Disarmament Insight


Saturday, 10 May 2008

NPT: Man Friday

Following the tabling of his draft Chairman’s summary, the mighty Ambassador Volodymyr Yel’chenko of Ukraine (pictured above) held a final meeting of the PrepCom on Friday morning the 9th May. Throughout the two weeks of the PrepCom, Ambassador Yel’chenko had been trying – with increasing irritation – to get states to engage in an interactive debate. Not until this last session did the delegations reward his entreaties. The Nigerian representative’s reference to Ambassador Yel’chenko’s smooth performance being akin to how you never see a monkey sweat (because of its thick hair, apparently) was lost on most delegations, although it’s notable that the NPT Chairman does have a some luxurious locks that could just be hiding mild perspiration in the face of the task of getting a successful outcome.

The Chairman’s summary (now the Chairman’s working paper as it was not adopted by the meeting) is an attempt to reflect the main points of debate made in the two weeks of meetings. Working papers are closely read and ideas are taken from them, speeches made are listened to carefully and any suggestions are added into the pot. Of course not every small suggestion makes the cut. Much depends on how many times a point is made, how strong is the support and how contentious is the issue.

Issues such as disarmament and non-proliferation education made it up the charts (paragraph 29 out of 63 – no longer an issue relegated to an afterthought), a paragraph on the WMD Commission, the Reykjavik Revisited initiative from the Hoover Group, and reference to the environmental consequences of uranium mining all resonated in the text. Many other key issues were there and, as Chair’s texts go, it was very comprehensive; the major points made during the two weeks were there.

However, there were a couple of notable exceptions.

During the two weeks, much of the fire was fanned by the issue of what lay behind the attack by Israeli forces on a Syrian facility last September. Those of you who have yet to see the CIA footage on the Syrian facility should click here and see for yourself. In addition, the concerns over Iranian activities, the IAEA findings and the UN Security Council process, along with the E3+3 process that met in London on 2 May were cause for much debate.

Many states clearly have major concerns about Iran’s enrichment programme. However, as the US pointed out, the Chairman’s text goes easy on both Syria and Iran compared with the strength of the discussion and the content of papers during the PrepCom. In addition, the paper omits completely the charge made by the US that the DPRK was involved in the building of the Syrian facility. So DPRK gets let off the hook in that regard, as well as in others.

Dr Christopher Ford of the US delegation asked if the Chairman’s text was influenced by Iran’s intransigence last year in the 2007 Vienna PrepCom – at which all debate was held up by Iran. Was there indeed a fear that, if strong language on Iran and Syria had been included in the text, either country (or another for that matter) would hold up the adoption of the report as a whole and the PrepCom would end in disarray? Ford contended (just prior to when Syria was to take the floor) that there was no way that Syria could possibly feel hard done by the Chairman’s working paper and thus could not possibly complain about it. He added that despite US disappointment and reservations about the text, it did not intend to impede proceedings or hold the adoption of the report hostage, as had occurred last year.

In that way, I think he demonstrated that often those delegations that cause more fuss and are prepared to hold the meeting hostage to their demands, gain more in a meeting room than those who try to find compromise and behave well.

However, we shouldn’t lose heart. The meeting room isn’t real life. Bad behaviour in a meeting room might gain you a few negotiating score points. But, out there in the real world, such antics can attract a payback. As long-term readers of this blog well know, Tit for Tat is a game often played for real.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s other blogs on the NPT can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right.


Statements and other documents from the NPT PrepCom can be found at its official website here. As of posting, the Syrian and UK ‘right of reply’ statements were not available.

Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute has been providing ongoing analysis of the NPT Prepcom on the Acronym's website here.

Picture of Ambassador Yel'chenko is from the NPT PrepCom site.