Address at the Conference on Disarmament

  • Speech
25 February 2019

Thank you very much Mr President, Secretary-GeneralGuterres, Secretary-General Møller, High Representative for Disarmament AffairsMs Nakamitsu, distinguished Ambassadors,Excellencies, one and all.

As Australia's Minister for ForeignAffairs, and as a former Australian Ministerfor Defence immediately preceding that, I amacutely aware of the complexity of the issues with which the Conference onDisarmament grapples.

Chief among these is the importance of maintaining adherenceto and respect for long-standing, carefullynegotiated arms control regimes. It is thissystem of treaties and agreements thatunderpins our international rules-based order, and delivers stability,security, and the certainty that we all work towards.

These agreements give us confidence that we can deal withregional or global crises on equal terms.

Mr President, it is fair to saythat there is a frustration that this Conference has not maintained the momentum and ambition that it was established to provide. That ithas a proud tradition but, perhaps is not currently living up tothat.

Australia believes we urgently need to infuse new energyinto our work so that this Conference can play the important part it should inthe international rules based order on which as Ihave said we depend.

The Conference has workedhard over the last two years on technical issues, on forging cooperation, onmaking preparations for the time when negotiations are possible. The nextstep, logically, is to declare an intention todo just that - to commence negotiations.

An Australian priority in this regard is a treaty to ban theproduction of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We see no substantivereason why negotiations cannot start on this treaty now – with differencesfleshed out over the course of discussions. That isthe purpose of negotiations. We encourageall members of this Conference to be positive and constructive in thisendeavour.

As we have also continued tomake clear, the rules-based global order extends to space and Australia willcontinue to work with other nations to ensure the long-term sustainability,safety and security of the outer space domain.

We do not, however, support the current proposed draft treatythat has been submitted to this Conference on outer space. Our view isthat, at this point in time, our efforts aremore effectively focused on limiting unacceptable behaviour in space.

Australia's Presidency

Mr President, next year Australia will preside over thisConference along with Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh andBelarus. We look forward to active coordination to ensure productiveoutcomes and purposeful continuity between Presidents.

Indeed, Australia's Presidency in 2020 comes at an important time fordisarmament – the 50th anniversary of the NPT, and 25 years since itsindefinite extension. I can assure you thatour commitment to uphold and strengthen the NPT has not waned.

Australia remains firmly committed to working towards theultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. But efforts must beboth practical and feasible. No matter how well-intentioned, initiatives that disregardthe global realities in the hope of accelerated progress are more likelyto be counter-productive. Experience tells us that thereare no short cuts to disarmament.

When we consider the difficulty of the task aheadwe should acknowledge the progress made so far.The Secretary-General adverted to this in his opening remarks. During the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons peaked at over 70,000. Today, those numbers have fallen to around 14,400 - many of which are proposedto be dismantled.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – "START 1" – definedcuts to the nuclear weapons stockpiles of the two toppossessor states. So did New START in 2010. It is criticalfor global stability that this arrangement is extended. In 1987, theIntermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – or "INF" - was a pioneeringagreement bringing about, for the first time, a bilateral reduction in nuclearweapons.

Australia does remain disappointed that Russia hasso far not addressed its issues ofnon-compliance with this treaty - placing its very ongoingviability in question. We do urge Russiato return to compliance in the period of time available. It is in noone's interest to return to an arms race like that witnessed during the ColdWar.

Mr President

We should use this time ahead of next year's NPT ReviewConference as an opportunity to consider our future. It is a pragmatic factwe can't rid the world of nuclear weaponstoday or realistically within thisdecade. But we can absolutely work towards further significant reductions.

I offered that view to the United Nations General Assembly inSeptember last year, and I offer it again today. We cannot achieve our shared aims if we look short term –ours is a problem that needs tenacity and persistence over time, and we shouldprize these ambitions.

Australia's Contributions

Mr President, members, in Marchnext year, March 2020, Australia will host the International YouthNuclear Congress. It is a reminder to me that our work, or our inactions, will beinherited by the generations that follow us.

And there are gains of which we canbe proud. One of my early priorities as Foreign Minister was to co-chair with Japanese Foreign Minister, my friend, Taro Kono, the Friends of theComprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Meeting in New York last year. At that meeting, we welcomedfurther progress toward the universalisation of the treaty.

With Thailand's recentratification, we can celebrate that all members of ASEAN are now party to the Treaty. This isa significant regional achievement.

We also welcome the most recent ratification of the Treaty byZimbabwe earlier this month.

Mr President, Australia remains convinced that transparency,compliance, verification, and if necessary enforcement, are foundational issuesthat require solutions.

And Australia, with others, is working through the technicalchallenges of disarmament through the US-initiated International Partnershipfor Nuclear Disarmament Verification.

Similarly, Australia has worked through many of the technicalissues surrounding a treaty banning fissile material for nuclear weaponsincluding in two UN-mandated groups.

Through the 12 member cross-regional Non-Proliferation andDisarmament Initiative, we are in dialogue with Nuclear Weapons States on ways to enhance transparency.

We also support the vital role of Security Councilresolutions in moderating destabilising influences. Australia supportsthe Security Council's resolutions calling for the complete, verifiable andirreversible denuclearisation of the Democratic People's Republic ofKorea. These efforts have provided the framework for much of the effortsto address tension on the Korean peninsula.

We also welcome the second summit meeting between the UnitedStates and the DPRK in Hanoi later this week.

Mr President, it is Australia'sview that the Conference on Disarmament has no time to waste because the international community has no time to waste. We must continue to build areas of commonground, and commit to both the technical work and the broader efforts needed toconduct negotiations. Australia stands ready tobe a strong partner in all of those efforts. Thank you very much.

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