Fissile Material Production Cutoff Treaty [FMCT] Excerpts

15 May 1997

Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Thursday, 15 May 1997, at 10 a.m.

Mr. HOLUM (United States of America): It is an honour again to present to this body the views of the United States, and to congratulate you, Sir, for ably discharging your duties as its President. Our delegation pledges its support in the weeks to come.

I want to discuss the progress and future of arms control, and the role of this Conference, which, I believe, will depend heavily on how it handles two key issues that are clearly ripe for its resolution. The first, a fissile material cut-off treaty, would take an important step toward a world in which the risks and roles of nuclear weapons are further diminished, and our ultimate aim, their elimination, is brought closer. The second seeks to free the world of anti-personnel landmines, for as President Clinton stressed again in his message to this body in January, our children "deserve to walk the Earth in safety".

The Conference on Disarmament has the capacity to succeed in both these vital negotiations. The evidence of that is manifest in its remarkable recent body of fruitful work. The Conference reported the Chemical Weapons Convention to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1992. It has now entered into force, with the United States, I'm more than happy to say, among its original parties.

Last year this Conference generated the text of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, extracting all the consensus that was available. The United Nations General Assembly was able to adopt it without change, thus completing a quest long and ardently pursued by some of the international community's greatest leaders.

These treaties define the Conference on Disarmament. This is the body where arms control negotiations, not merely discussions, are conducted. This is where the world's substantive expertise on arms control, not just its polemical vehemence, resides. This is where every perspective, every region, every alignment, every ideology, every interest is represented. And as a result, this is a place where treaties of true global standing are given life, treaties like the Non-Proliferation Treaty, now with 185 members; the Chemical Weapons Convention, with 165 signatories; the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, already with 144 signatories, including 41 of the 44 countries needed for entry into force.

As President Clinton made clear in his message to you this January, the United States stands ready to help expand this body of achievement. But of course the Conference itself will decide whether it will solidify its tradition of success, or perhaps commence a slide toward the periphery of international affairs.

In short, this is a year of decision for the Conference on Disarmament.

Consider the practical benefits of success on a fissile material cut-off treaty. The objective of banning the production of fissile material for any nuclear explosive device is nearly as old as the nuclear age itself. The initiatives of such statesmen as Prime Minister Nehru in 1954 and Prime Minister Trudeau in 1978 confirm the historical breadth of support for a global treaty toward that end. Indeed, for many years it was championed by the Non-Aligned.

In 1993, President Clinton placed the United States squarely on that same side of the issue. Also in 1993, the United Nations adopted a consensus resolution calling for a global, verifiable treaty to cut off the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or any other nuclear explosive device.

But this body, having agreed two springs ago to a negotiating mandate, has found itself unable to proceed because a few delegations have chosen to block consensus even to initiate negotiations.

What, in practical terms, is at stake here? Two truths are dominant. First, fissile material is the modern chokepoint, the critical-path necessity, far scarcer than bomb know-how, in building or enhancing nuclear stockpiles. Without it arsenals can neither be established nor expanded. And second, new fissile material for weapons requires reprocessing or enrichment.

So the issue squarely before this body is whether these processes, in perpetuity, will be used only for reactor fuel, for peaceful research, for medical isotopes and other non-explosive purposes, and never again for nuclear weapons. The issue is whether we can safeguard newly produced material to guarantee that the stocks available for use in weapons will not and cannot grow.

We would codify in a global, binding, verifiable treaty, what has only lately become a practice of the nuclear-weapon States, one that is eminently reversible, one that is predicated on the relatively benign geopolitical security environment that thankfully prevails at this moment.

Keep in mind that this is a constraint specifically on the nuclear-weapon States. They will be subject to a universal upper bound on how much fissile material can ever be devoted to nuclear weapons. All their highly enriched uranium and plutonium removed from nuclear weapons and disposed of could never be replaced. All reprocessing or enrichment would be declared and subject to international verification, for nuclear-weapon States and other States alike.

Moreover, this manifestly is arms control as well as non-proliferation. It is hard to imagine how nuclear arms reductions can proceed much further without a dependable limit on the nuclear materials, without confidence that any clandestine production of fissile material will be detected.

And this step is achievable now. For the treaty should be simple and straightforward. It could be accomplished relatively quickly. And it could even make use of an existing international organization, appropriately adapted, for implementation.

So the negotiating mandate for the fissile material cut-off presents this body with a clear choice. We can continue to talk about nuclear disarmament in the abstract, or we can get on with it in practice. With every passing week that the Conference avoids this next achievable step so plainly before it, the world must wonder, on what basis would a few States have it declare an endpoint for nuclear disarmament years in the future, when it cannot even begin work on cutting off the spigot for more nuclear weapons today?

What we need is simple: a "yes" to prompt commencement of negotiations on the basis of the existing consensus mandate. By undertaking and completing this negotiation promptly, this body can make an immediate contribution to nuclear disarmament, and keep faith with the United Nations General Assembly and the 1995 NPT Review Conference, both of which assigned this work here.


Both of these priorities - the fissile cut-off and the APL ban - are, of course, constrained by another obstacle: the proposition that the Conference on Disarmament should do nothing else until it starts negotiating the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

I detect an assumption on the part of some here, perhaps even an expectation, that eventually the United States will come around and agree to such negotiations, or at least preparations for them, if only so other important items can proceed. So I want to be very clear. The real obstacle to nuclear disarmament negotiations here is not the willingness of the parties, but the capacity of the forum. It will not work. It will set back disarmament. We cannot and should not agree to it. That is true today. It will be equally true next year, and five years in the future.

Does that mean nuclear disarmament is dead? On the contrary, it is striding ahead. START I implementation is under way. In Helsinki, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin brought START II nearer fruition. And they set a vision for the next phase, after START II comes into force, with cumulative total reductions of 80 per cent from cold war peaks in START III, and the first agreed limits not only on delivery systems, but on the warheads themselves.

Clearly, the way to extend nuclear disarmament today is through the same painstaking step-by-step process that has produced such dramatic results in recent years. In contrast, bringing nuclear disarmament to this Conference unquestionably means halting all progress for the sake of a long argument over the ultimate destination, and when we must arrive there. Indeed, does anyone think any of our recent progress, including Helsinki, could pass muster here? Of course it would be blocked, because someone would pronounce it insufficient.

But the strategy of linkage is even more pernicious than that. For it aims not only to bring disarmament here, and thus stall it, but would specifically deny the basis for arms control progress elsewhere.

Real gains in arms control and disarmament depend not on leverage or altruism, but on what is possible at a given moment as a matter of security. Recall that article VI of the NPT specifically places nuclear disarmament in a larger disarmament context, imposing this broader obligation on all States parties. It thus embodies the essential truth that nuclear disarmament cannot occur on demand or in a vacuum, but must be approached in tandem with broader improvements in the international security environment.

The permanent Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, are all just such improvements. The enhanced nuclear safeguards under review right now in Vienna are another, and will contribute immensely more to disarmament than every resolution ever written, and every pronouncement ever made, about how the nuclear-weapon States ought to do more. And cumulatively, all such practical advances explain the progress at Helsinki, and why further steps thought impossible just three years ago are becoming possible now.

A cut-off in production of fissile material for weapons would be another step in precisely the same direction. So countries that refuse fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations here are not only blocking one specific goal; they are undermining the prospects for the very nuclear disarmament they profess so fervently to cherish. Indeed, such an embrace offers strangulation.

So who and what are harmed as paralysis settles in on this body? The future innocent victims of anti-personnel landmines is one answer, mainly, of course, in non-aligned countries. The cause of disarmament is harmed, as tangible steps here, fostering further progress elsewhere, are stymied. And I suggest that grave damage can be done to the Conference on Disarmament itself, as its credibility, standing and effectiveness are sapped by months of inaction, foreshadowing an empty future. What an irony that would be for those States who have waited years to join the Conference on Disarmament only to miss out on its glory and share in its decline, as the real business of arms control seeks out more promising venues.

Of course we can escape such dismal prospects. But not without significant change from where we are today; not without restoration of the practical, methodical, problem-solving, step-by-step methods that have enabled this body's finest hours and greatest achievements.

Without further delay, let us return to work. Let us negotiate both treaties that are now ready for action and thus build the intertwined twin legacies of a strong Conference on Disarmament and a safer world.


Mr. GRYSHCHENKO (Ukraine):

After a few years of intense negotiations on the CTBT, the Conference on Disarmament is facing the difficult task of determining its future course. In spite of the adoption of the CD agenda for 1997, the Conference has become seriously stuck in the deliberations over its work programme. Three major priorities were identified by delegations: a fissile material "cut-off", a complete ban on anti-personnel landmines (APLs) and nuclear disarmament. As far as Ukraine is concerned, we would like to see all three issues in the CD's work programme for this year.

So far, the conclusion of a multilateral agreement banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices remains the demand of the time, in spite of the fact that four nuclear-weapon States have announced the unilateral cessation of such production. In past years, the process of nuclear force reduction have been actively carried out and as a result of the dismantlement of nuclear warheads, the amount of nuclear fissile materials which might be reused for military purposes is steadily growing. The storage sites of these materials are permanent sources of environmental and terrorist threats to all nations of the world.

For this reason, we believe that the scope of the treaty should not be limited only to a ban on their production, but the possible reduction of their stocks should be considered as well. Accordingly, the title of a future agreement might be worded as a convention on the prohibition of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices and the reduction of their existing stockpiles. With such a wording, this item of the work programme of the CD would prove from the very beginning that a forthcoming instrument is intended to be a valuable contribution to nuclear disarmament.

This would undoubtedly increase the number of delegations wishing to start negotiations on this item, thus bring us closer to consensus. The scope of reduction of these materials has to be the centre of future negotiations on this issue. From the Ukrainian point of view the provisions of a future agreement must envisage the declaration of existing plutonium and highly enriched uranium stocks. To assure the universality of declarations, they might not necessarily indicate the purpose of stockpiling.

It would also be useful to establish the time-frames and rates of reduction of excessive stocks for each country concerned. The best solution would be the total elimination or reprocessing of the fissile materials for non-military purposes. The verification procedures of this agreement should be non-discriminatory and based on IAEA safeguards. Its main objective would be to monitor the declared fissile material production facilities for purposes of nuclear weapons or other explosive devices or those capable of such activities. At the same time, the procedures and technical means of verification should be adequate to enable detection of undeclared facilities producing fissile materials for prohibited purposes.

Finally, the future agreement, of unlimited duration, will not enter into force until all nuclear-weapon and "threshold" States ratify it. Therefore, we must obtain their support for early consideration of the "cut-off" issue and secure their constructive cooperation in the course of negotiations on a relevant agreement.


Mrs. KUROKOCHI (Japan):


Against this background of ongoing international efforts in arms control and disarmament, it is somewhat strange that the Conference on Disarmament has not yet begun its substantive work this year. It is important that the Conference agree on a programme of work as soon as possible during this second session. My delegation continues to believe that the Conference should take up the following three tasks, namely, the commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), the establishment of some mechanism on nuclear disarmament, and the setting up of an ad hoc committee on anti-personnel landmines.

The member States of the Conference on Disarmament, with very few exceptions, support the commencement of negotiations on an FMCT based on Ambassador Shannon's report. At the first Preparatory Committee for the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the need for immediate commencement and early conclusion of such negotiations was also reaffirmed. Thus we believe that the linkage between the start of the negotiations on an FMCT and the progress of other issues must be abandoned, and that the Conference should start the FMCT negotiations immediately.

My delegation would like to see both the nuclear-weapon States and G21 delegations take more flexible positions on the issue of nuclear disarmament. We hope that the Conference will agree to appoint a special coordinator on nuclear disarmament, as we proposed at the first session, who would guide our examination of the role the Conference might play in this issue.


Mr. BENJELLOUN-TOUIMI (Morocco) (translated from French):


It would no doubt be possible to continue for weeks on end to debate such important issues as the advisability of negotiating a ban on fissile materials, a phased programme of nuclear disarmament or a ban on anti-personnel landmines. At all events the Moroccan delegation will display the necessary flexibility on these three issues which are of concern to us and will do what it can to contribute to the emergence of a consensus on these issues. However, the real issues surely lie elsewhere. What Conference on Disarmament would we wish to see emerge as we approach the year 2000? What should be the role of this body? What can its new methods of work be? Is its membership truly representative of the world in which we live today? Is its agenda really well adapted to the new international situation following the disappearance of the East-West conflict? These are all issues which I feel require reflection and response. These matters may appear to be simply procedural. In the past they were used to block progress. Yet they are directly linked to the current stalemate. This is why my delegation feels it is urgently necessary for this thinking to begin. Otherwise we run the risk of continuing our discussions within a frozen setting and on the basis of outmoded political divisions, without any real prospects of success.


Mr. MOHER (Canada):

During the first part of our 1997 session, Canada made its views known on the CD agenda and work programme. With that discussion and decision behind us, at least temporarily, we should now move quickly forward. We appreciate that there are different views on the scope and detail of a comprehensive work programme, but three issues have emerged at the top of just about everyone's list: nuclear disarmament, FMCT and landmines.

While the NPT process remains for Canada the primary forum where nuclear disarmament issues are discussed, it is not, nor should it be, the only forum. The CD has unique strengths and capabilities, not the least of which is its ability to discuss and ultimately define and negotiate on issues that should be the subject of multilateral negotiation. In this context, Canada has identified nuclear disarmament as a central issue that the CD must address. We have called for the establishment of a mechanism, an ad hoc committee if you will, for the substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament with a view to identifying if and when one or more specific dimensions thereof should be the subject of negotiation. The CTBT was one such example. We have also said that negotiations already endorsed by this body, i.e. on cut-off, should be immediately pursued on the basis of earlier agreement. We continue to believe that the successful conclusion of the an FMCT would be a positive multilateral contribution to the dynamic pursuit of our nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives. Flexibility in deciding upon mechanisms to pursue this work remains desirable and several approaches could be considered. Moreover, it remains essential to recognize that, while issues in one field are relevant to others, progress on any specific measure should not be conditional on progress in any other.


The meeting rose at 12.10 p.m.