26 April 2012
International Seminar on "Assessing the prospects for the implementation of Article VI of the NPT
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament
and Personal Representative of the
United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference
International Seminar on “Assessing the prospects for the implementation of Article VI of the NPT”
WMO building, Room C1
Thursday, 26 April 2012 from 15:00 to 18:00
Ladies and Gentlemen:
When it comes to nuclear disarmament, the most significant progress in the recent past has, in fact, been achieved bilaterally. So, the question as to what kind of a role, and how much of a role, international organizations do play in the elimination of weapons of mass destruction is both legitimate and relevant.
To answer that question, I believe that we need to look at the purpose and role of international organizations, such as the United Nations, in this area in a broader perspective. Over the years, the United Nations has played an indispensable role in creating global norms and expectations concerning disarmament, and by working to create conditions that are conducive to disarmament. This wider interpretation is essential to understanding how the United Nations helps to advance the global disarmament agenda – and importantly, how we can enhance those efforts as part of the work for a safer and more secure world.
Let us first take a quick look at how the United Nations has promoted nuclear disarmament:
Disarmament is at the very core of the United Nations’ efforts for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Charter of the United Nations established a mandate for the “regulation of armaments”, a term that has come to mean the limitation and regulation of conventional arms. The Charter also identified the goal of “disarmament”, which has been interpreted as applying primarily to the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, although some uniquely inhumane conventional weapons have also been prohibited.
In a different context, Member States of the United Nations have, over the years, adopted a number of resolutions and decisions concerning the prevention of a nuclear arms race, the elimination of nuclear weapons and the need to avoid the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
On 24 September 2009, the Security Council held its first summit meeting specifically on disarmament issues and adopted Resolution 1887. The preamble of this resolution states that the Council is “resolving to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”. Last week, the Council held a follow-up debate. In the Presidential Statement adopted on this occasion, Council members reaffirmed the need for all Member States to comply fully with their obligations and fulfill their commitments in relation to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects of all weapons of mass destruction. Disarmament – including nuclear disarmament – is a key focus of our Member States.
But, the contributions of the United Nations have been broader than that, in particular through its efforts to promote the negotiation of multilateral treaties and other normative standards to govern the relations between States. This was highlighted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 24 October 2008 in his five-point proposal, which stressed the need to bring the “rule of law” to disarmament.
In this respect, the United Nations has played an important role not just in establishing and maintaining global norms, but in holding States accountable for living up to their legal and political commitments to achieve agreed goals.
Looking ahead, how can we strengthen those efforts to ensure that we promote nuclear disarmament in a meaningful manner?
Above all, multilateral disarmament requires a credible institution for multilateral negotiations. We have that institution in the Conference on Disarmament; our current collective challenge is to make it live up to its potential.
The Conference on Disarmament as the single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating forum is a unique institution. The great contribution of the CD has been its recognition that the national interest is best pursued through multilateral collaboration.
Yet, despite its past successes in negotiating treaties, the Conference on Disarmament has been unable to commence negotiations on any new multilateral disarmament treaty since 1996, due to deep differences among the policies and priorities of its Member States. An additional hurdle has been the expansive interpretation of the CD’s consensus rule to cover even procedural and administrative issues.
Today, many fear that the best years of the CD are behind it. I continue to believe that the Conference can play a central role in multilateral disarmament. And I believe that revitalizing the CD has to be a central element in efforts to implement Article VI of the NPT.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has personally addressed the CD on a number of occasions and appealed for it to resume its substantive work.
In February, I put forward a number of ideas to assist the Conference in heeding the calls of the Secretary-General. The suggestions include extending the length and modifying the method of selection of the Presidency, expanding membership, and addressing issues other than the current four core agenda items. There is no doubt that increased political engagement must remain our first priority. But, at the same time, concrete steps to improve the functioning of the Conference can also be politically significant.
Some have argued that an alternative forum or process to the CD should be explored, along the lines of some of the processes that have enabled progress on humanitarian disarmament issues. Such an ad hoc forum would no doubt be easy to establish. But it would not be as legitimate as a time-honored standing negotiating forum like the CD. It might therefore not be able to effectively address, in a sustained fashion, some of the core issues that are part of the mandate of the Conference on Disarmament, which has to be protected and preserved as a unique disarmament machinery.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen:
We must be realistic. Great difficulties remain in achieving universal commitments both to disarmament and non-proliferation. Today, 42 years after the NPT entered into force, it has still not achieved universal membership. Worse yet, since its entry into force, the number of States possessing (or believed to possess) nuclear weapons has expanded to nine. Expressions of regret over the slow pace of disarmament have been a perennial theme throughout the NPT review process.
The successful NPT Review Conference of 2010 made it very clear, however, that the nuclear weapon States must undertake to reduce, and eventually eliminate, their nuclear weapons. The entry into force of the new START treaty was a step forward in the field of bilateral nuclear disarmament. Other nuclear-weapon States have made their own unilateral steps in disarmament and nonproliferation. These are important steps that must continue, alongside multilateral efforts. Only the other day, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft sought to renew a public debate, which is to be welcomed.
This call becomes increasingly important in the context of test launches of missiles conducted recently by India and Pakistan. And it will complicate the situation not only in the CD but far beyond, from the geopolitical perspective, affecting the process of disarmament on the global level.
The action plan of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons has also entrusted the Conference with a number of tasks to take forward the multilateral disarmament agenda. Under the current circumstances, unfortunately, the Conference cannot acquit itself of these assignments. And the multilateral track is therefore not moving ahead as it should.
Despite the current and multiple obstacles, I remain convinced that nuclear disarmament will move forward, because it serves the interests of all our Member States. To truly serve those interests, we need to revitalize the Conference on Disarmament, and we must do so through the avenues where opportunities for agreement do exist. Lamenting the constraints of the rules of procedure or the “absence of political will” simply cannot suffice. Procedural reform cannot – and should not - substitute for political progress, and it is not a panacea. But it is a realistic beginning. It is often said that the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. It is time to take that step because the journey leads us all to a safer and more secure world.
I thank you for your attention.