First Week at the Non-Proliferation Prep Com

By Samantha KU     April 28th 

The past week at the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) has been interesting, seeing the diplomatic process and meeting with campaigners from around the world.

While at the Prep Com, several developments were discussed among delegations. First, while many criticized North Korea’s aggressive nuclear postures and continued testing in recent years, they welcomed the new developments on the Korean Peninsula. The meeting between the two heads of North and South Korea occurred between Thursday and Friday during my time at the Prep Com. Delegations expressed tentative hope in the peace process. A second development was with the Iran nuclear deal. Several delegations noted the importance of ensuring the success of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Meanwhile, over the Atlantic, the JCPOA hangs on the precipice. It will be interesting to see how further discussions about the JCPOA will develop in the coming weeks, as well as its immediate impact on the discourse at the Prep Com.

The diplomatic process itself was an interesting study. It was an amazing experience to sit in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations, surrounded by the NGO community and listening to the state delegations. The choice of opening speeches was intriguing as some states chose to relay very standard and useful outlines of their goals and pathways in the NPT. Other states used their speeches in thinly-veiled, or not veiled at all, critiques of others. The early days ended with scathing spats, between the delegations from the United States and Russia, and including interventions from the United Kingdom, Iran, and Syria. Personally, I found the use of rhetoric to be fascinating. The choices of words and the careful yet slippery uses of language was simultaneously frustrating and illuminating.

We also had the chance to speak with both the Ambassador to the UN from the UK and also his counterpart from the US Both meetings were off-the-record, but we can share our reflections in person when Janet and I return from Geneva! There was an interesting dichotomy between these private sessions and the delegates’ speeches in the assembly hall.

A disappointing point of my week came early during the Friday morning session. The UN Chair asked the room for contributions on the progress of disarmament education. After his request for interventions from delegates he repeated the opportunity to any member states who wanted to speak about it After a terse silence of a solid thirty-seconds, the chair slightly awkwardly muttered an “OK” and closed the discussion, before moving on to the next item on the agenda. Sitting as a student from the United States in the negotiations, it was disheartening to see that the 190 or-so state parties to the NPT has nothing to say regarding education. After meeting perceptive, confident, and engaging youth and student delegations from Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and beyond, it was disheartening not to hear discussion by delegations on this critical topic.

It was a contrast to a youth delegation side-event that I had attended at Maison de la Paix on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gave me insight into the role of youth engagement in nuclear disarmament and how crucial is the participation and education of younger generations in the nuclear discourse.

Overall, it was an enlightening week at the Prep Com, starting on a steep learning curve; while my dissertation is on nuclear non-proliferation, the highly technical levels of the Prep Com was new to my understanding of the non-proliferation regime. I do wish I could have stayed for the entire two-week conference! As I head home to Scotland, there will be a lot of work to do to consolidate what I’ve learned at the Prep Com. My last afternoon at the UN was a lovely one – yet another blazingly beautiful day in Geneva. We had our lunch en plein air on a flowering field in the Ariana Park, the Palais des Nations behind us and the sparkling lake and sprawling Alps ahead. It was a lovely ending to an inspiring week.

Before catching my flight home I was able to attend the Abolition 2000 AGM with Janet on Saturday, where another group of disarmament activists were taking advantage of the opportunity of networking that the NPT Prep Com provides. Now I am looking forward to hearing about the second week of developments and future goals of disarmament, for Scotland and the world.

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