FRANCE ASSUMES PRESIDENCY OF THE CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT
Conference Holds Thematic Debate on the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons and Concludes Second Part of its 2012 Session
26 June 2012
The Conference on Disarmament today held a thematic discussion on the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament and prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters, with a general focus on the prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.
In his initial address to the Conference as President, Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France said it was a great honour for France to take over the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, and also a great responsibility. The situation in the Conference on Disarmament was difficult. For many Member States, it was becoming less and less acceptable. Although the year was already advanced, the President believed it was his duty to continue the enterprising consultations begun by his predecessors to see if political will for the adoption of a programme of work had emerged since March. He would listen to all proposals and meet with regional group coordinators and the coordinator of observer States. Finally he announced that today’s plenary would be dedicated to a discussion on banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
In the discussion, many speakers said they were in favour of beginning negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the manufacture of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Some speakers underlined that disarmament should be balanced and any treaty to ban fissile material for nuclear weapons must cover all production, present, past and future. Others emphasized that a fissile material treaty was not an end in itself but one of a number of critical steps that needed to be taken on the path towards nuclear disarmament and a world free of those inhuman instruments.
Speaking in today’s plenary discussion were Egypt, Cuba, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Japan, Australia, Pakistan, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, Algeria, Iran and the United States.
Today was the last public plenary of the second part of the 2012 session of the Conference. The next meeting of the Conference on Disarmament will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 31 July 2012. The Council will conclude its 2012 session on 14 September.
Address by the New President of the Conference on Disarmament
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, said it was a great honour for France to take over the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, and also a great responsibility. He thanked his predecessors for the work they had done since the start of the year, work which had allowed the Conference to study two draft programmes of work and to agree on a schedule of activities that could lead to substantive discussions. The situation in the Conference on Disarmament was difficult. For many Member States, it was becoming less and less acceptable. The President noted that in the next meeting the Conference would begin the third and final part of its session for 2012. Although the year was already advanced, he believed it was his duty to continue the enterprising consultations begun by his predecessors to see if political will for the adoption of a programme of work had emerged since March. The President said he would listen to all proposals and meet with regional group coordinators and the coordinator of observer States. Finally he announced that, as provided for in the Calendar of Revised Activities, today’s plenary would be dedicated to a discussion of ‘cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament’ and the ‘prevention of nuclear war, including all matters related thereto, with particular emphasis on banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices’.
Egypt said today’s topic of discussion on fissile material was an issue of crucial importance for Egypt. A treaty on fissile material could not be considered separately from the overall objective of nuclear disarmament, which remained one of Egypt’s highest priorities. Only a few weeks ago in Vienna, Egypt was one of 16 countries that delivered a statement on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any nuclear explosion. The debate on nuclear disarmament was often presented as a choice between a step-by-step approach or a ‘big-bang’ of one overarching and comprehensive treaty, namely a Nuclear Weapons Convention. With a step-by-step approach a Treaty on Fissile Material would be the next logical step, and must clearly ban past and future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. It was essential to include the issue of stocks in any treaty negotiated on fissile material. As current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Egypt fully subscribed to the ‘big-bang approach’ and believed it was necessary to negotiate a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified time frame with a deadline of 2025. During the Egyptian Presidency of the Conference Egypt had presented a draft Programme of Work (CD/1933/Rev.1) that included the establishment of subsidiary bodies to deal with nuclear disarmament and with fissile materials. Establishment of those subsidiary bodies was needed to move efforts along. Egypt renewed its call to the Conference to adopt a balanced and comprehensive programme of work, and strongly believed CD/1933/Rev.1 continued to be the best basis for consensus.
Cuba said it was in favour of beginning negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the manufacture of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Such a treaty would be a positive step forward and must constitute a further step towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. It was essential that such a treaty contained elements on non-proliferation. Cuba was ready to begin negotiations, but political will in the Conference on Disarmament was lacking. Any treaty on fissile material must take into account stocks, have a timeframe, and refer to the use of fissile material. Given the urgent need to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons to international security, Cuba called upon Member States to make every effort to ensure they adopt and implement a comprehensive and balanced programme of work which took into account the real priorities of disarmament.
Germany said it attached great importance to dealing with the essential material required for nuclear weapons that was fissile material in an international treaty. As with the overwhelming majority of States, Germany very much wished that the matter of fissile material had been settled a long time ago. Who knew what beneficial effects such a treaty might have had on the global, and in particular the regional level! Unfortunately it was not to be as a result of ever new road-blocks set up by those who, for whatever reasons, had no interest in bringing the project forward. The issue continued to play a key role in paralyzing the Conference. States who had produced or were still producing fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes carried a particular responsibility in that regard. In the past three years it was only one Member State of the Conference on Disarmament which had opposed and thus blocked the opening of negotiations on fissile material. If those among the other 64 members who want to move forward were seriously determined to move on, they should find pragmatic but goal-orientated ways to do so. Members needed to show their determination to get going in a practical way and not satisfy themselves by leaning back and blaming a spoiler for the persistent impasse. Germany believed that all avenues should be explored to take nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation forward, including having experts work on technical issues when diplomats were stuck. To that end Germany and the Netherlands together organized a meeting of scientific experts in Geneva on 29 and 30 May 2012. The Ambassador presented a report on the meeting, which would be made public. The meeting examined ways of ensuring the principle of irreversibility in a future treaty banning the production of fissile material and addressed related questions.
Netherlands said that a second round of the meeting of scientific experts, which it had jointly hosted with Germany, would be held in Geneva on 28 and 29 August 2012. The second meeting would deal primarily with the topics ‘how to detect secret activities, particularly uranium enrichment’, ‘how a Fissile Material Treaty may be designed’, and ‘the scope of any possible Fissile Material Treaty safeguards particularly with a view to stock’.
Poland said that France bore a special responsibility in global nuclear matters and assured the new President of the Polish delegation’s support. Fissile material was a most important step on the path towards nuclear disarmament. Ceasing production of plutonium and uranium was a vital pillar of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It would also help to improve the atmosphere around the subject of the use of nuclear energy, which was a valid energy source for many countries. Perhaps it was a good opportunity to find a third path in order to meet the needs of each State party. Improvements must be simpler today than they were three decades ago. The rapid start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty must begin in order to save the Conference on Disarmament and re-establish confidence in multilateral diplomacy.
Japan elaborated on two major points that seemed to generate divergent views among Member States. The first was the relationship between a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and a Nuclear Weapons Convention. During the last session an argument was put forward that the Conference should start negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention, since a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty would be part of that convention. In the light of current international circumstances, negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention was neither realistic nor feasible. Rather the steady accumulation of practical and effective measures, realized by an immediate start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, was the way forward. Such an approach was supported by the vast majority of Member States in the Conference. As such, proposals linking a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty to a Nuclear Weapons Convention were not necessarily helpful. The second point was the treatment of stocks: Japan recognized that a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty should at least prohibit the transfer of stocks to a third country, the diversion of stocks for conventional military use and the ‘reversion’ back to nuclear-weapon purposes of stocks declared as excess. Japan considered that reopening the Shannon mandate to include stocks in the scope of a treaty as a precondition for commencement of the negotiations was not productive, and the Conference should start negotiations based on that mandate as it stood.
Australia said when the Conference last addressed the issue of fissile material a few weeks ago, Australia and many other States noted the importance of moratoria on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Production moratoria could not substitute legally binding, irreversible and effectively verifiable commitments through a treaty, but could build confidence. Australia regretted that there were still States yet to indicate that they were not producing fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and it was even more regrettable that the production of such fissile material in some cases actually continued. The conclusion of such a treaty would not be an end in itself but a treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices would be a significant step in irreversible nuclear disarmament and a milestone towards the shared destination of a world without nuclear weapons. After all, the pool could not be drained if the tap was still turned on.
Pakistan recalled that the first round of negotiations on the issue of a treaty banning fissile material for nuclear weapons had already taken place earlier in the session and had revealed differences of view on scope of such a treaty and the issue of stockpiles. But these were key issues if Member States did not want to erect a system of discriminatory non-proliferation. Those differing views did not have a consensual basis to move forward. "Trust is deeply rooted in the experience", the representative of Pakistan said, commenting on the verbal commitments of certain powers by recalling that no viable advanced towards nuclear disarmament had been reached despite the commitments made. Pakistan’s position on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was well-known in the Conference. The disarmament should be balanced and any treaty to ban fissile material for nuclear weapons must cover all production, present, past and future. Any such treaty that would exclude the issue of stockpiles would be discriminatory. Finally, some delegations had expressed frustration at the continued deadlock in the Conference on negotiating fissile material, the delegate noted. He recalled that the Conference was not a single-issue body, and while the deadlock on fissile material remained, other issues could be explored. No delegation had expressed views against starting negotiations on negative security assurances, and so Pakistan would support the immediate establishment of a subsidiary body for that issue.
Canada said a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty remained elusive despite the strong support of almost all Member States. It was prudent and necessary to examine all avenues to bring that treaty into fruition as continued inaction would kill the Conference on Disarmament, and allow it to fade into insignificance. Canada has listened carefully to the words of delegations that stressed a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty was not an end in itself, and agreed with them. The next logical step, but not the only or last step in nuclear disarmament, was such a treaty. The Shannon mandate made it clear that any negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty should address stockpiles. It was only during negotiations that political and sensitive issues could truly be addressed.
United Kingdom said its Government remained committed to its long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and the next step on that long road was negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Many States wanted to include stocks in such a treaty, and the United Kingdom understood that, but the delegate said ‘let’s not put the cart before the horse’. Capping production was the first step. Putting conditions in the mandate only served to limit negotiations, not broaden them. The United Kingdom thought the Shannon mandate had provided what was needed. The United Kingdom took seriously its disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and was keen to move ahead with strengthening it. Ultimately, time had run out. Today was the end of the second session of 2012. At the start of the year the Secretary-General warned that the Conference “would be under the spotlight as never before”. Lamenting the absence of political will or the restraints of the rules of procedure could no longer suffice as explanations for the lack of progress. The General Assembly was seized of the matter and, if the Conference remained deadlocked, was ready to consider other options to move the disarmament agenda forward. The Conference had not heeded that warning, the delegate said, and it now faced an uncertain future. Securing a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty within it would be a core part of restoring the Conference to its central role in disarmament.
South Africa emphasized that a fissile material treaty was not an end in itself but one of a number of critical steps that needed to be taken on the path towards nuclear disarmament and a world free of those inhuman instruments. A few delegations argued that by addressing any issues beyond the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the negotiations and content of a future instrument would be complicated and make it more costly. Beyond reinforcing existing inequalities between the non-nuclear weapon States and the nuclear-weapon States, South Africa was concerned that such an instrument could, in fact, freeze existing inequalities between those possessing fissile material that could be used in the development of nuclear weapons. South Africa did not subscribe to the view promoted by some that a fissile material treaty was the only item ripe for negotiation. South Africa believed that a treaty on fissile material should be non-discriminatory and verifiable, fulfilling both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives. As the first country to have developed and then completely eliminated its nuclear weapons, South Africa was fully aware of the complexities associated with a future treaty and strongly believed that stocks should be addressed by a future treaty for it to be a credible instrument.
Algeria said it was hopeful that the presence of a representative of a nuclear State at the head of the Conference on Disarmament was a sign of hope; hope that the President would find the means to lead the Conference towards a peaceful solution. In response to statements made today Algeria confirmed that it still supported a treaty prohibiting the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. The issue of stocks must necessarily be dealt with in such a treaty. Although each State was entitled to defend their security interests, they should not forget they had a mandate entrusted to them by the international community. That mandate called upon members to cease to defend their security interests once the collective interests of the international community were expressed. They had a responsibility that must be shouldered. Some delegations said it was all or nothing – negotiate the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty or think about other options that may be dealt with outside of the Conference. In that respect Algeria said they should not be too hasty because of their disappointment with the stagnation which had continued for several years. They should avoid advocating compromising solutions. Instead members needed to find viable solutions for nuclear disarmament in the weeks they had left. The proposal of a ‘light programme of work’ should be looked at – simplification of the work programme may lay foundations for fruitful subsequent work.
Iran said the step-by-step approach to reducing nuclear weapons was in no way sufficient to totally eliminate the world of the threat of nuclear weapons. Iran very much supported the commencement of negotiations on a convention that totally prohibited the use of nuclear weapons. Such a convention would be able to tackle the issues surrounding fissile material, including banning all weapons-grade fissile material and destruction of all stock in an irreversible manner within an agreed timeframe. Having heard the views of other States Iran responded that the added value of a Fissile Material Treaty depended upon whether it would comprehensively ban all the production of fissile material – something that was already present in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The scope and definition of the Fissile Material Treaty depended upon the purpose of the treaty, in this instance nuclear disarmament. Therefore it should ban all fissile material necessary for manufacturing nuclear fissile devices. It should also provide for an effective verification system. The Fissile Material Treaty should not hamper the inalienable right of non-nuclear weapons States to use fissile material for peaceful purposes and also for certain military non-explosive purposes, such as fuel for naval propulsion. The best place for negotiation of a Fissile Material Treaty was the Conference on Disarmament. Iran urged all members to adopt the balanced programme of work and agenda.
United States said in the spirit of interactivity it offered replies to colleagues who had taken the floor today. First of all the United States had the pleasure this week to host representatives of United Kingdom, France, Russia and China at a high-level conference in Washington D.C. where they would discuss the continuance of efforts in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. The United States drew attention to its previous carefully-prepared remarks on specific aspects of how a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty could unfold. The United States attached the greatest importance to starting negotiations on such a treaty as soon as possible. The United States remained proud of its nuclear disarmament agenda and accomplishments over the last three decades and continued to move forward with key relevant partners on that.
For use of the information media; not an official record