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The NPT and International Disarmament

May 2, 2008

Co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research

Right Honourable Professor Shirley Williams (Baroness Williams of Crosby)


I am delighted to be here. Few international gatherings could be more important. I believe that you, together with your counterparts dealing with climate change, hold the future of humanity in your hands.

Green energy

The two issues, nuclear proliferation and climate change, are related. The drive for green energy, reducing carbon emissions, is one of the forces behind the renaissance of civil nuclear power.

There are now, according to the World Nuclear Association, 439 civil nuclear power stations operating in the world. There are 35 more under construction and another 300 or more in the planning stage. This massive expansion carries with it the threat of increased nuclear proliferation.

The Architecture Crumbles
The intended expansion of civil nuclear power coincides with the weakening and in some cases the actual termination, of the key international structures of regulation and control. The ABM treaty has gone. The Start Treaty runs out at the end of next year, unless it is extended or renewed. The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty itself has to be strengthened and updated in 2010; the world cannot risk another failed review like that of 2005. There are other challenges: three nuclear weapons states who are not signatories of the N.P.T. nor bound by its inspections; the lack of any substantial progress towards a lasting peace in the Middle East; the frustration of the non-nuclear weapons states at what they see as a double standard in the implementation of the NPT Treaty.

The Vision and the Path
The sense that the world is at a crossroads, a crossroads in which one way leads to catastrophe, inspired the initiative of the four senior American statesmen described by my colleague Charles Curtis. Their articles restate the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and chart the pathway to reach that vision. They recognize that rhetoric, without action, feeds into disillusion and cynicism.

Crucial to action, which must necessarily involve a radical lead by the two major nuclear weapons powers, Russia and the United States, is the rebuilding of trust. Reductions in the nuclear weapons arsenals have been very substantial in the last fifteen years. But the treaties that fathered them are running out. Further reductions under a renewed or extended Start treaty, with its mechanisms for international verification, would create confidence. The government of my own country, the United Kingdom, is currently working on systems of verification. So would the ratification by the US Senate of the CTBT treaty. So would moving nuclear weapons on to much longer warning systems, to enable fail safe measures to work, strongly advocated by the Middle Powers including the newly elected government of Australia.

An N.P.T. for the 21st Century?
If the expansion of civil nuclear power, the right of every country under Article 4 of the NPT, is not to feed into nuclear weapons proliferation, what Henry Kissinger has called “the structures of order” need to be extended too. The IAEA has commanded over the years a high level of credibility; it is the agency most likely to be supported in an extended role of monitoring and inspection. If it is to be effective, however, it needs additional resources and more trained staff, and it needs them soon. Every member government of the NPT has an obligation to contribute to those needs. In saying this, I am speaking independently of my Government, but I shall do my best to persuade them of its importance.

Finally let me as a member of the NTI board applaud the initiative that has been taken, and the opportunity it offers all of us to renew our efforts to make nuclear power a force for a better life rather than the cause of its destruction.