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The Tortoise is Breathing

May 15, 2009

As the 2009 NPT PrepCom drew to a close, one of the African delegates was reported to have quipped “The tortoise is breathing.”

There was little disagreement — among the “diplos” and NGOs alike — that this was a successful PrepCom at a time when success was badly needed. All of the procedural issues were resolved quickly, and without the destructive behavior  that had blocked progress since 2000. As a result, the 2010 Review has a forward-looking agenda , and all signs are that the delegates will engage in serious discussions about very specific disarmament and non-proliferation objectives, many of which are reflected in the 13-step action plan adopted in 2000. There is even talk of a five-year plan with measurable goals as an outcome of the 2010 Review that can be evaluated in 2015.

That’s the good news. The disappointment for NGOs and for many delegations was the inability to reach consensus around the recommendations drafted by the Chair. A very strong first draft distributed by Ambassador Chidyausiku at the end of the first week (see “Will the NPT finally open its arms to the Nuclear Weapons Convention?”) had been significantly watered down by the opening of the second week. The explicit reference to the Nuclear Weapons Convention had been removed, as had the clause on halting qualitative improvements of nuclear weapon systems. The rest of the language relating to disarmament came across as much more conditional than it had been in the Chair’s very straightforward first draft.

Almost as soon as the second draft appeared, the divisions in the room between ardent supporters of the first draft — largely from the non-aligned movement — and supporters of the second draft — largely though not exclusively the nuclear weapon states  — became apparent. Some states said they could have supported either version, but in a process where consensus rules, the outcome was predictable. The PrepCom ended without agreement  on substantive recommendations to the 2010 Review.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A set of recommendations to the liking of civil society would have been the icing on the cake, but we can be happy that the cake came out of the oven without falling. The disagreements over substance are real, and the draft recommendations served as a focal point for lively discussions among the delegates — and between delegates and NGOs — for an entire week — something that never happened during the gridlocked years of the Bush administration. The fact that the PrepCom didn’t tie the Review Conference to the weaker language of the revised draft recommendations gives NGOs much more latitude in the coming year to influence the content of the Review.

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