Ambassador Robert Wood’s CD Remarks on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty

Archive photo.

Statement by the United States to the Conference on Disarmament

US Ambassador to the CD Robert Wood
Ambassador Robert Wood (Archive photo)

Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty
Delivered by Ambassador Robert Wood,
U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament
Geneva, August 8, 2019

Mr. Chairman,

This is not the first time I’ve spoken on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) issues since the United States completed its review of the proposed FMCT in spring of 2018. Let me recall that this review concluded that the United States continues to support the commencement of negotiations on an FMCT provided that the negotiations are governed by consensus and all the key states participate.  The Conference on Disarmament meets these criteria.  In fact, one of the primary reasons the CD has been able to achieve success in the past is precisely because it is a forum that operates under these conditions.  This ensures that all states can protect vital national security equities during negotiations.  Given the sensitive nature of FMCT negotiations, consensus-based decision-making remains essential to any process.  Could these conditions be replicated elsewhere?  Perhaps.  After all, the tremendous reductions in nuclear weapons we’ve accomplished over decades were the result of treaties negotiated outside the CD.  But it’s fair to assume that such a path for an FMCT would mean far fewer states at the negotiating table.

Mr. Chairman,

One of the essential steps toward the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons is an end to the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, which is the principal objective of an FMCT.  Negotiating an FMCT also remains a key component of the global nonproliferation and disarmament agenda.  For those reasons, it is more than disappointing that the CD has been unable to begin this much-needed step for so many years.  This failure to start FMCT negotiations is not for want of trying on our part.  The United States has joined an almost global chorus in calling for the early commencement of FMCT negotiations.  A number of countries have put forward creative solutions to break the now two-decade-long stalemate on beginning such negotiations, including the United States. CD Presidents have also proposed draft Programs of Work that included a mandate for FMCT negotiations.  In addition, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) established a Group of Government Experts (GGE) on an FMCT, followed by an UNGA High Level FMCT experts Preparatory Group.   Useful, if not conclusive, discussions in those groups laid important groundwork for FMCT negotiations.  We also welcomed the focus on an FMCT here at the CD last year in the subsidiary body chaired by Ambassador Gabrielse of the Netherlands, as well as in P5 statement issued during the 2018 UN First Committee meeting in New York, reaffirming our support for negotiating an FMCT “in a framework acceptable to all.”  In spite of these efforts, however, FMCT negotiations in the CD have not moved forward because of continuedopposition from some countries.  This lack of progresson FMCT cannot be attributed to some inherent failing by the Conference on Disarmament.  Indeed, it reflects differences in substance.  A select few countries continue to see the need to increase their stocks of fissile material for nuclear weapons, or at least maintain the option to do so in the future, even as they express support for negotiations.  Some colleagues may remember that when I spoke to this issue in this chamber last year, I pointed to actions in formally blocking CD negotiations by China and Pakistan, either together or individually, in 1999, 2007, and 2009.

Mr. Chairman,

One of the essential steps required for making progress on an FMCT and nuclear disarmament more generally is a moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.  While most states possessing nuclear weapons claim to support the immediate commencement of FMCT negotiations, this support should be manifested not just with words or statements, but in an outward and visible way.  A moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices is one such concrete demonstration of commitment. For its part, the United States remains committed to maintaining its unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons that has been in effect since the early 1990s. The United Kingdom, France, and Russia currently have similar moratoria in place.  As an interim measure to advance the purpose of an FMCT pending negotiation of the Treaty, the United States reiterates its calls on all states that have not yet done so to declare a moratorium on such production immediately.  Such a step is an example of the type of “effective measure” – within the meaning of Article VI of the NPT – that would help create an environment that is conducive to future nuclear disarmament.  The harsh truth is that FMCT negotiations will not begin until the remaining key states are prepared to cap their stocks of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Mr. Chairman,

When we finally start FMCT negotiations, we will not be starting negotiations against a blank slate. Significant progress has already been made in addressing existing stocks absent an FMCT.  These include the steps taken by the United States starting in the mid-1990s to remove 374 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 61.5 metric tons of plutonium from use in nuclear weapons.  In addition, we have downblended more than 162 metric tons of HEU to LEU for civilian use.  These are but a few of the tangible steps we have already taken to reduce the amount of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and none of that progress would have been possible if we had insisted in linking such steps to negotiation of an FMCT.

How would FMCT negotiations proceed, in our view?  The United States continues to support negotiations in the CD on the basis of the Shannon Mandate, which we see as providing the point of departure for what can be discussed in negotiations.  The principal purpose of an FMCT as it has been understood over the years is first and foremost to prohibit the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons in order to cap current stockpiles.  This outcome alone would be an extremely significant contribution to strengthening our nonproliferation efforts.  It would also help improve the security environment in ways more conducive to further steps on nuclear disarmament.  At the same time, while the United States remains opposed to including existing stockpiles of fissile material in an FMCT, we are open to new and creative proposals for a negotiating mandate, as long as that mandate does not pre-judge the outcome by calling for the inclusion of existing stocks.

Mr. Chairman,

The fact that FMCT negotiations have been in limbo for more than two decades is ample proof that FMCT negotiations and nuclear disarmament are an integral part of the broader – and regrettably deteriorating — international security environment, not separate from it.  A modest step in addressing this environment – and setting the stage for successful FMCT negotiations – would be a demonstration of commitment to end to the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.  To that end, I reiterate our call on all those who have not declared and maintained a moratorium on such production to take that step now.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.