Remarks by Gary Samore, Special Assistant to the President, at a UN High-Level Meeting on Revitalizing the Work of the Conference on Disarmament

Special Assistant to the President, Gary Samore
New York, NY
September 24, 2010


Mr. Chairman, on behalf of President Obama, I would like to express the President’s appreciation to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his initiative to convene this high-level meeting. We fully support the Secretary General’s efforts to awaken the Conference on Disarmament from its many years of slumber.

In April 2009 in Prague, President Obama laid out his agenda for practical steps to move toward a nuclear weapons free world. Since then, we have made notable progress:

  • The United Nations Security Council met at the highest level and unanimously approved UNSCR 1887, which endorses practical steps to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and international arms control efforts.
  • The United States and Russia completed a new arms control treaty that significantly reduces levels of strategic offensive arms.
  • The United States issued an updated Nuclear Posture Review that extends the U.S. negative security assurances to countries in compliance with their non-proliferation obligations and reduces the role of nuclear weapons in our overall defense posture.
  • President Obama hosted a historical Nuclear Security Summit of 47 nations and three international organizations in Washington that strengthened efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism and endorsed the President’s proposal to lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years.
  • The NPT Parties met for a successful NPT Review Conference, approving a final document endorsing a balanced approach to advance the three pillars of the regime – nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful uses, and disarmament.
  • Finally, the UN Security Council and the international community as a whole are taking strong measures against countries that are violating their non-proliferation obligations and threatening international peace and security with their nuclear programs, while leaving the door open to negotiated solutions.

In the midst of this progress, the continued stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament sticks out like a sore thumb.
In his Prague speech, President Obama announced that the United States will seek a new international treaty to verifiably end the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Such a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty – an FMCT – would contribute to disarmament and reduce the risks of proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Beyond that, we see the FMCT as the disarmament issue most ripe for serious negotiation and most capable of revitalizing the machinery of the CD.

Once a respected institution, which produced such landmark treaties as the CTBT and the CWC, the Conference on Disarmament has sadly fallen into disrepair and disrepute after more than a dozen years of deadlock. Yet, it is vital that we have an energetic and effective multilateral forum in which to conduct international arms control negotiations and discussions. Therefore, we were highly encouraged when the CD responded to President Obama’s Prague speech by approving by consensus a work program in May 2009 to begin negotiations of the FMCT, as well as discussions on such critical issues as outer space, negative security assurances, and nuclear disarmament. We were ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the complicated and difficult negotiations for an FMCT.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Instead, a single country – a good friend of the United States – changed its mind and has blocked the CD from implementing its work plan.

Now, we certainly understand that the FMCT would have profound security implications for countries (including the United States) that have unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And, we understand and expect that these security issues will have to be addressed in the course of the CD negotiations, where every participating state will have a chance to defend its interests and ensure that the FMCT does not harm its vital interests. We recognize – indeed we insist – that negotiations in the CD must proceed by consensus, and that each state may decide whether to join the resulting treaty. With these principles in place, no country need fear the prospect of FMCT negotiations. Therefore, it strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts. We believe these negotiations will take years, and therefore we should get started as soon as possible.

Mr. Chairman, the Secretary General has called us here today to discuss how to revive the Conference on Disarmament. We think the solution is right before our eyes. President Obama calls on all countries to show the political courage and international spirit to agree to the May 2009 CD work plan and allow the FMCT negotiations to begin. We fully encourage and support the Secretary General’s efforts to follow-up this meeting, including in the UN First Committee and the UN General Assembly. If we cannot begin these negotiations in the CD, then we will need to consider other options. In any event, it is time to get back to work. The treaty is too important to allow the CD’s dysfunction and the interests of one state to dictate the pace of progress on disarmament.

We must do better.


PRN: 2010/193