Fissile Material Production Cutoff Treaty [FMCT] Excerpts

3 February 1998
Original: ENGLISH

Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Tuesday, 3 February 1998, at 10 a.m.
President: Mr. Norberg (Sweden)

Mr. DOWNER (Australia):


The Canberra Commission, in addition to proposing a number of practical steps to the nuclear­weapon States, also identified as a "reinforcing step ... for immediate action" the cessation of the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes, in other words, a "cut­off" treaty, a mandate for which has lain unactioned before you since 1995.

Why is a cut­off treaty worth pursuing at this time?

From our national point of view, Australia long ago decided that our security interests would be best served by not acquiring nuclear weapons.

We made a commitment to this effect through the NPT, and joined similarly minded States in a system of mutual security assurances confirming that they would not seek recourse to nuclear weapons as instruments of political or military policy.

We reached our position on the basis of a hard­headed, pragmatic assessment of our national security interests.

That is, the more nations that possess nuclear weapons, the greater the chance that a future conflict could lead to their use.

If nuclear weapons were to proliferate in the Asia­Pacific region, Australia's strategic environment would be fundamentally altered for the worse.

As things stand, however, our region benefits enormously from the fact that all regional countries have recognized the obvious value of NPT adherence as a means of permanently preventing nuclear proliferation.

A similar pragmatic assessment of our national security interests has led us to the conclusion that a fissile material cut­off treaty is very much in our interest ­ indeed, in the interest of every country.

Let me set out for you why I believe Australian interests would be served by a fissile material cut­off treaty; but let me emphasize, too, that these arguments suggest compelling reasons why cut­off would likewise advance the interests not only of other non­nuclear­weapon States like ourselves, but of all States, including nuclear­weapon States and those States which, in their current security environment, are unwilling to make a commitment to foreclose the option of acquiring nuclear weapons.

A fissile material cut­off treaty would give us all greater security by putting a further nail in the coffin of the nuclear arms race and the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Just as the CTBT is creating a barrier to the qualitative development of nuclear weapons, cut­off will create a barrier to their quantitative development.

It would contribute to the creation of an environment ­ in the words of the Canberra Commission ­ "conducive to the elimination of nuclear weapons".

In stark terms, the process of reducing arsenals can only have meaning if we can be assured that there is no parallel build­up of weapons­usable material.

A cut­off treaty would require the nuclear­weapon States to make good their NPT article VI commitment to pursue negotiations related to the cessation of the nuclear arms race.

Importantly, it would also help the nuclear­weapon States to take further steps towards dismantling their nuclear arsenals by creating greater transparency and confidence about the capabilities as well as the intentions of other countries with fissile material production facilities.

Cut­off would also help to redress the admittedly discriminatory nature of the non­proliferation regime by, for the first time, subjecting nuclear facilities in the nuclear­weapon States to obligatory international verification.

It is worth dwelling on this point: facilities among the most sensitive in the nuclear­weapon States ­ those producing the nuclear material which is the essential building block for any nuclear weapon ­ would at last be subject to international scrutiny.

A universally agreed­to cut­off treaty would be a valuable security and confidence­building measure in regions of tension, such as the Middle East and South Asia, where the security environment is such that some States have not been prepared to join the international nuclear non­proliferation and disarmament regime.

Cut­off would help to ease tensions in these regions and reduce the potential for nuclear arms races, thereby contributing to an enhanced global security environment to the benefit of all States.

A universally agreed­to cut­off treaty would, finally, be a central and indispensable element in any verification regime for a world free of nuclear weapons.

We envisage a fissile material cut­off treaty including two basic undertakings: firstly, an agreement not to produce fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or in any way to assist, encourage or induce others to produce such material for use in nuclear weapons: and secondly, an agreement by all parties, including nuclear­weapon States, to accept international safeguards on all existing and any future facilities capable of producing fissile material that could be used in nuclear weapons.

In effect, this would mean that parties to the treaty would submit to safeguards inspections all enrichment facilities and reprocessing facilities.

Parties to the treaty would commit themselves, within a short period of time after the entry into force of the treaty, to making a declaration listing all the facilities within their jurisdiction capable of producing enriched uranium or separated plutonium.

A system of routine and non­routine inspections would then be established under IAEA to verify these initial declarations and to provide subsequent assurances that these facilities were not being used for purposes proscribed by the treaty.

Obviously, there are a number of difficult technical issues which will need to be addressed in the cut­off negotiations.

These include the exact nature and scope of the verification regime, the method of paying for that regime, and the entry­into­force requirements.

However, the CD has shown in the past that where there is political will, solutions can be found to the most difficult problems, and I have no doubt that all these questions will be resolved.

In a perfect world, it would be desirable to negotiate a single treaty which addressed both future production of fissile material, as well as existing stockpiles.

But, pragmatically, we should recognize that we can only go one step at a time and that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

While a multilateral and effectively verifiable agreement to cease future production of fissile material may be possible now, it is our strong view that the cut­off treaty should not try comprehensively to address existing stocks.

One reason for this is that countries which have produced, or are producing, fissile material for explosive purposes, including those countries which continue to stand outside existing international arrangements, do not currently see it in their security interests to take the additional step of offering greater transparency of their existing stocks of fissile materials.

This is a reality, however much we may wish it to be otherwise, and a genuine commitment to nuclear disarmament and non­proliferation demands that we accommodate this reality in order to make the progress which is realistically possible.

However, once we have all agreed to a cut­off treaty, it is difficult to envisage further significant progress towards nuclear disarmament which does not include, sooner or later, multilateral verification of both fissile material production facilities and fissile material stockpiles.

It is a simple fact that once there is a universal ban on production, we will all want to be confident that ongoing reductions in nuclear arsenals will be permanent.

Australia therefore believes that in taking this first step in constructing, in the words of the mandate you agreed in 1995, a "non­discriminatory, multilateral and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons", we will need to do so in the knowledge that it presupposes a following step which would bring existing stocks under strict and effective international control.

All of us in this place should recognize that a cut­off treaty is an essential step towards nuclear disarmament, and that it is an objective which is worth pursuing in its own right.

Once a cut­off treaty has been achieved, we will be able to consider the next steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Cut­off is achievable in the short term; the only obstacle is that some of us do not, perhaps, recognize its value and do not want it enough to look beyond shorter­term interests.

History tells us that opportunities such as the one which this Conference has before it do not last for ever, and are never served up a second time.

We could not have predicted the changes which have taken place in the world over the last 10 years, nor can we predict the future.

None of us should assume that the proposed fissile material cut­off treaty will continue indefinitely to attract the support of all nuclear­weapon States.

The CD should not allow the proposal to be used as a bargaining chip or, worse still, to be held hostage by States which have managed to avoid making any multilateral commitments to eschew nuclear weapons.

That would be a gamble, and a serious mistake.

The chip, if that is what it has become, needs to be cashed in now, urgently, while it still has currency.

That possibility and the will to proceed exist now, and we should take full advantage of this fact while we can.

I call on the CD to commence negotiations on a fissile material cut­off treaty without any further delay.


Mr. KREID (Austria): Like others, we come to this session of the Conference on Disarmament with an open mind and with a willingness to take a fresh look at the not too fresh items of our agenda. Like others, we are keenly aware of that fact that not all items can be approached in the same manner. They are not comparable in scope or stake. Some need careful and lengthy preparation, others appear suitable to become the subject of early negotiations.

For whole year we have racked our brains and turned around the issues in order to discover some common ground, some hidden angle of concord which would allow us to fill this venerable hall with new vigour and activity. We have failed but we need to keep trying.

It is now becoming quite fashionable to say this is the best club in town. Perhaps. I am ignorant of the amenities of other clubs because this one, in spite of its inactivity, keeps me quite busy. At any rate, it is a highly professional club, full of dedicated people who are aware of their responsibilities and of the expectations of the outside world. This is good. It makes for inventiveness and creative thinking. We are in need of it because a club or, for that matter, any group of people, needs common values and common goals, otherwise it is liable to disintegrate. Are we going to allow this?

Austria's commitment to nuclear disarmament is well known. For Austria it is beyond any doubt that the CD should render its contribution to this crucial issue. While we all agree that nuclear disarmament is a primary and priority preoccupation of the world community, there exist profound divisions in this body on the role the CD should play in this context. These divisions have stymied any progress here in Geneva last year. We cannot afford to reiterate last year's failure. We need to build consensus and I think we can do it.

There is one area, namely the fissile material cut­off treaty (FMCT), which offers good prospects of success. To disdain the chance of achieving a contractual agreement in an area of vital interest to all of us appears unreasonable. More so, it is irresponsible. Advances in international control regimes for fissile material are not to be lightly dismissed. The threat which the large quantities of highly enriched uranium and plutonium pose need not be stressed. A multilateral negotiation of these issues will advance the cause of a non­nuclear culture and bring us closer to our ultimate goal of a nuclear­weapons­free world. We thus call for the immediate re­establishment of an ad hoc committee to commence negotiations on an FMCT based on the 1995 Shannon report (CD/1299) and the mandate contained therein. A draft decision, which we ask the secretariat to circulate as an official CD document, is attached to this statement. In this context we recommend that the Canadian working paper submitted to the CD on 21 January be taken into consideration.

There are many countries represented here which believe that an FMCT alone is not sufficient. Austria is among them. We would like to see the CD open itself up to a more comprehensive approach. We believe that there is scope for a more systematic and thoroughgoing manner to deal with nuclear disarmament in the CD. The primary responsibility in the field of nuclear disarmament remains with the nuclear­weapons States. We appeal to them to pursue their efforts and we encourage them to push on with unilateral, bilateral and plurilateral reduction measures. Yet, we believe there is room for a multilateral forum to keep the nuclear issues under review and to prepare the ground for further clearly circumscribed areas of multilateral negotiation.

We trust that the nuclear­weapons States understand the concerns of the rest of the world. We trust that their governments are pondering the transformations which have taken place on the geopolitical scene and that they are drawing their conclusions as to the security interests of the present and coming generations. We trust that the nuclear­weapons States will not refuse to embark on a common course with the rest of the world. The way this Conference works ­ and here I fully share the view expressed by my Canadian colleague ­ provides ample guarantees that our proceedings will enjoy consensus support. Dealing with nuclear issues at this Conference as a shared but differentiated responsibility could bear fruit in the years to come.

This is why we welcome the South African proposal. It is inspired by an earnest attempt at striking a balance between opposing views. We consider it a promising sign that support has been coming from member States belonging to various groups. To get entrenched in group positions needs to be avoided if we want to preserve an adequate margin of manoeuvre. We also believe that the Belgian statement of 22 January constitutes an important contribution, since it departs from a rigorous analysis of the factual situation.

We are, of course, aware that such proposals do not meet the expectations of everybody but we are firmly convinced that they offer the best chance to proceed to substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues with a view to identifying topics suitable for multilateral negotiation.


Mr. REIMAA (Finland):


As we have stated earlier, Finland places special importance on starting negotiations on the fissile material cut­off treaty. We consider cut­off a valuable step forward in the process of nuclear disarmament and non­proliferation. We hope that the CD will be able to establish an ad hoc committee for these negotiations on the basis of the agreed mandate. We appreciate the ideas on this subject elaborated by Canada and today by Austria.


Mr. BERDENNIKOV (Russian Federation) (translated from Russian):


Many speakers who have preceded me noted that this year we managed to begin the session of the Conference on Disarmament in a smooth and effective manner. The agenda of the Conference was adopted at the opening meeting by consensus, and we would like to pay tribute to you for your able leadership that enabled us to make such a quick start. One cannot but see, however, that on this issue the Conference, like last year, has taken the path of least resistance, adopting an agenda which on the whole does not reflect present­day realities. This view is shared, as we have heard, by many delegations. In our opinion, the language of item 1, entitled "Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament", is obsolete since there is no nuclear arms race any more, but rather a process of active reduction of the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States in accordance with agreements between them and unilateral measures ­ and in a number of important aspects this has been done ahead of schedule. We believe that in the first place the question of the prohibition of the production of fissile material can be addressed under this heading, while a phased ban on anti­personnel mines can be dealt with under item 6, entitled "Comprehensive programme of disarmament".

The Russian delegation supports the earliest possible establishment of an ad hoc committee on the prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices with the mandate contained in the report of the Special Coordinator on this issue, as adopted by consensus by the Conference on Disarmament in 1995. Let me remind you that the question of negotiations on an FMCT enjoys broad support in the international community. Thus, in the document on "Principles and objectives for nuclear non­proliferation and disarmament" adopted by consensus during the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non­Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the States parties to the Treaty on the on­Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons ­ and, as you know, there are more than 180 countries of them ­ expressed themselves in favour of "the immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a non­discriminatory and universally applicable convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, in accordance with the statement of the Special Coordinator of the Conference on Disarmament and the mandate contained therein". We consider this agreement to be an important achievement, and it should not be allowed to be undermined.

We are convinced that the time has come for the realization of an FMCT at the multilateral level as the next step to be taken in the pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts towards the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, and that it should be the subject of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament. It would be a mistake, in this regard, to waste time searching for any other new issues and thus stray away from the implementation of the 1995 consensus concerning an FMCT.

As for the subject area that appeared in our report last year under the sub­heading "Proposals for the 'Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament'", we are convinced that the movement towards the goal of nuclear disarmament should be undertaken step by step, in a consistent manner, without artificial restraint but without excessive haste, without setting goals that cannot be reached at a given stage. No one would deny, I think, that in recent years much has been done in practical terms to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons and place qualitative limitations on them. The START­1 and START­2 treaties have been concluded, and they will reduce the nuclear stockpiles of the two greatest nuclear States substantially­by two thirds from their "cold war" levels. Agreement has been achieved to conduct negotiations between Russia and the United States on a START­3 treaty, after the entry into force of START­2, which will result in even deeper reductions.

We are in favour of other nuclear Powers joining in the efforts aimed at reducing nuclear weapons. In 1994, the President of the Russian Federation, B.N. Yeltsin, introduced an initiative in the United Nations calling on the five nuclear Powers to draw up and conclude a treaty on nuclear security and strategic stability. This proposal remains on the negotiating table. However, some nuclear Powers believe that further reductions in the stockpiles of the two largest nuclear countries should take place before they join the process of negotiations aimed at reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons. This approach will have to be taken into account.

When it comes to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and their prohibition, which remains our ultimate goal, this would seem not to be possible to accomplish without multilateral negotiations. But in order to reach that point much remains to be done. We are sure that everybody understands this well, and therefore there are no suggestions that the CD should start negotiations on nuclear weapon reductions as a substitute for the bilateral process of START negotiations. There is, however, a proposal for negotiations on "a phased programme of nuclear disarmament for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time". We, like many others, do not subscribe to this approach.

As you know, Russia and the United States have agreed that after the entry into force of the START­2 treaty, they will immediately begin negotiations on a START-3 agreement, which will include the establishment by 31 December 2007 of lower aggregate levels of 2,000 to 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads. This, incidentally, was welcomed by the General Assembly in its resolution 52/38 M, which was supported by 161 States with none opposed. It is clear that future negotiations among the Five and the implementation of the five­party agreements concerning the further reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons will require a certain amount of time. It is not possible now to say just how much time that will require, but it is clear that the question of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons can in practical terms emerge only after all these intermediate stages have been passed. The question then arises of whether it is possible to deal now in a serious manner with something that may not become a practical matter before the end of the first decade of the next century. Would it not be better to focus on issues that are ripe for action in the field of nuclear disarmament and non­proliferation, such as an FMCT? In this context we do not believe it timely or useful in terms of the goals of nuclear disarmament to start negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a programme of nuclear disarmament within a time­bound framework, and, like others, we will not be able to support the establishment of an ad hoc committee or working group to conduct such negotiations.

The meeting rose at 11.30 a.m.