March 27, 1997

FISSILE MATERIAL PRODUCTION CUTOFF TREATY (FMCT) NEGOTIATIONS

The importance of negotiating a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons was underlined in President Clinton's September 24, 1996 address to the 51st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). He called upon the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) to take up this challenge "immediately."

President Clinton first called for cutoff negotiations in his 1993 address to the UNGA, proposing a multilateral agreement to halt the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for use in nuclear explosives or outside of international safeguards. In December 1993, the UNGA passed a consensus resolution (48/75L) on cutoff, calling for the negotiation of a "nondiscriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." The resolution called for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide assistance in examining verification arrangements.

In March 1995, the CD agreed by consensus to establish an Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate to negotiate a cutoff treaty based on the 1993 UNGA resolution. In May 1995, at the Review and Extension Conference in New York, the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed in the "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" decision document to seek "the immediate commencement and early conclusion" of cutoff negotiations.

However, despite the widespread international support for an FMCT, formal negotiations on cutoff have not yet begun in the CD. The CD can only approve decisions by consensus and since the summer of 1995, the insistence of a few states to link FMCT negotiations to other nuclear disarmament issues has brought progress on the cutoff treaty there to a standstill. The United States continues to seek the initiation of FMCT negotiations at the CD on terms consistent with the March 1995 mandate, with no linkages or conditions. In that context, the United States seeks to broaden support for the FMCT and work closely with interested states on the key substantive FMCT issues.

The Benefits of an FMCT

The negotiation and implementation of a legally binding, effectively verifiable, and multilateral FMCT is a high priority for the United States. By ending the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, an FMCT would contribute significantly to nuclear arms control and disarmament and to international nuclear non-proliferation objectives.

Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament: Under an FMCT, the five nuclear weapons states (as well as all the other parties to the Treaty) would be prohibited from producing fissile material for nuclear explosives or outside of international safeguards. The FMCT's ban on unsafeguarded production of fissile material would place a quantitative constraint on the amount of fissile material available for use in nuclear weapons, complementing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty's constraint on the development of more advanced and more dangerous nuclear weapons.

An effectively verifiable cutoff treaty is an important step in the process of nuclear disarmament. Efforts to reduce nuclear weapons can go forward with much greater certainty, if all states' fissile material production is subject to verification measures that provide confidence that any clandestine fissile material production programs would be detected. Conversely, achieving international agreement on nuclear disarmament would be virtually inconceivable if unsafeguarded production of fissile material continued. As President Clinton said in his January 21, 1997 message to the Conference on Disarmament, "effectively cutting off the spigot for more nuclear weapons is a necessary step toward, and would greatly contribute to, the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament."

Non-Proliferation: A cutoff agreement would contribute to nonproliferation objectives by extending verification measures to the fissile material production facilities (i.e. enrichment and reprocessing) that are not currently subject to international monitoring. An FMCT would make an especially important contribution to strengthening stability in particularly volatile regions, such as South Asia or the Middle East, where the risks of escalating arms races are greatest.

Chronology of Recent Events

March 1992: The United States ends reprocessing of plutonium for nuclear weapons (production of HEU for weapons ended in 1964).

September 27, 1993: President Clinton proposes a multilateral agreement to halt production of HEU and separated plutonium for nuclear explosives or outside international safeguards in his address to the UNGA.

December 1993: The UNGA adopts by consensus a resolution (48/75L) calling for the initiation of cutoff negotiations.

January 14, 1994: Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin make a joint statement calling for "the most rapid conclusion" of a cutoff treaty.

January 1994: The Conference on Disarmament (CD) appoints Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon as special coordinator for cutoff. Ambassador Shannon begins consultations with CD member states on FMCT.

October 4, 1994: Secretary of State Christopher and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian issue a joint statement promoting the "earliest possible achievement" of a cutoff treaty.

December 1994: Russia announces that it stopped plutonium production for use in nuclear weapons on October 1, 1994. (Soviet leader Gorbachev announced on April 7, 1989 that Moscow would cease the production of HEU for use in nuclear weapons that year.)

March 24, 1995: Canadian Ambassador Shannon reports that CD delegations have agreed by consensus to establish an Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate to negotiate a cutoff treaty based on the December 1993 UNGA resolution.

April 18, 1995: During the NPT Review and Extension Conference, British Foreign Secretary Hurd announces that the United Kingdom had ceased the production of fissile material for explosive purposes.

May 11, 1995: At the end of the Review and Extension Conference in New York, all of the NPT parties agree in the "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" decision document to seek the "immediate commencement and early conclusion" of cutoff negotiations in accordance with the March 1995 CD mandate.

February 22, 1996: French President Chirac announces that France no longer produces fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

September 24, 1996: President Clinton calls on the CD in his address to the UNGA to take up the challenge of negotiating a fissile material production cutoff treaty "immediately."

January 20, 1997: The CD convenes in Geneva to begin its 1997 session.

September 10, 1997: The CD is scheduled to conclude its 1997 session.