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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HEARS FROM DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER OF BELARUS
Discusses working methods under New Presidency of Ireland
20 August 2013

The Conference on Disarmament this morning heard an address from the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus and held a plenary meeting in which it considered landscape issues regarding the methods of work and structures of the Conference.

Valentin Rybakov, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, said that international security, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation have always been key priorities of Belarusian foreign policy.  Since independence Belarus had always sought to contribute to the cause of disarmament and the creation of a nuclear-free world.  The past decade had largely been a ‘lost period’ in the field of disarmament.  Belarus wanted to see the Conference on Disarmament fulfil its purpose and restart negotiations.  The prerequisite of achieving that goal was the political will of all countries big and small. 

Ambassador Gerard Corr, Ireland, President of the Conference on Disarmament said the failure of the Conference to work over many years was not a neutral fact, it had meant that work to advance the multilateral disarmament topics set out in the agenda was either not being done, or increasingly the focus of work had moved elsewhere.  That reality was a substantial challenge to the Conference.  He had prepared and circulated an informal paper which set out questions on issues for reflection, and suggested today’s plenary should look at wider landscape issues regarding the work and structures of the Conference.

In the discussion States referred to the decision made last week in document CD/1956/Rev.1 on the establishment of an Informal Working Group and gave initial views on the informal paper on working methods.  The rules of procedure were out-dated, some delegations argued, adding that although it was not the cause of the paralysis the consensus rule was an obstruction to substantive work.  Expansion of membership, lengthening the four-week presidential term and the involvement of civil society were also discussed.  The Conference must proceed on the basis of realism and pragmatism, one speaker said.  Another speaker suggested that the titles of the State holding the presidency should also be taken into account as the Conference lost credibility when its presidency was assumed by the same countries that the United Nations Security Council regarded as being in breach of their obligations in matters of nuclear non-proliferation.  Other States spoke in favour of the expansion and expressed support for the proposal made by Secretary-General Tokayev on 18 June to appoint a coordinator for that purpose. 

Italy, Japan, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, India, Iran, United States and Algeria took the floor.

The next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would take place on Tuesday 27 August 2013 at 10 a.m. and would focus on the consideration of the draft annual report of the Conference on Disarmament to the General Assembly.  

Address by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus

VALENTIN RYBAKOV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, said that international security, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation have always been key priorities of Belarusian foreign policy.  Since independence Belarus had always sought to contribute to the cause of disarmament and the creation of a nuclear-free world.  Twenty years ago Belarus acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear State.  By the end of 1996 it had completed the removal of all nuclear weapons from its territory and fully complied with its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) on the limitation and reduction of nuclear strategic offensive arms.  Unfortunately, in the early 2000s approaches aimed at building a unipolar world were predominant trends.  As was well known, attempts to build a unipolar world model did not succeed.  At the same time the system of international relations based on the rule of international law was seriously misbalanced. 

The past decade had largely been a ‘lost period’ in the field of disarmament.  A climate of mistrust and suspicion became a main source of the crisis in many disarmament fora including the Conference on Disarmament.  Belarus believed the key obstacle for resumption of negotiations in the Conference was not within the rules of procedure.  The main source of the current impasse was the international climate of mistrust and suspicion.  Belarus wanted to see the Conference on Disarmament fulfil its purpose and restart negotiations.  The prerequisite of achieving that goal was the political will of all countries big and small.  Belarus did not welcome steps towards the creation of any other platforms aimed at substituting the Conference on Disarmament.  The creation of any parallel processes for the creation of new disarmament agreements, without the participation of the Nuclear Five, would lead to further impasse.  Belarus also assumed that the dispersing of human and financial resources of the United Nations Member States, in the context of the Global Financial Crisis, was counterproductive.   

Belarus was ready to support both a comprehensive strategy on the consideration of the Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as well as the step-by-step approach which envisaged an early start of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.  Regarding the agenda item ‘prevention of arms race in outer space’, Belarus recognized the existence of gaps in the contemporary system of International Law on Outer Space.  Belarus had its own space programme and supported the draft treaty on prevention of weapons emplacement in outer space submitted to the Conference by Russia and China.  Belarus supported the preventive approach.  It further supported the adoption of legally binding unconditional security guarantees for non-nuclear weapon countries from the side of the nuclear powers.  Belarus believed it necessary to prevent the emergence of new types of weapons of mass destruction that had characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of already existing weapons of mass destruction, and was convinced that the Conference was the most suitable forum for discussing that issue. 

Statement by the President of the Conference on Disarmament

AMBASSADOR GERARD CORR (Ireland) President of the Conference on Disarmament said it was an honour for Ireland to assume the sixth Presidency of the Conference in 2013, the second time Ireland had assumed the Presidency since it became a member in 1999.  As Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Conference earlier this year, ‘over several decades this Conference has played a central role in promoting the rule of law in disarmament’.  That sentiment had been echoed by each of the high level speakers who addressed the Conference during the 2013 session but at the same time the majority of those speakers referred to the ongoing impasse in the Conference.  The Informal Working Group which the Conference decided to establish last week in document CD/1956/Rev.1 with a mandate to ‘produce a programme of work that is robust in substance and progressive over time in implementation’ offered a new opportunity to the Conference to work collectively to achieve common goals.  It was an opportunity it could not afford to waste.  However, the President noted, the responsibility for drafting and presenting a programme of work naturally remained with the President, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure. 

In addition to the responsibility to seek consensus on a programme of work, one of the responsibilities also entrusted to Ireland as the final President of the Conference in 2013 was the drafting of the annual report, with the assistance of the Secretariat, for consideration by the membership.  To that end the Secretariat yesterday circulated an informal paper prepared by Ireland which it set out questions on issues for reflection.  The President said he suggested today’s plenary should look at wider landscape issues regarding the work and structures of the Conference.  He concluded by saying that the failure of the Conference to work over many years was not a neutral fact, it had meant that work to advance the multilateral disarmament topics set out in the agenda was either not being done, or increasingly the focus of work had moved elsewhere.  That reality was a substantial challenge to the Conference.

Statements

Italy, the Ambassador of Italy took the floor to share farewell messages, as he was leaving his post in Geneva.  The Ambassador paid tribute to the Presidents and Secretary-General of the Conference, as well as his colleagues and the secretariat staff, thanking all for their support and friendship during his posting.

Japan took the floor to introduce a group of high school students from all over Japan who were present at today’s meeting as the ‘Youth Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons’, a new initiative launched by Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida.  The young students, together with the direct sufferers of atomic bombings, strove to show the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.  Their role was to preserve and pass on the facts and stories of suffering and survival of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Achieving a world without nuclear weapons was not an easy task.  Therefore, continuing efforts based on strong will and the support of citizens worldwide was indispensible.  To that end, Japan was proud to have those teenagers playing their role in the endeavour of eliminating nuclear weapons.  The students were also the sixteenth generation of ‘Nagasaki Peace Messengers’, and in that capacity they were here at the United Nations Office at Geneva to deliver petitions calling for a world without nuclear weapons.  Remarkably the students had collected over one million signatures in total since 2000, which was no small feat and Japan sincerely thanked the students for their commendable efforts.  The representative of Japan also bid farewell to colleagues and staff in the Conference as he was being reassigned.  In a leaving message he said he hoped that Governments of Conference Members would reconsider the importance of education in their nuclear disarmament endeavours. 

Spain said it believed the decision taken to set up an Informal Working Group had symbolic value – it showed that consensus was possible for procedural matters and therefore would hopefully be possible for substantive matters.  Spain said it believed the informal paper prepared by the Presidency of Ireland was a valuable contribution to attempts to structure Conference debates.  Obviously the paper focused on the rules of procedure, particularly the interpretation of the consensus rule.  Some delegations said consensus was a sure hallmark of the Conference, and others said the consensus rule had led to important disarmament agreements.  The rules of procedure had been put in place by the more restrictive bodies that predated the Conference and were appropriate to that reality.  Today was a different reality and thus the consensus rule was not necessarily appropriate.  The consensus rule was not the cause of the paralysis but did act as an obstruction, and was regarded as a straightjacket by some members.  Another area for consideration was rules for Presidency; Spain believed that Presidencies should last longer than four weeks, as their short duration hampered in-depth exploration of issues.  The informal paper also referred to the potential for using flexible language in a draft programme of work.  Spain was cautious about that as flexible language could further delay a return to substantive work and cause a false impression of productivity, which was neither a good thing for the Conference or its Members.

Netherlands recalled that together with Switzerland and South Africa they had been one of the initiators of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 66/66 which was aimed at the revitalization of the disarmament machinery and in particular the Conference on Disarmament.  It was high time to review working methods, with a view to enhance efficiency.  The informal paper put forward interesting and pragmatic ideas on working methods that merited serious consideration.  In initial remarks, the Netherlands said it supported proposals on lengthening presidencies and taking United Nations General Assembly resolutions into account in the programme of work.  It also agreed that what exactly was meant by consensus, and whether the consensus rule was necessary for everything the Conference did, should be reviewed.  The Netherlands also supported the nomination of a coordinator for addressing the expansion of membership of the Conference.  

Switzerland, responding to the informal paper, said it believed Conference procedures should contribute to making consensus-building easier and not more difficult.  Simpler and more progressive alternative approaches to the manner in which the Conference approached the establishment of a programme of work were possible.  The adoption of the programme of work could be disassociated from the specific mandate for each issue to provide for a more dynamic and flexible approach to work.  The Conference was particularly successful in the 1990s when it followed such an approach.  It was important to note that the Conference had a global responsibility but participation in it limited.  Therefore it would be necessary to better take into account considerations expressed by the General Assembly and adopt a more systematic approach, as has been suggested on multiple occasions by the British delegation.  There was no doubt that lengthening the term of the rotating Presidencies would improve the functioning of the Conference.  Switzerland fully supported calls for the Conference to give serious consideration to its relationship with civil society and follow the practice developed by other institutions to be able to fully leverage the expertise of civil society in support of its activities.  Switzerland said the purpose of these considerations should not be to challenge the rule of consensus per se.  The rule of consensus was closely associated with the Conference even though it often seemed to many to be particularly exacting. 

New Zealand thanked the President for his informal paper which raised important issues that needed to be considered in order to facilitate the Conference’s return to meaningful work.  New Zealand said it had made its views clear on those issues on a number of occasions and would not repeat them today.  However, it reasserted the paper’s position that ‘something has to give’ if the paralysis has to be resolved.  As the paper stated, what had to give was in areas of either the substance or the functioning of the Conference’s work.

Canada offered preliminary perspectives on the President’s informal paper.  While the global political context had changed drastically since the Conference was first mandated its procedures had not evolved.  One issue States must examine was the rule of consensus.  Use of the consensus rule in the Conference on Disarmament had increasingly drifted far away from its original intent, to protect a State’s national security interests. If it continued to apply consensus not only to substantive but also to procedural issues the body would never operate effectively, even if the Informal Working Group was able to agree a programme of work.  Canada agreed that one month alone did not give Presidents enough time to facilitate negotiations on a draft programme of work.  Members must decide whether lengthening the Presidency or changing the way Presidents were selected would be an advantage.  Canada also said it believed the Conference lost credibility when its presidency was assumed by the same countries that the United Nations Security Council regarded as being in breach of their obligations in matters of nuclear non-proliferation.

Pakistan said the Conference must proceed on the basis of realism and pragmatism.  It was clear to all that the Conference did not operate in a vacuum.  It operated in the real world, and the positions that Member States took in the Conference were consistent with those of their State in the real world.  No State would enter into negotiations or agreements which undermined or challenged their security interests.  It was clear that there was, of as now, no consensus on negotiating any of the four core issues on the Conference’s agenda.  The Informal Working Group had been set up to look for ways the Conference could make progress in meeting its objectives.  Pakistan believed it would be a mistake to recover ground; specifically if the intention was to revive CD/1864, then that would not take them forward.  That was the pursuit of discriminatory policies of exceptionalism in the nuclear arena that led to the demise of CD/1864.  it would be unrealistic and inconsistent to consider CD/1864 as a benchmark..  It was clear to many that the real benchmark was the final document of the first Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to Disarmament.  Pakistan believed the rules of procedure were not a problem.  Treaties, such as those on chemical weapons, were negotiated under those rules because all parties were ready to conclude treaties on those issues: that was not the case for any of the four core issues on the agenda.  The Conference had to look instead at holding substantive discussions until members were ready to conclude treaties.  Pakistan believed that the Conference should not dwell on changing the rules of procedure as they were not the problem.  The rule of consensus was a double-edged sword and could cut both ways.  If some delegations believed that by changing the rule of consensus would allow them to start negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty they must remember that the Conference could at the same time take forward negotiations on nuclear disarmament.  They could not have their cake and eat it.  Pakistan did not understand why the present situation in the Conference was causing so much discomfort.  It was ready to go outside the Conference on Disarmament but only on issues of interest to Pakistan, such as negative security assurances.  In conclusion Pakistan supported the work of the President towards a more realistic and pragmatic approach. 

Sweden said it welcomed the establishment of the Informal Working Group and looked forward to taking an active part in that.  It commended the Iraqi President and his team for their work in establishing the Informal Working Group, and said credit should go to the Secretary-General of the Conference for his initiative.  Other proposals made by the Secretary-General should not be forgotten and merit further consideration.  Sweden supported consideration of all the issues raised in the informal paper circulated by the President. 

Turkey shared preliminary views on the informal paper circulated by the President yesterday, although its views on the Conference had been covered time and again in plenary.  Turkey wished to see the immediate resumption of substantive work in the Conference with regard to its present membership.  Turkey emphasized that the stalemate was a reflection of the strategic bottlenecks at different but interrelated levels.  There was a certain malaise throughout the disarmament fora and machinery both at international and regional levels.  Members needed to see the larger picture and not to assess the work of the Conference in abstraction from the rest of the disarmament efforts.  Turkey stated that there was currently no consensus regarding the enlargement of the Conference and appointing a special coordinator on the expansion of Conference on Disarmament membership.  The Conference should not dilute its focus on the main substantive issue of agreeing a programme of work by introducing additional points of contention into its deliberations. 

Russia said it supported the creation of an Informal Working Group to agree on a draft programme of work, which was an important step by creating a forum that could allow compromise.  However the only possible way to restore the authority of the Conference was by adoption of a programme of work.  The reasons for the impasse in the Conference were not of an administrative nature and did not lie in the rules of procedure, although those rules could be improved and streamlined, but that was of secondary importance.  The main problem was political.  It was a result that the Conference’s negotiations related to a very sensitive area – that of national security.  Issues affecting the vital interests of States’ national security could not be resolved through a simple vote.  To ignore that fact could create just a semblance of progress and lead to greater division.  Russia had put forward the idea of an ‘discussion programme of work’ which would provide for discussions of the four key agenda items, which could gain time for the Conference to achieve a negotiating programme of work and preserve the Conference’s role as a multilateral negotiating body.  Russia believed that Conference membership should be increased to correspond to contemporary realities and include all major players in the area of disarmament.  Russia would also like to see greater involvement of civil society in the Conference, as seen in the First Committee of the General Assembly.

Egypt said it was particularly happy to see a fellow member of the New Agenda Coalition presiding over the Conference on Disarmament.  Indeed, since its foundation 15 years ago, the New Agenda Coalition had actively worked for the successive and mutually reinforcing implementation of concrete, transparent, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament measures.  Yesterday Egypt had the pleasure of presenting on behalf of the Coalition a working paper to the Open Ended Working Group on taking forward multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.  In that paper, copies of which were available in the room, the Coalition examines what elements would be required to maintain a world free of nuclear weapons.  It also surveyed the current nuclear disarmament landscape and prescribes critical elements that would need to be put into place in order to accelerate progress towards nuclear disarmament.

Indonesia commended the President for preparing the informal paper on challenges facing the Conference, which presented valid and pertinent questions.  Indonesia proposed that in addition to preparing a draft annual report and engaging in the Informal Working Group the President should also hold consultations with Member States to specifically address the questions raised in his informal paper.  Only by ‘thinking outside the box’ could the impasse of the Conference be overcome. 

Republic of Korea said that the document CD/1956/Rev.1 which launched the Informal Working Group was the first consensus the Conference had achieved since CD/1864 was adopted more than four years ago.  Though small and modest, the consensus found last week was commendable.  The Republic of Korea hoped that the Conference could maintain the positive momentum stemming from the decision made in the Conference and revive the spirit of cooperation and collaboration throughout those Informal Working Group discussions.  The Republic of Korea said the informal paper distributed by the President provided valuable food for thought for future work, including the task of the Informal Working Group.

Germany said three aspects of the President’s informal paper merited particular attention.  First, the working methods of the Conference, as Germany believed that changed working methods could enhance the worked of the Conference even if substantive policy problems lay at the heart of the 17-year-long blockade.  The composition of the Conference should also be examined.  Second, Germany strongly believed that an effort was overdue to integrate all aspects of arms control and disarmament into a coherent and well-structured format.  That was something the Conference could and should be able to achieve.  Thirdly, a schedule of activities could usefully supplement a programme of work and could raise additional awareness concerning urgent arms control and disarmament issues and foster consensus on the areas where the Conference could and should take action.  

India thanked the President for his informal paper which it had studied carefully.  Without repeating India’s views on the various aspects relating to the Conference’s revitalization, the representative of India said an effectively functioning Conference was one that could negotiate treaties.  India did not think that the Conference’s failure to negotiate treaties was due to intrinsic failings; rather it was due to obstacles placed in front of the Conference for one reason or another.  The closest in recent years was in 2009 when the Conference adopted CD/1864 and India believed the Conference should continue to strive to stay as close as possible to that consensus decision. 

Iran said it took note of the President’s informal paper which mostly focused on procedural issues; Iran’s positions on most of those aspects was clear, so without repeating, Iran would just say the crux of the problem of inactivity in the Conference was a lack of political will.  The impasse in the Conference was the problem of substance not the rules of procedure, the format or modality of the Conference, and had a close link to the lack of progress in the realm of disarmament.  Following many consultations the Conference had adopted the same rules of procedure for the Informal Working Group to produce a programme of work.  Double-standards, discrimination and selective approaches with regard to the four core agenda issues were the main problems.  All members of the Conference were equal, and no member should have the illusion that they were more equal than others, or wrongly attempt to define special advantage or privilege for itself, or try to deprive other members of the Conference from their membership rights, based on the rules of procedure. 

United States said it appreciated the President’s informal paper which it read with interest.  In preliminary remarks, while the United States agreed that some modifications may contribute towards the smoother operation of the Conference, such as adjusting the duration of Presidencies, or on allowing continuity of a programme of work from one year to the next, the United States did not believe the impasse was due to the rules of procedure.  The United States believed the consensus rule had served the Conference well by assuring members that their national security concerns would be met.  The United States looked forward to engaging in the work of the Informal Working Group soon. 

Algeria said it was ready and willing to ally itself with efforts made to ensure the Conference was freed up and once more back on track.  Algeria agreed with other delegations that amendments such as lengthening the duration of Presidencies could be worthwhile.  However, the main problem was not a procedural one, it was a political matter lying outside the Conference, and within the remit of Member States to press ahead on disarmament issues.  And even lengthening the duration of Presidencies to one session would not solve the problem.  Delegating from the rule of consensus would not be tantamount to progress; the consensus rule was the bedrock of universality and that was essential for any future negotiations, as well as the participation of all members.  As Switzerland said, a simplified programme of work based on a timetable of activities could be a useful step.  Since 1998 the problem had been that there was an established timetable that clashed with the programme of work. 

Concluding Remarks

AMBASSADOR GERARD CORR, Ireland, President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked every delegation for their constructive statements today.  He outlined procedural matters and timetable relating to the draft annual report of the Conference on Disarmament, which would be transmitted to the General Assembly.  The President said he looked forward to hearing delegations’ suggestions and comments on the draft report. 

JARMO SAREVA, Deputy Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament, on behalf of the Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked the outgoing Ambassadors of Japan and Italy and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia for their efforts in the promotion of the work of the Conference.


For use of the information media; not an official record

DC13/033E