Disarmament Insight


Monday, 14 May 2007

NPT: Vienna Meeting Showdown

Friday was the day of the rushed endgame for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)’s troubled two-week first preparatory meeting in Vienna. Delays caused by deadlock over agreeing the meeting’s agenda during its first week (see previous postings) were felt more keenly on its final day than any other day since the agenda’s adoption.

The substantive discussion, focusing on compliance and the right to withdraw, took place in the morning with a good set of substantive papers and some genuinely interactive debate. But until this debate had actually occurred, the meeting Chairman’s summary could not take it into account. Thus getting the nine-page – typo-free – factual summary out by 14h30 was truly a feat of efficiency on the part of the Chairman’s team and the UN secretariat.

However, this of course meant that delegations had very little time to read the Chair’s summary and come to agreement on whether it could be annexed to the report of the PrepCom. So there we were at 17h45 (with the meeting due to end in 15 minutes) following intensive consultations with regional/political group leaders, Iran, the US and others, awaiting the outcomes of group meetings.

The alternative available to the Chair – his fallback position – would be to remove paragraph 21 from the draft report (its reference to the factual summary) and deposit his factual summary as a working paper.

Then we heard that Iran, along with Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, had threatened that they would only agree to adopt the report if the Chair agreed to not even table his summary. This was an unprecedented move and in the end it failed. Why were the “Fab Four” trying to block the Chair’s summary? Probably it was to do with the balance of the paper: in other words, Iran, along with North Korea and the nuclear weapon states (NWS) came in for a bit of stick.

To me, the summary seemed to be just that – a summary of the discussions, without taking a strong political stance, and mild in criticism all round. The paper was particularly useful for those working on promoting a weapon of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East (coincidence? Perhaps not). Others, however, felt that it was too gentle on the NWS and too hard on Iran as well as those outside the Treaty, especially on North Korea.

However, as luck and Austrian business life would have it, the conference room was booked for another event in the evening and so the traditional UN-spinning-things-out-until-midnight option was not available to NPT delegations. For reasons still unclear to me, the “Fab Four” backed down and allowed the report to go through, without the Chair’s Summary text directly attached but instead as a listed working paper.

So in the end the NPT had a successful outcome, although it wasn’t easy. All those delegation that bit their tongues and allowed silence to prevail over fury are to be strongly congratulated. As is Ambassador Amano, the Chair, along with his (very large) team of experts and the UN secretariat – all of whom kept focused on achieving a result throughout the tricky two weeks – thus strengthening, not weakening, the NPT.

This is a guest blog from Dr Patricia Lewis. Patricia is Director of UNIDIR.


Text of NPT Chairman Amano’s factual summary paper can be viewed, along with more analysis, at the Acronym Institute’s website (www.acronym.org.uk).

In due course, we anticipate that the UN’s official webpage on the NPT preparatory meeting will be updated with downloadable copies of its final documents: www.un.org/NPT2010.

Photo retrieved from Flickr