ADDRESS TO THE CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT
1 MARCH 2011
Mr President, it’s an honour to be here in this most historic of Chambers.
As Distinguished Delegates would know, of course, this was the last home of the Council of the League of Nations.
Regrettably, we all know the history of the League of Nations. We also know its fate.
The League of Nations, of course, had its own Conference on Disarmament, the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments.
It’s instructive for us all to read the solemn warnings which the Conference in those times was launched.
The then President of that Conference was the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson.
And he said at the first plenary meeting of that Conference for The Reduction and Limitation of Armaments on the 2nd of February 1932 – also happened to be a Tuesday by the way – he said as follows - “I refuse to contemplate even the possibility of failure. For if we fail, no one can foretell the evil consequences which might ensue.”
These remarks were prophetic words. But the final desultory documents of that Conference in 1937 tell an all-too-familiar story – a story of process, a story of disengagement, a story of elusive agreement, and all occurring at the worst possible time.
This Conference on Disarmament, I believe, is at a similar juncture: either it gets down to the business of negotiating with the necessary mandates from capitals, or it too will be washed away by history. That, I believe, is the reality we now confront.
Mr President, the Conference on Disarmament remains the only standing multilateral forum for negotiating disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control agreements. It therefore has an extraordinary mandate.
Australia comes to this Conference with a continuing commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.
And we want to achieve this through collaborative, and balanced and progressive steps.
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, pinpointed the current danger in his speech in April of 2009 in Prague.
The President said: “Today the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of these weapons have not disappeared. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.”
With this speech, the President of the United States marked a re-invigorated approach by the US to bilateral and multilateral processes on non-proliferation and disarmament.
His words were followed by significant action in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1887, as well as the new Russia-US Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
It is part of a global push: a growing momentum to achieve non-proliferation and disarmament.
This momentum was evident in the 2009 entry into force of the Treaty of Pelindaba, which further extends the reach of nuclear weapons free zones in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was also evident at last year’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the 64 point plan that resulted from that Conference.
That plan emphasised the need to apply the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency.
The high level visits to this Conference this week by Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Thailand and the United States – and from the Asia-Pacific alone - our region – show that member and observer states see this Conference as an institution crucial to driving this momentum.
Australia believes that this global push represents and presents us with a unique opportunity: to make our common goal of a world free of nuclear weapons become a reality.
Australia wants to see this Conference working again, negotiating multilateral disarmament treaties. That is why we are here. For no other reason are we here.
I discussed strategies for how we could do this with UN Secretary General Ban and my counterparts last September in New York.
And I say now it’s Carpe Diem: let us seize the day.
Mr President, Australia has been an active and committed member of the Conference on Disarmament, working with others to find the solutions.
We helped accelerate the conclusion of a Chemical Weapons Convention.
We helped ensure that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty was opened for signature.
Right now, Australia is frustrated with the impasse at this Conference.
But we remain active and committed to finding solutions.
Australia has heeded the call by the UN Secretary General for a new thinking at this Conference.
We have just co-hosted, with our close partners Japan, an expert side event to foster technical discussions relevant to the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (the FMCT).
As you know, it was chaired by Ambassador Woolcott, our Ambassador here in Geneva, assisted by Swiss expert Bruno Pellaud, and brought together experts and diplomats from Conference on Disarmament member and observer states.
This was a modest but pragmatic response to the impasse on launching FMCT negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament.
It was not a substitute for those negotiations but rather an opportunity for states to identify and consider key issues that will need to be resolved in the negotiation process when the negotiations begin.
It was an opportunity to converse – and we should not forego or dismiss opportunities to talk substantively.
Australia and Japan plan to host another event in coming weeks to keep the dialogue flowing on the FMCT, so we can further support the work of this Conference.
It is our hope that such meetings will build the confidence and the momentum required to kick-start negotiations.
Mr President, Australia’s commitment to the Conference on Disarmament extends to all of its key issues.
We in Australia are proud of our strong record in promoting global engagement on nuclear disarmament and on non-proliferation.
We consider the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the cornerstone of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.
In 2008 we established the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament with Japan.
We did so to outline a road map for future arms control and non-proliferation efforts.
It was a road map that helped shape the conceptual framework for the negotiations at last year’s NPT review conference.
More recently Australia and Japan partnered with a number of states in a new cross-regional non-proliferation and disarmament initiative.
This initiative takes its mandate from the NPT Review Conference last year and it is explicitly dedicated to the implementation of the Review’s consensus action plan. That is why we are doing it - for no other reason.
Australia supports the provision of negative security assurances. And we would welcome stronger assurances, with fewer caveats from nuclear weapon states.
Australia recognises that space presents shared challenges as well as shared opportunities.
We appreciate that it has come to play a central role in the international economy and in international security. We support a rules-based approach that will protect and benefit all nations.
But for Australia, negotiation of the FMCT is our highest priority. We are unapologetic about this commitment.
We believe stopping the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons is fundamental to nuclear disarmament.
By capping the amount of fissile material available for nuclear weapons, the FMCT provides an essential step towards irreversible nuclear disarmament.
And the FMCT will further tighten the controls on fissile material and complement the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The CTBT impedes development of nuclear weapons by prohibiting testing – the FMCT will impose a quantitative limit on the amount of fissile material available for weapons purposes.
The FMCT is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end – a world free of nuclear weapons.
We can leave no greater legacy than reducing the risk of nuclear weapons for future generations.
Ahead of a conclusion of a treaty, Australia calls on all nuclear weapon states, as well as all states outside the NPT, to preserve or implement a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
Mr President, Australia is not alone on the FMCT.
President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China recently re-iterated their support for the early commencement of FMCT negotiations.
The NPT Review Conference also re-affirmed and I quote - “the urgent necessity of negotiating a non-discriminatory, multilateral, internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
Differences of opinion in the Conference on Disarmament should not prevent us from commencing negotiations.
We say these differences of opinions are the very point of negotiating.
Mr President, Australia believes that there will only be a small window of opportunity to capitalise on the goodwill among countries on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives.
The challenges we face will not be solved quickly nor will they be solved easily. They will not be overcome without the firm commitment of all member states.
But we in Australia are optimistic. And we refuse to succumb to fear. We refuse to succumb to inertia.
Delegates, just over fifty years ago, another US President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in his inaugural address offered some words on this question of fear.
If his words can’t be carved into the stone above the entrance to this Chamber, they should be carved into the minds and hearts of those who are here to fulfil the purpose of this important Conference.
He said - “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Mr President, I thank you for this opportunity to address this Conference.