Wednesday, 26 April 2000

Mr Hubert de La Fortelle (French Representative to the Conference on Desarmament)

Mr. Chairman,

First of all, allow me to congratulate you on your election as chairman of this Main Committee. My delegation assures you of its full support in your important task. It will spare no effort to contribute, under your leadership, to the success of our work, which is, as you know, of major importance to my country.

Mr. Chairman,

The terms of reference of this committee are to review implementation of the "nuclear disarmament" section of the NPT. This crucial review takes place at a key date in the existence of the treaty, since we are meeting for the first time since the historic conference of 1995.

Five years ago we decided to extend the treaty indefinitely. At the same time we stressed the need for a dynamic and proactive approach to ensuring its full implementation. A strengthened review process was set up to this effect, and it is within this context that this conference is being held.

This approach led first and foremost to the adoption, without a vote, of Decision 2 which establishes an ambitious and pragmatic program with respect to the crucial question of nuclear disarmament. Five years later, it is therefore right and proper that the international community should focus on the record of the States parties on this matter. It is also right and proper that it should call for clear and credible perspectives for the years to come.

Mr. Chairman,


I) Let us first consider progress made to date. I believe that all of us here share the view that important results have been achieved in implementing the program laid out in Decision 2 taken in 1995.

1) France for its part can claim an exemplary record, as testified in the reference work which has been distributed. France has committed itself unequivocally to nuclear disarmament in accordance with the provisions of article VI of the NPT and the decision 2 of 1995. It has fully taken part in the efforts made on the multilateral as well as on the unilateral track.

First, multilateral action.

France's commitment to the CTBT has been total. It proposed, on August 10, 1995, that the Treaty be based on the "zero option", that is on a prohibition of all testing of nuclear weapons or of any nuclear explosion at whatever level. This initiative gave a decisive boost to the negotiations. We signed the CTBT on September 24, 1996 and were, together with the United Kingdom, the first nuclear-weapon State to ratify it, on April 6, 1998. Since then, my country has contributed substantially to CTBTO, particularly with regard to expertise.

Similarly, France advocates the goal of a universal prohibition on production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. It was and remains in the forefront of the endeavour to achieve an immediate, effective and unconditional launch of the "cut-off" negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Then, progress in a unilateral context.

To adapt the format of its nuclear forces to the new strategic environment, France decided to refrain from pursuing the development of several programs and substantially reduced its nuclear arsenal as well as nuclear defense spending. The complete elimination of the surface-to-surface nuclear component and the reduction of the format of the air-borne and sea-based nuclear component (from 5 to 4 nuclear submarines, with allows to maintain if necessary two of them at sea), the resulting limitation of our deterrent capability to two components, and the reduction by more than half of the overall number of delivery vehicles deserve particular mention.

The operational characteristics of our nuclear forces have been adapted. Following the dismantling of the French Albion Plateau surface-to-surface missiles, no component of the French nuclear deterrent force is aimed anymore at designated targets. The alert status of our forces was reduced twice, as anounced june 9th1992 and february 23rd 1996.

Radical and unparalleled measures have been taken with regard to nuclear testing and the production of fissile materials. The Pacific test site, on the one hand, and the enrichment plants at Pierrelatte and reprocessing facilities at Marcoule on the other have been shut down for good. By July 1998, France had completed the dismantling of its nuclear testing center. It was also the first country to decide and carry out the dismantling of its facilities for producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Finally, France has responded to the legitimate security concerns of the non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT, by implementing the relevant provisions of the decision 2 of 1995. Together with other nuclear-weapon States, it has, by Resolution 984 of the Security Council, provided an overall, collective and concrete response. Similarly, to date more than one hundred States have received from France the negative security assurances provided for in the protocols to the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones. Through these protocols, commitments made to all non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT have been renewed by France in the form of legally binding instruments.

Overall, the distance covered by my country in a few years is considerable. This demonstrates France's determination to live up to its obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

Mr. Chairman,

2. I will not discuss in detail the bilateral process between the United States and the Russian Federation which remains the core of the overall nuclear arsenal reduction process. France welcomes the ratification of the START II Treaty by Russia. The implementation of START II will open the way for a continuation of substantial reductions in the two largest nuclear arsenals, including the launching of bilateral START III negotiations, thus contributing to the reduction of nuclear weapons as a whole, which France sees as very important.

France attaches the utmost importance to maintaining strategic stability, of which the ABM treaty is an essential element. It is anxious to avoid any challenges to the treaty liable to bring about a breakdown of strategic equilibrium and to restart the arms race.

3. Some may consider the result of the multilateral efforts disappointing. It is worth remembering that the CTBT was negotiated and finalized on schedule just under a year after the 1995 conference, although it is still far from having entered into force. The negotiations on a "cut-off" treaty is still blocked in Geneva. Should the 2000 NPT Review Conference not provide decisive momentum to this negotiation ? France is convinced that it should. Those who object either fail to sufficiently appreciate the contribution this future treaty can make to both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, or else have substantive objections to what should be our common goal : to move nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation forward.

Mr. Chairman,

B/ We probably do not all share the same view of the distance covered. What may seem to some a considerable achievement in a few short years may seem to others insufficient in light of the challenging goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons. We respect this difference of interpretation. But it is important that within the coming days we should arrive at a common assessment of the key elements of this review, or at least bring our views closer together. Success in this difficult task can only make our discussion of the next steps easier.

We should make no mistake: we will be judged primarily by our ability to sustain the momentum created by the decisions of 1995 in favor of nuclear disarmament and to define a realistic way forward. How should we go about this ?

Some, disappointed by what they consider slow progress, wonder whether the nuclear-weapon States are truly committed to the process. Others are in favor of changing the approach, which they believe could accelerate the process. The uncertainty and instability which the world is currently experiencing, the difficulty in seeing things clearly and the implications of this on disarmament, are probably part of the reason for this thinking.

It is true that the new international context should prompt us to be realistic. However, realism must not be taken to mean marking time, on the contrary. Through its actions France has for its part proved its determination to implement, in good faith, the commitments it has entered into. It will do so in future as it has in the past.

Our common political determination to move forward should prompt us, more than ever, to focus not on temporary effect but on the efficiency and effectiveness of the nuclear disarmament process. My country's deeply-held conviction is that the best way to make progress in this field remains full implementation of Decision 2 of 1995. I had occasion, during the general debate, to discuss its substance and merits. I would therefore like, here, to highlight only the following points:

1. First, as we saw before, the program defined by this fundamental text is far from complete, particularly with respect to its two priority aspects, CTBT and "cut-off". It is therefore in the interest of us all to steer the course and to unremittingly pursue our efforts to obtain entry into force of the CTBT as soon as possible and to launch, without further delay, effective "cut-off" negotiations.

2. This approach is needed because the joint implementation of these two instruments is a prerequisite for moving into a new phase of nuclear disarmament. It is above all highly topical. One of the major challenges to the credibility of the international non-proliferation system and the pursuance of nuclear disarmament is ensuring the universality of its constituent standards ; it is less a matter of moving toward mathematical, absolute universality than of including in our efforts all potential nuclear disarmament protagonists. It is in particular essential that we manage to bring in those countries which, like India, Pakistan and Israel, have chosen to remain outside the NPT. The specific situation of these States, the regional context in which they exist, place important responsibilities on them. It is up to them to demonstrate their commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Only a constructive approach, going beyond the rhetoric of recrimination, will enable us to meet this challenge.

3. Let us bear clearly in mind the goal of overall reduction of nuclear arsenals and general and complete disarmament. I have already said how important my country feels it is that negotiations between the two main protagonists in this process, the United States and the Russian Federation, be pursued and if possible intensified. For its part my country, which has always refused to engage in a nuclear arms race, intends in future to pursue, with determination, the policy of strict sufficiency which it has always followed.

4. Finally, Mr. Chairman, we must be aware of the changing expectations of the international community and public opinion in their calls for more transparency, dialogue and confidence. In fact, greater attention to these expectations will contribute, without a doubt, to the nuclear disarmament process itself. I hope to have shown the scope of the action by my country and its determination to move forward in this field.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.