Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Conference on Disarmament

Statement by HE Mr Peter Woolcott
Australian Permanent Representative

19 August 2014

This will be my last time in this historic chamber. Much important work has been done here – but regrettably not for a long time now.

I have been here for four and half years. I have been struck by the irony of sitting among Jose Maria Sert’s extraordinary gold and sepia murals depicting the progress of mankind while we have failed to even adopt a programme of work.

But that said, it has been a privilege to have worked with a group of Ambassadors and delegates marked by their integrity and intelligence. Who despite their often deep differences over issues that go to fundamental concepts of their nation’s security are still able to work in a collegial way.

These personal relationships have gone well beyond these bronze doors and encompassed the NPT cycle, 1st Committee in New York, Biological Weapons and a myriad of activities involving conventional weapons.

I came to this place shortly after the blocking of CD 1864 and we have spent years pulling and turning and twisting the very words of that resolution to try and find a way to make it fit into the political realities that confront this body.

And we have still not succeeded in finding that consensus.

It is not for a lack of effort by any of us here. In Australia’s case we have always been unabashed in giving priority to the negotiation of a Fissile material Cut-off Treaty. Quite simply we see an FMCT as the book end to the CTBT - which of course was and continues to be another Australian priority.

Australians are a pragmatic people and in this context generally believe that sweeping visions of nuclear disarmament are no substitute for the hard grinding work necessary to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

For Australia the debate over whether FMCT is a disarmament or a non-proliferation measure strikes us as a bit like the old theological debate about how many angels you can fit on the head of a pin. What difference does it make?

The basic point is that fissile material is the raw material for nuclear weapons. And stopping the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes is fundamental to nuclear arms control.

We cannot arrive at a world free of nuclear weapons without having negotiated the control of fissile material. There is no getting around this and there is no short cut.

What is not straight forward and in fact is highly complex is how we get there. So we have toiled away on this.

In 2010, we co-hosted, with our close partners Japan, an experts' side event to foster intensive technical discussions relevant to the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). While Ambassador Suda of Japan and I chaired these discussions, we were ably assisted by Swiss expert Dr Bruno Pelleud, and brought together experts and diplomats from CD member and observer states. This initiative was then followed by substantial events exploring aspects of an FMCT hosted by our German and Dutch colleagues. These side events were aimed at building momentum to commencing FMCT negotiations, and to delving into the complexity of the issues that will need to be negotiated.

We were then also pleased to work closely with Canada, who took the lead in establishing the FMCT Group of Governmental Experts, which is meeting as I speak. I was delighted to have contributed a little as the Australian expert to what have been interesting and solid discussions in the GGE and wish the Group well in its important deliberations.

We will need to think carefully about what follows on from the conclusion of the FMCT GGE next year.

I have always thought that the States who possess nuclear weapons are ultimately the ones who need to show leadership on this issue. It would be a giant step forward and a demonstration of their commitment to an eventual nuclear free world if the P5 provided this leadership and drove this issue.

Mr President

Let me turn now to the 2015 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. I know a number of States here in this Chamber are not Parties to the NPT and I do not want to re-visit questions of universalisation at this time.

But what we can all agree on is that the continuing strength of the NPT and what happens in 2015 has major implications for our work.

The NPT is the global treaty level commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and its normative force remains the crucial underpinning for what we are seeking to do.

Less than four years ago 189 States agreed by consensus on an elaborate action plan which covered nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

For the overwhelming majority of us our efforts at this point should be focussed on this action plan and to be thinking about the desired landing zone in a realistic and constructive way. We should want the 2015 Review Conference to provide us with a solid outcome.

Australia and fellow-members of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) have been working in advance of the NPT PrepCom, on proposing practical steps that can contribute to greater nuclear transparency, further reductions in arsenals, and greater security of nuclear weapons and material.

We need to be thinking about our frame of mind for 2015. And we will need to be careful in 2015 about how we judge what constitutes success or relative success or provisional success in the implementation of the Action Plan – both its constituent parts and as a whole. And we will need to be realistic about what can be achieved by 2015, including how quickly there is movement on pillar I. Transparency by the nuclear-weapons States will be important for managing expectations. And collectively they continue to fall down in this regard.

We also need to focus on the future with genuinely creative ideas. But of course, there will need to be a balance between developing new ideas and implementing the Action Plan. It is important to remember that the Action Plan built on the 1995 and 2000 outcomes; our further thinking should attempt to build on the Action Plan.

Finally, looking far beyond 2015, we need to be giving active consideration to how we manage what might be termed the near-end-game challenges of a world where the United States and Russia have achieved much deeper cuts to their arsenals. How to draw in all five nuclear-weapon States and the other nuclear-weapon possessors into an organised and productive process, while building and maintaining their confidence in stability - will present huge strategic challenges.

The political dynamics outside this chamber, and predominantly in countries most attached to the workings of the CD, need to shift in a way that will allow the CD to resume its proper negotiating role.

We have recently seen how this frustration has fuelled the growing global discourse on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and support in some quarters for a near-term nuclear weapons ban treaty.

It is the concern over the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and a desire for a peaceful future for our children that underpin all that we do on disarmament and non-proliferation.

The discourse over the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons serves a crucial role in energising the debate and in putting pressure on all states possessing nuclear weapons to move down the path of disarmament.

It serves to educate a new generation, who never knew the cold war nor the palpable fear of a nuclear conflict and its catastrophic consequences. And we need this generation to engage fully in the push to obtain a world without nuclear weapons.

This renewed emphasis on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons can play a vital role in spurring us all to take greater steps towards disarmament and ensuring that they do not proliferate.

But what it does not do is provide a short cut. We still need to work methodically – building block by building block – if we are going to attain the necessary confidence and transparency to bring about nuclear disarmament.

The states that possess nuclear weapons must be engaged in this process for it to have any practical impact. Otherwise it is a distraction from our real business.

And we need to acknowledge the security dimensions of nuclear weapons. Effective disarmament is only possible when those States who possess nuclear weapons feel more secure without nuclear weapons than with them. We must create a world where the utility of nuclear weapons is greatly diminished. And it is at this point that we can give serious consideration to the legal and practical mechanics of getting to zero.

As I noted earlier much hard work has gone into trying to shift the dynamics of this place. The Informal Working Group (IWG) has sought to push the envelope and the two track approach involving the schedule of activities and informal meetings of the IWG has been useful in elevating the debate on the four core issues even if no path through the political thicket has been found. I hope the CD continues to pursue this approach in 2015. I also want to acknowledge the OEWG and its work so ably chaired by Ambassador Dengo.

But if I leave a thought it is that impasse can’t go on too much longer. If the current realities do not shift then the Conference on Disarmament will be swept into the dust bin of history.

And here I want to talk about the Arms Trade Treaty as a process which may have something to offer in such gloomy circumstances. A critical factor for the success of the ATT negotiations was that the process was conducive to building the broadest possible constituency of States.

From the GGE, to the OEWG, then the PrepCom, and finally two negotiating conferences – all of which importantly operated under the auspices of the United Nations – the process to the adoption of the Treaty text last year was not rushed; its milestones were well measured. Certainly, political will played a crucial part in allowing the co-authors and other supporters to keep moving to the next stage and further build the constituency supporting work toward the Treaty.

At every stage, it would have been easy to bank the gains made in building a like-minded constituency and go outside the UN system to complete the job. But the willingness of all interested States to stay the course within the UN system can only add to the legitimacy of the treaty and its potential for effective action into the future.

One of the key features of both negotiating conferences was the consensus rule and its inclusion was contentious. But in retrospect, the provision of consensus proved beneficial, because it broadened the constituency of those willing to come and negotiate on what was an important but, for many at that time, still uncertain issue.

Of course, the Final Conference did not deliver a substantive consensus outcome in the most formal sense, and some may recall that the hashtag #consensusfail popped up very quickly on the twitter feed on the evening of 28 March 2013. But I believe that it would be wrong to conclude, as some were quick to, that consensus had failed. The Final Conference showed what is possible when those engaged in a consensus-governed process are determined to make it work and are striving for a negotiated consensus outcome because of the optimal balance and legitimacy which such an outcome conveys. And as I noted, in the end, there were only three States not willing to let the text through.

The process did have a redundancy, an off-ramp, through OP7 of resolution 67/234 which allowed delegations legitimately to take the text to the General Assembly on the 2nd of April. So in the end, OP7 proved to be a measure of last resort.

And I think that this is a key lesson to take from the end of the Arms Trade Treaty process. It’s not that future treaties can and should routinely be taken to the General Assembly when the going gets rough – treaties of like-mindeds have their clear limitations. Nor is the lesson that consensus should be allowed to bind everything up. Rather the lesson is that redundancies should be built into consensus processes, but they should be used sparingly, as a last resort and only after all effort at consensus have been exhausted.

For those who see the ATT experience as a model, the challenge, particularly on nuclear issues, will always be making the right judgment at the right moment to apply such redundancies. Potential effectiveness of the instrument in question at such critical moments should always be the key measure for such judgments.

Let me conclude by coming back to nuclear weapons. They are monstrous and we all know they must never be used. We ought to acknowledge that much has been done since the 70’s in reducing their numbers and much has been done in containing their horizontal proliferation.

At the same time we ought to acknowledge the quintessential soundness of what former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi said in their Report on “Eliminating Nuclear Threats” – “So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain., it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design. And any such use would be catastrophic…..Maintaining the status quo is not an option”.

I am reminded of a poem by a Turkish poet (Nazim Hikmet) which says much:

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet--
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space ...
You must grieve for this right now
--you have to feel this sorrow now--
for the world must be loved this much
if you're going to say "I lived" ...

Thank you Mr President