U.S. Reviewing FMCT Policy

The United States has long pushed for a treaty to end the production of the two key building blocks of nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration may change that policy.

Even as the U.S. commitment to other arms control agreements has lagged in recent years, U.S. officials have continued to champion a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons purposes. Yet, J. Sherwood McGinnis, deputy representative of the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), said Oct. 27 that Washington is “reviewing specific elements” of its policy toward such a treaty. Speaking at the United Nations, McGinnis further added that U.S. support for a resolution that day urging the start of FMCT negotiations by the 66-member CD “is without prejudice to the outcome of that review.” The diplomatic language means that Washington is reserving the right to change its position, although it does not suggest that the United States will necessarily do so.

McGinnis provided no details about the review. Department of State officials in Washington withheld any comment pending the review’s conclusion.

An FMCT has topped Washington’s negotiating priorities at the CD for a half-dozen years, but formal talks had been blocked by other countries’ insistence that the treaty be negotiated in parallel with other agreements on nuclear disarmament or outer space. In August, however, China dropped its demand or U.S.-opposed outer space negotiations, removing what had been seen as the central obstacle to opening talks. (See ACT, October 2003.)

Completion of an FMCT by 2005 was one of 13 steps to which nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty states-parties, including the United States, committed themselves in May 2000. Yet, since taking office, the Bush administration has acted contrary to several of those steps, such as refusing to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s entry into force and withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which barred Moscow and Washington from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

The United States, as well as France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, have declared that they no longer produce fissile materials for weapons purposes. China is also understood to have stopped. In addition to codifying these actions, an FMCT would be aimed at blocking India, Israel, and Pakistan from any future production of plutonium or HEU for weapons.