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Minister Flanagan’s address at 2015 UN Conference on Disarmament

Diplomatic Relations, Disarmament, Human Rights, International Law, Ireland, Minister Charles Flanagan, United Nations, Speech, Ireland, 2015

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, at 2015 UN Conference on Disarmament
4 March 2015

Mr President,

At the outset, I commend the leadership that Mongolia has shown in disarmament and was pleased to instruct my officials to co-sponsor the Resolution on “Mongolia’s international security and nuclear-weapon-free status”. I welcome the fact that this Resolution was adopted without a vote at the General Assembly last year.

Mr President

Our world faces substantial and difficult challenges, and Nuclear Disarmament remains one of the key moral questions of our time.
Yet there are also reasons to be optimistic.

Last year, on 24 December, the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force, representing real hope and showing what can be achieved when we all work together for the common good. The Treaty is the first legally binding instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Ireland, which was one of the first countries to sign the Treaty, welcomes the fact that over 130 countries have now signed it. We look forward to working with the other States Parties in ensuring a strong and effective implementation regime which will stem the unregulated flow of conventional arms, thereby saving lives, reducing human suffering and making the world a safer place.

Equally, the world has been able to agree that Chemical and Biological Weapons should hold no place in modern warfare. As we approach the 100th anniversary of that first use of chemical weapons during World War 1, the international community can take some solace from the strong and united reaction to the appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria and from the joint efforts to destroy these weapons that is still continuing, and to which Ireland was pleased to make a contribution.

Likewise, the international community continues to move forward together, within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) framework, on the groundbreaking Ottawa (Landmines) Convention, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), all contributing to establishing strong international norms and outlawing those weapons which are found to be indiscriminate or inhumane in their effects. Indeed, Ireland is looking forward to the First Review Conference of the CCM in September this year to be hosted by a fellow EU member state. We see this as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to rid the world of these inhumane weapons. Ireland continues to be engaged with these and newer challenges, such as the issues thrown up by the possibility of lethal autonomous weapons systems, as well as the use of explosive weapons with a wide area impact in populated areas.

Mr President

70 years on from the end of the Second World War and those terrible scenes of devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the risk of a nuclear detonation remains very real. Ireland, as the initiator of the Resolutions at the United Nations which led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has an abiding concern that the provisions of the Treaty should be honoured and implemented. Suggestions that there is an equivalence of achievement in relation to multilateral nuclear disarmament as compared with the other pillars of the NPT are not supported by the facts. On the contrary, the imbalance across the three pillars is increasing.

There are voices which tell us that it is in our interests that nuclear weapons are maintained; that we benefit from the stability they offer the world order. The convulsions and bloodshed we see in so many regions suggest that nuclear weapons have not shielded us from conflict or provided stability. Moreover, I firmly believe the consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation would negate utterly the stability of the world order, possibly for generations.

With this in mind, Ireland welcomes the renewed focus on the original rationale that motivated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty concern about the human cost of an accident with any one of the 80,000 nuclear weapons then in existence. Despite reductions, which we welcome and acknowledge, we cannot shy away from the fact that 17,000 of these inhumane weapons still exist and with them the potential for a nuclear weapon detonation at any time.

Ireland is therefore grateful to the Governments of Norway, Mexico and Austria for their leadership in hosting major international conferences on the humanitarian impact of a nuclear detonation. We need to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to acquiesce in a situation where - in one region or another, sooner or later - a nuclear weapon may one day be used or set off accidentally. After all, we do know the extent of human suffering that will result and the incapacity of emergency services anywhere to cope.

There are those who argue that risks apply to disarming as well as to allowing the weapons to continue in existence. I would contend that these risks are decisively outweighed by the dangers associated with keeping the weapons. We are continually learning about the risks inherent in the maintenance of nuclear weapons programmes, even more so now thanks to independent research in the UK and the US - and research, moreover, which so far is based only on available de-classified information.

Mr. President,

Before joining you in this chamber, I met with the President of the ICRC Peter Maurer and congratulated him on his recent important address to the Geneva diplomatic corps in relation to nuclear disarmament. Ireland fully agrees with the ICRC that there is a need to fill the legal gap to eliminate nuclear weapons. As President Maurer said, “It is the time to draw legal, political and operational conclusions from what has been learned about those ‘catastrophic humanitarian consequences’ that States party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty recognized five years ago.”

Why should ordinary citizens, whose safety and security Governments are obligated to protect, not be given full and transparent information about risks, so that they can make an informed judgement as to whether the unparalleled horrors of a nuclear holocaust can make it justifiable or logical to retain nuclear weapons? Just as Governments have a duty of care to their citizens’ health and welfare, those same citizens have certain rights to information about potential risks facing them.

Mr. President,

I would like to commend the Acting Secretary General of this Conference for taking the initiative to organise an informal Civil Society Forum later this month. Ireland is in no doubt about the value that our partners in civil society bring to the debate on disarmament. It is regrettable that the members of this Conference are not able to benefit fully from their expertise in a more systematic and dynamic way. It is Ireland’s firm belief that the goal of disarmament is generally shared by states, and I would like to reiterate my Government’s strong belief that this Conference should expand its membership. If the goal of disarmament is to promote peace and security, as Ireland believes it is, why should a majority of the UN Member States be excluded from the body which is mandated to negotiate legally-binding disarmament instruments?

Mr. President,

The very first item on the agenda of this Conference which was adopted on 20 January is “Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.” For Ireland, it is a matter of profound regret that it remains necessary to speak of ceasing the nuclear arms race, but the stark reality of the world in which we live is that the steps necessary to halt the nuclear arms race have not been taken. In a few weeks from now, it will be twenty years since Ambassador Gerald Shannon of Canada presented his report to this conference on “the most appropriate arrangement to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” The ad hoc Committee of this Conference that was to be established was not formed, and no negotiations on a Treaty on this topic, or indeed on any other disarmament treaty, have taken place in this Conference since then.

In 2013, Ireland’s submission to the UN Secretary General recalled our consistent view that such a “Treaty must address both existing stocks and future production of fissile materials.” The negotiation and conclusion of a Treaty would halt the quantitative development of nuclear weapons.

It would not necessarily halt a qualitative improvement in nuclear weapons. The stark evidence of the long-term effects of nuclear weapon testing make it all the more important that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty enter into force as a matter of urgency. I call upon those States whose ratifications are required to rid the world of the spectre of nuclear weapons tests to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Mr President,

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons last December, like the preceding meetings in the series in Oslo and in Nayarit, put the humanitarian dimension front and centre in the deliberations and in doing so put the emphasis where it belongs – on the victims of nuclear detonations and testing.

In a fair and balanced way, facts and evidence were presented alongside the testimonies of survivors. For those who take issue with any of the findings, we would actively encourage their engagement in this crucial dialogue and invite them to point to the facts which they dispute. The evidence presented showed, very clearly in my view, that the risk of a nuclear detonation is greater than we realised; that the capacity to cope with such an event is hopelessly inadequate and that the effect would be disproportionately worse for women and children than men.

The importance of the Vienna Conference can be measured both by the number of countries represented, almost 160, and in the decision of the UN Secretary General and Pope Francis to send personal messages.

The Pope and many other religious leaders have now cast doubt on the moral rightness of keeping nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes. Pope Francis said “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethic of fraternity and peaceful co-existence among peoples and states. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve far more”.

The UN Secretary General reminded us that “no country disputes the desirability of achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.” My country concurs with Secretary General Ban’s remark that “The more we understand about the humanitarian impacts, the more it becomes clear that we must pursue disarmament as an urgent imperative." If these weapons are judged by the vast majority to be bereft of moral justification and utilitarian value; if they have been shown to have appalling and indiscriminate destructive capacity; why is there a reluctance to discuss legal pathways to eliminate them as all States are obliged to do?

I commend Austria’s clear intention in the Pledge it made to present the findings from Vienna at the NPT Review Conference. I will endorse and support any effort to highlight the horrors of these truly inhumane weapons and the risks and dangers they represent, and I shall do the same at the Review Conference in two months’ time. Faced with the facts about the risks and consequences for the planet of a nuclear explosion, the Austrian Government undertook in the Pledge to identify and pursue effective measures required by Article VI of the NPT to bring about nuclear disarmament and an end to the nuclear arms race. Ireland joined with our partners in the New Agenda Coalition last April in presenting proposals for discussions on those effective measures and the possible ingredients of a legal framework or instrument that would give expression to them. My Government is therefore entirely at one with the Government of Austria in this aim and notes that the Pledge leaves open the precise legal pathway to be followed towards the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Mr President,

The non-proliferation pillar of the NPT stands between us and a nuclear weapons free-for-all. Ireland has consistently argued for a balanced implementation across all three pillars of the NPT, and we attach equal importance to the non-proliferation provisions of the Treaty both on its own merits and as a contributor to the goal of disarmament.

We also wish to reaffirm the central importance of the IAEA’s safeguards system to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Together with many states present here, Ireland is an active participant in - and a strong supporter of - several export control regimes, the aim of which is to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology, materials or know-how.

While Ireland has chosen not to include nuclear power in its energy mix, we recognise the right of all State Parties to the NPT to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under Article IV of the Treaty, subject to full compliance with the non-proliferation and verification requirements of the Treaty.

On 11 March, we will mark the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, which reminded us of the need to ensure that the highest possible standards of safety are in place and are renewed and improved. Ireland is acutely conscious of the trans-boundary nature of nuclear events and therefore underlines the need for international cooperation in this area. We commend and fully support the on-going efforts of the IAEA to coordinate and share lessons learned from Fukushima.

Mr President,

Ireland believes that the NPT has reached a critical point and that the international community as a whole must re-dedicate itself in words and in actions to effective multilateral and verifiable nuclear disarmament. This is not an aspiration but an urgent imperative, as the UN Secretary General has said. Discussions on how to achieve full implementation of Article VI and secure nuclear disarmament by the most effective and speedy means should start now.

I understand the irony of addressing these remarks in the Conference on Disarmament, which has failed even to agree a programme of work over several years. This should not, however, detract from their validity. We as Governments will not be forgiven by our citizens if we do not seek to afford them protection from the wholesale annihilation that would follow if a nuclear detonation occurred. It does not mean leaving ourselves defenceless – it means choosing a different method of defending ourselves in order to ensure the survival of the planet. No matter who the protagonists are in any conflict, all should acknowledge that the potential appalling price of continuing to rely on nuclear weapons - despite the proven risks they entail - is too high.

Failing to participate in discussions about ridding the world of these weapons through multilateral negotiations suggests in my view a reluctance to meet Treaty obligations freely entered into. Spending millions on modernising weapons systems which should be banished from the world’s arsenals appears to me to run counter to the direction favoured by the vast majority of countries – 155 of which have declared to the United Nations General Assembly that nuclear weapons should never be used again under any circumstances.

Finally, Mr President, we also need to consider the need for women to be empowered and given agency in relation to disarmament discussions generally. 20 years on from Beijing, and 15 years from the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, challenges remain. I have mentioned the research suggesting that for every 2 men who die of cancer due to exposure to radiation as a consequence of a nuclear weapon detonation, three women will die. The disproportionate effect on children is even greater and this increases still further for girls. We know too, from the experience of conflict, the disproportionate effect which armed violence has on women and children everywhere. Yet we still struggle to ensure equal representation and agency for women in arms control and disarmament negotiations. For these reasons, Ireland will jointly with others organize a side event at this year’s NPT Review Conference which will study gender and nuclear weapons from the double viewpoint of the disproportionate impact and the need for women’s voices to be heard and given equal weight in the nuclear weapons debate.

Mr President,

The NPT Review Conference represents a signal opportunity to make a break with the failed dogma of nuclear deterrence and to agree to start discussions on effective measures for nuclear disarmament without delay. We should seize that opportunity.

Thank you, Mr President.