption of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA safeguards agreements. The protocol gives the Agency additional tools to verify not only non-diversion of declared nuclear material to weapons programs but also the absence of undeclared nuclear material. This section of the Action Plan underscores the importance of compliance with nonproliferation obligations, and urges states "to ensure that their nuclear-related exports do not directly or indirectly assist the development of nuclear weapons." The section on peaceful uses calls on NPT members to cooperate in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, strengthen the IAEA technical assistance program, give preferential treatment to non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) in exports and cooperation, share best practices on nuclear safety and security, and implement other relevant measures.

It is noteworthy that the disarmament section of the action plan is significantly more "actionable" than others. Indeed, the disarmament section was the only one initially conceived as an action plan, beginning from the 2009 PrepCom meeting. Citing the need for a balance between the pillars of the treaty, several states then successfully argued that there should be action plans for nonproliferation and peaceful uses as well, but the resulting language for these two sections was less committal and specific.

Decisions on the Middle East include a request that the UN Secretary-General, together with the three NPT depositaries (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), convene a conference in 2012, to be attended by all states of the region, on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The Secretary-General and the three depositary states should also, in consultation with the states of the region, designate a host country for the conference and appoint a facilitator to assist with organizing the conference and implementing follow-on steps. (For more on Middle East recommendations, see FAQ 6 below.)

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5. What is the status of implementation of the 2010 Action Plan?

While the adoption of the action plan at the 2010 RevCon was widely regarded as a success, its long-term impact will depend on the implementation by the NPT member states. At the 2012 PrepCom in Vienna, states parties began to discuss Action Plan implementation, but it remains unclear how the review and assessment will be organized at the 2015 RevCon. Broad formulations, the lack of specific targets and deadlines on most of the action items, and differences in interpretation and priorities assigned by different states to different action items pose challenges for the review and assessment.

Several nongovernmental organizations, including Reaching Critical Will and CNS, are conducting their own monitoring and assessments of the action plan implementation. CNS findings on the disarmament section indicate that progress has been limited, and has even slowed down in the past year. While most NWS continued to implement measures initiated or planned before the adoption of the Action Plan, actions that required a significant change in behavior or revision of policies saw little or no progress in implementation.

The most significant progress was observed on Action 4 related to New START: Russia and the United States are successfully implementing the bilateral strategic arms control treaty that entered into force in February 2011. However, US-Russian dialogue on measures beyond the New START has been at a virtual standstill since late 2011, with Russia citing concerns about the United States and NATO deploying ballistic missile defenses in Europe. The NWS (P5) consultations process, as called for in Action 5, has been actively addressing transparency and verification issues, which is a welcome development, but so far the NWS have little to show in the way of outcomes. As the consultations are confidential, it is unclear to what extent other issues listed in Action 5 have been addressed. The United Kingdom is the only nuclear weapon state (NWS) that has announced unilateral arsenal reductions since May 2010. While the United States has announced that its warhead dismantlement work is ahead of schedule, it has not released updated arsenal and dismantlement numbers since 2010.

There has been no progress during the reporting period in reducing the role of nuclear weapons in military and security concepts, which should provide the overall context for the implementation of other concrete steps. Furthermore, modernization of arsenals continues in all NWS, as they extend the life of their nuclear weapons, upgrade delivery systems and, in some cases, develop and deploy new warheads.

For a detailed review, please see CNS monitoring report.

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6. What is the status of implementing the recommendations on the Middle East?

In October 2011, Finland was designated as the host country for the 2012 Conference, and the Finnish Undersecretary of State Ambassador Jaakko Laajava was named as the Facilitator. In May 2012, the Facilitator reported on his work to the first PrepCom meeting. Despite conducting intensive consultations with states in the Middle East, as well as with the NPT depositaries and co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution (Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), Laajava indicated that no agreement had been reached among key parties on the agenda and modalities of the conference.

By November 2012, only the Arab states had committed to attending the conference. On November 5, 2012 speaking at an EU-sponsored seminar on the Middle East, an Iranian representative said his country would also participate in the conference. Israel, which has major reservations about the mandate and purpose of the proposed meeting, never confirmed attendance, nor has it unequivocally refused to participate.

In November 2012, the three NPT depositaries announced the postponement of the Middle East conference, which was tentatively scheduled for December 2012. Each of the three states released a separate statement, which was reflective of disagreements among the three on how to approach the organization and postponement of the meeting. Russia called for the conference to take place before the 2013 PrepCom; the United Kingdom supported convening the conference as soon as possible, while the US statement listed conditions for a successful conference without specific references to the timing. The Arab states have responded critically to the postponement, and the League of Arab States (LAS) several times this year has discussed the possibility of boycotting the 2013 PrepCom meeting. The LAS made no decision on the boycott but did instruct the Arab group in Vienna to put the Israeli Nuclear Capabilities issue on the agenda of the 2013 IAEA General Conference. (See CNS Fact Sheet on the issue.)

The main issues that need to be resolved for the conference to take place are the conference agenda and desired outcome. States so far have had divergent views about the possible agenda and what the conference should accomplish. The Arab states are anxious to see the conference take place as a first step towards negotiations on a WMDFZ in the region and implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution. Therefore, they would like the conference to establish a formal process. Israel, however, is concerned that such a conference might lead to a "slippery slope" of negotiations on a zone, while the regional conditions Israel deems as necessary for its success (peaceful relations and reconciliation among all states in the region) are not present.

The Facilitator has proposed that the parties, including the Arab states, Iran and Israel, hold multilateral consultations before the 2013 PrepCom to discuss the conference agenda, rules of procedure, and outcome. The Arab states suggested that the participants in such consultations be limited to those committed to attending the Middle East conference, and that the new date for the conference be set before the consultations convene. The consultations have not yet taken place because of the key parties' disagreements over their terms and conditions.

Participation in the conference by all relevant states is particularly important, and Israel so far is the only state that has not agreed to attend the conference. After the 2010 NPT Review Conference, Israel stated that the consensus document ignores the realities of the Middle East and that, as a non-signatory to the NPT, Israel is not obligated to follow the decisions of the review conference. Subsequently, however, Israel engaged in consultations on the appointment of the facilitator, and later with the facilitator himself. Israel also expressed willingness to participate in the multilateral consultations proposed by the facilitator to define an agenda, mandate, and terms of reference that would reflect its concerns, and as long as they do not require Israel to commit to attend the conference itself.

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7. What issues are likely to arise at the 2013 PrepCom meeting?

While the 2012 PrepCom was characterized by calm and cautiousness, states and observers expect the 2013 meeting to be a much more turbulent ride. The focus is likely to be on the lack of progress in implementing the nuclear disarmament section of the 2010 Action Plan and the recommendations on the Middle East WMD-free zone. The two issues were central to the agreement at the 2010 NPT RevCon, and continued lack of progress on either would undermine the outcome of that conference.

The Facilitator will report on his work at the start of the second week of the PrepCom, on April 29, 2013. The Arab states are expected to demand more action on the Middle East, particularly on setting the date for the conference that was supposed to take place in 2012, and greater commitment from the conveners, especially the United States. NAM countries and many of the European states will also call for the conference to be convened as soon as possible.

In addition to disarmament and the Middle East, some of the specific issues that states parties will likely raise include the following:

  • Iran's nuclear program: The lack of resolution of the disagreement between Iran and the IAEA, and continuous suspicions about possible military dimensions of Iran's past and current nuclear activities, will certainly feature in the debates at the PrepCom. Recent talks between P5+1 (or E3+3: China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, though not resulting in a deal, somewhat alleviate the pressure ahead of the PrepCom. At the same time, the United States, France, and others will reference the Iranian case, as well as Syria, to underscore the importance of full compliance with the NPT.
  • North Korea's nuclear weapons program: Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated dramatically after the DPRK's third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. In a show of commitment to its ally, the United States sent B-2 and B-52 bombers to perform overflights over South Korea, while the DPRK issued threats against the United States. NPT states parties, particularly South Korea, Japan, the United States and other Western countries, are expected to strongly criticize North Korean actions and call for its denuclearization and return to the NPT. The United States and others will also likely link the issue to the need to reinvigorate the debate on tightening the withdrawal clause under Article X of the NPT to make it more costly for states to leave the treaty. Article X stipulates that a state can withdraw from the NPT if it jeopardizes its "supreme national interest" and has to notify other States parties and the UN Security Council three months in advance of withdrawal. Many NAM states remain wary of reinterpreting Article X, and there has been little appetite for revisiting the issue after the debates at the 2010 RevCon. The 2013 PrepCom will show if states are prepared to reconsider their positions on this matter.
  • Humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons: In the 2010 RevCon outcome document, NPT states parties expressed "deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons" and reaffirmed the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law. The issue has grown in prominence significantly since 2010, with several states issuing joint statements on humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons at the 2012 PrepCom and the 2012 session of the UN General Assembly's First Committee. In March 2013, Norway hosted the first Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, attended by over 120 states, as well as international organizations and civil society. The five NWS, however, jointly boycotted the conference. This decision, and the NWS' characterization of the issue as a "distraction," will likely draw criticism from many NNWS.
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