Dáil Éireann - Volume 626 - 25 October, 2006

Priority Questions. - Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken by his Department to convey Ireland’s condemnation of recent nuclear testing to the North Korean regime; the further steps being taken to press for reform of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34715/06]

  Mr. D. Ahern: Following a statement of intent issued on 3 October, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced that it had carried out an underground nuclear test on 9 October. I immediately strongly condemned this provocative action by the DPRK. It is a serious threat to the security and stability of the region, as well as a direct contravention of the international objectives of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. It ignored the will of the international community and ran counter to the patient efforts of the DPRK’s neighbours to work constructively to find a diplomatic solution through the six party talks process.

My statement of condemnation was communicated to the DPRK authorities through its embassy in London. Finland, acting as Presidency, also issued a statement on behalf of the EU. At the current session of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Ireland, together with our partners in the New Agenda Coalition, tabled a resolution condemning the DRPK’s test of a nuclear device and emphasising the central role of the NPT in achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

However, it is clear in the case of DPRK that words of condemnation must also be backed by concrete action. On 14 October, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718 empowering the international community to enforce specific sanctions, including an arms embargo, as well as a ban on any items which could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear, ballistic missile or WMD programmes. At the meeting of the General Affairs and Exter[559] nal Relations Council last week, the EU committed itself to the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1718, as well as Resolution 1695, adopted in July in response to the DPRK’s earlier controversial ballistic missile tests. We are currently taking the necessary steps to ensure Ireland’s full compliance with these two resolutions.

As regards the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the testing of a nuclear explosive device by DPRK is a matter of grave concern. Since the DPRK’s announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and subsequent declaration that it possesses nuclear weapons, the international community has consistently urged the DPRK to abandon its policy, completely dismantle its nuclear weapons programme and comply fully with its obligations under the NPT.

Review conferences of the NPT take place every five years and afford an opportunity to review the implementation of the treaty and all its provisions. The next scheduled NPT review conference will take place in 2010 and will be preceded by a series of preparatory meetings beginning in 2007. Regrettably, the last review conference, in May 2005, ended without agreement on substantive conclusions and recommendations on how to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

I have constantly made clear that the effective implementation of all aspects of the NPT, including the nuclear weapons states’ commitment to disarmament, would serve to strengthen the global non-proliferation context. The entry into force of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty would also be a positive step. This is in no way to suggest that the course adopted by the DPRK’s dangerous and totalitarian regime has any shred of justification.

  Mr. Allen: Almost 60 countries now have nuclear reactors for research or power generation and 40 have the industrial and scientific infrastructure to build a nuclear weapon at short notice. The US has entered an agreement to pass on nuclear technology to India, which is not a signatory to the NPT, and Iran, Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Does the Minister agree that we are reaching a point of no return where the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty is becoming defunct?

In view of the Minister’s admission that the talks about a review of the treaty ended in failure at the United Nations in 2006, there is now urgent need to reconvene the talks on the treaty, not to wait until 2010, which may be too late. As a country that was an architect of the treaty, we should act as a global leader to get people around the table to deal with this deadly issue before it is too late.

  Mr. D. Ahern: It is not my view or that of the Government that the NPT is defunct. It is [560] accepted, however, that it faces major challenges and the review conference in 2005 was a grave disappointment. In September 2005, when the UN reform package was finalised, I echoed the words of Kofi Annan on the NPT. The fact that there are challenges should not deflect us from encouraging all states to participate in the NPT.

Under the treaty, it is accepted that countries can have nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. They have that right and it is not fair to say that countries with that capability can quickly proceed to a military mode. It is the case that the treaty is under pressure and Ireland, with other countries in the New Agenda Coalition, strongly promotes the review of the NPT constantly. The proposed agreement between the US and India is one of a series of issues that are not yet finalised and they put pressure on the treaty but we should not remove our focus from the twin approach in the NPT, of which Ireland was an architect many years ago, in less complicated but more dangerous times. In those days there were only two powers but there is now a multiplicity of powers. That is why the NPT is based on multilateralism. It is much better to have countries adopt principles to which we can all adhere, even though we may not agree with them on nuclear energy.

Ireland is ready, willing and able to provide assistance and we informed the United Nations Secretary General a year ago that we would participate in any effort to try to ensure that the non-proliferation treaty, the twin track policy of non-proliferation and disarmament, should be the hallmark of the approach to the nuclear-military issue.

  Mr. Allen: Does the Minister agree that there has been an erosion of the main tenets of the non-proliferation treaty which could lead to a cascade of proliferation? These are not my words but those of a United Nations report published in 2004. Double standards and sickening hypocrisy are evident with regard to the non-proliferation treaty. Different standards are applied to Iran as are applied to India, Israel and Pakistan. Surely it is time for uniformity in global standards on non-proliferation because without it nuclear weapons will inevitably get into the hands of terrorists who will hold democratically elected governments to ransom. This is not a comic book scenario but a realistic proposition in the event that we do not get our act together. Waiting until 2010 to hold another round-table conference with no guarantees of success will mean we are too late. Ireland has a moral right to exert pressure on this matter because, as the Minister agrees, we were the architects of the non-proliferation treaty.

  Mr. D. Ahern: No one is waiting until 2010. The non-proliferation treaty is in place and only a handful of nations are not part of it. The vast majority of the international community participates in and adheres to the treaty, although a [561] number of countries, including Iran and North Korea, have deviated from it.

  Mr. Allen: India is not a signatory.

  Mr. D. Ahern: One cannot equate recent events in Iran with those in North Korea. The international community, at the Security Council, proposed relatively draconian sanctions against North Korea on the basis of that country’s declared intent and follow-up action. The purpose of the Security Council decision was to forcefully suggest to North Korea that it cannot succeed.

  Mr. Allen: That is where the double standards and hypocrisy are evident.

  Mr. D. Ahern: I understand the Democratic Republic of North Korea has given an undertaking to China that it will not proceed with further action.

It is simplistic to state that Ireland should lead the way. Ireland is one of a number of countries to the fore as regards adherence to the non-proliferation treaty and trying to persuade the international community as a whole to continue on the track of non-proliferation and disarmament. This can only be achieved in conjunction with other like-minded countries. I accept that certain countries want to have it both ways. In my statements to the review conference and the United Nations, I did not put a tooth in my statement that some of the countries that wish to ensure there is non-proliferation are, at the same time, not prepared to disarm.

  Mr. Allen: The Minister’s comment that it is simplistic to argue that Ireland should lead the way is disingenuous. Ireland has a role to play. The United States deals with India, which has not signed the non-proliferation treaty.