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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to the National Model UN Conference

Ambassador Susan F. Burk
Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Keynote Address
Washington, DC
October 29, 2010




Date: 10/29/2010 Location: Washington, DC Description: Ambassador Burk with the National Model UN-DC Staff. - State Dept ImageGood evening and thank you for inviting me today to speak with you about multilateral diplomacy and the importance of international institutions in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Before I begin, let me commend you for participating in this exercise and for your commitment to learning how to address international challenges through multilateral diplomacy. International organizations and regimes are critical to managing global issues, and the United States Government, under President Obama’s leadership, is taking great measures to reinvigorate and reinvest in these institutions.

As you probably know by now, working multilaterally is difficult, especially because most international organizations and regimes operate by consensus. If you’ve ever tried to decide where to eat or which movie to see with a large group of friends you probably know just what I mean - reaching consensus agreement on anything often is a challenge.

However, despite the challenges of working multilaterally, there are tremendous benefits and rewards to be gained. For example, without multilateral engagements, often under the auspices of the United Nations system, it would not be possible to as accurately forecast the weather, send and receive mail from overseas, manage global health epidemics, or even communicate on our cell phones. Whether through the World Meteorological Organization, the Universal Postal Union, the World Health Organization, or the International Telecommunications Union – multilateral organizations affect all of our lives in a profound and pervasive way, even if we may not always realize it.

International institutions not only help facilitate the mechanics of modern life, but also are critical to finding solutions to complex problems, and establishing and reinforcing global norms. An excellent example of this is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, which is the foundation of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The NPT and the larger nuclear nonproliferation regime address the fundamental dilemma of the nuclear age. The same materials and technology that promise important progress in energy production, human health, agriculture and water management, can be used to produce mankind’s most horrific weapons.

Early attempts at nonproliferation, or preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, failed. However, there were important developments. The International Atomic Energy Agency was created in 1957 to promote development of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, while its safeguards system aimed to prevent the use of nuclear energy for weapons purposes. By the 1960’s the peaceful uses of nuclear energy continued to grow, and it was clear that the nuclear industry’s growth would be even greater in the future. Concern grew that without a legally binding nonproliferation agreement, the spread of nuclear technology risked a rapid, corresponding spread of nuclear weapons. In 1963, President Kennedy told news reporters that he worried that in the not-too-distant-future as many as 25 states might possess nuclear weapons.

With strong support from the UN General Assembly the NPT was negotiated in the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee. The Treaty opened for signature in1968 and entered into force in 1970. It rests on three mutually reinforcing pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

President Obama stressed this aspect of the Treaty in a speech he delivered in Prague in April 2009. He affirmed the importance of the relationship between these three pillars when he noted that "The basic bargain is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy."

The NPT, which recently marked its 40th year, has withstood the test of time. Forty-six states signed the Treaty in 1970. It now has 189 Parties, making it nearly universal and the most widely subscribed to arms control treaty in existence. The NPT is now regarded as one of the most important international legally binding agreements. It and the wider nuclear nonproliferation regime that has grown up to support, establish important international norms and create an important framework for multilateral cooperation across its three pillars. This cooperation has helped avert the kind of world that of which President Kennedy warned in 1963.

That is not to say that the Treaty does not face serious challenges. It does. For instance, there are Parties, such as Iran, that have vowed not to seek or acquire nuclear weapons, but who appear to be doing just that. Iran has had a clandestine nuclear program for decades. It is in violation of its NPT safeguards agreement, the mechanism by which the IAEA verifies that a Parties’ nuclear programs are aimed only at peaceful purposes, and well as UN Security resolutions calling for its compliance with its obligations. What would happen if a Party in noncompliance tried to withdraw from the Treaty? North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 without resolving its violations of its nonproliferation obligations and has since twice announced test of a nuclear device.

Further, the number of states interested in nuclear energy production is growing rapidly. What are the proliferation implications of a sharp increase in the number of states with nuclear facilities, even for peaceful purposes? What can Parties do about terrorists interested in gaining access to not only nuclear weapons, but nuclear materials and technology? What about states outside the Treaty? Are Parties who are allowed nuclear weapons under the NPT disarming fast enough?

My role as the Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation is to strengthen the NPT as the basis for international cooperation on nonproliferation. Parties can only cooperate when they recognize that they share common interests and that they need to act together to meet their shared responsibilities to reduce nuclear dangers. As a result I spend much of my time travelling to meet with other NPT Parties to explore and discuss areas of common interest so that we can work together to address the challenges that we face. These face-to-face consultations not only provide an opportunity for me to better explain the U.S. position, they also provide the opportunity to listen to the concerns and approaches of other Parties.

Recently this past May, as they do every five years, NPT Parties convened at the United Nations in New York to review the Treaty. At this month-long meeting Parties looked back at the previous five years. They discussed the wide variety of issues related to the Treaty’s three pillars. And they looked for ways to strengthen the Treaty in the face of these challenges and those it will face in the future.

Most Parties arrived in New York committed to the Treaty’s strengthening and mindful of its role in preserving international peace and security and furthering economic development. The United States delegation could point to several recent achievements – the signing of the New START Treaty, the revolutionary new Nuclear Posture Review, the successful Nuclear Security Summit – as evidence of strong U.S. commitment to each of the Treaty’s pillars.

At the Conference’s opening, Secretary of State Clinton continued to reinforce that commitment by announcing The Peaceful Uses Initiative, which provides an additional U.S. commitment of $50million to the IAEA Technical Cooperation Fund over the next five years to support the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Four weeks of debate and compromise ensued. It reflected a shared determination on the part of most Parties to demonstrate support for the NPT and to seek common ground. Strong leadership on the part of conference officers guided that debate. Intense negotiations, often conducted on the margins, were remarkably successful in reconciling the important and often conflicting priorities of the parties.

In the end, the Conference succeeded. Parties, for the first time in ten years reached consensus on a final document. This document is an Action Plan by which Parties have committed to strengthening the Treaty in each of its three pillars.

The United States believes this Action Plan is a notable achievement. President Obama welcomed its "balanced and practical steps that will advance nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which are critical pillars of the nonproliferation regime." He also noted that the plan reaffirms many aspects of the agenda that he has laid out in nonproliferation, disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The Action Plan has strong language on strengthening safeguards, remedying noncompliance, supporting the IAEA. It addresses concerns about terrorist access to nuclear materials and technologies and ensuring that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy can expand without a marked increase in the risk of proliferation. It welcomes actions that the United States and others have taken on disarmament and recognizes the importance of endeavors such as the Nuclear Security Summit and the Peaceful Uses Initiative. While it does not address abuse of the Treaty’s withdrawal clause, the United States was pleased that the Conference seriously discussed how to prevent abuse of the withdrawal provision of the Treaty.

The United States was gratified that this conference succeeded. The Action Plan can help us to strengthen the NPT and the larger regime against the challenges it faces. The United States is working with others to strengthen safeguards, to return states like Iran and North Korea to compliance, and to insure that the IAEA has the resources and authorities it needs. We are keeping our commitments on disarmament as we take steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons.


There is much to be done and we need good people to do it. As you embark on your own multilateral diplomacy journey, let me offer you some advice. Be prepared in terms both of policy and process. Know your national policy position and the procedures.

In my experience I have found that nothing can take the place of face-to-face consultations with as many partners as possible. Listening to others’ concerns, positions, and perspectives is key to building consensus.


Be realistic about what can be achieved in a large multilateral for a. Multilateral diplomacy is a process. This process can be arduous, but only through collaboration can the best and most durable results be achieved.


With this, I conclude my remarks. I wish you all well in your negotiations and welcome any questions you may have at this time.

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