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Amelia BateDigital Communications Manager, London
Judith Gough, Deputy Head of Security Policy Group in the Foreign Office, blogs following the conclusion of the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the UN on Friday.
Multilateralism is exhausting and, if you get it right, exhilarating. I have experienced both feelings over the past week, as we reached the endgame of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. RevCons only happen once every five years (which is probably just as well, given the preparation that is required). They review progress of implementation of the 40 year old Non-Proliferation Treaty and have a mixed record of success. The last RevCon in 2005 ended in failure, with no final agreement.
Despite the renewed international political will following the US/Russian START agreement and the "Obama factor", there was much scepticism over whether 2010 would be the year that would reinvigorate the Treaty, which is the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. For this is multilateralism at its most challenging - technical in substance, with the potential to have up to 189 States in the room, and touching issues of national and international security.
Following four weeks of presentations, hard negotiations, sleep deprivation and frustrations, I am proud to say that the 2010 RevCon ended on a high. The final outcome document saw unprecedented action plans across all three pillars (disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy), plus agreement on steps towards a Zone Free of WMD in the Middle East. The end result is a revitalised Treaty and proof that multilateralism can still work.
In negotiations such as this, the battle rhythm starts slowly, with the reading of national statements and the establishment or renewal of key relationships with other delegations and NGOs in the margins. The speed picks up when the RevCon breaks into its Committees and Subsidiary Bodies to debate the substance of what will be the final outcome document, which must gain consensus if it is to stand with credibility.
We move up a further gear when draft texts are produced by the committee chairs. Instructions are urgently sought from London and tactics are formulated. And in the final week we reach what feels like Warp Factor 9, as a final text is produced and we go through it line by line, nuance by nuance, looking for trade offs and red lines. Simultaneously, we are reaching out to other delegations - both those who may agree with us, and those who certainly won't - with a view to finding common ground. I was party to negotiations that proceeded well into the small hours - not a time of day when I feel at my most consensual!
Much to the bemusement of my long-suffering partner, I have been married to the NPT for the past 18 months. My first role has been to project manage the participation and contribution of the UK, which includes delivering the policy objectives, coordinating with other States, reaching out to civil society and putting together the resources that we needed to make it all happen.
My second role has been to lead the Pillar I (disarmament) team during the negotiations - a team where FCO and MOD colleagues work closely together. This Pillar is perhaps the toughest for the UK as a Nuclear Weapon State. Non Nuclear Weapon States and NGOs rightly (and often robustly) hold us to account against our commitments to disarm under Article VI of the NPT.
Meantime, I have a duty to ensure that any steps in this direction are carefully balanced against the UK's security requirements and arrangements, which, of course, include our nuclear deterrent.
But we are moving in the right direction. The UK has a strong record on nuclear disarmament - and only last week, the Foreign Secretary announced further concrete measures on transparency, along with plans for a review of the UK's declaratory policy.
I joined the Foreign Office some nine years ago after a career in the private sector. Little did I think that I would ever use my business skills in delivering foreign policy, or that I would play a leading role in multilateral negotiations at the UN. I am delighted that I've had the opportunity to do both and that I've had the privilege to be a member of such a talented and professional team, drawn from across government.
The team goes far wider than those of us who have been based in New York - it has been a vast effort, including our valiant and expert team in London and a "virtual team" of posts around the world. I have learnt much. I will shortly be hanging up my multilateralism heels for pastures new (watch this space) and will be very sorry to leave behind an area of foreign policy where slowly, but surely, the international community is collectively making a difference.
Zoe Smith, Desk Officer in the Foreign Office Nuclear Issues team, is next to blog from the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) taking place from 3-28 May at the United Nations.
Having spent the first half of the RevCon as part of the London team, and then joined the New York team for the second half, I have had the unique privilege of being able to see behind the scenes on both sides of the Atlantic.
Daily video-conferences and reporting from New York back to London have been very successful in keeping everyone fully up-to-date with each other’s activities, but neither can transmit fully what is going on at either end. Inevitably the camera has airbrushed away some of the nuances, the close working relationships of individuals at both ends and (thankfully) the darker circles appearing under people’s eyes as the weeks wear on.
In London, the first couple of weeks were a little overshadowed by the UK General Election, with the overnight RevCon read-outs competing with election coverage as priority must-reads for us in the morning. The challenge of dealing with the uncertainties of a hung parliament and an unprecedented coalition Government were felt by all of us, and we could only share the frustration that we sensed in New York at the constraints that this initial uncertainty placed on our ability to play a more active role.
On the other hand, when I arrived in New York I was immediately and completely swept up in the RevCon, with nothing more than a few blocks of window-shopping on the way to the UK Mission in the mornings to distract me. I joined the New York team as they were poised to move into the Committee phase, where negotiations proper would begin (on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy). Having the opportunity to flit between Committees II (non-proliferation) and III (nuclear energy) gave me a good insight into how the atmosphere and dynamics of the two differed, and really helped to contextualise the work I was doing in both.
So although I have found that for gaining a sense of what is really happening on the ground there is no real substitute for actually being in the Committee room, there's plenty that can be shared with teams back in the other capitals. One thing I have noticed that's certainly shared by the whole UK team, whether from London, New York, Geneva, Vienna or Washington, is a high level of ambition and a belief that this RevCon offers a genuine opportunity for success. And what's struck me in New York is that many other delegations seem to share this ambition, and want to work constructively to produce action plans that do more than just reaffirm previous political positions.
Going into the final week of negotiations, there are clearly still a number of issues to be resolved and a number of late nights to be had. On a personal note, the RevCon has been a fantastic introduction to the rollercoaster ride of multilateral diplomacy. My previous exposure to multilateralism was confined to dabbling in Model United Nations, and a trip to the IAEA in Vienna earlier this year. The RevCon has certainly not been disappointing in comparison (the words ‘baptism of fire’ have been mentioned by colleagues more than a couple of times), so I’m looking forward to whatever the next few days will bring!
Bekki Field, Desk Officer in the Foreign Office Nuclear Issues Section, writes the next entry from the team at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Since I arrived at the Foreign Office at the start of the year, it’s been something of a baptism of fire. Preparations for the NPT Review Conference (RevCon) had been in full swing for months and suddenly I was immersed in a fast-moving topic on which I was very much a novice. Such is the way of the Foreign Office!
I am part of the London-based team for the RevCon. Over the last three weeks, it’s been interesting working so closely with colleagues in a different time zone (New York is five hours behind BST). You come in on a morning to find an inbox brimming with information about what happened the previous day, everything needs careful coordination so that there is always out of hours availability, and most importantly of all, you must remember that it probably isn’t wise to call a colleague in New York at 10 o’clock in the morning as they may not appreciate being woken up at 5am after a long day!
It’s amazing just how well it has functioned so far. I think everyone involved would agree that our joined-up approach has influenced the effectiveness of the UK delegation during the negotiations in a very positive way.
This is my first policy job, having previously worked as an Asylum Caseowner for the Home Office in Leeds. Although there are certainly many differences, the most noticeable is how fast-paced the environment I now work in is. Particularly with regard to the RevCon, situations can change on a minute by minute basis. This can make drafting documents quite tricky – sometimes it can feel like we’re “shooting at a moving target”.
The London team has been helping the effort in New York in a number of ways, from providing updates on what is going on domestically to working on draft texts that emerge from the negotiations, keeping colleagues both in the FCO and other government departments informed, to liaising with colleagues at key Posts across the world. And of course, we’ve been generally holding fort. Unfortunately a month-long international conference does not mean the usual briefing requests and phone calls go away.
So what stage is the Review Conference at now? In all three of the Main Committees that cover each of the three pillars of the NPT (disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses), debate continues on the draft texts, which will eventually make up one final document. Clear positions have emerged, and diplomacy has come to the fore. As a final document is agreed by consensus, states must begin to compromise with one another regarding what they will agree to and what they will get as a result.
Meanwhile, I am working behind the scenes, gathering information on states’ positions and charting how the Conference develops, so that after the dust has settled in June (and we have all come back from a well-earned holiday), we can analyse how best to move forward. The RevCon is one stage in an ongoing effort to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons and cut their numbers worldwide. How we move forwards afterwards will be just as important.
James Mortimer, Desk Officer in the Foreign Office Security Policy team, writes the next entry from the team at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
It’s amazing the NPT Review Conference is actually here and in full swing. My team has been preparing for this for almost two years. I’m lucky enough to be one of the members of the London team to come out to New York. The UK negotiating team is made up of a mix of people, some from the FCO in London, some from our arms control delegation in Geneva, others from Washington and Vienna and some from the Ministry of Defence and Department of Energy & Climate Change.
This is my second foray into multilateral diplomacy of this type. Two years ago I came to New York for four months with five other colleagues to reinforce the UK Mission to the UN for the duration of the UN General Assembly. This came directly after a year long posting in Afghanistan - I think Helmand to Manhattan is one of the biggest culture shocks a career in the FCO can offer! Last time I was here, I was working on the comparatively uncontroversial area of development. One of the interesting things this time round has been to experience the very different, more fractious atmosphere of nuclear arms control negotiations.
So what actually happens in these big, month-long, international conferences? What do we do on a day to day basis? These sorts of conferences are a strange combination of the routine and the fast-paced - from sitting through three hour long meetings of endless, sometimes repetitive national statements (see here for some examples) just in case something new or controversial is slipped in, to down-to-the-wire negotiation that involves backroom deals, political horse-trading and (metaphorically) running back and forth to London to ensure that the team in New York has the most up-to-date mandate to negotiate with.
The last two weeks have involved much of the former, with lots of national statements and political posturing - although day one was unexpectedly exciting with appearances from both Hillary Clinton and President Ahmadinejad of Iran – it’s not often you get to see those two in the same day!
But things are about to change. At the end of last week the committee chairs issued the draft documents that will eventually form the final document of the Conference. This final document, if agreed (which is by no means certain), will give structure and direction to the NPT for the next five years. Our job is to make sure that the document doesn’t say anything that will be detrimental to the UK and that it promotes, as far as possible, UK policy. We also need to make sure the paper is acceptable to everyone - the document will only be agreed if all 189 states sign up to it – producing a paper everyone can agree on is no mean feat!.
So for the next two weeks the team will be furiously negotiating over the texts: “we’ll accept your language on this, if you accept our language on that” and so on. Some of this will go on in the big UN conference rooms that you sometimes see on the TV with all of parties to the Treaty present. Other parts will take place in meetings of smaller groups of states (such as the EU and the group of five recognised nuclear weapons states, the P5).
But a lot of the action goes on in the corridors, lounges and coffee bars of the UN building. Sitting down over a coffee with your opposite number from a friendly, or not so friendly, country can be a far more effective way of understanding where that country is coming from, getting them to understand the UK’s position, and finding areas of consensus to build on, than grandstanding national positions across the conference hall. On a personal level it is much more rewarding too. Being an effective diplomat is often about talking to and with people people, rather than talking at them.