Preparing for the 2020 NPT Review Conference: Four Uncomfortable Questions to Be Asked

November 21, 2019

In preparation for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, one inevitably has to face a question, as many others: how to reinvigorate the review process, taking into account both the 1995 decision on strengthening of the review process and a quarter-century experience in between 1995 and now. In the remaining less than six months before the conference opens on April 27, 2020, it may be too late to put too provocative questions as search for adequate responses may even further slow down the practical preparations. Yet, I find it timely to raise some of them – at least the following four – as they may lead us to a healthy discussion prior to the 2020 RevCon and/or during the next five-year review cycle (2021-2025):

QUESTION NUMBER ONE. Aren’t PrepComs too long, and not fully meeting the goal to prepare for the NPT review conference, are they? Aren’t diplomats spending too much time during these not always practical exercises? Shouldn’t the PrepComs become shorter and much more aimed in preparing the review conference rather than at flagging national positions?

QUESTION NUMBER TWO. Aren’t, in the times of digital technologies, reading all those lengthy national statements from the podium is something from the analogue past, from the past century? Can’t we use our time more productively, as we all are aware of how to download the statements from the web site? As one of my students, who I brought to the previous Prepcom, told me: “There is a disconnect here. Look at the delegates. They all check their email or social media while sitting in the conference room, and very few are really listening”.

QUESTION NUMBER THREE. Do we need to meet necessarily in New York for the review conferences in the future? Some of the delegations have been facing significant visa-related  challenges, and NGO representatives sometimes have to wait for their visas three to four months. We should have a friendly environment for our discussions, not a hostile one. May I remind you that the first four conferences took place in Geneva. Shouldn’t we make a search for a friendlier place for our delegations, than New York – and Geneva is a good example where we have all the facilities at the Palias des Nations?   

QUESTION NUMBER FOUR. Do we really need a lengthy final document? Many of us are aware of academic discussions on that matter, particularly in the articles written by Robert Einhorn. Shouldn’t we seriously consider reducing the final document to a three-to-five-page document? If so, is should be a powerful, a clear, and an implementable document, starting with a short preamble re-affirming full and unequivocal support to the Treaty, in all its integrity, by all member states in the year of 50th anniversary of its entry into force, that, the same as it was in 1970, it fully serves the interests of international security and remains, indeed, its cornerstone in the 21st century as it successfully did in the 20th century. And it should be a consensus document. NPT architecture should not be shaken by questioning its practice of conference decisions by consensus.

I am open-minded about these questions. What I suggest is that we launch a discussion addressing them – hopefully, for the benefit of the Treaty itself and in finding creative solutions for the strengthening of the NPT review process in a new century and in new realities.