It is a weird feeling to complete something that you had looked to with such anticipation for so long. I have worked to make sure I could attend the NPT PrepCom since my first semester of graduate school (yes I know, it really hasn’t been that long since I started MIIS, but honestly a lot has happened since then) … anyway, now the conference has come to a close. So here is the online version of me trying to compile my ideas and impressions on the two-week conference.
Now I know that even though I feel like the international community should hinge on the events of the NPT – because I find it so incredibly interesting – alas they do not. So below is a quick overview of what an NPT PrepCom is. If you already know, feel free to skip it.
NPT is short for the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (because you know we love our acronyms) For more information
The NPT was brought into force in 1970 with the intention of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons as well as a promise that the existing nuclear powers would work towards a future without them. The NPT thus included what has been referred to as the “grand bargain” in which the Member States to the Treaty were divided between Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS).
Every five years there is a Review Conference for the Treaty, nicknamed the NPT RevCon. Between the RevCons there is one bye-year and three Preparatory Committee Meetings (PrepComs). The first PrepCom is in Vienna, the second in Geneva, the third in New York, and all RevCons are in New York.
At the PrepCom, Member States send delegations to begin laying the groundwork for the next review conference. This means both administerial and topic-based discussions take place as well as the consumption of a lot of tiny sandwiches. Although the review conference leadership and budget need to be determined, the majority of the focus is put on the topical discussions on the Treaty.
Open session discussions are separated into three clusters; Cluster One was intended to be primarily disarmament-focused, Cluster Two for nonproliferation-related issues, and Cluster Three for peaceful uses (and all remaining issues). Now that is not to say that other issues do not bleed into those detailed on the agenda but it is the intended separation of topics.
While the intention of Review Conferences is to produce a consensus final document, Preparatory Committee Meetings are generally not expected to produce one (and to the best of my knowledge never do).
If you have spoken to me at all in the past two years I am sure you are aware that I have participated in a class in my graduate studies in which we simulated an NPT PrepCom (because I usually find a way to talk about it, sorry not sorry). Well due to this, I am sure you can imagine my excitement at seeing it in real life. It was not just to see how close we got in our own attempts to replicate it, but also because this is the career area I am working towards so seeing if the real life version is something I am still interested in is important.
Am I still interested? Short answer, yes. It didn’t matter that many of the prepared national statements were dreadfully boring and all said the same thing, I was ecstatic.
I was part of an NGO delegation, the one I work for while at MIIS and so we were grouped at the back of the room with the rest of the civil society representation. My main function at the PrepCom was to listen, tweet, and take notes here and there. I got to hear each country’s opening remarks and proceeding statements relating to the different cluster topics. In many cases, I could almost predict the statement before it was given. Most countries repeat the same sentiments and subject points depending on which groupings they are apart of or align with (NWS/NNWS or NAM or NAC… ect). Having studied the NPT before, I knew what most of the points of contention were ahead of time, and the Member States definitely didn’t disappoint in repeating them over and over again.
Main takeaways from the Conference:
1 – Dialog. Dialog was missing. The Member States would give prepared statements, reiterate their national positions, and then sit back down until the next cluster. There was no back and forth, with minimal reaction statements to other Member State comments even when they were highly critical. And the only time a delegate went off script it was to say that there should be more free-dialog, he then proceeded to go back on script and continue as it was before.
2 – There seemed to be a palpable disinterest in finding consensus language. I do not know if that is common for PrepComs, since a consensus document is not expected, but it seems rather counter-productive. We all already know what your national positions and grievances are, most of them have been the same for the past 20 years, at least a semblance of negotiation should be attempted.
3 – Emojis have the potential to become the next UN language. A friend of mine that was on our delegation started tweeting emoji translations of the national statements, it was a hit and honestly, surprisingly accurate. It is amazing how much content can be conveyed through the extensive emoji keyboard.
4 – We need more ladies. Most of the delegations were staffed by men and nearly all of the heads of delegations were men. I am not saying all the NPT problems would be fixed with female delegations….. but you can’t prove to me that they wouldn’t since it hasn’t happened…. so why don’t we try it?….. for science.
I quite enjoyed my time participating in the 2017 PrepCom to the 2020 NPT RevCon. It was both nerdily fun as well as insightful. I do want to work in the realm of international nonproliferation policy, and being able to see it in all its realities and faults further cemented my aspirations.