Status: Open

Interview with Tariq Rauf on the 10th NPT Review Conference: expert impressions

August 27, 2022

On Friday, August 26, the 10th NPT Review Conference has ended. Even though the final document could not be adopted due to the lack of consensus, however, the entire Conference was accompanied by active discussions and exchanges of views. On the sidelines of the conference in New York, the PIR Center delegation participating in the NPT RevCon 2022 managed to speak with many experts and representatives of official delegations. We will not be able to publish some of these conversations in the public domain, but we are happy to share with our readers some of the results of such conversations to capture the atmosphere from the margins of the 10th NPT Review Conference. And so, we launch the heading “Notes from the fields: 10th NPT Review Conference through the Eyes of Russian Public Diplomacy.”

On the first day of their stay at the Conference, representatives of the PIR Center delegation Elena Karnaukhova and Alexandra Zubenko talked to Tariq Rauf, former Head of the IAEA Department for Verification & Security Policy, former Alternate Head of NPT Delegation from IAEA, member of the Advisory Board of PIR Center.

Can you tell us about your impressions on the X NPT Review Conference? Are there any chances for the outcome document?

The atmosphere is generally better than was expected. We have disagreements but we can disagree politely, rather than using aggressive language as at the 2019 NPT PrepCom. There are many differences over policies and priorities between the nuclear-weapon States and the non-nuclear-weapon States, for example. contradictions. These include: nuclear disarmament, the Middle East, DPRK, Ukraine.

Is it true that the Chinese delegation is unprecedentedly active this year?

Yes, it is widely being discussed here. My experience over the six previous review conferences shows that the NPT RevCon is an intensely political process that brings in all international conflicts and tensions. If there are major divisions between global powers and other States or amongst themselves, these influence the discourse and negotiations. This is quite understandable, as the NPT RevCon is at its heart an international security conference. Small countries are vulnerable to the power and influence of big and powerful ones, both in bilateral and plurilateral frameworks. But here they are powerful; they can object to the text and concepts of Main Committee reports and the Final Declaration. Currently, the relationship between the US and China is quite confrontational and problematic. The US accuses China of expanding its nuclear and military forces, and producing more nuclear material for weapons. The US’ containment policy against China necessitates a greater forward presence of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region > by the way the concept of the so-called “Indo-Pacific” is geographically and logically an oxymoron! As the US maintains a forward military presence in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea; China in turn is responding with a military show of force as was evident recently in the proximity of Taiwan (China). Regarding Russia, its official delegation representatives seem generally to have been somewhat restrained in their interventions on Ukraine-related matters in response to statements from Ukraine and its Western allies, but the discourse remains tense obviously.

Today we attended the session of the III Main Committee and there was a vivid discussion on the need of including the article on assuring nuclear security on Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Do you think such a provision should be included the Committee report or it is a find of politicized proposal?

I think it is important to talk about the security and safety of nuclear installations in areas of armed conflict – presently, for the first time we have military actions in the proximity of nuclear power plants – such as the Chornobyl and Zaporozhye nuclear power plants. There is also the urgency regarding the visit of IAEA inspectors to the ZNPP.  The IAEA inspectors need to be assured of their safety and security.

Chinese delegation also insisted on including the provision concerning contaminated water from Fukushima Nuclear Plant (NPP). Is it justified from your point of view?

The Fukushima NPP is plagued by water leaking into the site downhill from an underground spring that sends water under the damaged NPPs. This water then becomes radioactively contaminated and is collected and stored onsite in huge tanks to prevent it from running into the sea. Japan has an IAEA validated approach to dealing with the contaminated water and to release it into the sea after removing various harmful isotopes. But tritium ends up remaining in the treated water and will dissolve in sea waters if disposed in an orderly and scientific manner. Nonetheless many in the Japanese public and China remain concerned about discharges of treated water into the sea. China wants the review conference to include this matter in its final report, but Japan is firmly opposed.

How do you assess the cooperation between the US and Russia at the Conference?

So far, the exchanges between the US and Russia are pretty civilized and not too confrontational. Many EU and other allied States are making comments critical Russia; hence the US has refrained from taking the floor too much.

How do you think the regime will evolve in the current challenging time?

I think the regime is facing new threats concerning AUKUS and IAEA safeguards application, and also nuclear disarmament and arms control. The New START treaty will expire on 4 Feb 2026, and so if Russia and the US are not even talking to each other that is worrisome. Other challenges relate to emerging technologies, AI and cyber-attacks. The NPT is facing an unprecedented challenge of confidence and relevance.

What is your attitude towards the critics that it is unfair that only five states have a monopoly on nuclear weapons?

Yes, the NPT is a discriminatory treaty with two classes of States — five with nuclear weapons and others without such weapons.

And are France and the UK active at the X NPT RevCon?

France tends to be conservative and defensive on nuclear arms control; it rejects the TPNW and actively defends its nuclear policy. France got more than 70 co-sponsors for a statement on denuclearization by the DPRK. This statement was opposed by China and Russia and some NAM States. The UK tends to show a more progressive attitude, but at this review conference the UK is taking the lead in agreeing to any benchmarks, timelines or accountability regarding implementation of Article VI of the NPT.  Both France and the UK, supportive by the US and EU States have been quite vocal in their opposition to Russia as regards the situation in Ukraine.