The second Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) begun its two-week session yesterday, Monday 22nd April, at the United Nations in Geneva. The NPT contains the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament and entered into force in 1970.
Review Conferences of the 189 states parties to the NPT take place every five years and the three years leading up to it Preparatory Committees offer states the chance to talk and negotiate and, thus, prepare consensus for the Review Conference. The four-week Review Conference will then, hopefully, produce a substantive document in which governments commit themselves to actual nuclear disarmament.
Challenges and opportunities of the NPT
Since its indefinite extension during the Review Conference in 1995, states have agreed on principles and objectives, 13 practical steps and an Action Plan to further nuclear disarmament. However, still roughly around 17,300 nuclear weapons exist today in all of the nuclear possessing states both inside and outside the NPT: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The nuclear weapon states under the NPT are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Apart from nuclear disarmament, which is contained in Article 6 of the treaty, states will talk about the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (Article 1 and 2) and the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy (Article 4). Those are the so-called three pillars of the NPT. In the past, the nuclear disarmament commitment contained in Article 6 has been interpreted mainly as the responsibility of the nuclear weapon states, as they are the ones who have to disarm.
However, in March 2013, 127 non-nuclear weapons states have met in Oslo to discuss the catastrophic humanitarian consequences the use of nuclear weapons would have not only on those immediately affected by the blast, but also on the rest of the world. The presentations held at that meeting have revealed that no country in the world is prepared to respond to such a catastrophe. Therefore, it is an issue of concern and relevance for all as the broad participation in the Oslo conference reflects.
These very fruitful and engaged discussions will be continued in Mexico.
Keeping up the Oslo spirit
This PrepCom is first major government meeting on nuclear disarmament since the Oslo conference and not only diplomats have traveled to Geneva to participate in the conference. Many non-governmental organisations (NGO) have registered with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. Many of them had participated in the Civil Society forum in Oslo organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in the lead up to the government conference. ICAN advocates strongly for the abolishment of all nuclear weapons in the world and has gained many partners across fields of Civil Society organisations, since it started in 2006.
The most important task for NGO representatives at this PrepCom will be to bring the positive and productive spirit of the Oslo meeting to the halls of the UN. Unlike some states claim, existing processes in the UN, like the NPT, will benefit from the perspectives the humanitarian approach offers and it might help to re-focus attention on the necessary issues.
On Wednesday, 24th April 2013, Civil Society representatives will have the chance to speak to the conference. The keynote speaker, Ward Wilson, will be followed by a panel of NGO experts on nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian aspects of it. States will have the opportunity to tap into that valuable resource in a Q&A session.
During the NPT conferences, WILPF is represented by its disarmament project, Reaching Critical Will (RCW), and by WILPF members from different national sections. RCW functions as the coordinator for NGOs in the NPT PrepCom and, as part of that work, it organises daily off-the-record briefings with governments. Additionally, it publishes daily reports of the meetings and side events on a daily basis to increase transparency and offer those who could not make the trip a chance to stay informed and up to date on what governments are doing.
If you want to stay informed about what is happening at the 2013 PrepCom, sign up for our daily News in Review. Check the RCW website for more detailed information on the NPT and other disarmament fora. Also take a look at the ICAN website for information about the campaign and information on how to get involved!