What's In Blue

Posted Wed 18 Apr 2012

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Briefing

Tomorrow (19 April), the Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and security with a briefing by the Secretary-General. This briefing is a primary focus for the US during its April presidency and follows on the 2009 summit-level event on the issue chaired by US President Barack Obama. Council members have been negotiating a presidential statement this week with the US, as chair, attempting to finalise a text that would be acceptable to all 15 Council members. Council members were due to meet again at the DPR level later this afternoon to work through outstanding areas of difference.

Tomorrow’s Council meeting follows closely on the heels of the second Nuclear Security Summit, which took place in Seoul from 26-27 March. (The 53 countries attending the summit did not include current Council members Colombia, Guatemala, Portugal and Togo.) The US has said it considers its Council presidency an appropriate time to take stock of international efforts to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. It seems that the issue of nuclear security and cementing a framework for securing nuclear materials is a priority for the chair, as well as for some of the seven Council members who are de facto nuclear weapons powers.

However, it seems that some non-nuclear weapons Council members have raised questions as to what extent the focus of the outcome document should be on nuclear security itself as opposed to nuclear non-proliferation. The emphasis on safeguarding existing nuclear materials might be considered an additional element to the non-proliferation agenda as seen in the context of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). (The NPT is interpreted as comprising three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to develop peaceful applications of nuclear technology.)

It seems that several Council members, including the US, see tomorrow’s meeting as an opportunity for the Council to reinforce its support for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While agreement on the IAEA’s importance has not been disputed, it seems some non-nuclear weapons states on the Council have expressed concern that the draft text may suggest an expansion of the IAEA’s role to include nuclear security and safety. They suggest that the IAEA’s focus should continue to be on proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Aside from some of the differences expressed during the negotiating process between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, one of the factors that seem to have made the negotiations challenging is divergent views on how multilateral treaties on nuclear non-proliferation should be referred to in the final text. Several Council members consider the NPT the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation system and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. (This language was used in resolution 1887, which was adopted on 24 September 2009 following the summit-level Council meeting.)

The complication appears be that this year, unlike in 2009, two Council members (India and Pakistan) have not signed or ratified the NPT. These two countries appear to be reluctant to have the presidential statement mention the outcome documents of the NPT Review Conferences, including the most recent review conference in 2010. (Moreover, it seems that those two non-NPT states would find it difficult to support language in a presidential statement reaffirming resolution 1887, which includes language on the NPT.)

It seems some Council members who support specific recognition of the NPT’s central role in nuclear non-proliferation are concerned that withdrawal of language on the NPT may result in a less robust text than had been hoped. It appears this has led some members to question whether it might be better to have no formal outcome rather than one perceived to have limited added value.

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