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Possible prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) started on Tuesday 16. May a five days long debate on the possible prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes. This is the Norwegian statement on the issue, made at the opening session by Mr. Kjetil Paulsen, Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to the CD.

Mr. President,

It is encouraging that several nuclear weapon states are prepared to start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes (FMCT).

Their commitment to such a process is of particular importance because it is the nuclear weapon states, those within and those outside the NPT, which will take upon themselves new obligations when an FMCT enters into force.

Nobody else.

Non-nuclear weapon states are legally obliged not to acquire nuclear weapons under the NPT. Consequently, production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes, is already prohibited for the overwhelming majority of States.

Mr. President,

It is equally discouraging that some non-nuclear weapon states seem hesitant to start negotiations on an FMCT unless we simultaneously address a variety of other issues and concerns.

Let me elaborate this point for a second. Given Norway’s non-nuclear weapon status, our specific security concerns and the global threats we, as others, have to face it is in our obvious self interest to support efforts to negotiate new commitments in a considerable number of fields. The order of action is for us not the most fundamental issue. That is why we have supported each and every proposal for a programme of work for the CD introduced in recent years.

But we can not afford to keep the good hostage of the perfect.

Consequently, we advocate immediate FMCT-negotiations and subsequent commencement of consideration of other important issues, as soon as this is politically possible.

But it remains to be seen, however, whether an FMCT is “ripe” to be negotiated. Even if the reluctance among some non-nuclear weapon states can be overcome we still need all the nuclear weapon states around the table, to negotiate in good faith. Several of the nuclear weapon states have declared a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes and we take this as an indication of willingness to negotiate a strong FMCT. We call on the other nuclear weapon states – those inside and those outside the NPT – to clarify their position on the feasibility of negotiating a legally binding FMCT. And would it be an option for the nuclear weapon states to declare, respectively reconfirm, moratoria on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes pending the completion of FMCT-negotiations?

Mr. President,

There is today a global surplus of refined fissile material. Some of it is usable for commercial and civil purposes. Some of it is designated for research. Some of it for submarine fuel and other propulsion systems. Some of it for nuclear weapons. A lot of it is in stock, including weapon grade material in excess of actual application.

The material is located in a large number of countries albeit with large concentrations in a few. We know that terrorists are interested in fissile material both for nuclear explosions and as in-put in radiological weapons. So it is, indeed, a challenge to look even further than an FMCT when we address problems related to fissile material. An FMCT will, evidently, focus on future production of fissile material for nuclear weapon purposes. But existing stocks of weapon grade material should also be addressed in the course of future negotiations. Such stocks are in quantity more than sufficient to convince us that the nuclear threat is real.

It is possible to downblend or convert weapon-grade fissile material into fuel for the global energy market. This is already being done, but a lot remains. This is an issue which should be explored further. Meanwhile, more excess material should be placed under safeguards, as envisaged by the United States, Russia and the IAEA in the Trilateral Initiative.

Mr. President,

Arms control treaties are of the greatest usefulness if they are verifiable. We do know, however, that 100% verification is an impossible notion in relation to virtually any treaty. The objective is to achieve a level of verifiability that will deter cheating.

At this stage wo do not know how much that can be achieved as regards verifiability of future FMCT-provisions. Only negotiations and expert studies can enlighten us on this point.

Some studies have already been made, and they suggest that a reasonable high degree of verifiability is possible, at a financial price that the international community can afford. This is promising, but additional authoritative studies are needed.

With regard to intrusiveness I think everybody would agree that a verification system should not reveal other information than what is relevant to the Treaty. This is not only in the best interest of the States Parties, but is also essential for the purpose of non-proliferation.

Mr. President,

Verification is obviously related to the question of compliance. It was verified that the DPRK did not operate in accordance with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but when the country announced its withdrawal from the Treaty we learnt that it was problematic to deal with non-compliance. The NPT had a loop-hole.

Such loop-holes should be avoided in future arms control treaties, including an FMCT.

Many proposals have been made on how to deal with non-compliance, particularly in relation to the NPT. I will not elaborate on this now. But the issue certainly has a place also on an FMCT agenda.

Mr. President,

In conclusion I will reiterate the role of an FMCT in the overall picture for improving oversight and control with fissile materials of all kinds. We need more proliferation resistant technology in place. We need to safeguard more fissile material using existing arrangements and initiatives, such as the IAEA and the Trilateral Initiative. In this perspective the prohibition of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes is an extremely important and natural first step.    

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