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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES PREVENTION OF NUCLEAR WAR

8 August 2019

The Conference on Disarmament this morning held a substantive discussion on the issue of prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters.

President of the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Duong Chi Dung of Viet Nam, welcomed the participants in the panel discussion on the prevention of nuclear war.

Omar Zniber, Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that in a nuclear war, there would be no winners. In a multipolar world, the possession of nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction was not a security guarantee - nuclear weapons were the sword of Damocles hanging above the fate of humanity. The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty was a tangible step towards nuclear disarmament, while a legally binding instrument on the prohibition of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices was another factor in preventing nuclear war.

Robbert Jan Gabriëlse, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Ambassador at Large, argued that the issue of fissile material merited specific attention in the Conference on Disarmament in 2020. While awaiting the political will to commence the negotiations, more work on fissile material could be done in the Conference that would build confidence and create more understanding. Once the mandate to start negotiations was agreed, it would hopefully be relatively easy to agree on a way forward as all options would have been elaborated and discussed.

Yann Hwang, Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament, reiterated the importance of negotiating a treaty that would bring about a world free of nuclear weapons and argued that no other legal instrument could replace a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. The Shannon mandate was the starting point for the future treaty because it took into account the difference in views without making their convergence a precondition of negotiation. Nuclear disarmament could not take place without a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which was an essential step in reaching a world free of nuclear weapons.

Wilfred Wan, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, said that his organization strived to systematically and comprehensively address the issue of nuclear risks and produce concrete proposals for States. Because of subjectivity in the perception of nuclear risks, different perceptions of the risk reduction measures existed. Risk reduction was a status quo endeavour that distracted from the greater goal of nuclear disarmament. It could not be pursued without nuclear disarmament in mind since the risk of use existed as long as nuclear weapons did.

Speaking in the discussion were the delegations of the United States, Finland on behalf of the European Union, Canada, Australia, Belarus, Pakistan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, Egypt, and Mexico.

The Conference on Disarmament will next meet at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 August to discuss the working paper “Back to Basics: the programme of work” presented by the Netherlands.

Statements by Panellists

OMAR ZNIBER, Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that since 1945 the nature of military operations had changed dramatically and the existence of future generation had been put in peril due to the accumulation of nuclear weapons and a possibility of their irresponsible use. There would be no winners in a nuclear war, Ambassador Zniber stressed and added that the possession of nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction was not a security guarantee in a multipolar world. Morocco welcomed the recent resumption of talks in Geneva between the United States and Russia and the recent positive contacts between those two States. The international community had a political and moral duty to ensure that nuclear weapons were never again used, which required focusing on the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament must remain the absolute priority of the Conference on Disarmament. Nuclear weapons were the sword of Damocles, hanging above the fate of humanity; the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty could represent a tangible step forward towards pursuing effective measures related to nuclear disarmament, said Ambassador Zniber.

Another factor to preventing nuclear war was a legally binding instrument on the prohibition of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty must be non-discriminatory, multilateral, and globally verifiable and it must contribute to the dual goal of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and ensuring undiminished security for all States. The prevention of an arms race in space would avoid grave danger for international peace and security and new measures must be taken to prevent such a race, an issue that saw much speculation in recent times. A legal regime on the use of outer space must be put in place to prevent the militarization of outer space. In conclusion, Ambassador Zniber stressed his country’s belief that the Conference on Disarmament must mobilize to meet the current international challenges, and for this, adoption of a programme of work was essential, as was the launching of a discussion on broadening its membership.

ROBBERT JAN GABRIËLSE, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Ambassador at Large, recalled that the subsidiary body on agenda item 2 that he had chaired in 2018 had discussed the ban of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and had agreed that such a treaty should be non-discriminatory, multilateral, and internationally and effectively verifiable. The delegations disagreed on the scope of the treaty, with some calling for a complete ban of future production of fissile material, in line with the mandate contained in the Shannon Report, and others arguing that the Shannon Report had left sufficient “constructive ambiguity” as to whether stocks of fissile material were included in the scope or not. Some delegations had insisted that the treaty’s scope should include future as well as past production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The subsidiary body had also discussed the questions of verification and reducing nuclear weapons risks.

Ambassador Gabriëlse argued that the issue of fissile material merited specific attention in the Conference on Disarmament in 2020 and said that, while awaiting the political will to commence negotiations on a treaty, there was more work that could be done to address outstanding questions although such work was a prerequisite to the start of negotiations that, according to many countries, could start today. In the meantime, there were several advantages in doing “more work” on fissile material in the Conference, for example, it would build confidence and create more understanding, and once the issue of the mandate to start negotiations was overcome, it would hopefully be relatively easy to agree on a way forward as all options would have been elaborated and discussed. The subsidiary body was a vehicle and a forum to carry this work in the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Gabriëlse said and stressed that a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices could be a very important step towards a common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

YANN HWANG, Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament, recalled that France was the only nuclear weapons states that had definitively dismantled, in1997, the facilities for the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. In 1996, France had stopped its nuclear tests and had signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. This was an example of a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament that France was promoting, in line with article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. France preserved its nuclear arsenals at the lowest possible level of 300 warheads; it had never participated in an arms race with others and the size of the nuclear arsenal depended on the assessment of the strategic context, stressed Ambassador Hwang. Dismantling the installations for the production of fissile material in a definite and irreversible manner was the best way to stop the production of such materials.

Turning to the pertinence of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, Ambassador Hwang reiterated the importance of negotiating a treaty that would bring about a world free of nuclear weapons and argued that no other legal instrument could replace such a treaty. The challenge was to find a way to limit effectively the qualitative and quantitative development of nuclear arsenal, in complementarity with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. He rejected the misconception of the uselessness of the diplomatic processes on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and underlined that the technical maturity of the issue had progressed considerably in recent years. Another mistaken idea was that the Shannon Mandate, contained in the decision CD/1299 would be an obstacle to launching negotiations on such a treaty; the Shannon mandate was the starting point for the future treaty because it took into account the difference in views without making their convergence a precondition of negotiation. Finally, Ambassador Hwang stressed that nuclear disarmament could not take place without a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty – it was an essential and inevitable step in reaching a world free of nuclear weapons.

WILFRED WAN, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, at the beginning of the presentation, urged the delegation to consider the work of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research on gender and disarmament and then outlined his organization’s contribution to nuclear disarmament, with particular reference to nuclear risk reduction. The risk would exist as long as nuclear weapons existed and it was, therefore, necessary to get rid of those weapons, he said. Furthermore, the risk reduction was seen as a good way to collaborate, Mr. Wan said. There was subjectivity in the perception of nuclear risks and, therefore, different perceptions of the risk reduction measures to be taken in this area. Certainly, the nuclear risk was a global topic but at the same time, the risk took on contextual aspects, for example, to the immediate security environment of each State, explained Mr. Wan.

The work of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research strove to systematically and comprehensively address the issue of risk reduction and to produce concrete proposals for States. Last June, it had published a nuclear risk reduction framework that identified four trajectories: doctrine-related use of nuclear weapons, their use in escalation in the context of a conflict, unauthorized use including by non-state actors or rogue States, and finally, accidental use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear issues did not exist in a vacuum and required the consideration of security circumstances in particular contexts. Mr. Wan stressed that risk reduction was a status quo endeavour that distracted from the greater goal of nuclear disarmament. Risk reduction could not be pursued without nuclear disarmament in mind since the risk of use existed as long as nuclear weapons did.

Other Statements

United States continued to support the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty provided that the negotiations were governed by consensus and all the key States participated. Given the sensitive nature of such negotiations, consensus-based decision-making remained essential to any process. One of the essential steps toward the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons was an end to the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, said the United States and noted that the failure to start negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament was not for want of trying on the part of the United States. The negotiations had not moved forward because of continued opposition from some countries that continue to see the need to increase their stock of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The United States remained committed to maintaining its unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons that had been in effect since the early 1990s. The harsh truth was that Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations would not begin until the remaining key States were prepared to cap their stock of fissile material for nuclear weapons. The United States continued to support negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament based on the Shannon Mandate and although it remained opposed to including existing stockpiles of fissile material in a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, the United States was open to new and creative proposals for a negotiating mandate, as long as such a mandate did not pre-judge the outcome by calling for the inclusion of exiting stocks.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reiterated its longstanding priority in the Conference on Disarmament to immediately commence negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and said that such negotiations were long overdue. Referencing the report of the High Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group and the work conducted in the subsidiary body 2 in 2018 and the Way Ahead Working Group in 2017, the European Union said that two issues were recommended for further expert work: elaborate how the various approaches to verification would work in practice and assess the resource implications associated with the potential treaty elements. The European Union welcomed the commitment of all P5 countries to pursue a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty related technical discussions in the Conference on Disarmament and hoped this would help to sustain the momentum. The European Union also continued to call for an immediate moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices as an important stem facilitating the commencement of negotiations and building confidence, ultimately enhancing global and regional security.

Canada firmly believed that a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty would be an essential tool for combatting horizontal and vertical proliferation by restricting the quantity of fissile materials available for use in new or existing programmes. It would also reduce the risk that terrorists or other non-State actors could acquire those materials. Canada recalled the 2018 report of the High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group which intended to prepare the ground for negotiators by identifying possible elements of a future treaty. This consensus report offered a range of considerations for negotiators for the moment when the Conference on Disarmament embarked on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiating process. Canada recognized important concerns that divided the Conference membership on how those negotiations could be launched and reiterated in this context the importance of the work of subsidiary bodies.

Australia remarked that the Conference on Disarmament had not fully examined the report of the High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group, which had set out various options for treaty elements without prejudice to national positions and so provided useful guidance for the start of the negotiation. The Conference should use this and the report of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts as its tools of the trade. The issue of perennial stocks vs. no stocks was not a binary one, Australia said and added that the Expert Preparatory Group in its report offered functional categories of fissile materials; deepening the conversation on stocks and what was meant by stocks must be a part of the conversation. A cut-off treaty focused on future production would have a significant positive impact on disarmament through measures such as declaration, transparency and confidence-building - all those options were covered in the report.

Belarus said that the Conference on Disarmament was an extremely important platform in which all nuclear weapons players were present and it, therefore, must not be lost. Belarus was ready to support the start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in the Conference, which was the only venue where such negotiations could take place, and also supported the format of subsidiary bodies where experts could meaningfully discuss the elements of a future treaty and find solutions to the existing disagreements. In 2020, all countries should take measures to start in the Conference on Disarmament expert-level work on preventing nuclear war, Belarus said and added that a range of multilateral measures must be taken to remove the risk of nuclear war, including gradual reduction of nuclear arsenals until the complete removal of nuclear weapons as per article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Pakistan reiterated its well-known position on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which should, inter alia, provide equal and undiminished security for all States, contribute to the objective of nuclear disarmament and the objective of non-proliferation, address future and past fissile materials production, be non-discriminatory, and not offer preferential treatment to any State. If negotiated outside the Conference on Disarmament, such a treaty would lack legitimacy. Most States that possessed nuclear weapons had declared a moratorium on the production of fissile materials, but only after amassing huge quantities of such materials, therefore, Pakistan was in favour of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty that also covered the existing stocks.

Negotiating a treaty on the basis of the Shannon Mandate would perpetuate the strategic advantage of States which possessed fissile material stocks, it would skew negotiations and contribute little to global and regional security. The Shannon Mandate had outlived its usefulness and a treaty negotiated on this basis would be detrimental to Pakistan’s security. Pakistan rejected the report presented by the High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group which could not represent a basis for negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. The progress on this instrument could not be achieved by excluding the views of major stakeholders. Pakistan stand ready to join negotiations on a treaty that not only banned future production of fissile materials but also included in its scope past production and present stocks.

Germany recalled that in 2018, the High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group had agreed on a very substantial consensus report which represented a significant contribution to the goal of nuclear disarmament and nuclear arms control. The negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty were being delayed for far too long, Germany said and added that different views should not prevent the start of the negotiations but should be addressed during the negotiations. This included the contentious issue of the scope of the treaty and whether the existing stocks of fissile materials should be included. It was high time for the Conference on Disarmament to start negotiations of a treaty, stressed Germany.

China rejected the accusation by the United States that China had obstructed the start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament and urged the United States not to use subjective judgement to comment on China’s position. Such negotiations must only proceed in the Conference which, due to its membership and rules of procedure, offered a guarantee of universality and effectiveness of the future treaty, while consensus-based work ensured that the security interests of all States were protected. China would never accede to an arms control treaty negotiated without its participation. A moratorium was not a fundamental way to resolve the issue of fissile material, especially as some countries changed their positions and it was hard for the international community to have confidence in their statements.

A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty the basis of the Shannon Mandate was, therefore, the only way forward thus the Conference should start substantive work on this issue and its other agenda items. The delay in the negotiations was due to the changes in the international security and political situation over the past twenty years and their impact on the political will of States to negotiate arms control treaties. The reports by the Expert Preparatory Group and the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts served as an important reference for the future work of the Conference on Disarmament.

United Kingdom had had a moratorium on the production of fissile materials since 1995 and in 1998 had been the first nuclear weapons State to declare the size of its nuclear arsenal; all enrichment and reprocessing had been done under international supervision since. The commitment to begin negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was clear. The United Kingdom had supported the creation of the subsidiary bodies in 2018 as well as initiatives by Canada to deepen the discussions on a treaty and it continued to support the immediate commencement on those negotiations including through the P5 process, which would hold expert discussions on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

Japan said that since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons had become a global objective. Japan strived to advance nuclear disarmament and security of States simultaneously, taking into account both humanitarian and security needs. Japan’s efforts focused on issues such as measures to enhance transparency, strengthening negative security assurance, and reducing nuclear risks, among others. The High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group had given clear answers on how to manage stocks of fissile material. As for the verification, the importance should be given not only to the cost-effectiveness of measures but also to the effectiveness of the verification.

Republic of Korea said that if the Conference on Disarmament was sincere and serious about nuclear disarmament and prevention of nuclear wars, the priority should be given to commencing the negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty as soon as possible. The groundwork had already been laid down, including through the excellent work of the High-Level Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group. The Conference should set up a dedicated subsidiary body on this issue next year and devote its energy and time to negotiating the treaty. The sense of urgency must guide the Conference’s methodology, stressed the Republic of Korea.

United States cautioned Pakistan against making unfounded and aggressive statements about the United States and reminded that it was Pakistan that continued to block the negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. The United States said that moratoria on the production of fissile material were necessary and were an important confidence-building and noted that China was the only nuclear weapons without such moratorium.

India supported the immediate commencement in the Conference on Disarmament of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty on the basis of the mandate contained in the decision CD/1299. India had not stand in the way of the adoption of the CD/1864 which had provided for the establishment of a Working Group on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament in 2009. Since 1993, the position of India on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was clear and consistent and India hoped that the Conference on Disarmament would immediately start the negotiations.

Egypt said that the aspired Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty should fulfil both the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives and stressed that this could not be achieved by excluding the existing stocks of fissile material from the scope of the treaty. Egypt participated in all international efforts on the matter and would continue to work on progressing this issue, including in the Conference on Disarmament, based on a balanced programme of work that accommodated the needs of all Member States.

Mexico supported the immediate start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty on the basis of the Shannon Mandate and stressed that any unilateral effort should not prevent the negotiations on an international instrument. Mexico fully supported the mainstreaming of gender in the work of the Conference on Disarmament and reaffirmed that the elimination of nuclear weapons was the only way forward to preventing nuclear war and achieving a nuclear-free world. A roadmap was thus needed to take measures that would lead to the elimination and prohibition of nuclear tests and the prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices.

Pakistan noted that India had declared its support for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and asked whether it would announce a voluntary moratorium on the production of fissile material.

India said that its position on a moratorium on the production of fissile material was clear: it would be voluntary, reversible, and unverifiable. Therefore, a moratorium could not be a substitute for a legally binding treaty and would rob the world of an incentive to negotiate such a treaty.

Concluding Remarks

OMAR ZNIBER, Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that Morocco was in favour of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and putting an end to a nuclear arms race, and stressed that there was no need to produce and stockpile nuclear weapons. The world should adopt a comprehensive and conviction-based approach, including in the current international situation fraught with threats, to move the goal of nuclear disarmament forward.

ROBBERT JAN GABRIËLSE, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Ambassador at Large, hoped that the important discussion on the question of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty would continue. All the groundwork was in place and the Conference on Disarmament had no excuse but to take it forward as soon as possible.

DUONG CHI DUNG, President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked the panellists and delegations for their insightful contributions to the discussion and said that at the next plenary meeting the Conference would discuss the working paper recently presented by the Netherlands.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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