Conference on Disarmament
Statement by Ambassador Peter Woolcott
Australian Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament
and Ambassador for Disarmament
Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Geneva
31 January 2012
As this is my first intervention under your Presidency of the Conference, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, to assure you of Australia’s support and above all, to thank you for the intellectual energy you have brought to your role.
You are right to be asking existential questions at this critical time for the CD and to be encouraging frank discussions about its future. And I believe that you have done us a service through your non-paper and through CD/1929 by encouraging us to look actively for a new approach to the CD’s work.
I have taken careful note of the questions you have raised in paragraph 7 of CD/1929 and would like to offer some perspectives on them.
Australia agrees that the CD’s chronic lack of productivity endangers its credibility and existence and has said so for some time. Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said in this chamber last year that the CD risked being washed away by history.
Options such as putting the CD on stand-by or convening the CD only for a short period may be worthy of consideration, particularly in the final months of this year’s CD session, if nothing changes. Multilateral institutions need to be nurtured, but they must also serve their purpose and reflect the maturity of their membership. Meeting for 24 weeks a year without achieving results serves neither the institution nor its membership, nor its broader constituency.
As for SSOD IV, my understanding is that that ball is already in the General Assembly’s court.
I have also taken very careful note of your observations in paragraphs 3-5 of CD/1929 about FMCT. You have suggested that FMCT has become bound up with the CD; that the CD and FMCT need to be viewed separately; and that the CD must be able to function without and not be hostage to FMCT. It may be that I have misinterpreted your words, but Australia does not see FMCT as a problem whose complexity requires it to be set aside; Australia agrees with 189 Parties to the NPT who in May 2010 reaffirmed FMCT as an “urgent necessity”.
I don’t wish to labour the point, but I do want to be clear from Australia’s perspective. Why FMCT? Because FMCT has the potential to deliver substantial security benefits, furthering the twin goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. By capping the amount of fissile material available for weapons use, FMCT would be an utterly essential step towards irreversible nuclear disarmament. It would also further tighten controls on fissile material. And by imposing a quantitative limit on the amount of fissile material available for weapons use, FMCT would complement CTBT, which impedes development of nuclear weapons by prohibiting testing.
And why the Shannon Mandate? Because it carefully sets out the parameters for the discussion on scope which will need to occur in FMCT negotiations, and because it will allow the widest possible range of actors to come, sit and talk at the negotiation table. Those genuinely interested in a treaty on fissile material, whatever its scope, should reflect carefully if they believe the Shannon Mandate should be altered or overturned.
We could conclude that the CD needed to free itself of FMCT in order to save itself. But of course the same argument would be just as valid and probably more so for the other core issues where prospects for consensus on a negotiated instrument appear no closer and generally farther than for FMCT.
The Parties to the NPT in this place would also need to consider the implications for 2010 NPT Review Conference Action Plan, given that Action 15 calls for immediate commencement for FMCT negotiations. Three months out from the first session of the Preparatory Committee, Australia has no intention of walking away from any elements of the Action Plan, including Actions 6 and 7 which call on the CD respectively to deal with nuclear disarmament and to discuss NSAs substantively and without limitation.
So if we concluded (and I think it would be wrong to do so) that the CD needed to free itself of FMCT in order to save itself, it would then be legitimate to ask the Parties to the NPT in this place, where should FMCT be done? And it would be legitimate to expect a reasoned answer.
The bottom line is that no-one in this place espousing the twin goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has questioned the necessity of controlling fissile material for weapons purposes.
It is to your great credit that you have not been passive, but opened the CD’s 2012 session with blunt messages and probing questions. On important nuclear issues in 2012, Australia does not intend to be passive either. We are open to creative solutions and intend to contribute to them.
I thank you, Mr President.