20 April 2000


20 April 2000

Press Briefing



Among the main issues to be considered by the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) would be those of universality, compliance, security assurances by nuclear- weapon States and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

He said that the four-week Conference was to take place from 24 April to 19 May at United Nations Headquarters. The NPT, which was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970, was one of the most important legal instruments in the area of disarmament. It was formally acknowledged as the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. With 187 State parties, it was the most widely subscribed to disarmament treaty today. Under one of the articles of the Treaty, five-year review conferences were required. After the decision taken in 1995, that was no longer at the discretion of the depository States. Thus, every five years there would be a review conference.

This year's conference was most significant, he continued, not only because it was the first one in the twenty-first century, but also because it was the first one after a strengthened review process was inaugurated in 1995. The Conference would also be the first one to take place after India and Pakistan had conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The reaction of States parties to those tests would be "interesting to observe", he said. The three sessions of the Preparatory Committee, which were held in 1997, 1998 and 1999, had been, by common account, "not very auspicious". The participants had not been able to agree on any issues of substance, coming to an agreement only on procedural matters. That placed a particularly heavy burden on the Review Conference itself.

Another important first in the 2000 Review Conference was the fact that non-governmental organizations would play a bigger role in it, he added. An entire session of the plenary would be devoted to non-governmental organizations statements, which was a departure from past practice. During the course of the Conference, non-governmental organizations would also brief delegations, distribute their materials and organize many events "in the margins of the Conference".

The Department for Disarmament Affairs had been responsible for the Secretariat arrangements, and a press kit and several publications on the Conference were available to the press. Hannelore Hopee had been designated as the Secretary-General of the Conference. The candidates for election at the opening meeting included: Abdallah Bali (Algeria) for the position of the President; representatives of Colombia, Finland and Poland as chairmen of the three Main Committees of the Conference; and a representative of Hungary as chairman of the Drafting Committee. There would also be a General Committee and a Credentials Committee. The list of speakers was changing constantly. It now included 18 Foreign Ministers and 10 Deputy Ministers, and the Secretary-General

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was expected to address the opening meeting. Also speaking at that meeting would be the Director-General of the IAEA and the Chairman of the last Preparatory Committee.

As far as the issues for discussion were concerned, the strengthened review process would use the decisions of 1995 as benchmarks for the heightened accountability of the States parties, in order to judge the performance in meeting their obligations under the Treaty. The question of universality would acquire increased importance, because there had been a substantial increase in the membership of the Treaty since 1995. Only four countries in the international community remained outside the Treaty. The question of compliance would be discussed, particularly in reference to article II, as far as non- nuclear-weapon States were concerned, and specific issues were bound to be raised in that connection.

He said that article VI -- the disarmament article of the Treaty -- was also likely to attract a great deal of attention, particularly since there was a widespread feeling among non-nuclear weapon States that much more progress should have been achieved in the field of nuclear disarmament. The question of security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon States would also be raised. The IAEA safeguards, which came under the purview of article III of the Treaty, would be discussed in great detail, especially in the context of the new additional protocol adopted by the Agency. Yet another issue would be that of nuclear-weapon-free zones.

In the past, the outcome of the Conference had taken form of a single document adopted by consensus, he continued. The rules of procedure did permit voting, but it had not been previously resorted to. Of course, there may be a desire on the part of the parties to work in other ways, because the newly strengthened review process required them to look both into the past and into the future. A new document might emerge, identifying goals and objectives of the next five years.

Responding to a question on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strategy, Mr. Dhanapala said that there would be focus on two clear issues in that regard. One was the reiteration of the NATO first-use doctrine at the Washington summit. Such reiteration of the importance of nuclear weapons in the strategy of nuclear-weapon States would be criticized by those who had expected more progress in the nuclear disarmament. Russia, in its new security doctrine, had also emphasized the importance of nuclear weapons. The second issue with regard to NATO was the question of nuclear sharing, and it had been the subject of comments in the Preparatory Committees.

Asked to explain the concept of nuclear sharing, he said that the issue concerned nuclear weapons owned by one member of an alliance, which were stationed in a non-nuclear-weapon State. In that case, although the ownership remained with the nuclear-weapon State in the alliance, the fact that they were stationed in a non-nuclear-weapon State was regarded by many countries as being contrary to the spirit of the NPT. Indeed, some questioned whether it was also in conflict with the letter of the Treaty.

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A correspondent asked what could be done to further strengthen the review process. Mr. Dhanapala answered that during the course of the preparatory work, many delegations, including Canada, had made proposals which would be discussed at the Conference itself. One new device that could be introduced was the formalization of subsidiary bodies within the Main Committees for a more focused discussion on specific issues. Requests had already been made for a subsidiary body in respect of nuclear disarmament and the resolution of the situation in the Middle East. Actually, establishing a subsidiary body within a main committee was a departure from the past practice, and it would help to strengthen the review process.

To a question about the impact of the ratification of the Strategic Arms Limitation and Reduction Treaty II (START II) by Russia, he replied that notwithstanding the conditions imposed on it, the ratification by the Duma helped relieve some of the gloom surrounding the Conference and would help to answer some of the criticism regarding nuclear disarmament. What was significant was that that long-awaited move helped to open the doors for START III negotiations to begin. That treaty would significantly reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads.

Answering a question about the main elements in the 2000 Review Conference, he said that the indefinite extension rendering the Treaty permanent, in return for the strengthened review process and the undertakings in regard of nuclear disarmament, was, in fact, "a bargain that had been kept". That was going to be the key question that the member States of the Treaty would have to address.

Responding to a question regarding the enhanced role of non-governmental organizations, Mr. Dhanapala said that it was a healthy departure from past practice. He himself was on record supporting the greater participation of non-governmental organizations in disarmament conferences in general, as well as in other areas, including human rights, environment and so on. As to further progress in that respect, much depended on the States parties to the Treaty. The decision to devote a whole plenary session to the non-governmental organizations had been made upon agreement of the States parties, and now the matter was again in their hands.

Asked if he expected the United States missile defence plans to become an issue, Mr. Dhanapala replied that inevitably those plans would become a subject of discussion, because of the reaction of several countries, particularly the Russian Federation, China and some European and non-aligned countries. There was a concern that it would affect the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti- Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM), which was widely regarded as the cornerstone of strategic stability. It was also likely to have a negative impact on the process of nuclear disarmament negotiations. For those reasons, he did expect a considerable amount of discussion on that subject.

Responding to a further question, he said that in 1995 the Conference had made an extremely important decision to extend the Treaty indefinitely. Naturally, for that reason, it had attracted close attention of the entire international community. The 2000 Conference was to review the Treaty, and it

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was also important because the strengthened review process was to be put to the test. There was an interest in the Conference, and extensive consultations indicated that, too.

In response to another question, Mr. Dhanapala said that it was difficult for him to forecast the outcome of the Conference. "It is more hazardous than making weather forecasts", he said. He thought that there would be considerable pressure on the nuclear-weapon States by a number of non-nuclear-weapon countries in the Treaty. A “new agenda coalition” -- a new grouping of seven countries -- had come up with proposals regarding the acceleration of nuclear disarmament. The coalition had successfully piloted two General Assembly resolutions in the recent past. They had been able to attract a great deal of support. He would be very surprised if stated commitments by nuclear-weapon States were not reiterated, because they were written in black and white in the 1995 decisions, as well as in the Treaty itself.

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For information media. Not an official record.