Emerging battle lines

Print edition : April 15, 2000

In the context of the widening gap between nuclear weapons states and the gathering forces of non-nuclear weapons states, the NPT Review Conference 2000, scheduled to begin in New York on April 24, promises to generate a range of controversies a nd debates.


FROM a nuclear perspective, the date May 11 has double significance in the Indian context. Five years ago this day, Jayantha Dhanapala, the then Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States and President of the NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC), struck a blow to any possibility of the five nuclear weapon states (NWSs, or the P-5) being able to bring the nuclear disarmament issue centrestage in the global arms control process. He forced a document without vote that put this crucial element, Arti cle VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), on the backburner. Using clever manoeuvring and diplomatic tactics, he pushed through, ostensibly on the basis of consensus, an indefinite extension of the Treaty in the same form as had been formulat ed 25 years earlier with its faulty and discriminatory structure that treats NWSs and non-NWSs differently and allows NWSs to retain their monopoly on nuclear weapons.

The "Review" component of the Conference - namely, a comprehensive review of the performance of the Treaty during its 25 years of existence - was played down and indefinite extension, which the NWSs were keen to achieve as an end in itself, was allowed t o take precedence at the cost of nuclear disarmament. Indeed, the U.S., Russia, Britain and France wanted the Treaty to be extended indefinitely and unconditionally. The NPTREC granted only the first part; its three decisions do impose some conditions on the parties but these, as subsequent events have revealed, have not amounted to much towards achieving nuclear disarmament.

By employing an obviously manipulative tactic in the NPTREC's end game, Dhanapala seemed to have acted at the behest of the Western NWSs who continue to regard nuclear weapons as essential ingredients of their security doctrines till this day. The NPTREC , held at the end of 25 years of the NPT as required by Article X.2 of the Treaty, was an opportune moment to remove the Treaty's discriminatory elements, put on course a legal process that ensured time-bound eradication of nuclear weapons by the P-5 (wh o have steadfastly refused to honour their commitments under Article VI of the Treaty) and make application of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes as the primary objective of the instrument of the Treaty. Dhanapala seems to have been suitably rewa rded for his stellar role in ensuring an indefinite extension of the NPT as desired by the Western NWSs. Today he is the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs.

May 11 is also the anniversary of that dubious nuclear adventure by India in which, two years ago, it tried in vain to gate-crash into this exclusive NPT-ordained nuclear club by setting off nuclear explosions. If it was meant to challenge the NPT nuclea r order, it was clearly misconceived because the indefinite extension of the Treaty, with its definition of NWSs that included only countries that had exploded a nuclear device before January 1, 1967, had already occurred. The Treaty could not be rewritt en just to admit India and Pakistan as it has been stated clearly by the NWSs at various forums. Some strategic observers believe that any nuclear tests conducted during the NPTREC in 1995 may have had the desired impact of dismantling the NPT's discrimi natory edifice, not allowing an indefinitely extended discriminatory nuclear order to remain.

In fact, the Pokhran-II tests three years later in 1998 seem to have had exactly the opposite effect. As the Treaty comes up for the first five-year review this year after its indefinite extension, universal adherence, now one of the stated primary goals of the extended Treaty, has assumed greater importance. With horizontal non-proliferation continuing to be the Treaty's cornerstone, India is bound to come under increased pressure to sign the NPT as a NNWS (as in the case of South Africa) rather than b e admitted as an NWS. Technology denials and export controls may be made even more stringent through multilateral instruments such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the post-CoCOM forum of the Wassenaar Arrangement. Furthermore, these tests, among others, have themselves become important reasons for the NWSs to oppose any move towards fulfilling their obligations under Article VI.

One of the decisions at the 1995 Conference is a five-yearly review of the extended Treaty as required by Article VIII.3. The Review Conference 2000 (RC2K) is slated for April 24 to May 19 and will be held under the presidentship of Ambassador Joseph J. Seliba of South Africa. From the Indian perspective, the discriminatory nuclear order having assumed permanence, this RC2K may not have much significance. A strategic analyst close to the government and its present nuclear policies, however, felt that In dia should go and participate in it as an observer - which is now permitted - and take the opportunity to declare that India is now an NWS even if the letter of the NPT does not recognise it, say that India has been more responsible as a non-proliferator than the P-5 countries and that complete nuclear disarmament is still its desired objective and that it will work towards the goal even as a non-signatory to the NPT. According to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), there is no proposal a s of now to attend the Review Conference.

From the near-deadlocked proceedings of the three sessions of the Preparatory Committee of the RC2K - PrepCom 1997, 1998 and 1999 - their decisions and declarations, it is becoming increasingly clear that a performance review of the Treaty, in particular nuclear disarmament a la Article VI, will remain low on the agenda even at RC2K. For instance, the U.S. has opposed the setting up of a subsidiary committee in order to assess the progress achieved with regard to nuclear disarmament in the last five yea rs. In this context, it is pertinent to examine the decisions of the 1995 NPTREC and the run-up to RC2K.

At the NPT Review and Extension Conference held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in April-May 1995.-

THE NPTREC was held at the U.N. Headquarters from April 12 to May 12, 1995. On May 11, 174 states party to the Treaty (today the number has increased to 188) agreed without a vote for an indefinite extension along with a package of three interlinked deci sions which essentially postponed any substantive move on key issues such as disarmament, technology-sharing and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Pre-conference diplomatic lobbying by the U.S. and behind-the-scene confabulations by the NWSs drew the supp ort of most of the 174 signatories for an indefinite extension. This was despite a strong feeling among the NNWSs, particularly the core group of non-aligned nations, led by Indonesia, that NWSs had not fulfilled their obligations under Article VI. Howev er, Dhanapala's master stroke lay in this packaging and ramrodding a consensus, in order to save a discriminatory treaty!

Decision I on "Strengthening the Review Process for the Treaty" elaborated a framework for an enhanced and a more substantive process of reviewing the implementation of the NPT and forwarding recommendations on future steps to the quinquennial NPT Review conferences. The decision recommended a "systematic process" which included the constitution of a PrepCom that would meet for two weeks in each of the three years prior to the review conference in order to give "focussed consideration" to "specific issu es relevant to the Treaty". Specifically, the PrepCom for RC2K was charged with working on ways "to promote the full implementation of the Treaty as well as its universality".

Decision II on "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (P&O)" set out guidelines and indicative targets in order to enable greater accountability regarding the full implementation of the Treaty in terms of complete elimin ation of nuclear weapons and the achievement of a treaty on general and complete disarmament. It also contained a set of 20 principles and objectives dealing with seven issues: universality, non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapon free zon es (NWFZs), security assurances, safeguards and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Decision III on "Extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons", taken as required by Article X.2, mainly in order to provide a vehicle for confirming in a legally binding form that the NPT was to have an indefinite duration. Althou gh it was clear that a consensus was not possible, without a legally binding commitment on NWSs towards Article VI, Dhanapala, based on his perception that there was majority support for an indefinite extension, merely obtained the consent of the delegat ions that had not committed themselves to one position or the other, to proceed with the adoption of his three draft decisions without a vote and then declared each of the decisions adopted. It was a carefully crafted political compromise which the disse nting delegations merely accepted by their dumbfounded silence.

A draft resolution prepared by 14 Arab states led by Egypt - which called upon Israel to accede to the Treaty and place all its nuclear activities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards - was an issue that was addressed by Dhanapala in preparing his package. The U.S. opposed this Israel-specific resolution and the NPTREC adopted a final Middle East Resolution, sponsored by the U.S., Russia and Britain, which endorsed by the Oslo Peace Process, called upon all states of Wes t Asia that had not done so to accede to the NPT and place their nuclear facilities under full-scope safeguards and work towards the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. This Middle East issue remains one of the most contentious one in the delib erations of PrepComs for RC2K.

While the NWSs, their allies and friendly nations termed the outcome of the NPTREC a success, many NNWSs had expressed unease and reservations. After the President's package was adopted, such concerns were publicly expressed not only by the non-aligned s tates that had opposed an indefinite extension, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Tanzania, but also by such countries as the Philippines which had supported the indefinite extension. They openly spoke of coercion and pressure by the U.S. and othe r NWSs to support indefinite extension. Also, the Arab states reiterated their opposition to the indefinite extension as long as Israel was not party to it. The lack of unanimity and consensus as well as the dissatisfaction of some states was evident fro m the fact that the NPTREC failed to arrive at a Final Declaration on its overall review of the operation of the NPT as required by Article VIII.3. Thus, as in the case of the 1980 and 1990 Review Conferences the 1995 Conference failed to arrive at a Fin al Declaration.

Not only have the same contentious issues at NPTREC continued to dog the subsequent negotiations at the PrepComs, but new elements of the political, security and military environment in different parts of the world - the bombing of Yugoslavia by forces led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the NATO strategic doctrine with its underpinnings on nuclear weapons, the deadlock at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) over the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (C TBT) coming into force, the U.S. programme on theatre and national missile defence involving Japan in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the non-ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by Russia and the U.S., the de teriorating bilateral relations of the U.S. with Russia and China, the non-compliance to IAEA safeguards by Iraq and North Korea, the accumulating plutonium stocks from dismantled nuclear weapons, and the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan - have perhap s worsened the situation with regard to the implementation of the NPT in letter and spirit after its indefinite extension. And the outcomes of the three PrepComs so far amply bear this out.

WHAT the PrepComs in their deliberations for RC2K seem to have achieved so far is some progress on approach, procedural matters and modalities of going about strengthening the review process. Substantive aspects have, however, remained largely unaddresse d owing to dissent and deadlocked debates which point to the inherent deficiencies of the NPT, particularly the lack of a legally binding commitment - rather than "pursue negotiations in good faith" - in order to honour Article VI and wind down their nuc lear holdings. Despite differences amongst the parties, PrepCom 1997 managed to arrive at a consensus document on procedures and approach to be adopted at RC2K. PrepCom 1998, on the other hand, resulted in a complete deadlock mainly over the issues of nu clear disarmament, Israel's possession of nuclear weapons and the implementation of the 1995 Resolution with regard to West Asia.

Although PrepCom 1999, which was held in New York between May 10 and 21, 1999, had appeared to go the way of PrepCom 1998, without resulting in a final document to be forwarded to RC2K, it was salvaged by its Chair, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia. A compromise document was produced with the following concluding words: "The Preparatory Committee was unable to reach agreement on any substantive recommendations to the 2000 Review Conference." This, as commentator Douglas Roche of Middle Powers Initia tive, wrote, "was but a thin cover over the deadlock persisting between the Western NWSs and the leading NNWSs and, given the worsening international climate, signals a struggle of immense proportions to maintain the viability of the NPT after 2000."

The controversies at PrepCom 1999 arose mainly over the issues raised by China over the wanton bombing of Yugoslavia for over 40 days by the U.S. and the inflammatory missile defence system being pursued by the U.S. and Japan. The U.S., while stating tha t its commitment to Article VI of the NPT was "broad and deep", refused to allow a subsidiary body, which would examine the details of nuclear disarmament, to be established at RC2K even though Decision I of NPTREC 1995 specifically provides for this. Th e deepening divisions between NWSs and NNWSs was also apparent from the working paper tabled by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), formed by the Foreign Ministers of eight nations in June 1998, which was co-sponsored by 44 countries. The paper criticised th e NWSs for re-rationalising their continued possession of nuclear weapons and the pursuance of a policy of nuclear deterrence. It called for "a clear and unequivocal commitment to the speedy pursuit of the total elimination (of nuclear weapons) which wou ld require a multilateral (and not bilateral) agreement."

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) went further. It repeated its call for negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament, including a Nuclear Weapons Convention, within a time-frame. Canada presented a draft of new principles and objectives for th e 2000 Review. The draft called for the acceleration of the START process, the engagement of the three other NWSs "in the near future" and new measures such as "de-alerting". The several working papers prepared by different states were blended together b y Reyes into a 61-para document, the PrepCom 1999 Chairman's Paper. While not going as far as NAM desired, this document went well beyond what NWSs would accept.

Chairman Reyes's Paper calls for negotiations on the elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons, de-alerting, de-targeting and de-activating all nuclear weapons and removing nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles. Besides, it expresses "deep concern t hat Israel continues to be the only state in the Middle East which has not acceded to the NPT", recommends a legally binding negative security assurances regime (by NWSs) instead of unilaterally declared intentions, calls for an ad hoc committee under th e C.D. "with a negotiating mandate to address nuclear disarmament".

This paper led to several hours of acrimonious debates, which only revealed the widening gap between NWSs and the gathering forces of the NNWSs who have begun to make strong demands that "systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons glob ally", promised in 1995, be fulfilled. Although PrepCom 1999 came close to a deadlock, which may have even proved fatal for RC2K, it was saved by some deft handling by the Chair. With no unanimously agreed substantive recommendations from PrepCom 1999 to discuss, only the Chairman's paper and the various position papers presented will form the basis of deliberations at RC2K. But, if the PrepCom proceedings are any indication, RC2K promises to be full of controversies and heated debates. Although battle lines between NWSs and NNWSs seem to be emerging, nothing dramatic or significant is likely to result. Also, it remains to be seen whether smaller nations can withstand the coercive tactics of Western NWSs and remain on their side of the battle lines.

The inherent cracks in the inequitous and discriminatory NPT are beginning to show and the future of NPT, despite its indefinite extension, seems to be a little shaky at present. And in this emerging stand-off between NNWSs and the NWSs, the Pokhran-II t ests have only invited severe condemnation from both sides. While the tests may have deepened the cracks, India's credibility as regards principled opposition to nuclear weapons has taken a severe beating. It would have gained far greater moral standing and prestige among NNWSs and NAM countries if it had refrained from exercising the nuclear option than the illusory power arising from the status of a self-proclaimed nuclear weapon state.

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