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Conference on disarmament

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Address tty.The Hon Alexander Down... to the Conference on Disarmament

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Address by The Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 30 January 1997.

Mr President

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the Conference on Disarmament, the more so under the distinguished chairmanship of Australia's regional neighbour and good friend, the Republic of Korea.

Through turbulent times and times of peace, Australia has endeavoured in this hall to make a practical and realistic contribution to building a better and a safer world.

We shall continue that endeavour in the current and future sessions of this Conference. You and your successors may count, Mr President, on the full and active cooperation of the Australian delegation in ensuring that, in 1997, the Conference acquits fully the expectations of the international community.

The Report of the Canberra Commission

My first duty this morning is to lay before you the report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Of the myriad arms control challenges we face today, the question of how best to tackle the continued existence of large and sophisticated nuclear arsenals has long been the most vexed.

The Canberra Commission was a body of independent experts and eminent persons commissioned by the Australian Government to address the fundamental questions of whether a nuclear weapon free world is feasible and, if so, the measures which could be taken to attain that objective.

I should like to record here my gratitude to the members of the Commission for the extreme seriousness, dedication and creativity which they brought to bear on their task. The Commission's report comes at a crucial point in the international community's consideration of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Having at last met the challenge of concluding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the international community must now push on with further practical and realistic measures on nuclear arms control and disarmament.

A window of opportunity is open before us. If we do not take that opportunity, the window could close, and future generations will not forgive us for this.

It is a complicated task. To succeed, the international community must develop new thinking - creative and imaginative thinking. But we cannot afford to lose ourselves in rhetoric or unproductive idealism. The international community needs to focus on developing ideas which are practical, constructive and realistic and which actually take us closer, step by step, to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

I offer the report and recommendations of the Canberra Commission as just such a contribution to international thinking and discussion on nuclear disarmament.

Most importantly, the report recommends a political commitment by the nuclear weapon states to the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is the first and central requirement.

The report then sets out six "immediate steps":

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Address by The H'on Alexander Down... to the Conference on Disarmament

. taking nuclear forces off alert;

removal of warheads from delivery vehicles;

. ending the deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons;

. ending nuclear testing;

. initiating negotiations to reduce further United States and Russian nuclear arsenals; and

. an agreement amongst the nuclear weapon states on reciprocal no first use undertakings, and of a non-use undertaking by them in relation to the non-nuclear weapon states.

The Commission also recommends three "reinforcing steps":

. action to prevent further horizontal proliferation;

. developing verification arrangements for a nuclear weapon free world;

. the cessation of the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes.

The Commission placed a particular emphasis on the importance of effective verification in the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapon free world.

The nuclear disarmament debate is of utmost significance for the peoples of the world.

Australia urges careful consideration of the report of the Canberra Commission by all Governments. I sincerely hope and believe that the report will make a weighty contribution to future discussion of nuclear arms control and disarmament by the international community.

The CD as an Institution


Mr President

I have said that the international community has expectations of this organisation. They are, I believe, that it should respond fully to the opportunities created by the end of the Cold War to deliver arms control treaties and agreements which make a practical, realistic contribution to an improved climate

of international security.

I congratulate the CD for having risen to this challenge.

In the few short years since the end of the Cold War, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty have been hammered out in these halls.

In outlawing for the first time an entire category of weapons of mass destruction and in ridding the planet of the spectre of nuclear testing, the CD has delivered to humanity - now and future generations - an incalculable good. :

I am proud and grateful that my country, working with members of this Conference, was able to contribute to both these achievements.

But you are now at a crossroads, ladies and gentlemen.

In a way, your recent successes make the way ahead more difficult and uncertain. It is certainly not an Alexandrian dilemma you face - that is, having no more worlds to conquer - but rather a choice as to how and where to deploy your energies and expertise now that a number of clear and long-held goals have been achieved, and the future arms control landscape looks - as a consequence - diffuse and unfamiliar. .

It will be important that the Conference not relapse into the sterile ideological debate of the Cold War

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Address by The Hon Alexander Down... to the Conference on Disarmament

years - years which were lean for this and other organisations built on and dedicated to international cooperation. You should bear in mind that the distinctive characteristic of this organisation is its ability and mandate to negotiate arms control agreements. Naturally, you need to retain a sense of the broader strategic and political debate taking place in other fora on disarmament and non-proliferation

issues, but your agenda should be framed in terms of clear, achievable and practical outcomes.

Do not dissipate your energies by trying to tackle too many tasks at once, particularly if they are being tackled elsewhere. Reform, modernise and streamline your agenda, jettisoning those elements which have become anachronistic and postponing to a more propitious time those which may be too ambitious in current circumstances. By all means, strike bargains, seek trade-offs and manoeuvre in other ways to protect and advance your national, regional or group interests, but avoid 'hostage-taking' and stalemate.

Focus on the arms control negotiations which are of most pressing concern to the international community. .

In 1997, Mr President, I believe these to be: a treaty banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes - a "Cut-Off1 Convention - and a treaty which bans anti-personnel landmines totally.

The "Cut-Off' Convention

For many years, proposals to negotiate a treaty to prohibit the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons - the "Cut-Off convention" - have been on the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda.

Australia has long supported a Cut-Off Convention and cosponsored the annual resolution on this issue at the United Nations General Assembly up to and including the 1993 resolution which received consensus support. However, in spite of this consensus endorsement, which supported the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee in the CD, there has, as you know, been little progress.

It may until now have been possible to argue that other negotiations such as the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, needed to receive higher priority in the work programs of international negotiating fora.

That time has now passed and Australia believes that the beginning of negotiations on a Cut-Off Convention must be addressed urgently in your 1997 program.

The wishes of the international community in this respect are clear.

In addition to the UN General Assembly resolutions to which I have referred, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference in May 1995 called unanimously for "the immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory and universally applicable convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices..."

While the exact shape and scope of the Cut-Off Convention remain to be determined, an Ad Hoc Committee of this Conference should be formed without further delay with a negotiating mandate based on the UNGA 48 resolution. .

The principal objective would be to cap the world's stockpile of fissile material and to provide a guarantee against the recommencement of the nuclear arms race. It would be an obvious and important complement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in this respect.

A cut-off treaty would serve the security interests of all members of the international community - nuclear weapon states and non nuclear weapon states, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty parties and non-NPT parties.

For the nuclear weapon states, membership of a Cut-Off Convention would confirm the unilateral commitments already made by four of these states to cease producing weapons-grade fissile material, and codify this commitment into a general ban on such production. It would also place under

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safeguards a number of plants which have been excluded under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

For the so-called "threshold states", it would mean ceasing any production of fissile material suitable for use in nuclear weapons, and opening up their nuclear facilities to international verification.

For the majority of countries which, like Australia, are non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT, a Cut-Off convention would not require any additional safeguards or verification measures. But it would provide an additional guarantee as well as a reassurance that the world is headed in the direction of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons identified a Cut-Off Convention as an important reinforcing step along this road which should be undertaken as a matter of urgency.


Anti-personnel landmines are the great scourge of our day - and, sadly, will remain so for generations to come.

You will all be familiar with the grisly statistics - the almost unimaginable number of these weapons sown haphazardly and unmarked in so many countries; the lives that have been lost or blighted, and that continue to be lost and blighted as we sit here; the tracts of farmland rendered useless or deadly. This problem is not just a theoretical or doctrinal concern but a lethal reality for many people across the globe - most poignantly for the estimated 10,000 people who will be killed and the 20,000 who will be wounded by anti-personnel landmines in the coming year.

These weapons have been so widely misused in a way they were never intended to be that my country, like so many others, believes that the sane, humane course is to ban them completely.

Like many other countries, Australia has suspended the operational use of anti-personnel landmines by its armed forces. We have done this not because the Australian Defence Force is in any way responsible for the international landmines crisis, but as a moral gesture intended to hasten the end of

the carnage.

Australia is committed to supporting practical measures to tackle the humanitarian disaster caused by landmines. That is why the Australian Government, shortly after coming into office in March 1996, announced a de-mining program for Cambodia and Laos worth 12 million Australian dollars over

three years. This comes on top of earlier contributions totalling $8.5 million, in addition to the deployment of our army engineers to demining programs in Afghanistan, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia.

I am happy to be able to announce to you today that Australia will be contributing a further $4 million over the next three years to mine-clearance and rehabilitation work in Cambodia and Mozambique.

Australia is also interested in working with other countries to improve de-mining technology, in order to increase the rate and scale of the de-mining process. We have developed what we believe to be breakthrough technology which has the potential to make mine detection faster and more reliable in countries like Cambodia with highly mineralised soils. We will be drawing this development to the attention of delegates to the "Tokyo Conference on Anti-Personnel Landmines" in March of this year.

What is needed now is an instrument which will formalise the many national unilateral gestures into a legally-binding international regime which effectively outlaws anti-personnel landmines as a weapon of war and civilian terror.

Only the Conference on Disarmament, I believe, has the expertise, the experience and the standing to deliver such an instrument.

In many ways, this will be a novel challenge for you. Anti-personnel landmines are a classic defensive weapon - the security of no state is threatened by another's possession or deployment of

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them.'The inspiration for your endeavours will be primarily humanitarian - very much related to the security of the individual.

The elaborate and intrusive compliance and verification mechanisms you have crafted in the case of chemical weapons and nuclear testing may well not be appropriate to an anti-personnel landmines treaty.

But such a treaty will be an arms control instrument. It must be effective, and have force and credibility. It must enjoy the imprimatur and the confidence of the international community. It must, in short, be a product of the Conference on Disarmament.

I know that some in this hall and beyond have reservations about such an enterprise on principle - principles related to legitimate self defence needs or particular national security situations. I sympathise with these concerns.

Australia's own decision to suspend the use of anti-personnel landmines and to support the negotiation of a global ban as soon as possible was not taken without considerable soul-searching given that the defence challenge for Australia is to be able to protect a vast continent with a small professional armed forces.

I urge the hesitant among you not to withhold consent to the CD's undertaking this vital work, but rather to explore and negotiate with an open mind - as happens with any arms control negotiation - how your particular national security interests may be accommodated within the framework of the international instrument the world needs.

I also know that some - inspired by humanitarian concerns with which Australia fully sympathises - want to draw up a ban on anti-personnel landmines in a more limited ad hoc forum outside the Conference on Disarmament because, quite simply, they do not believe this Conference can deliver a treaty fast enough to meet the urgency of the humanitarian crisis we are facing.

I say to them - work on possible elements of a draft treaty by all means, assist and complement the CD in its endeavours, but be wary of the risk of producing a permanent partial solution to the global landmines crisis. I say to you, distinguished members of the Conference on Disarmament: prove them wrong.

Other Issues

I do not want to complete my remarks today without mentioning two other important disarmament issues:

We should all take immense satisfaction that the Chemical Weapons Convention, a land-mark treaty negotiated in this forum, will enter into force on 29 April this year. The value of this achievement will be enhanced by the widest possible membership at entry into force, and I would urge those countries which have not yet ratified to do so in order to become original states parties.

I should also draw attention to the importance of the work currently underway in the Ad Hoc Group to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. The fact that breaches of this treaty have come to light in recent years underlines the urgent need to develop effective verification provisions for this Convention.

In doing so, however, we should be wary of achieving a result for its own sake - we must ensure that the machinery developed will be effective in monitoring compliance.


Mr President

I realise I have been rather direct in my comments today, but I have done so as a friend of this institution and one who wants to see it continue productively for the benefit of all mankind. I see dangers for this institution if it spends 1997 in debate about its agenda and direction rather than

maintaining the momentum of arms control negotiations.

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Address by The Hon Alexander Down... to the Conference on Disarmament

I have commended to you a report - the report of the Canberra Commission - which I hope will stimulate international thinking and discussion on nuclear disarmament.

I have urged you to begin work on a Cut-Off Convention which that report sees as an important reinforcing step on the road to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

I have proposed a balancing negotiation - on anti-personnel landmines - which would address an urgent need in the area of conventional weapons.

I believe this package or something like it holds the key to the continuing credibility and relevance of this institution to the security needs of the international community.

Thank you, Mr President, Distinguished Delegates.

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