Two Swords for the Beating

Address by The Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 3 February 1998.


Mr President, distinguished delegates.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Conference on Disarmament.

The fact that this is my second visit in as many years is testimony to the importance my country accords this institution and the contribution it has made to building a more secure world.

In a very real and concrete sense, your task is the biblical one of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks.

This is a noble and important mission, particularly in this period of uncertainty and rapid change: it is vital that we continue to seize the opportunities currently available to put in place the arms control and disarmament norms on which a stable security environment for the 21st century can be built.

I would like today to present an Australian perspective on the way ahead.

I pay tribute to you Mr President - Ambassador Norberg, and through you, your country. Sweden and Australia share many common principles and perspectives in the field of disarmament, and we have worked in productive partnership on many occasions.

The CD is facing a difficult and challenging year, and it is fortunate that someone of your experience and diplomatic skill should be in a position to guide it at the outset.

In my address to you last year, I said that the Conference on Disarmament was at a crossroads.

A year later - a wasted year in many respects - an outside observer might be forgiven for thinking that the CD had pitched its tent at the crossroads, unpacked its bags, and begun to get comfortable.

This is not to denigrate the importance of ideological and philosophical debate in underpinning the practical disarmament work this Conference was established to do.

After two major achievements in quick succession - the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, "whither the CD?" is a valid question for debate.

It is just that the debate - or at least the terms in which the question is posed - has become rather closed and repetitive.
The key to unlocking it is clearly the question of nuclear disarmament.

I can understand and support the sentiments of those who want faster progress towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Australia is as committed as any in this room to the twin, linked goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation enshrined in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The sooner the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) achieves universal adherence and full implementation, the safer the world will be.

But it is necessary to ask ourselves - and, most particularly, yourselves, distinguished delegates to the Conference on Disarmament - what practical, realistic contribution each of us can make to bringing this state of affairs about.

The START process has, when measured against the complexity of the task and the titanic scale of Cold War nuclear arsenals, achieved substantial, real nuclear arms reductions in a very short time.

I very much look forward to Russia's speedy ratification of START II and a formal beginning to negotiations on START III which will further reduce the strategic nuclear warhead stockpiles of both the United States and Russia to some 80 percent below Cold War peaks.

Would it help, as some appear to be proposing, to bring the START process into this chamber and subject it to pre-ordained timetables and negotiation by 60 countries instead of two?

Would that accelerate the business of getting rid of actual nuclear weapons?

I would guess that even the most ardent supporters of this institution - among whom I am happy to count myself - would concede that it would not.

That was also the conclusion of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons whose report I had the honour to present to you last year - a report which, I am pleased to note, continues to be drawn on in the debate on the way forward on nuclear disarmament.

This is not to say, of course, that this Conference and the great majority of the community of nations are to be forever excluded from a process of vital concern to their security.

The post-START III nuclear landscape will open up a range of exciting prospects in which the CD and nations outside the five declared nuclear weapon states - particularly those operating currently unsafeguarded nuclear facilities - will have a vital role to play in drawing down to a nuclear weapon free world, and constructing a verification regime so that we can all be assured it stays that way.

It is moreover in this vital area of verification that the CD, with its expertise born of negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and other instruments, will come consummately into its own.

Nor must we conclude that there is nothing the CD can contribute immediately to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world.
The Canberra Commission, in addition to proposing a number of practical steps to the nuclear weapon 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 "cut-off" treaty, a mandate for which has lain unactioned before you since 1995.

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty

Why is a cut-off treaty worth pursuing at this point in 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 hard-headed, 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 Asia-Pacific 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 recognised 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 cut-off 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 cut-off treaty; but let me emphasise, too, that these arguments suggest compelling reasons why cut-off would likewise advance the interests not only of other non-nuclear-weapon states like ourselves, but of all states, including nuclear-weapon 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 cut-off 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, cut-off 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 build-up of weapons-useable material.
� A cut-off treaty would require the nuclear-weapon 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 nuclear-weapon 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.
� Cut-off would also help to redress the admittedly discriminatory nature of the non-proliferation regime by - for the first time - subjecting nuclear facilities in the nuclear weapon states to obligatory international verification.
- It is worth dwelling on this point: facilities among the most sensitive in the nuclear weapon 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 agreed-to cut-off treaty would be a valuable security and confidence-building 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 non-proliferation and disarmament regime.
- Cut-off 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 agreed-to cut-off 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 cut-off treaty including two basic undertakings:

(1) 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

(2) an agreement by all parties, including nuclear weapon 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 of 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 non-routine inspections would then be established under the 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 cut-off negotiations.
These include the exact nature and scope of the verification regime; the method of paying for that regime; and the entry-into-force 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 recognise 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 cut-off 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 non-proliferation demands that we accommodate this reality in order to make the progress which is realistically possible.
However, once we have all agreed to a cut-off treaty, it is difficult to envisage significant further 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 "non-discriminatory, 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 recognise that a cut-off treaty is an essential step towards nuclear disarmament, and that it is an objective which is worth pursuing in its own right.

Once a cut-off treaty has been achieved, we will be able to consider the next steps towards nuclear disarmament.
Cut-off is achievable in the short term; the only obstacle is that some of us do not, perhaps, recognise its value and do not want it enough to look beyond shorter-term interests.

History tells us that opportunities such as the one which this Conference has before it do not last forever - 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 ten years, nor can we predict the future.

None of us should assume that the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty will continue indefinitely to attract the support of all nuclear-weapon 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.

The 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 Cut-Off Treaty without any further delay.

Anti-Personnel Landmines (APL)

I should now like to turn to another pressing arms control issue, this time in the area of conventional arms - anti-personnel landmines.

I am aware that there are those who challenge the competence of the CD to deal with conventional arms as distinct from weapons of mass destruction.

But I find no basis for this challenge in the documents which inspire your work.

Both the Final Document of the First Special Session of the General Assembly on Disarmament and your own guiding "decalogue" of issues, while according priority to nuclear disarmament, also clearly mandate the CD to address conventional disarmament.

Australia is committed to the achievement of a comprehensive and lasting solution to the global landmines crisis.

The recent signing of the Ottawa landmines ban treaty by more than 120 countries gives us cause for hope.

By signing the treaty, Australia and a significant proportion of the international community have entered into a legally binding commitment forswearing the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

This is an achievement of major international significance.

The Ottawa Treaty is not, however, the end of the battle.

While the campaign to achieve greater adherence to the Ottawa Treaty is important, it is clear that several of the major traditional producers and users of landmines are not in a position, at this stage at least, to sign the Treaty.

The conclusions we draw from this are simple:

. those countries should not become alienated from a cause which has mobilised the energies and commitment of many governments and peoples worldwide;
. the momentum of the pro-ban movement should not be dissipated with the job only part-done;
. the CD should re-affirm its relevance to the contemporary arms control agenda by engaging those outside the Ottawa Treaty on the landmines issue.

In so doing, the CD will be contributing to a lasting solution to the global landmines problem for the long-term.

That the CD has a job to do here and that the world expects it to do it is clear: the overwhelming support given to the resolution in favour of further action on landmines in the CD - adopted without any negative votes at the most recent UN General Assembly - is a clear indication of the will of the international community on this point.

For its part, Australia's continued interest in seeing the CD work on landmines issues is an open and honest attempt to complement the Ottawa Treaty and address remaining elements of the global landmines problem at their source.

Australia's aim is to see a CD Ad Hoc Committee established as soon as possible this year with a clear mandate to negotiate one aspect of a landmines ban.

After extensive consultations, we judge that agreement should be possible to negotiate a ban on transfers of landmines.

A ban on transfers of APL which included major traditional producers of landmines not parties to the Ottawa Treaty would add considerably to a global solution to a global problem.

It would be consistent with and complementary to the Ottawa Treaty by creating a space to allow Ottawa Treaty non-signatories to make their own contribution to solving the landmines problem.

By attracting the support of important victim countries and past user states, the Ottawa Treaty has achieved a great deal.

As we know, however, a good proportion of the landmines currently in the ground, those being laid now and those which, notwithstanding our best efforts, will be laid in the future are the results of the actions of non-state entities.

It is crucial therefore that we attack both the supply and the demand sides of this conundrum - where we cannot persuade political groups to forsake use of APL, we can take measures to diminish the international supply of these weapons.

This is precisely what a transfers ban would do.

It is of course true that a ban on APL transfers, whether in the form of the Ottawa Treaty or embodied in a stand-alone instrument, is not going to remove the problem of indigenous production of landmines, nor is it going to block completely terrorist and other groups determined to use landmines.

But this is not an argument against negotiating such a ban: possession of landmines being so widespread, partial measures by those not willing to abandon them completely - such as a ban on transfers - are still worth having and worth working for as a step towards total elimination.

In this, as in the case of a cut-off treaty, as in all fields of arms control, we should not disdain partial measures, but seize on them, cement them in - use them as building blocks towards a better and a safer world.

A global ban on landmines transfers negotiated in the CD would pass the most fundamental test of all for what the world has sent you here to do: it would save lives.

Other Proposals for CD Negotiations

I am aware that a range of other issues, in addition to cut-off and landmines, have been proposed for CD negotiation or consideration in the coming year.

In all, in your search for ways to break through the impasse which paralysed this institution in 1997, you have some nine or ten issues to choose from, if questions relating to institutional reform are included.

Some of these issues seem to me to be not yet ripe for international negotiation; others are being dealt with - and may be better dealt with - elsewhere.

And while institutional reform and renewal is always important, it is clearly not, of itself, an issue which will restore international confidence in the relevance and viability of the CD.

I began this address with a reference to the biblical passage which enjoins us to beat our swords into plowshares.
Regrettably, not even in antiquity could all the world's swords be converted to peaceful uses at once.

Similarly, now. The CD has an important, finite capacity to fashion arms control agreements which is lying idle.

In the interests of your own credibility, as well as the security of future generations, I urge you to put that capacity to work now on the two swords which are currently most apt for beating: cut-off and landmines.

Chemical and Biological Weapons Non-Proliferation

I should like to conclude, Mr President, by briefly surveying a more productive corner of the Geneva landscape.

We should not forget that, while this forum has been unable to agree on a forward work program, an important arms control treaty is under negotiation.

That is a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention.

A legal norm prohibiting the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons has been in place for some 25 years.

Yet we know, not least from the exhaustive inspections carried out by UNSCOM in Iraq, that this has not prevented some countries from developing BW programs.

This knowledge should motivate all of us to work assiduously to establish an effective verification regime for the BWC.

To date, progress in the negotiations has been slow.

However the move last year to a rolling text was a major positive development and one that should lead to an intensification of the negotiations.

I would encourage all the participants in these negotiations - many of whom are represented here - to demonstrate a commitment to putting in place a stringent verification regime that will ensure that the world is free from the threat of biological warfare.

It should not prove beyond our collective capabilities - particularly as many of the issues with which we are grappling were thoroughly dealt with in the CD negotiations that produced the Chemical Weapons Convention.

We are, finally, approaching the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

In that time, steady and significant progress has been made in putting the Convention into effective operation.

But there are no grounds for complacency, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must continue its efforts to ensure the implementation of all Convention obligations, particularly those which constitute the verification machinery.

For instance, it is imperative, for the credibility of the Convention, that States Parties submit full and complete declarations.
Additionally, while the first nine months of the Convention's life have seen an impressive increase in ratifications and accessions, adherence is far from universal.

I urge those countries which have not yet done so, to ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

I wish the Conference on Disarmament a productive year ahead in 1998.

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