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‘Failure is not an option’: 2018 NPT PrepCom Chair on the current review cycle

Adam Bugajski

In the aftermath of the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), its Chair Ambassador Adam Bugajski of the Republic of Poland gave an exclusive interview to the Yaderny Kontrol bulletin and shared his views on the past session and the current NPT review cycle.

– What is your assessment of the results of the 2018 PrepCom? What issues were the most difficult for you and what specifically do you feel proud of?

– I do believe that the 2018 session of the Preparatory Committee reaffirmed the commitment of the States parties to the objectives of the Treaty. We have had a thorough review of the implementation of the NPT. States parties were able to resolve all procedural issues pertaining to this session and to provide a solid starting point for the next PrepCom. They discussed current political topics, critical for the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. We also had a good discussion about the strengthening of the review process. Every now and then we disagreed on substance, but there were also many practical proposals that enriched our discussion and provided us with fresh food-for-thought on how to realize the Treaty’s objectives better and more thoroughly. Many delegations provided very concrete contributions, thus showing their strong NPT credentials.

I think States parties have now a much better understanding of their respective positions and motivations, which is an important asset in view of the 2020 Review Conference. States parties have also succeeded in electing the Chair of the III Prepcom and we are relatively close to the completion of the whole NPT Bureau for this review cycle. It has not been the case previously. Exemplary cooperation between the Chairs allowed for great efficiency and cohesion in running the session. In my opinion, a broad support for the statement on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which was drafted by France and the Republic of Korea was also an important achievement during II PrepCom. That was the first multilateral statement on the DPRK after the Inter-Korean Summit of 27 April 2018.

As far as difficulties are concerned, one of the recurring challenges is the stalemate in discussion on the process of establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Another issue is the pace and direction of the disarmament debate. These two highly-contested political topics regrettably could not have been solved and require further work during the coming sessions. It is does not come as a surprise, though. NPT operates in an unpredictable and unstable environment and the substance of it is sophisticated, elaborate and delicate. Therefore, it is not an easy task to deliberate on the respective issues of the three pillars and avoid clashes amongst the delegations.

My duty was to consult the States parties, to prepare and to chair the session as well as to reflect on the proceedings of the session in the Draft Chair`s Factual Summary in a comprehensive manner. I have also submitted the “Chair’s Reflections on the State of the NPT.” It is a 4-page paper, which outlines my perspective on the current situation related to the Treaty’s implementation and its condition. It builds on and should be seen as a continuation of practice initiated by the Chair of the I PrepCom, Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast, who also submitted his own reflections as a working paper. This can also be perceived as my personal contribution to the review cycle. I would encourage every expert as well as all people interested in NPT-related topics to read it.

An anticipated innovation of yours at this PrepCom was to be an interactive debate that you planned to hold between delegations and experts, but in a format closer to the general sessions rather than a side-event. For a reason, at the last stage, this initiative was not supported by a delegation. Was it the topic of nuclear risk reduction or another reason that played against such innovation?

– It is my strong conviction that interactive discussions have the capacity to make PrepComs more interesting, but above all more efficient and effective. Innovations are, after all, the driving force behind progress. We cannot however disregard the key prerequisite for such a tool to work properly – comprehensive consultations with States parties followed by thorough preparations are essential. At the time of 2018 Session, due to time constrain, a full implementation of this mechanism was not a viable option.

Nevertheless, it needs to be stressed that both general debate and cluster discussions as well as side-events did feature elements of interactive discussions. Whereas in the former it is still a work in progress, in the latter they had already been an established norm. It is up for the upcoming PrepCom and RevCon to make full use of opportunities that interactivity brings. I firmly believe that given an appropriate timeframe for consultations and other arrangements, we are going to reap the benefits of interactive discussions in the future. Definitely, there are a number of topics that can be useful in the context of such debates, including nuclear disarmament verification, risk reduction or peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

– As one of the delegates said in their closing statement, the Chair’s summary left disappointed the non-NATO non-nuclear states. Do you think the document managed to equally represent opposing narratives and find a fair balance between them?

– First of all, we need one clarification. ‘Draft Chair’s factual summary’ is a non-binding document, which imposes no obligations upon States parties. It is the Chair’s personal output, drawn with the purpose of outlining a variety of topics raised during the Session. It tried to encompass all of the diverse approaches to the subject-matter, in order to give a comprehensive picture of the discourse. As expectations and priorities of the States parties differ, it does not come as a surprise that should any one of them take charge of discussions, each would stress different parts of the debate over others. Draft Chair’s summary however transcends those national narratives. We strived to reflect the general direction of the discussions, in a possibly impartial way.

I am fully aware that it is an imperfect document, as obviously any attempt to capture the scope of such a complex and sophisticated subject must inevitably fall short of perfection. Some countries were not fully satisfied with its content, some were contented. But I definitely do not subscribe to the view that it left the non-NATO non-nuclear states disappointed. Frankly speaking it is factually incorrect. The reality was that several non-nuclear states, which are not members of the Alliance, expressed support for its general substance and direction. One needs to be aware that the diversity of experience and interests of States parties is the biggest challenge of multilateral diplomacy, in which the NPT operates. At the very same time bringing all parties together to work out a meaningful compromise is where the beauty of it lies.

– What are your expectations for the 2020 NPT Review Conference? Do you have any specific piece of advice for Ambassador Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob of Malaysia ahead of the 2019 PrepCom?

– Ambassador Shahrul Ikram Yaakob is an outstanding diplomat with great diplomatic skills and experience. He inter alia chaired the Board of Governors of the IAEA in the past, and this alone testifies for his credentials. He does not need any guidance, although I am always ready to share my experience, if a need arises. I guess the Dutch Chair shares this sentiment.

The 2017 and the 2018 PrepCom have laid down solid foundations, upon which the 2019 Session will build. In the future, the combined valuable contributions of 3 PrepComs will without doubt help to facilitate the success of 2020 NPT Review Conference. In addition, I am hopeful that in 2019 new creative ideas and genuine engagement will emerge with regard to the issues most difficult to resolve, such as the pace of nuclear disarmament and the Middle East WMD-free zone. An answer to these challenges will require a great deal of political will, as well as readiness for compromise. In the past, the combination of these two has continuously helped strengthen the Treaty. I do hope that this will be the case in 2020 as well.

Working out a consensual outcome at the Review Conference, which remains the overall objective of the process, will not be an easy task, but it is not mission impossible either. As we are approaching the 50 anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force in 2020, failure is not an option. To the contrary, I do believe that the 2020 RevCon will be an opportunity to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the Treaty and to celebrate its historic achievements as it is beneficial to all States parties, regardless of their geographic location, political affiliation or level of economic development. We should not lose sight of this simple fact.


Yaderny Kontrol. Issue 5 (499), May 2018