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Third NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting

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 A Thank You to all those in PND who made it possible for me to travel to New York to attend the Third NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting 4-15 May 2009.

As you will now know from whatever media coverage there has been, the May 4-15 Preparatory Committee (Prepcom) meeting for the NPT was a 'qualified success'.

This meant that:

--An unprecedented air of goodwill pervaded the conference, and an unprecedented strength of committment to the goal of zero nuclear weapons was very clear, even from the nuclear weapons states.

--In formal, proceedural terms, it meant that the conference was able to agree an agenda (no small thing since the previous NPT Review conference got nowhere for five days while the US and one or two others refused to agree to the agenda that the rest of the planet wanted. This time an agenda for the 2010 review Confernce was gavelled through in minutes, to a round of applause.

--The meeting however, failed to agree to a set of recommendations to forward to the 2010 Review Conference. We came awfully close, and the chairman, having halted proceedings once already was urged by many delegates to re-start the process, which he did. In the end, the French, the British, and the NAM disagreed about what was a quite minor point that with a bit of patient negotiation could have been resolved.

The recommendations themselves went through three iterations, and the first iteration contained an explicit comittment to a nuclear weapons convention - the holy grail of NGOs and of most governments also. Subsequent iterations were gradually watered down, though what was left would still on reflection, have been useful. However the fact that they weren't adopted does mean that we start with a clean slate in 2010, which may be better.

My own task in being there was:

1) To hold a panel on the seemingly obscure subject of nuclear weapons operational readsiness which as I keep telling people, 'sounds technical - but it's about the accidental end of the world'.

Nuclear weapons operational readiness is about the fact that some 2000 nuclear weapons, primarily in Russia and the US, are kept permanently on 'hairtrigger alert' or Launch-On -Warning' status, a status in which they can be launched in less than two minutes.

The problem with having launch proceedures that allow for a very quick launch of nuclear missiles is that when a warning or 'missile event' takes place, very quick decisions have to be made. Given the short decision-making times, this means that in an emergency, the presidents of the US or Russia have literally minutes in which to take decisions whose ramifications may be literally apocalyptic. There has been a frightening series of 'near- misses', largely due to computer error or satellites mistaking high clouds over North Dakota for a series of launches.

As a result of work done by Steven Starr, Alyn Ware, Doug Mattern and myself, a resolution went through the General Assembly about this matter last October and in October 2007, sponsored by Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland, now known as the 'de-alerting Group'. In 2008, it passed by 141 votes to 3, and Australia was one of those voting for it.

The De-Alerting group made a formal statement at the prepcom, in which it was pleasing to see telltale phrases from myself and Steve. Ambassador Labbe had relied on the two of us in preparing his presentation.

My task at the prepcom was to hold an 'NGO Side-Panel' on this subject, at which Ambassadors Mackay(NZ) and Streuli(Switzerland) spoke, chaired by Ambassador Labbe (Chile) and with Steven Starr, Geoffrey Forden of MIT, and myself speaking.

As the organiser of the panel it was nice to speak last (the last word) and to be able to thank a whole lot of governments for making positive statements on the issue of operational readiness. The Malaysians even gave a plug for our panel in their main speech. (I seemed to spend a lot of time thanking various ambassadors).

The panel was one of the best attended of the NGO side-panels, with a room full of diplomats and NGO and think - tank type people, mostly in dark suits, with a sprinkling of WILPF people with orange hair.(who gave the panel an excellent writeup in the reaching Critical Will).

2) The other thing that was a new situation for me, was to be there as an official member of the Australian diplomatic team, as an NGO adviser, together with Prof. Tilman Ruff of ICAN. This meant in effect that for two weeks I became, magically, a diplomat, and instead of having a peice of blue plastic round my neck with a brownish 'N' (for NGO) in the corner, I had one with a 'D' in red that entitled me to go through security in places where others couldn't - which turned out to be very important as I developed gout and needed to minimise walking distances!

What that really made possible was:

--Some NGO input into and vetting of, statements made by our diplomats. They didn't always take on board what we said, but we did make what I hope was genuinely constructive input into their deliberations.

--Tilman and I were really a part of the Australian team there, and we really had a closeup view of how our diplomats operate. This is invaluable experience for future meetings at the UN.

The Op Status issue in particular does have quite literally apocalyptic overtones, and we are as close as we have ever been to managing to  persuade President Obama to lower the operational readiness of US nuclear weapon systems. With Kim Jong Il's recent antics this is more important than ever. Without being able to get there we could not do this. Without the $2000 for the ticket paid by PND, this would not have been possible.

I am now making plans for:

--The meeting of First Committee in October2009, where the Operational Readiness resolution will again go through General Assembly, marking an overwhelming global chorus of governments that do not want to be toast.

--The 2010 Review Conference.

Thank you, all.

John Hallam

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2009 20:51