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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 15, May 1997

US Statement to the CD

'Statement by The Honorable John D. Holum, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency,' United States Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 15 May 1997


"I want to discuss the progress and future of arms control, and the role of this Conference - which I believe will depend heavily on how it handles two key issues that are clearly ripe for resolution. The first, a fissile material cut-off treaty, would take an important step toward a world in which the risks and roles of nuclear weapons are further diminished - and our ultimate aim, their elimination, is brought closer. The second seeks to free the world of anti-personnel landmines. ...

The Conference on Disarmament has the capacity to succeed on both these vital negotiations. The evidence is manifest in its remarkable recent body of fruitful work [the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)]. ...

These treaties define the Conference on Disarmament. This is the body where arms control negotiations, not merely discussions, are conducted. This is where the world's substantive expertise on arms control, not just its polemical vehemence, resides. This is where every perspective...is represented. And as a result, this is where treaties of true global standing are given life...

As President Clinton made clear in his message to you this January, the United States stands ready to help expand this body of achievement. But of course the Conference itself will decide whether it will solidify its tradition of success - or perhaps commence a slide toward the periphery of international affairs.

In short, this is a year of decision for the Conference on Disarmament.

Consider the practical benefits of success on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

...the objective of banning the production of fissile material for any nuclear explosive device is nearly as old as the nuclear age itself. The initiative of such statesmen as Prime Minister Nehru in 1954 and Prime Minister Trudeau in 1978 confirm the historical breadth of support for a global treaty toward that end. ...

But this body - having agreed two springs ago to a negotiating mandate - has found itself unable to proceed because a few delegations have chosen to block consensus even to initiate negotiations. ...

Keep in mind that this is a constraint specifically on the nuclear-weapon States. They will be subject to a universal upper bound on how much fissile material can ever be devoted to nuclear weapons. All their HEU [highly-enriched uranium] and plutonium removed from nuclear weapons and disposed of could never be replaced. All reprocessing or enrichment would be declared and subject to international verification - for nuclear-weapon States and other States alike.

Moreover, this is manifestly arms control as well as non-proliferation. It is hard to imagine how nuclear arms reductions can proceed much further without a dependable limit on...nuclear materials...

And this step is achievable now. For the treaty should be simple and straightforward. It could be accomplished relatively quickly. ...

So the negotiating mandate for the...cut-off presents this body with a clear choice. We can continue to talk about nuclear disarmament in the abstract - or we can get on with it in practice. With every passing week that the Conference avoids this next achievable step...the world must wonder, on what basis would a few States have it declare an end-point for nuclear disarmament years in the future, when it cannot even begin work on cutting off the spigot for more nuclear weapons today? ...

By undertaking and completing this negotiation promptly, this body can make an immediate contribution to nuclear disarmament, and keep faith with the United Nations and the 1995 NPT Review Conference, both of which assigned this work here.

...there is another constituency with whom we must keep faith. They live far from the diplomatic corridors of Geneva or New York. But we must heed their pain...

...anti-personnel landmines, or APL, have catastrophic consequences for civilian populations. They are categorized as conventional weapons, in contrast to weapons of mass destruction that can wipe out whole cities at a time. But anti-personnel landmines are wiping out the equivalent of whole cities, a few people at a time.

We have it in our power to help end this. ...

Strikingly, no government here is on record opposed to starting such work. So why is this body only negotiating about negotiations - when the world demands that we negotiate about mines?

Apart from the paralysing obstacle of linkage to other causes...four main objections are interposed to an anti-personnel landmine negotiation.

First, an APL treaty is alleged to be a humanitarian measure unfit for this body, which negotiations arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament agreement. But is not such a distinction almost entirely artificial? Disarmament measures almost invariably have humanitarian effects. ...

The second objection is that an APL ban may not accommodate the legitimate security concerns of some States. But the CD is a body whose procedures ensure that every serious concern is seriously considered. If a concern is real and garners more than isolated support, it will likely find expression in the Conference's product.

The third bar...relates to the mandate... Any mandate, if unduly specific, would contain something unacceptable to somebody. A draft mandate should remain flexible...so long as the ultimate destination is clear. ...

The fourth objection is that APL negotiations here would be incompatible with the Ottawa process. But simultaneous negotiations in this body and in Ottawa are complementary... One is quick, involving willing countries; the other is broad and deep, involving every country represented here. ...

Complementarity means that Geneva and Ottawa together can save more lives and limbs than either could save alone. ...

Those participating in the Ottawa process do so with out good wishes. ...Ottawa's momentum and success should only inspire and strengthen our own.

Both of these priorities [cut-off and APL ban] are...constrained by another obstacle: the proposition that the Conference...should do nothing else until it starts negotiating the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

I detect an assumption on the part of some here - perhaps even an expectation - that eventually the United States will come around and agree to such negotiations, or at least preparations for them, if only so other important items can proceed. So I want to be very clear. The real obstacle to nuclear disarmament negotiations here is not the willingness of the parties, but the capacity of the forum. It will not work. It will set back disarmament. We cannot and should not agree to it. That is true today. It will be equally true next year, and five years into the future.

Does that mean nuclear disarmament is dead? On the contrary it is striding ahead. ... In Helsinki [in March], Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin brought START II nearer fruition. And they set a vision for the next phase...with cumulative total reductions of 80% from Cold War peaks in START III, and the first agreed limits not only on delivery systems, but on the warheads themselves.

...bringing nuclear disarmament to this Conference unquestionably means halting all progress for the sake of a long argument... does anyone think any of our recent progress, including Helsinki, could pass muster here? Of course it would be blocked, because someone would pronounce it insufficient.

But the strategy of linkage is even more pernicious than that. For it aims not only to bring disarmament here, and thus stall it, but would specifically deny the basis for arms control progress elsewhere.

Real gains in arms control and disarmament depend not on leverage or altruism, but on what is possible at a given moment as a matter of security. ...

So who and what are harmed as paralysis settles in on this body? The future innocent victims of anti-personnel landmines is one answer - mainly in non-aligned countries.

The cause of disarmament is harmed, as tangible steps here...are stymied.

And I suggest that grave damage can be done to the Conference on Disarmament itself... What an irony that would be for those States who have waited years to join... - to miss out on its glory, and only share in its decline, as the real business of arms control seeks out more promising venues.

Of course we can escape such dismal prospects. But not without significant change from where we are today...

Without further delay, let us return to work. Let us negotiate both treaties that are now ready for action - and thus build the intertwined twin legacies of a strong Conference on Disarmament and a safer world."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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