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U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament at the Opening of the 2024 Session
January 25, 2024

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament at the Opening of the 2024 Session

Thank you, Mr. President

Let me begin by again welcoming India to its role as the first president of the Conference on Disarmament’s 2024 session, I also welcome again our six new colleagues and bid a fond farewell to Ambassador Villegas. We also look forward to working constructively with all the other CD presidents this term, as well as every delegation in this room.

As stated by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins at the UN General Assembly First Committee in October 2023, we can choose “engagement, transparency, and consensus… ,[and] choose a CD that works.” Everyone here knows that last year was difficult, yet I think we can agree we generated some fresh momentum in the CD, even if modest. We would like to build on that momentum and reach consensus on a forward-looking and meaningful Program of Work.

Our efforts must include promoting the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women at all levels of decision-making; their unique and necessary perspectives and exercise of leadership can only strengthen our pursuit of work in this body with renewed vigor. While the discussion of removing gendered terminology in the Rules of Procedure is ongoing, I am confident that that will not stop us from understanding the need for a fully inclusive CD that encompasses all views.

Mr. Chair, the United States believes it is not only possible, but necessary that we raise our level of ambition for the CD. As many delegations commented at the close of the session last year, and again in New York during First Committee, the CD could – and should – be doing more. This body is intended as the venue in which multilateral disarmament is advanced through concrete negotiations. Now is the appropriate moment to reach consensus on a Program of Work that enables this body to fulfill that purpose.

In the recent past, we have found ways to establish subsidiary bodies on all relevant agenda items: (1) the cessation of a nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, (2) prevention of nuclear war, (3) effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, (4) new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons, and (5) prevention of an arms race in outer space. The CD not only can do so again this year, but we can aim higher.

Specifically, the United States would like to see the subsidiary body on cessation of a nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament charged with taking up negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, based on the flexibility contained in the Shannon Mandate. Views on this agenda item are well-understood. This is clear and urgent next step we need to take to advance our common goal of reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear threats. It is past time to overcome the hesitation that has prevented us from beginning negotiations for far too long. Pending those negotiations, we reiterate our call that all states that have not yet done so, declare a moratorium on such production immediately.

In addition, under the “new weapons of mass destruction” subsidiary body, the United States proposes to begin negotiations toward a legally binding agreement to prohibit state use of radiological weapons, based on the resolution so overwhelmingly supported at UNGA only a few months ago. We believe this issue is one that could garner consensus, demonstrate the CD is back at work substantively negotiating, and build momentum for the CD to tackle even tougher topics.

While we view these as the two areas with the greatest potential for forward movement and a concrete contribution to nuclear disarmament objectives that we all share, we also have heard and acknowledge that others have different views. Should a program of work include our priorities, in particular, beginning negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, we are prepared to engage with others on their priorities, such as Negative Security Assurances.

On space, the United States believes that the best way to enhance the security, stability, safety, and sustainability of the domain right now is to focus on addressing dangerous and destabilizing behaviors, including Russia’s anti-satellite activities, that could lead to conflict. We must work to prevent an arms race in outer space by reducing threats – or perceived threats – to space activities. Only a few months ago, the UN General Assembly decided to set up two separate Open-Ended Working Groups to explore norms to reduce threats and, at Russia’s request, to continue to consider potential legally binding measures. We must let them complete their work and defer any negotiations in this body until there is greater consensus around the aims of any such negotiation. The OEWGs represent fully inclusive bodies and respond to the need to acknowledge the global impacts of space activities irrespective of spacefaring capabilities by incorporating the views of all countries affected by, or benefiting from, space activities. To press for negotiations in the CD at this point would preempt the potential to explore the OEWGs’ possible complementarity or convergence by ending the work of those bodies before they’ve had the chance to truly begin.

The United States also welcomes and encourages continued organized discussions, formal or informal, on revitalization of the disarmament machinery and improving the CD’s working methods and processes. We appreciate the work initiated last year in this regard, particularly by France and Germany during their presidencies, and the broad, cross-regional support many States expressed to further explore this topic.

Toward this end, I would be remiss not to highlight that 2024 marks the 10th Anniversary of the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), an initiative of which many in this room are a part. The IPNDV has proven to be one of the most effective initiatives in advancing nuclear disarmament verification and building the capacity that will be needed in the future to effectively verify nuclear disarmament. The Partnership’s work closely complements ongoing discussions to revitalize the disarmament machinery and will play an important role in future work on this issue. There will be a series of events throughout 2024 highlighting the work done to date by the Partnership, as well as looking ahead to define further work to advance international capacity in this important area.

In the U.S. view, we also should strive to ensure the decision we reach on a Program of Work allows subsidiary bodies to continue to work in future years. There is no reason annually to undergo the painful process of reaching consensus on a new Program of Work, especially when the substantive agenda is well known and essentially unchanged. We need more continuity of effort. This suggestion would not require us to decide now on a specific number of years. Instead, we could structure the Program of Work in such a way as to allow us to renew or roll-over the mandates of subsidiary bodies a year from now, either by reconfirming the decision to do so, or by permitting their continuation in the absence of objections. In this way, we would remove some the time pressure placed on subsidiary bodies and instead allow them to build on their work from year to year. We should also seek to lay out the work of any subsidiary bodies in a more flexible manner and set a higher standard for the amount of work they can achieve in the course of a year.

While what I’ve just outlined is no doubt ambitious, the United States believes it is achievable. In fact, I would argue that the current state of the security environment, including the situation in Gaza and the Middle East, requires that we strive to do more.

That does not mean ignoring the fact that we face a number of security challenges, although I will not go into those today. However, Russia is rejecting its own obligations within the arms control and non-proliferation architecture – a structure it helped create – and engaging in escalatory nuclear rhetoric in connection with its war on Ukraine. It has withdrawn its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and purportedly suspended the New START Treaty without a valid legal basis, while rejecting U.S. proposals for bilateral engagement. The PRC continues to deny its nuclear weapons build-up and refuses to engage in basic transparency and risk reduction measures. Serious concerns remain regarding the unprecedented pace of DPRK ballistic missile launches and exports of arms to Russia, and Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance in the context of significantly reduced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency – not to mention its destabilizing actions in the Middle East as mentioned earlier by another delegation.

Many of these challenges also openly threaten the international system – in Russia’s case, the Kremlin is cynically holding not only its relations with the United States but global international security hostage to its war against Ukraine. Russia accepts no responsibility for its actions, instead blaming everyone else for its poor global standing and perceived insecurities. We know that every country present here today has a clear responsibility to advance nuclear risk reduction, and Russia is no exception. It has a responsibility to pursue efforts to reduce global nuclear threats, even as it continues to try to bully the world into abandoning Ukraine.

We also cannot ignore that new and emerging technologies present challenges of their own, which have a direct impact on the way we approach space and cyber security. It makes sense that we, together, discuss the potential security challenges enabled by new technologies and how to effectively manage the uses of such technologies; if done correctly and cooperatively, these technologies can be multipliers of our collective security. It is essential that the CD remains aware of, and responsive to, the broader conversations that are occurring outside this body.

Mr. President,

The challenges we face are real, but so is the responsibility we have to find solutions and to restore this body to action as it was designed. My delegation is committed to working with you, Chair, and all of our colleagues in this room, to actualize the shared objective of establishing, maintaining, and furthering international peace and stability, in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons. We are committed to working with all states who are interested in reducing strategic risks and enhancing global security. Our future depends on it.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.