CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HOLDS PLENARY, HEARS ADDRESS FROM ITS SECRETARY GENERAL
14 February 2012
The Conference on Disarmament this morning heard a statement from Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference, and held its final public plenary under the Presidency of Ecuador.
The Director-General said that in the absence of agreement on a programme of work the Conference could focus on alternative issues where common ground might be found, such as a more active role for the P6 mechanism, a longer presidency and broader membership. It was legitimate to pursue tangible results by addressing issues other than the four core ones, while the Conference awaited agreement. The agenda dated back to 1978, and it was time for a reassessment to ensure that it reflected the current international security environment. Procedural reform was a stepping stone towards generating political will, and the Director-General supported the suggestion to appoint three Special Coordinators, respectively on the agenda, rules of procedure, and membership, and the possible establishment of a Group of Eminent Persons to explore innovative ways to break the stalemate.
The current state of affairs in the Conference needed and deserved attention at the level of Heads of State and Government, and a special high-level meeting to revitalize the Conference could help elevate the level of political attention. It was not far-fetched to consider merging the Conference on Disarmament and the United Nations Disarmament Commission into a new body with universal membership in charge of disarmament. The time to produce tangible results during the session was rapidly shrinking. The current situation had created a serious credibility and legitimacy deficit. The future of the Conference was at stake. The Director-General urged the Conference not to forget its duty to coming generations: a world at peace. Just like climate change, nuclear weapons presented an existential threat to our collective future. Disarmament and non-proliferation were absolutely indispensable to realizing our common vision of a better world for all. The time to act was now.
Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Permanent Representative of Ecuador and the President of the Conference on Disarmament, summarizing the views put forward by Member States on the basis of document CD/1229, reiterated the frustration felt by the majority of Member States as disarmament promises remained unfulfilled. He said that some Members had suggested putting the Conference on standby, but others had questioned the consequences that could have, including a decrease in resources dedicated to disarmament. The President wondered whether it was moral to continue to invest resources in the Conference in the absence of results.
Speakers commended the President’s efforts aimed at bringing forward the work of the Conference in the absence of consensus and reiterated the challenges faced by the body after a long deadlock. Some delegations reiterated the support expressed on the issue of membership enlargement and the appointment of a Special Coordinator. Speakers discussed alternative paths for the revitalization of the Conference and reiterated the need to move forward towards the fulfillment of its mandate through the negotiation of legally binding instruments.
Addressing the Conference today were Croatia, speaking on behalf of the informal Group of Observer States; Iran, Switzerland, Mexico, Syria, Egypt, Chile, United States, Colombia, and Philippines.
The next plenary of the Conference on Disarmament, under the Presidency of Egypt, will be held at 10 a.m. on 21 February 2012.
Croatia speaking on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States, recognized the efforts of the President to open frank and transparent plenary discussions on the future of the Conference. The Conference was mandated to negotiate legally-binding instruments with universal effect, and it was incomprehensible to refuse interested states to join in this process. Every new Member State consolidated the Conferences’ accountability and relevance. Croatia took note with satisfaction of the support expressed by a number of member states, both individually and regionally, regarding the issue of the enlargement and the appointment of a Special Coordinator.
Iran welcomed the adoption of the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament at the beginning of the session and reiterated that the mandate of the Conference was the negotiation of legally-binding instruments. The Conference was not a single issue venue and lack of consensus on one issue should not prevent delegations from negotiating others. The early commencement of negotiations on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified framework of time, including a Nuclear Weapons Convention, was urgently needed by the disarmament machinery today. The total elimination of nuclear weapons was the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. In the meantime, legally binding unconditional security assurances to non-nuclear weapon States should be pursued as a matter of priority. The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty should be a clear and meaningful step for nuclear disarmament and non proliferation in all aspects, including past production and existing stocks.
Switzerland said that the international community faced an ever-growing list of challenges in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation. National security interests should be incorporated in broader concepts of security and stability, complementing hard security approaches with perspectives of human security, human rights, development, climate and environmental protection or global health. The working paper CD/1929 contained interesting food for thought and asked pertinent questions. The Conference should spend no effort with regard to its revitalization before drastic steps were taken, such as putting the Conference on standby or shortening the sessions. Switzerland welcomed the support for appointment of a Special Coordinator on the expansion of the Conference, and on giving civil society a more appropriate role. The best revitalization effort would be the early adoption of a programme of work. Flexibility and pragmatism were needed to prevent the Conference from becoming sidelined.
Mexico reminded the Conference of the anniversary of the signing of the Tlatelolco Treaty, which established the first nuclear-weapon free zone in a highly populated area, and Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL). The Tlatelolco initiative was universal since it emerged from the only sensible and coherent motivation: safeguarding international peace and security. The negotiation of the Treaty demonstrated that even when international conditions were adverse it was possible to achieve positive results and set a precedent concerning security assurances. Nuclear weapons free zones were not an end in themselves, but a stepping stone towards a more ambitious and complex end, given that total elimination of nuclear weapons was the only feasible guarantee against proliferation. In the context of a deadlock of negotiations on nuclear disarmament, imposing high standards was necessary to face the requirements of peace and security.
Syria congratulated the President for getting the Conference to adopt the agenda at the first meeting. The first priority was to ensure comprehensive nuclear disarmament. If nuclear weapons continued to be kept in arsenals, this would increase tensions and arms races, and increase the risks of accidents. That was particularly relevant in the Middle East. Given the deadlock of the Conference, Syria called for an increase in effort, flexibility and cooperation. Most states were deeply convinced that there were no reasons not to deal with the four issues on an equitable and balanced basis, and no issue should be given priority over the others. The Conference had managed to adopt a programme of work under the Algerian Presidency and Syria was deeply convinced that the reason for the deadlock was the lack of political will, and not the rules of procedures. Taking measures outside the framework of the Conference would have a negative impact and Syria supported appeals for a Fourth Special Session on Disarmament and the document CD/1929, which called for continuing discussions in the absence of a programme of work.
Egypt said that the view from the podium provided a more holistic perspective and lead to thoughts of victims, a word not often used in the Conference but which should not be forgotten. The Conference faced the challenge of bringing substantive work to the forefront. The deadlock was not the result of the body itself, but of the lack of political will. Some parties had been sitting in the conference room for far too long. 2012 was very important for disarmament issues, staring with the current session, then followed by the negotiating Conference on Arms Trade Treaty, the meeting of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee and the Conference on the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-free zone in the Middle East. Egypt, as upcoming President, hoped to continue in the footsteps of the Presidency of Ecuador.
Chile, thanked the President for his efforts to reinvigorate substantive work in a determining year for the future of the Conference. The President had stimulated and reminded delegations about their responsibility to act. The Conference continued to work without engaging in negotiation of agreements, despite efforts and proposals to overcome the situation, and messages had been heard from the highest level. It was clear CD/1864 had made it possible to reach consensus but had failed to become operational. The key issue was to improve the conditions that may ensure such agreement became viable, and other paths to consensus might be found. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was perceived as a necessary step towards a world free of nuclear weapons, as contained in the Non-Proliferation Treaty framework. Those elements could contribute, but were unlikely to lead to practical solutions and were not particularly helpful when it came to procedural matters. Political will was necessary and it was the responsibility of States to act. Chile reaffirmed the value of the Tlatelolco treaty as the commitment of the region towards nuclear disarmament.
United States, joined other speakers in recognizing the contribution of the President by putting forward in stark terms some unpleasant options for the future of this body. The Conference should continue with those serious debates. With regards to the statement made by the Swiss delegation on the importance of agreeing on a programme of work, the United States offered support for the upcoming President in taking on that challenge. The United States also paid tribute to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which had been a path-breaking treaty. The best way to reach the goal of disarmament would be through a series of mutually reinforcing steps, the speaker said, and stressed the necessity of dealing with fissile materials. The speaker hoped delegations would rededicate themselves to the effort of agreeing on a programme of work, the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference’s action plan, and the goal of achieving a 2012 Middle East weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone.
Colombia said that the idea of a simplified programme of work, with a timetable concentrating on negotiating mandates, was viable. Colombia understood existing differences in perceptions of priorities, and the importance of balance work but this should not be paralyzed the forum, Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and negative security assurances would be a useful exercise. It was not only the responsibility of the President to achieve progress; States should be active and participate in efforts to initiate substantive work, cooperating with the Presidency. It was necessary to continue with reflection on the revitalization of the Conference. Last year there had been headway and a Special Coordinator would be necessary, including on the expansion of the Conference. The ultimate plan was to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, for security and development issues, it was not utopian to advance on that path. The regional experience, as referred to by Mexico, showed that on the basis of political will it was possible.
Philippines expressed appreciation for the efforts of the President and support for the appointment of a Special Coordinator on the expansion of the Conference’s membership.
Statement by the Director-General
KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference, addressing the Conference as the Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, drew attention to the persistent calls of the Secretary-General for serious decisions to be taken with regard to the future of the Conference, and presented concrete suggestions to heed that call. The Director-General said that further fine-tuning of existing proposals was unlikely to bring the Conference much further at the current stage. In the absence of agreement on a programme of work with a negotiating mandate, the Conference could focus on alternative issues where common ground could be found, such as a more active role for the P6 mechanism, including extension of the length and modification of the method of selection of the Presidency. A broader membership would make the Conference more representative and thus increase its legitimacy. Some Members have advocated addressing issues other than the four core ones, the Director-General said, adding that it was legitimate to pursue some tangible results while it awaited a agreement on core issues. As the agenda dated back to 1978, it was time for a reassessment to ensure that it reflected the current international security environment.
Some may argue that in the absence of substantive negotiations, housekeeping was, at best, futile or possibly even counter-productive by distracting attention. Personally, the Director-General said, he saw procedural reform as a stepping stone towards generating political will. He supported the suggestion to appoint three Special Coordinators, respectively on the agenda, rules of procedure, and membership. The lack of progress could only be overcome through greater political will, and efforts at the political level should be stepped up directly. The Director-General welcomed the commitment of the permanent members of the Security Council to the Conference on Disarmament, and said that their enhanced cooperation and coordination had given important political impetus. The Director-General had been encouraged by the significant interest in addressing the Conference at the forthcoming high-level segment in late February and early March. The current state of affairs in the Conference needed and deserved attention at the level of Heads of State and Government. In that vein, a special high-level meeting to revitalize the Conference could help elevate the level of political attention.
The Director-General fully supported the recommendation by the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters for the possible establishment of a Group of Eminent Persons to explore further innovative ways to break the stalemate. Nor was it far-fetched to consider merging the Conference on Disarmament and the United Nations Disarmament Commission into a new body with universal membership, in charge of disarmament with both a deliberative and a negotiating mandate. The Director-General invited all Members to make concrete proposals on how to use its time and resources effectively in the interim. Against a background of budgetary austerity, Member States needed to ensure that all resources were well and wisely spent. The current stalemate was the result of different priorities, determined by different national security interests. National security interests were legitimate and must be recognized. However, as the Secretary-General stressed in his message to the opening of this year’s session, it was during negotiations that national security interests can most effectively be defended.
The time to produce tangible results during the session was rapidly shrinking. One sixth of the 2012 session had ebbed away with no solution in sight. The current situation had created a serious credibility and legitimacy deficit. The future of the Conference was at stake. The Director-General urged the Conference not to forget its duty to coming generations: a world at peace. Just like climate change, nuclear weapons presented an existential threat to our collective future. Disarmament and non-proliferation were absolutely indispensable to realizing our common vision of a better world for all. The time to act was now.
Closing Remarks by the President of the Conference
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA, Permanent Representative of Ecuador and the President of the Conference on Disarmament, in closing remarks, reiterated the frustration felt by the majority of Members States that disarmament promises remained unfulfilled. While states could legitimately invoke their national interests and not negotiate, efforts for collectively building peace were necessary. Ecuador had pooled efforts, guided by deep principles, a commitment to peace, and had analyzed all possibilities and paths to break the deadlock. Unfortunately, there was no agreement to make headway on the items of the agenda. After a deadlock of almost 15 years and an emergent call to action by the international community, the Presidency had circulated a document, CD/1229, which included questions and thoughts which hoped would stimulate an honest debate about the future and the consequences of the deadlock.
If delegations wished to preserve the Conference, alternative options to the items of the agenda should be sought in consultation with Members; the fact that the Conference was focusing on four items on which there was no agreement would not help. Some suggested that the disarmament machinery should be addressed as a whole, while other delegations opposed that and said that a global reform was not needed. Delegations expressed their support for the involvement of civil society and the enlargement of membership through the appointment of a Special Coordinator. Views on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty were divided. Some Members had suggested putting the Conference on standby, but others had questioned the consequences that could have, including a decrease in resources dedicated to disarmament. The President wondered whether it was moral to continue to invest resources in the Conference in the absence of results.
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