Statement by Mr Dermot Ahern, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs Article VI Forum of the Middle Powers Initiative Dublin Castle, 27 March 2008
Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome all of you to Ireland to the
Article VI Forum, organised by the Middle Powers Initiative.
In this 40th anniversary year of the opening for signature of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is a particular honour to host
this important event in Dublin. May I also pay tribute to the
illustrious contribution which you, Senator Roche, have made over
many years in endeavours to achieve our common goal of a nuclear
weapons-free world. Your commitment to
the concept of global conscience as fundamental in charting the way forward is very valuable.
The theme of the event, “Pathfinder to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World”, has large resonance in Ireland. It was fifty years ago, at the thirteenth UN General Assembly, that the Irish Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken – in whose footsteps I also follow as a parliamentary representative of the constituency of Louth – first proposed the establishment of an ad hoc committee to study the dangers inherent in the further dissemination of nuclear weapons and to recommend appropriate measures for averting these dangers. This led to the adoption in subsequent years of what were known as the “Irish resolutions”, then to acceptance of the concept of an international agreement setting out basic obligations of both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States and eventually to the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a decade later.
Since our signature of the NPT in 1968, Ireland’s highest priority in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation has been support for efforts to strengthen the Treaty and to ensure full respect for all of its provisions. The NPT today remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and we are proud of our history of association with it. The Treaty, and in particular Article VI, the focus of this event, remains the only multilateral legally binding commitment by the nuclear weapon States to nuclear disarmament. This is of particular importance to Ireland, not just in itself, but because disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes. I very much welcome the focus placed in the programme for these two days on the centrality of nuclear disarmament. The work here this week will be very valuable in identifying and clarifying the practical steps which can be taken in this direction.
Ten years ago, here in Dublin, my predecessor David Andrews launched the initiative of a group of States for “A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: The Need for a New Agenda”. This New Agenda called on the governments of each of the nuclear-weapon States and the three nuclear-weapons-capable States to commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of their respective nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capability and to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement.
It was also in early 1998 that the Middle Powers Initiative was established, with the aim of encouraging and educating the nuclear weapons states to take immediate practical steps that reduce nuclear dangers, and to commence negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons. MPI has developed effective relationships with middle power Governments and with non-governmental organisations and there is a close working relationship with the New Agenda Coalition. I commend the MPI for its work over the past decade to revitalise nuclear disarmament and to identify areas where consensual progress is possible and to shape practical steps to this end. It is a model of how of like-minded governments and civil society experts can move the nuclear disarmament agenda forward.
The first fruits of our joint work were evident at the NPT Review Conference in 2000, when the NAC, with strong support from civil society and like-minded governments, successfully negotiated a commitment from the nuclear weapon States to 13 Practical Steps for the systematic and progressive disarmament of their nuclear weapons. An unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals was given and a framework agreed for its delivery.
It is a matter of great concern and disappointment that the intervening years have seen little advance in the implementation of these 13 Steps and indeed that some of the nuclear weapon States have called this commitment into question. The 2005 Review Conference was a failure. This, coupled with the inability of the UN Summit later that year to agree on any commitments in the disarmament area, was a serious setback.
The 2010 NPT Review Cycle is now well under way and the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee opens in Geneva in a month. It is critical that this review cycle ensures the continued vitality, relevance and strength of the NPT, which remains the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Commitments undertaken by all NPT States in 1995 and 2000 must be taken forward and implemented, including further steps to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, to ensure the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and to strengthen IAEA capabilities.
Ireland will work closely with its partners in the New Agenda Coalition and in the EU for an ambitious outcome to the 2010 Review Conference. The NAC paper of last May set out the main issues which we believe must be addressed at this juncture – universality; nuclear doctrines; reductions in nuclear forces; security assurances; nuclear-weapon-free zones; negotiation of a treaty on fissile material; and testing of nuclear weapons. After the failure of the 2005 Review Conference, it is critical that the ground be well-prepared to ensure success in 2010 and there are a number of achievable steps which could be taken in the immediate term to create an atmosphere conducive to this. Building on the 13 Practical Steps agreed in 2000, transparency and confidence-building are areas which should be explored, including transparency on reductions of warhead numbers and in operational status.
The majority of the priority measures identified by MPI for the 2010 Review Conference are shared by Ireland, particularly the need for verified reduction and standing down of nuclear forces; negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty into force and security assurances.
In the past number of years, and in the aftermath of the cold war, such threats as international terrorism and climate change have often been seen as demanding more urgent attention than nuclear weapons. But the risks indeed remain very great. There is, I think, a growing realisation of this, and an awareness that maintaining a strong international coalition on non-proliferation requires credible and effective action on disarmament. And I therefore welcome the return over the past year of serious debate on nuclear disarmament, particularly in the nuclear weapons states.
The twentieth anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit in 2006 generated an initiative by former top US officials and legislators, both Democrat and Republican, to make operational the vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world advanced by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. Positive statements have been made over recent months by the UK Foreign and Defence Secretaries and the Russian Foreign Minister on the need to renew and accelerate progress. In particular, the work being done in the UK on what a nuclear-weapons free world might look like is very interesting.
The 2010 NPT Review conference offers a major opportunity to advance the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world and we must avail of it.
Prime Minister Brown’s pledge last January that the UK will be, in the run-up to 2010, at the forefront of the international campaign to accelerate disarmament among possessor states, prevent proliferation to new states and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons is very positive. I welcome the announcement last week by President Sarkozy of reductions in the French nuclear arsenal and his proposal for an action plan for the nuclear weapons States by the 2010 NPT Review Conference.
Important work has also been done by the Hoover Institution and by Norway and the 7-Nation Initiative on strengthening adherence to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agreements
Reducing US and Russian arsenals remains the indispensable step toward global elimination of nuclear forces, given that these two States possess about 95% of the world’s operational warheads and of the total world stockpile of nuclear weapons. As George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn stated in their call last year for A World Free of Nuclear Weapons, American leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage and to reach a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally and ultimately ending their threat to the world. It is a welcome development that influential former Government officials recognise that the world has changed and have embraced the need for urgent, global and practical efforts to chart a course to a world free of nuclear weapons. We must work unstintingly to encourage the building of political consensus in the United States, Russia and in the other nuclear weapon States on the necessity of implementing practical measures in this direction.
The objective of universal nuclear disarmament remains a central plank of Ireland’s foreign policy. I believe that, after a period where this objective seemed impossibly remote, the tide may be starting to turn. But if we are indeed to make progress in this direction it is vital that those of us who share that goal make every effort to ensure that the necessary preparations are in place. The detailed work you will do at this Forum in the coming days will undoubtedly contribute to our joint endeavours in the months and years ahead. I look forward to learning of the outcome of your discussions and I wish you well in them.
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