Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) 

Provisions / Analysis
Negotiating some type of fissban – a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) or a more comprehensive Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) – has been part of the work deadlocked for over a decade in the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament (CD).  Both an FMCT and an FMT would strengthen nuclear non-proliferation norms by adding a binding international commitment to existing constraints on nuclear weapons-usable fissile material.  Significant differences among states regarding the scope of treaty provisions continue to block consensus on how to begin negotiating the terms of a fissban in the CD.  These differences include whether or not the treaty will cover: existing stocks of fissile material; the management of fissile material; and non-fissile materials used in the production of nuclear weapons, such as tritium.  These debates point to the different states’ views on the purpose of a fissban.  Some states want to create a basic FMCT that would stop the future production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, while others believe an FMT should be part of a broader disarmament agenda, and therefore include the elimination - or at least the identification and safeguarding - of existing stockpiles of fissile material.

The five recognized nuclear weapon states parties (NWS: US, UK, France, Russia, and China) to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) have been exercising a voluntary moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons since the 1990's.  China's announcement of their participation in this production moratorium was "unofficial," and less is known about their current capacity, capability, and activity than that of the other four NWS.  India and Pakistan continue to produce fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, and it is widely assumed that Israel does as well.  North Korea shut down its plutonium production reactor in July, 2007 and is therefore no longer producing fissile material.

The UN's CD negotiating forum has not been able to agree on a programme of work to start negotiations on an FMCT since 1998, when consensus was reached near the end of the session and discussions took place for only a short period of time.  No substantive issues were resolved during those discussions and no treaty emerged.  The delegates at the 2004 CD were surprised when the US announced that it no longer believed an FMCT would be verifiable.  Then, in 2006, the US offered a draft FMCT with a new basis from which to negotiate, one that removed the prior language of the Shannon Mandate of 1995 requiring that an FMCT be “effectively verifiable.”  Because the CD has still not been able to reach consensus on an FMCT, there have been calls to begin talks outside the CD to help alleviate the stalemates created by the consensus rule, which requires unanimous agreement before any action can be taken.  Consensus has been blocked for several reasons, one of which is the linking of other issues to the agreement on a negotiating basis for an FMCT.  For information about how issue linkages in the CD have held up progress on negotiating an FMCT, click here.

In a 27 September 1993 speech before the UN, President Clinton called for a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear explosives or outside international safeguards. In December 1993 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 48/75L calling for the negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and international effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." The Geneva based Conference on Disarmament (CD) on 23 March 1995 agreed to a mandate for a committee to begin negotiations on the cutoff treaty.   For more on the chronology, click here. 

Chronological archive of official factsheets, announcements, briefings speeches and other related material.

Chronological archive of news reports, commentary analysis and other related material.

Related Resources
A Step-by-step Approach to a Global Fissile Materials Cutoff Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel Arms Control Today, Vol. 25, No. 8.

Fissile Materials: Scope, Stocks and Verification Disarmament Forum two . 1999

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