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Diplomacy in Action

Toward a Successful NPT Review Conference

Ambassador Susan F. Burk
Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington, DC
March 31, 2010



I am honored to join Deepti Choubey from the Carnegie Endowment and Daryl Kimball from the Arms Control Association to speak to you today about the NPT Review Conference. I want to thank the Carnegie Endowment for hosting this Conference on the important topic of the Eighth NPT Review Conference, which will open in just a little over five weeks from now in New York.

At the outset, I would like to stress that the United States is not approaching the impending NPT Review Conference in any “business as usual” spirit. President Obama has put a strengthened NPT at the center of American nonproliferation diplomacy and, as I will note later in my comments, the United States is taking a series of steps to help achieve that goal. But I use the word “help” here very deliberately. The United States cannot realize the NPT vision on its own -- it takes all Parties working together, all of us setting aside stale debates and perspectives that have too often led to gridlock. The history of NPT review conferences convincingly demonstrates that when there is political will the review conferences are successful. As a long-time veteran of NPT debates, I firmly believe that now is the moment to rise to the opportunity placed before us by the Obama Administration’s posture on the NPT.

Toward this end, I have been very busy engaging NPT parties to find out exactly how to do that. In the past several months I have heard a broad range of views on the NPT and on the upcoming Review Conference. Since I assumed my present position last year, my Washington colleagues and I have met with representatives of more than 70 NPT Parties, many of which we have met with multiple times. All of the meetings have been valuable in gauging the priorities and concerns of other Parties, and, of course, the meetings have also enabled us to share our Government’s perspectives. One common view expressed to us that transcends whatever differences may exist among Parties is the firm conviction that the NPT is critical to the maintenance of regional and international peace and security. This, certainly, is a view that the United States strongly shares. The Review Conference will be the occasion for all NPT Parties to focus on our common goals and reinvigorate our commitment to the principles and basic bargain of the Treaty.

The core principles of the NPT are embedded in the Treaty’s three, mutually reinforcing pillars – nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. There appears to be broad agreement among the Parties that the 2010 Review Conference should carry out a balanced review of these three pillars. The United States is looking forward to working with its NPT partners toward a balanced review and on charting a course forward that will reinvigorate the Treaty’s role as the cornerstone of the international nonproliferation regime.

Let me say upfront that the United States is not approaching the NPT Review Conference as an end in itself, but as a critical milestone in the broader international effort to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime. Our efforts in May can contribute valuable momentum to our collective efforts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and at the UN. That should be a key goal.

Promoting Nuclear Disarmament

Over the past year, there have been significant developments on the disarmament front that we expect the Review Conference to address. In recognition of the NPT’s vision, in April of last year Presidents Obama and Medvedev committed their support for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Last Friday, President Obama announced that after a year of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia have agreed to the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades, and that he will sign this new agreement in Prague on April 8. The new START treaty will limit U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons to significantly lower levels – approximately 30 percent lower than the upper limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty. It also will significantly reduce the permitted number of deployed missiles and heavy bombers by more than 50 percent from the original START agreement. It also includes an effective verification regime that will help the United States and Russia build trust and reduce the risks of misunderstanding and surprises. In his statement, President Obama clearly described this important development as an effort to uphold our own commitments under the NPT.

We also are in the final stages of the third Congressionally-mandated Nuclear Posture Review. While I cannot speak to details of the Report prior to its release by the President, I can assure you that the NPR will meet the President’s commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our security and further strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime as a whole.

The United States is taking other concrete steps as well.

We are preparing to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. In the meantime, the United States is continuing its nuclear testing moratorium, in place since 1992, and we call on other states publicly to declare moratoria of their own.

The United States also is committed to pursuing a verifiable ban on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other explosive nuclear devices, a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Last year the Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a program of work that included a negotiating mandate for an FMCT, but the CD remains unable to move forward. The United States is working with others in the CD to move toward FMCT negotiations on the basis agreed last year, and we have sent an Ambassador to Geneva, Laura Kennedy, to lead our efforts there. In the interim, we are continuing our decades-long moratorium on production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and we call on others to join us in this moratorium.

The disarmament agenda laid out by President Obama is ambitious and the political will is there. The United States and the other nuclear weapon states bear a special responsibility for pursuing nuclear disarmament, but the non-nuclear weapon states share this responsiblility under Article VI, and in addition they can contribute by working to prevent further proliferation and by helping to create the international conditions for nuclear disarmament efforts to succeed.

Prevent Nuclear Proliferation

While we recognize that progress on disarmament reinforces the nonproliferation pillar, it is also the case that strong nonproliferation norms must be upheld to create the environment needed for the nuclear weapon states to make progress on disarmament consistent with our commitments under Article VI.

In this regard, the Review Conference must be used as an opportunity to strengthen implementation of the nonproliferation pillar.

The burden for providing the necessary assurance to the international community that nuclear energy programs are, in fact, solely peaceful falls to the IAEA as it carries out its safeguards mission. In addition to the comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreements NPT parties are required to have in force, the Additional Protocol has added a new and important tool to the nonproliferation toolbox. The Additional Protocol also serves as a valuable confidence building measure to the international community, because with the protocol in force the IAEA is more able to verify the absence of clandestine nuclear activities as part of an incipient weapons program. Currently 95 IAEA Member States, including the United States, have Additional Protocols in force. The IAEA Director General has set a goal of 100 APs in force by the time of the Review Conference. This demonstrates the growing consensus that the Additional Protocol represents the new international safeguards standard.

With the growing interest we are witnessing in civil nuclear technology, the IAEA’s considerable responsibilities in promoting the safe, secure, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy have grown as well. The United States believes that the IAEA must be provided with the resources and authorities it needs to carry out all of its mandates and is prepared to work with its partners to meet that goal.

The international community also must work together to encourage full compliance with the NPT and to address non-compliance. As President Obama said in Prague, there must be “real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules.” The Review Conference is an opportunity to address this very real challenge constructively and honestly.

For example, the United States, together with a number of other countries, has been considering how the Treaty Parties might address the issue of abuse of the NPT’s withdrawal provision -- specifically, how to dissuade a Party from withdrawing from the Treaty after having violated its NPT obligations. We contemplate no change to the Treaty or abridgment of the right to withdraw, but we and many others believe the Parties have a stake in discouraging countries from believing they can use the withdrawal provision as a way to evade penalties for Treaty violations. Some progress toward this end was made last year with the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which affirms that States will be held responsible for any NPT violations committed prior to their withdrawal.

Peaceful Uses

From the time of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” address at the United Nations in 1953, the United States has supported international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And it is this call for cooperation that underpins the NPT’s third pillar. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s core mission, from its founding in 1957, is to “accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity.” The United States supports the IAEA in that mission and remains the largest contributor over the history of the Agency to IAEA technical cooperation programs.

Over the years, the use of nuclear energy and radioactive materials in medicine, agriculture, mining, and other industries has grown tremendously. Nuclear science is vitally important to the continued social and economic development of many countries. This pillar of the NPT is more important today than ever, however, in light of renewed interest in nuclear power as a response to international concern about climate change, energy security and the promotion of sustainable development.

In Prague last year, President Obama called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risk of proliferation. He made clear that this must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs.

Regardless of the ways states choose to pursue the development of nuclear energy, the NPT requires that they do so in conformity with their nonproliferation obligations. Without a strong nonproliferation commitment, the spread of sensitive nuclear technology would be imprudent and pose a threat to international peace and security.

Shared Responsibilities

When he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year, President Obama announced a “new era of engagement with the world” by the United States. He spoke, too, of “shared responsibility.” All NPT Parties share equally in the responsibility to strengthen the norms of the Treaty. The Eighth NPT Review Conference in May provides an opportunity for NPT Parties to take stewardship of our shared responsibilities, to look beyond our differences, and to advance our common goals for the Treaty. The 2010 Review Conference can contribute to our shared efforts to strengthen the NPT and restore confidence in its authority. Again, we are looking forward to working with our Treaty partners to try to identify areas where agreement on concrete measures to reinforce the global nuclear nonproliferation regime can be reached now, and on areas where further work and deliberation are needed so that agreement might be possible in the future.

The United States will continue to work with our Treaty partners to revalidate the Treaty’s vital contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security.

Thank you.

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