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Russia Blocks Ukraine Consensus at NPT Conference

September 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernandez and Daryl G. Kimball

Russia prevented the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference from reaching consensus on a substantive outcome document on August 26 due to differences over the nuclear safety crisis caused by the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

At a time of growing nuclear dangers, 151 states parties to the NPT worked intensively from August 1-26 at UN Headquarters to develop a document designed to assess the implementation of the landmark treaty and identify actions to advance its goals. and fundamental disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. , and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

But the effort to agree on a joint statement collapsed in the final hours of the conference when Russia requested changes to several paragraphs of the 35-page draft outcome document, including those that underlined “ the importance of ensuring control by the competent authorities of Ukraine” of the Zaporizhzhia Facility.

Ukraine and dozens of other countries were originally seeking explicit references to Russia’s responsibility for deteriorating security at the nuclear power plant, which was seized by Russia in March.

Russian and Ukrainian officials traded accusations during the conference and at a special session of the UN Security Council on August 10 over who bore responsibility for the bombing of the Zaporizhzhia facility, which remains occupied by Russian military forces. The text was changed in an effort to find an acceptable balance, but in the end Russia was the only one to oppose the compromise language.

The result marks the second consecutive NPT review conference to fail to reach consensus on an outcome document. Given the growing tensions among the five nuclear-armed NPT member states, the conclusion of the conference was not surprising. Never before has a NPT conference been convened in the midst of a major war in Europe involving one of the treaty’s three depositary states: the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.

In remarks after the meeting, conference president Gustavo Zlauvinen said that despite the failure to reach consensus, “this should not taint the fact that states have engaged in sustained and thorough negotiations… which brought us extremely close to a final document”. containing agreed action steps. This shows the commitment of all delegations to the treaty” and “provides a basis for moving forward”.

Zlauvinen cited the conference’s agreement on a procedural measure “to establish a working group to strengthen the review cycle in order to achieve greater transparency and accountability and expedite actions that states have agreed to pursue. “.

The failure of the conference also elicited expressions of disappointment and determination from many States Parties.[T]he NPT will remain a fundamental and irreplaceable cornerstone of the rules-based order,” insisted Adam Scheinman, head of the US delegation, in a closing statement on August 26. “This month has shown that while we still have a lot of work to do, we agree on more than we disagree, and we are ready to define ourselves by what we have in common rather than by what divides us.

Russia may have been the only one to block consensus, but it is not the only nuclear-weapon state that has resisted clear commitments to achieve NPT goals. As time passed at the conference, many states parties expressed dissatisfaction with various elements of the August 25 draft outcome document, but chose not to oppose the consensus. Many non-nuclear-weapon States were unhappy with the disarmament action plan’s lack of ambition after years of inaction.

“Costa Rica was ready to join the consensus on the outcome document because of our commitment to the treaty…. In truth, the document fell well short of our expectations, containing no concrete steps to move us forward towards nuclear disarmament,” said Maritza Chan, Costa Rican Ambassador to the United Nations, in her August 26 closing statement.

In his closing remarks, Alexander Kmentt, the head of the Austrian delegation to the conference, noted “the dramatic deficit of trust between some nuclear-weapon states”. They can agree on very little, he said, except the one area of ​​“lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. This undermines the NPT, puts the norm against the proliferation of nuclear weapons under duress and reinforces the credibility deficit of this treaty on the implementation of [NPT] Article VI”, on disarmament.

During the final week of the conference, Zlauvinen invited the Finnish delegation to convene consultations involving some 20 key states to try to iron out consensus language on the thorniest issues. These negotiations included the five nuclear-weapon states of the NPT (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States); the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Egypt); Indonesia, which chairs the Non-Aligned Movement; Austria; Iran; Japan; the Netherlands; Sweden; and Switzerland.

For example, NPT states parties could not agree on whether the conference should condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s recent threats to use nuclear weapons on February 24 and April 27 in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine. As Zlauvinen reminded delegates at the opening of the conference, “[W]We live in a time when the unthinkable – the use of nuclear weapons – is no longer unthinkable.

Representatives of France, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as their NATO allies, also criticized Putin’s nuclear threats and wanted the conference to condemn “irresponsible rhetoric regarding the potential use of the for purposes of military coercion, intimidation or blackmail”, but not nuclear threats. which “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war,” according to a working paper released by the three countries on July 29.

Many non-nuclear-weapon states, including Austria, Costa Rica and Ireland, have argued that such attempts to distinguish between nuclear threats are futile and that all threats of nuclear use must be condemned. as contrary to international law and the Charter of the United Nations. In the end, states could only agree that the final draft commits nuclear-weapon states “to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons.”

The theme of naval nuclear propulsion also attracted attention. China and Indonesia have expressed concern over the non-proliferation implications of the AUKUS initiative announced in September 2021, whereby the US and UK would share advanced nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Australia. The project will likely involve highly enriched uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons, and creates unique challenges for maintaining International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on nuclear materials.

A small group negotiated a compromise text on this issue which simply noted “the subject of naval nuclear propulsion is of interest to States parties to the treaty” and “the importance of transparent and open dialogue on this subject”.

The Chinese delegation also objected to references in the draft calling for a voluntary halt in the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes, pending the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty. .

Several States Parties drew attention to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which prohibits all activities related to nuclear weapons and seeks to prohibit all nuclear weapons, as a mechanism that could encourage States equipped with nuclear weapons to implement their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. . The draft text recognized the entry into force of the TPNW in 2021.

One of the most important elements agreed in the draft conference outcome document was the commitment of Russia and the United States to fully implement the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START Treaty). “and to continue negotiations in good faith on a successor framework to the New START Treaty before its expiration in 2026, in order to achieve deeper, irreversible and verifiable reductions in their nuclear arsenals.

Although the review conference failed to reach a formal consensus, several states expressed hope that Washington and Moscow would fulfill their promises to resume negotiations to further reduce the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

States parties have agreed that the next NPT Review Conference will take place in 2026 and the next preparatory meeting will take place in 2023.