NPT PrepCom to open in New York on April 28

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

How much progress in nuclear disarmament can be expected?

The third session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will open at United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 28. Along with the meeting of foreign ministers of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), held in Hiroshima on April 11 and 12, the third PrepCom will be the highlight of non-nuclear diplomacy in the first half of this year. Can this meeting produce tangible results for the realization of a world without nuclear weapons and lead to a successful Review Conference? How will the discussion unfold, and what challenges must be faced?

■ Reports by nuclear weapon states

The upcoming PrepCom is the third and last session before the next NPT Review Conference, which is held every five years. About 190 signatory nations of the NPT will take part, and discussions will focus mainly on the agenda for the 2015 conference. Progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, based on current international conditions, will also be addressed.

Attention should be paid to the reports from the five nuclear powers on their efforts to reduce nuclear arms. The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China, which are recognized by the NPT as nuclear weapon states, have agreed to report on their efforts involving nuclear disarmament. This provision, reflecting Japan’s request, was included in the final document of the 2010 Review Conference.

The NPT, which recognizes the five nuclear weapon states, has been criticized as an unequal treaty, but at the same time, these five nations have an obligation to pursue negotiations on nuclear disarmament “in good faith.” The final document of the 2010 conference stipulated that the next steps for nuclear disarmament will be considered at the 2015 Review Conference based on the reports by the nuclear weapon states. The extent of information disclosed by the five nations will provide insight into the future of nuclear disarmament.

■ Outlawing nuclear weapons

The inhumanity of nuclear weapons is an unchallenged fact. Discussions on outlawing them grew active among the international community around the time of the 2010 Review Conference.

Focusing on the inhumanity of such weapons, statements have been issued mainly by Switzerland, Norway, and Mexico following the first PrepCom held in 2012, which call for a ban and the non-use of nuclear arms. The number of nations expressing support for these statements continues to increase. The joint statement on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, and against their use, first announced at the U.N. General Assembly in October 2013, has been approved by 125 nations including Japan.

At the same time, there has been growing caution from the nuclear powers because nuclear arms are still at the center of their security strategy. At this meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, 17 nations that rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, including Australia and Japan, submitted their own statement based on maintaining the idea of nuclear deterrence. They contended that discussions involving security are a crucial aspect of eliminating nuclear weapons. According to a high-ranking official at the Foreign Ministry of Japan, similar statements will not be issued at the upcoming PrepCom. But a tug of war will continue between countries that are dependent on nuclear weapons and those that are free of this dependency.

■ Regional issues

Regional issues, especially those concerning the Middle East, can have even greater influence on the course of discussion than the PrepCom’s main subject of nuclear disarmament. The 1995 Review Conference, which decided the indefinite extension of the NPT, adopted the “Resolution on the Middle East.” This resolution is aimed at denuclearizing the Middle East, with an eye on Israel, a de facto nuclear weapon state. The Final Document of the 2010 Review Conference stipulated that an international conference would be held in 2012 to discuss problems surrounding the Middle East region, but such a conference did not materialize.

Arab countries, which are at odds with Israel, have been showing bolder reactions. Egypt expressed its protest by walking out of the second PrepCom held in 2013. Careful attention will be paid to the country’s attitude at this gathering.

Conditions in Ukraine will be another key issue at the upcoming meeting. After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine’s security was assured by countries including Russia by handing over nuclear weapons deployed within its territory to Russia. There is concern that Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea will weaken the NPT.

■ Role of A-bombed nation Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui will take part in the PrepCom. This will be the first time that both leaders from Hiroshima have attended a PrepCom meeting. The prefectural government plans to hold a panel discussion at U.N. headquarters, and Mr. Matsui will deliver a speech at an official function. Both men will call for accelerating the process of abolishing nuclear weapons.

The “Hiroshima Declaration,” adopted at the NPDI foreign ministers’ meeting held in Hiroshima, stated that “The ongoing discussion on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be inclusive and universal as well as a catalyst for a united global action towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.” On the other hand, the declaration did not refer to outlawing nuclear arms, greatly disappointing A-bomb survivors and non-governmental organizations.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said, “If legal binding force should be brought into focus, we will not be able to involve nuclear weapon states. The NPDI’s ideas will serve as a useful reference in order to include more countries focusing on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.” The leadership of the A-bombed nation will be put to the test.

Outline of the final document adopted at the 2010 NPT Review Conference ・Convening a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Middle East nuclear-free zone
・Concern over thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world
・Accelerating progress toward the elimination of nuclear arms, with reports to be made in 2014
・Agreement on 64-item action plan for disarmament and non-proliferation
・Strong condemnation of nuclear tests conducted by North Korea in 2006 and 2009
・Recognition by majority of signatories of the need for a concrete time frame for nuclear disarmament

(Originally published on April 28, 2014)