By Jayantha Dhanapala*
WASHINGTON DC (IDN) â€“ The quinquennial ritual of preparing for the Review Conference of the states parties of the Treaty for the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will reach its climax (or anticlimax) from May 3-27 in New York. Action plans for the three main pillars of the NPT â€“ nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy â€“ are being composed in the hope of achieving a consensus.
The shadow of the failed 2005 Conference hangs over the 2010 Conference and there is doubt whether the euphoria of President Obamaâ€™s Prague speech in April 2009 can disperse the looming clouds of anti-Obama right wing activism in the U.S.; persistent proliferation questions over the Democratic Peopleâ€™s Republic of Korea, Iran and maybe Syria: and the precedent created by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, at the instigation of the U.S., to grant India privileges hitherto reserved for NPT non-nuclear weapon states.
What is often forgotten is that the central bargain of nonproliferation-for-disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which led to the signature of the NPT and its entry into force 40 years ago, was renewed and reinforced in 1995 by the adoption (without a vote) of a package of three decisions and a resolution to extend the NPT indefinitely.
The resolution, negotiated in the final moments of the 1995 Conference and co-sponsored by the U.S., UK and Russia, called for â€œa Middle East free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destructionâ€(MEWMDFZ).
For the 21 Arab NPT states parties a MEWMDFZ remains a vitally important issue and it is argued by some that the 1995 resolution now forms the â€œfourth pillarâ€ of the NPT. No wonder then that the lack of agreement on this proved to be one of the key factors causing the failure of the 2005 Conference.
In 2010, with the impasse on the Middle East aggravated by the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the strain in U.S.-Israel relations, the situation will be even more serious and diplomatic efforts to engage the Arab states on this issue must begin urgently.
The Arab Group is normally very influential in the Non-aligned group of countries (NAM), which includes 114 NPT states parties who are either members or observers in NAM. This year with Egypt as Chair of the NAM and also, the Chair of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) â€“ the transcontinental bridge-building group comprising Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, which was so instrumental in the success of the 2000 Review Conference â€“ Arab views will be decisive.
In addition there was the adoption of a resolution by an overwhelming majority, in September 2009 by the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calling for a MEWMDFZ with full scope safeguards on nuclear activities in the region.
Article VII of the NPT provides for nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) regional treaties and the fact that there are already six such NWFZs, covering over 50% of the worldâ€™s population, is an encouragement to the Middle East.
What was once regarded as unattainable in some regions has proved attainable. Argentina and Brazil were once regarded as being on the threshold of becoming nuclear weapon states. Today, however, they have signed up not only to the Treaty of Tlatelolco but also to the NPT (buttressed by a bilateral arrangement between them) and are regarded as countries in good standing in both those treaties.
Likewise South Africaâ€™s voluntary destruction of her nuclear devices, and joining the NPT as a non nuclear weapon state, enabled the whole of the African continent to become a nuclear weapon free zone. Israel and her supporters argue that a comprehensive peace must precede a nuclear weapon free zone while the Arab states assert that there could be concurrent and mutually reinforcing processes.
There is, however, the precedent of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS), working group â€“ one of the five in the 1990s Madrid Peace process that continued briefly and was then abandoned â€“ from which lessons can be learned. There is also the 1990 UN Study on â€œEffective and Verifiable Measures Which Would Facilitate The Establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle Eastâ€.
The fact that formulations regarding this issue did not meet with objections at the 2009 NPT Preparatory Committee session should encourage the Arab states. Working papers called for a subsidiary body to be established to discuss the 1995 Resolution at the Review Conference this year. Egypt has called for an international conference to negotiate a MEWMDFZ, which is perhaps a bridge too far to cross at this stage.
A Russian proposal called for a special co-coordinator to consult with countries in the region on the proposal of an international conference and to report back to the NPT states parties. The Australian-Japanese sponsored International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) supports the idea of a conference convened by the UN Secretary-General and a special representative â€œto shepherd these effortsâ€.
A synthesis of these proposals could be agreed upon with the additional advantage of drawing Iran into the proposed MEWMDFZ with some of its main features identified.
The 2010 Conference, after a full debate on this issue, must therefore either appoint a special coordinator to explore the implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East or set up a committee which will do so and make recommendations to the next Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2015 Review Conference.
This will be a practical step, which will provide some momentum within the NPT to this vexed issue and may satisfy the Arab states while other processes go on outside the framework of the NPT. It is a tribute to the Arab states that those who were not members of the NPT in 1995 joined the treaty soon thereafter in the hope that the Resolution on the Middle East would be implemented.
Their disappointment must not be allowed to fester and weaken their trust in the NPT â€“ especially at a time when some of them are being driven by climate change to seek nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
*Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA who was President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. He was UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003 and is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs and Senior Visiting Scholar at the US Institute of Peace. These are his personal views. (IDN-InDepthNews/30.04.2010)
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