ISSN 2330-717X

FMT Debate: Various Perspectives – Analysis


By Nasir Naveed Dogar

The idea of banning the production of fissile material is a long standing issue and has been the focus on the international non-proliferation efforts at various period of time; however the real momentum was developed after cold war.

In 1993 the UNGA passed resolution 48/75 L this aims at “non-discriminatory, multilateral, internationally and effectively verifiable treaty” banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive devices. This resolution was further strengthened by the Shannon Mandate which reached at the CD by the 65 members; this states CD members agree to carry out negotiations on the basis of non-discrimination, multilateral, international and effectively verifiable treaty

The mandate basically sets the standards for the member states to negotiate the definitional parameters, scope, verification mechanism and ultimately the purpose of the treaty. Main issues in the Fissile Material Treaty are Definition of the Fissile Material, Scope of the treaty, Verification Mechanism and Purpose of the Treaty.

There are four main agenda items at the platform of the CD which are Fissile Material Treaty (FMT), Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), Negative Security Assurance (NSA) and Nuclear Disarmament (ND). The question is, what is the more critical issue and what priority should be given to above stated agenda items.

Currently there is a deadlock in the CD over the work plan for the year. There are both procedural and substantive issues at the heart of this debate, especially with regards to the future of treaty negotiations on the fissile material production.

Fissile material can be described as fissile materials are uranium enriched to more than 20% in U-235 or U-233 and plutonium containing less than 80% Pu-238 however now the debate, should the fissile material treaty only ban the production of fissile material categorized under uranium and pu or should also include man made fission material and material used in advanced nuclear weapons and reactors .

There are two main perspectives on the scope of the Treaty. One school of thought maintains about FMT and the other is FMCT. P-5 along with India are of the view that the treaty should only ban the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices while majority of the G-21 states along with Pakistan are in favour of a treaty which ban the future production and pre-existing stocks of fissile material. P-5 has already stopped the production of fissile material and through special privileges western powers have showered all sorts of favors on India; therefore India is also towing their line. They want to make the treaty only a non-proliferation instrument which would only legalize the status quo permanently in their favor.

On the other hand those who are in favor of FMT emphasize that only a cut in the future production of fissile material is unacceptable. Majority of the Non-Aligned Movement states are in favor of a treaty which also includes the pre-existing stocks of the fissile material.

A non-discriminatory FMT has the potential to strengthen the NPT, notably in the manner in which the nuclear-weapon states might be brought more formally into the IAEA safeguards system and in which nuclear weapon states outside the NPT might be brought into closer cooperation with NPT states parties. A fissile material treaty would be a welcome addition to the measures governing disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, making a contribution to improve the climate of trust at a time of turbulent international security environment. This is also consistent with the goal envisioned in article VI of the NPT.

After the scope of the treaty, verification is also one of the main core issue of the treaty. Verification of the FMT is one of the core issues of the treaty, without verification treaty will not be an effective and credible instrument. Scope of the treaty will determine the nature of verification mechanism. The main purpose of an FMT is to ensure an end in the production of fissile material both existing and the future stockpiles for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. A prohibition on such activities already exists in non-nuclear weapon states, with compliance verified by the IAEA pursuant to comprehensive safeguards and additional protocols.

Currently there has been a deadlock in the CD for the last 15 years due to multiple reasons. All the core agenda items in the CD should be equally treated. Only few states are in favor of FMCT and they are adamant in their position and want other states to negotiate a treaty which only fulfill their agenda.

The Agenda of the CD covers other critical issues and FMT is not the only item on its agenda. There can be no preferential treatment to any one issue to the exclusion of other CD Agenda items. Unfortunately what we are witnessing, attempts to paint a picture that presents the FMCT-negotiations as the only measure of the CD success.

Ironically United States advocates to take FMCT out of CD because it believes that certain state parties are misusing ‘consensus rule’ of the CD. Both FMT and CD will lose their significance the moment negotiations on FMT will be brought out of Conference on Disarmament. What if, other CD agenda item brought out of the it? Conference on Disarmament is the only appropriate forum to negotiate arms control and disarmament related treaties.

Pakistan has taken a very clear position on FMT and it has legitimate security concerns. The work of the CD and indeed of the international disarmament machinery can proceed only on the basis of ensuring the security of all states. Any initiative that undermines the security of even one state will not succeed. Pakistan’s position is shaped by four strategic considerations.

· Indo-US nuclear deal and later NSG waiver to India

· Increase in the high-technology defence and space trade between India and US, and others

· Indian Cold Start Doctrine couple with India’s growing conventional superiority

· India’s investment in the Ballistic Missile Defence (BDM) system

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Ambassador in CD aptly highlighted the point that the proposed cut-off treaty is Pakistan specific as for non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT this cut off is already in place. Therefore, a treaty should be negotiated which can also cover the existing stocks of fissile material. Only a non-proliferation instrument is not enough it must also contain element of disarmament.

It can easily be argued that the CD does not operate in a vacuum. It is obviously affected by developments in the international political system. Each state shapes its position on the CDs Agenda in the light of its perceptions of the security environment and certainly not by any artificial timeline or attempts to project one issue to the forefront while neglecting other equally pressing if not more pressing issues.

Author is Research Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) and can be reached at: [email protected]

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