Nuclear disarmament : Response to the sponsors of the "new agenda" initiative

Tuesday, 27 October 1998

Mrs. Bourgois (France) (interpretation from French): I had not intended to speak today, but I feel I must respond to the introduction by the representative of Ireland of the draft resolution on the new agenda for nuclear disarmament. I listened with much interest and even with a degree of sympathy. Many eminent researchers, experts and important non-governmental organizations have wondered what could be done, in addition to the 1995 programme and until the fissile materials cut-off negotiations are launched, to prevent a loss of momentum in the accelerating trend towards disarmament that we have noted in recent years.

I understand, therefore, the reasons behind the draft resolution, but it is perhaps a little too soon or a little too late. Three questions come to mind. First, is the statement concerning the shortcomings of the nuclear disarmament process well founded? Secondly, is the proposed agenda for nuclear disarmament realistic? Thirdly, is the presentation of the draft resolution timely? The reply of my delegation to all three questions is "No".

Have the shortcomings been correctly assessed? I do not think so, because that would mean ignoring both the progress made in the overall reduction of arsenals and the many phases already passed at the multilateral level. With regard to the first, no one can deny the importance of the process engaged in by the United States of America and the Russian Federation. It is true that there remain a number of important stages to be implemented — particularly the ratification of START II and the launching of negotiations on START III, which today seem rather uncertain — but it is precisely because their achievement is crucial that we should not place them in jeopardy by casting doubt on them.

From a unilateral perspective, I listened with interest to the statement made by the representative of the United Kingdom. I think I could make a statement on behalf of France very much along the same lines. I will spare the Committee the details today, but I believe the unilateral efforts made by France over a number of years have been truly significant and require an expensive update every few years, something that cannot be expected of a Government.

Still at the unilateral level, my country’s efforts have, first, brought about a reduction in the number of nuclear weapons. I shall not recall the history of this process, but simply remind members of the decisions announced in 1996 by the President of the French Republic that resulted in the elimination of the land component of our deterrent force and the adjustment to a sufficient level — the lowest possible level — of the naval and air components. It is appropriate to recall at this point also, since the matter is raised in the draft resolution introduced by Ireland, that France does not have tactical nuclear weapons.

Next, because this seems to be a fashionable topic, I wish to recall the efforts made to reduce our alert status at different stages as the international situation developed, beginning in 1992, with further reductions later; very recently the President of the Republic was able to state that French nuclear weapons were no longer targeted.

Another example concerns not arms but fissile materials: the halting in 1992 of plutonium production for weapons and in 1996 of the production of highly enriched uranium. These facts are well known, and it might be said that there is no point in bringing them up once again, since other nuclear Powers have also announced that they have ceased production. The difference — which I would like to emphasize — is that France took the risk of adopting irreversible measures by dismantling its production facilities, a process now under way at Marcoule and Pierrelatte. Those are the facts.

As regards unilateral measures, I do not think this Committee has forgotten any more than I have the name of Mururoa, which is my third example. Today Mururoa, our test site in the Pacific, is closed. From 30 June to 3 July this year the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held in Vienna an international conference on the radiological situation on atolls, at which the outcome of the study conducted since 1996 was examined by the international community. The study concluded that there had been no impact on human health or the environment as a result of radiation from residual radioactive material. I should like to highlight the exceptional nature of our initiative. The installations constructed for testing purposes have been dismantled. The whole dismantling operation at Mururoa and Fangataufa will be concluded this year. France is now the only nuclear Power that no longer has a test site.

In fact, both bilateral and unilateral efforts to reduce arsenals contradict the assertion of shortcomings implicit in the draft resolution. That is also true of multilateral efforts. I hardly need recall the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which France has signed and ratified and which we of course want to see enter into force. We therefore hope that in 1999 it will be possible to review the situation and accelerate ratification by States that have signed but not yet ratified, as well as by States that have not yet joined us in the club of signatories.

Above all, at the multilateral level the international community has just entered into the negotiation of a multilateral instrument essential for both non-proliferation and disarmament, known as the fissile material cut-off treaty. That may be one reason for the draft resolution. Perhaps we do not yet realize, because it is so recent, the impact of this change and the heavy responsibility on us to carry out the negotiations successfully. We are at a new stage, which changes perspectives and explains my country’s doubts about a new agenda, the purpose of the draft resolution, when we have still not exhausted our 1995 agenda. If the allegation of shortcomings is not well founded, neither is the agenda, because it ignores the facts I have set out and mixes all types of situations and approaches. It takes for granted the success of the cut-off negotiations, which have barely started and which require tremendous efforts, both political and technical, to accommodate the various positions. It combines different situations, such as the commitments assumed by the nuclear Powers and the problem of States, whether or not parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), that are nuclear-weapons capable. This new agenda tries to reconcile the so-called abolitionist approach and the gradual approach — which is the only realistic one.

Therefore, the proposed new agenda does not seem to be a practical measure that can be effectively implemented.

My third question was whether this initiative was timely. Once again my delegation’s reply is negative. Why? Because while it is understandable that countries that are not NPT signatories may ignore the agenda established in 1995, it is not to be expected that the Treaty signatories and sponsors of the 1995 decision would gloss over it, or, even worse, implicitly regard it as obsolete, when it is on the way to implementation and the cut-off treaty negotiations have barely begun.

Neither the time chosen nor the suggested procedure — a conference on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament — is right. Bodies already exist for the discussion of these matters. For States parties to the NPT the strengthened review process and the year 2000 Conference will provide the opportunity to assess past achievements, current projects and lessons to be drawn.

For all Member States of the United Nations, a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, which France supports and which it considers should be held in the year 2001, will be the occasion to prepare a new agenda.

Finally, it is normal to want to do better and to move faster. It is tempting to create the impression that this is possible thanks to the drawing up by some of an alternative agenda intended for others. But if the price to be paid is the destruction of an almost universal consensus, that price is too high when success is in doubt.