USIS Washington File

21 April 2000

Interview: UN Disarmament Official on 2000 NPT Review Conference

(Dhanapala hopes for final consensus on nuclear issues) (2840)

United Nations -- As the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) approaches, the UN's undersecretary
general for disarmament affairs expresses hope that the treaty parties
will be able to adopt by consensus a final document on goals for the
next five years.

Undersecretary General Jayantha Dhanapala said that nuclear
non-proliferation issues "are being looked at in an atmosphere where
there is no confidence that the nuclear disarmament issue has been
addressed meaningfully in the last five years." Three preparatory
committee sessions were "characterized by a great deal of acrimony and
disagreement," he said.

Nevertheless, Dhanapala said it is "very likely that, having assessed
the treaty's performance over the last five years, we will set
ourselves a program of action or have some kind of a blueprint for the
next five years. If that can be adopted by consensus then, I think,
the conference will have been a success."

The Review Conference will be held April 24 - May 19 in New York.

Following is the transcript of the interview conducted by Washington
File United Nations Correspondent Judy Aita:

(begin transcript)

Q: How is the NPT Review Conference going to be structured, who is
going to be participating, and what are its goals?

Dhanapala: The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has
to be reviewed once every five years in accordance with the provisions
of the treaty itself, and the 187 states parties to the treaty are
invited to participate in the review. There will be a plenary meeting
and three main committees which will examine in depth the different
aspects of the treaty.

The treaty has ten main articles and it is divided into three
components, each of which will be examined by the states parties in a
main committee. The conference will run for four weeks and there will
also be a general committee and a drafting committee which will assist
the president and the chairmen of the three main committees in the
organization of the meetings.

Q: There is a perception among the general public in North America,
and perhaps elsewhere in the world, that with the end of the Cold War
nuclear issues are not really as important as they used to be . Do you
foresee or hope this conference will dispel that complacency?

Dhanapala: It is true that with the end of the Cold War, in the public
perception the immediacy of the danger of a global nuclear war has
receded and you do not get the same massive demonstrations on nuclear
issues, including nuclear testing, that you had during the Cold War.
But in real terms the danger remains very much alive.

We have not been able to focus the attention of the public on this
issue. There have been other issues that have grabbed the attention of
the public -- such as world trade, environment, globalization and so
on. But we are seeing a situation where the public has been very
satisfied with some of the achievements on nuclear issues. For
example, we have a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) today. And in
fact, even though the treaty has not entered into force, there is a
global moratorium on tests. Even India and Pakistan, after their tests
of May 1998, have said that they will not be testing any more. So
there is a voluntary moratorium.

The time when you saw street demonstrations against testing by France
in Muroroa, and by other countries in other parts of the world, is all
over now. However, as long as there are nuclear weapons, there is
still a danger of nuclear war by accident or by design. So the problem
continues to surface from time to time, but hasn't yet been as
widespread a global issue as it was, of course, in the Cold War.

Q: What do you expect to be the greatest challenges at the conference?

Dhanapala: The purpose of the conference is to review the
implementation of provisions of the treaty. They will be looking
particularly at the package of decisions and the resolution that were
adopted in 1995.

This is the first review conference not only in the 21st Century but
in the strengthened review process that was initiated in 1995. So not
only are we looking at the original bargain between the nuclear
weapons states and the non-nuclear weapons states, which was forged in
1968 when the treaty was signed, but we're looking at the new deal
that was arranged in 1995 when, in return for the indefinite extension
of the treaty, the non-nuclear weapons states obtained a strengthened
review process; a set of principles and objectives which really act as
benchmarks for the new, enhanced accountability of the parties; and
the resolution on the Middle East which gave the Arab States a reason
to go along with the indefinite extension.

All these issues are being looked at in an atmosphere where there is
no confidence that the nuclear disarmament issue has been addressed
meaningfully in the last five years. If you look at the actual record
there is only the CTBT -- and that treaty has not entered into force
and it is well known that its ratification has been rejected by the
United States Senate. There are also no negotiations under way for any
fresh disarmament agreements, either bilateral or multilateral.

These are the main problems that will be addressed, but under every
article there are separate sets of issues. For example, with regard to
non-nuclear weapons states adhering to the treaty, we still have the
concerns over Iraq and concerns over the Democratic People's Republic
of Korea. These will be discussed and have to be addressed.

Then there are issues with regard to the nuclear-weapon-free zones
established by treaties signed in regions like Africa and Southeast
Asia. But in the case of Africa, the treaty has not entered into force
because we do not have the number of ratifications required. In the
case of Southeast Asia, the protocols required to be signed by the
nuclear weapons states have not been signed.

Then there is the question of Article 3 -- the safeguards agreement
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signs with state parties
to the treaty to ensure that they are adhering to the treaty. The new
protocol that the Atomic Energy Agency has adopted gives greater
intrusiveness in terms of verification of the treaty parties'
obligations. We need to get all treaty parties to sign that. So far
only 48 have signed.

Those are examples of the kinds of issues that will be discussed.

Q: Are there one or two issues that will generate the most heated

Dhanapala: In my consultations with the states parties -- and having
observed the three sessions of the preparatory committee (Prepcom) --
I would identify two main issues.

One is a widespread perception that inadequate progress has been made
on nuclear disarmament. We have an advisory opinion of the
International Court of Justice which says that negotiations must not
only take place in good faith, but also must be brought to a
conclusion. There is a strong desire on the part of many member states
to see the pace of nuclear disarmament increase until we reach the
goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The other issue is the Middle East. The Arab countries feel very
strongly about the fact that while all Arab states have signed on to
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel remains the only state in
the region which is outside the NPT. And this gives them an
understandable sense of unease and insecurity. So they will want to
call on Israel to sign the treaty and to have its unsafeguarded
facilities subjected to IAEA safeguards. This will be a controversial
issue because in the past other countries have been reluctant to name
Israel specifically on this issue.

Q: There has been concern in Russia, for example, about the adequate
safeguarding of the existing nuclear weapons and fears that such
weapons may fall into terrorists' hands. Is the safeguarding of
existing weaponry a conference concern?

Dhanapala: I use safeguards in the technical sense of the
International Atomic Energy Agency having certain procedures, under
the agreements that they signed with states parties, that include
inspections where they check on material. The nuclear weapons states,
including the Russian Federation, do not have safeguards agreements
because they already have nuclear weapons. So we are only talking
about IAEA safeguards in non-nuclear weapons states to ensure that
there is no diversion to non-peaceful purposes of the peaceful uses of
nuclear energy.

In the case of the Russian Federation, with the decline in the
economic situation in that country there has been great concern about
the safety of their nuclear installations, the way in which nuclear
material is protected, and whether or not the technology can leak to
other countries. There are a number of international agreements; for
example, there is a Convention on the physical protection of nuclear
material which the IAEA has and which is being implemented. There are
also bilateral arrangements, and I think the Cooperative Threat
Reduction Program under the Nunn-Lugar legislation of the United
States has helped enormously in promoting the safety of Russian
nuclear installations. This program is an excellent example of the
cooperative way in which we can ensure our common security.

Q:  Will such problems be part of the discussions at the conference?

Dhanapala: It will certainly come up because this is an issue of
global concern and the conference will perhaps note that there are
these arrangements and will probably endorse them. It's not an
arrangement which comes strictly within the scope of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it is naturally of concern.

Q:  What would you consider a successful outcome for the conference?

Dhanapala: Traditionally NPT review conferences have taken decisions
by consensus. Although the rules of procedure permit voting, that has
never been resorted to. Resorting to voting would be an indication of
a weakening of the treaty and some kind of division in the ranks of
the treaty parties. That should be avoided as far as possible.

Traditionally also, review conferences have concluded with a consensus
document, a final document which reflects the views of all the states
on the state of the treaty and looks forward. It has been particularly
necessary after the strengthened review process was initiated in 1995
that we not only look backwards at the performance in the last five
years but we also look forward to the next five years. It is very
likely that, having assessed the treaty's performance over the last
five years, we will set ourselves a program of action or have some
kind of a blueprint for the next five years.

If that can be adopted by consensus then, I think, the conference will
have been a success.

Q: Has a draft agreement been prepared in the preparatory committee
meetings, or will the committees take that up when the conference

Dhanapala: The problem with this review conference is that we start
with a tabula rasa because the Prepcoms were unable to agree on any
substantive recommendations. In fact, the Prepcom sessions were
characterized by a great deal of acrimony and disagreement. They were
only able to agree on procedural issues and they left to the review
conference itself the task of finding agreement on issues of
This is why a major burden is being placed on this review conference.
Within the four weeks allotted to them, the states parties have to
come to agreement.

Q: How important is the relationship of the major nuclear powers to
the conference?

Dhanapala: It is absolutely crucial because they are in the driver's
seat. It is they who set the pace on nuclear disarmament and what
these five countries will do together will certainly influence the
course of the review conference.

Q: Is there anything that can be done to persuade India, Pakistan,
Israel and Cuba to join the NPT?

Dhanapala: It is a matter of satisfaction that it is only four
countries. The NPT is the most widely subscribed disarmament treaty we

In the case of Cuba, it has already signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco,
which is a nuclear weapons free zone. To that extent Cuba has
renounced its nuclear option. The only reason why Cuba has not
subscribed is because the treaty is regarded by Cuba as discriminatory
between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. It
doesn't really mean that Cuba wants to go nuclear.

In the case of India and Pakistan, they have demonstrated in May 1998
their desire to go nuclear. Although the world has adopted Security
Council Resolution 1172, and other statements have been made urging
India and Pakistan to join the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states, that
prospect seems to be distant. We can hope now for India to join the
CTBT and for Pakistan as well to join the CTBT to renounce future
tests and then take it from there.

Also, if both those countries agree to halt production and deal with
their stockpiles of fissile materials that go into the manufacture of
nuclear weapons, then again that will be a very important step

With regard to Israel, as you know, they have maintained the policy of
ambiguity as to precisely what their status is. But we would hope that
they would also join the NPT at a future date. They have stated that
they would do so as part and parcel of the Middle East peace process,
and at least they do not rule it out that at some time in the future
they will join the NPT.

Q: Does a conference such as this help in any way to convince those
states to join the NPT? Does a review conference have that kind of

Dhanapala: The fact is that we have over the years seen a steady
enlargement of the number of countries who are subscribing to the
treaty. Take, for example, South Africa: It actually destroyed six
devices which it had in order to enter the NPT as a non-nuclear
weapons state. Argentina and Brazil at one stage were regarded as
being potential nuclear weapons states with an arms race between them,
but they also have joined the NPT.

So we have seen a number of countries being converted and deciding
that ultimately it is in their national interest to sign the treaty.
One can only hope that the same will be true of the others.

But it is a mistake to believe that we can achieve nuclear
non-proliferation by itself. It has to be achieved in combination with
the nuclear disarmament of the nuclear weapon states. In other words,
there has to be a parallel movement on both nuclear disarmament and
nuclear non-proliferation. That is the only thing that makes the
treaty credible.

Q: What are the prospects in this review process for another part of
the treaty which encourages peaceful use of nuclear energy?

Dhanapala: Article 4 guarantees the non-nuclear weapons states in the
NPT access to nuclear material and nuclear technology. This is being
done through IAEA, which has projects to encourage the peaceful uses
of nuclear energy.

You will hear allegations that the non-nuclear states are being
discriminated against and that they have not yet had the unimpeded
access that they would like to have. But, by and large, the IAEA is
responsible for fostering the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Q: Do you expect large demonstrations, or celebrities to be part of
the conference?

Dhanapala: Around the margins of the conference there will be a number
of NGO (non-governmental organization) events, and I believe that some
of those will attract high profile participants. I don't know exactly
who will come, but for the conference itself we expect 20 foreign
ministers and six deputy foreign ministers. That in itself will give
the conference additional stature.

Q: Do you find the activities of the NGO community in connection with
this conference helpful?

Dhanapala: There is no question that the NGO participation in
disarmament conferences is very significant. We have some NGOs that
have done a prodigious amount of research and that publish materials
that are of great value to delegations. They also will have display
material at the conference.

In this review conference special provision is being made for them to
address the conference during a certain part of the plenary. That is a
fresh departure and a healthy departure from the past.

In addition to that, the NGOs will have access to delegations. They
will naturally invite delegates to briefing sessions, ensure that
their material is made available to delegations. Another very
interesting development is the number of delegations that will
actually include NGO representatives. Canada, for example, will be one
of them. This is an indication that governments see the value of NGO
participation within their delegations.

(end transcript)

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