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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT OPENS 2017 SESSION, HEARS MESSAGE FROM THE NEW UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES

24 January 2017

The Conference on Disarmament this morning opened its 2017 session by hearing a message from the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, and statements from the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo, and the Secretary-General of the Conference and Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Michael Møller, before engaging in a general debate.

In a message, read by Mr. Møller, Secretary-General Guterres expressed his resolve to actively pursue the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction and the strict regulation of conventional weapons.  Disarmament could play an important role in ending existing conflicts and preventing the outbreak of new strife.  The world looked to the Conference, as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, to provide rationality and diplomatic solutions, to promote security through peaceful action, and to create the instruments needed to develop confidence, trust and international stability.

The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo stressed that if the Conference was to maintain its role, it had to resume work on the basis of a comprehensive and balanced programme.  It remained essential to eliminate the gap between “nuclear haves” and “nuclear have-nots”.  The Conference’s focus also needed to be on emerging technologies and threats, which had the potential to affect all States.

The Secretary-General of the Conference Michael Møller said that if the Conference did not make progress, discussions would take place in other structures, which would have both political and financial implications.  The Conference should use its historic leverage and make it work in a pragmatic way.

The President of the Conference, Ambassador Adrian Vierita of Romania, presented a concrete proposal on the organization of work for the session, which consisted of the establishment of a subsidiary body of the Conference, as a working group, on “the way ahead”, which should hold formal meetings, with a mandate to evaluate the state of play and to ascertain tangible measures in order to allow the Conference to decide on a topic in order to go forward in its endeavour to fulfil its tasks. 

In the general debate which ensued, all speakers expressed their willingness to work with the new President and pledged their full support and cooperation.  They agreed that it was high time for the Conference to break the 20-year long deadlock and move forward, especially given the security situation in the world and the growing challenges.  Speakers welcomed the proposal by the President, which would be given due attention.

Speaking in the general discussion today were Peru, Poland, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Canada, Nigeria, Turkey, the Netherlands, India and the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Conference adopted its agenda and agreed on requests by a number of countries to participate in the 2017 session of the Conference as observers. The countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Jordan, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Oman, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.

The next public plenary of the Conference will take place on Tuesday, 31 January at 10 a.m.  

Opening Statement

ADRIAN VIERITA, Permanent Representative of Romania and President of the Conference, welcomed the delegates and proposed the draft agenda and the presidential statement, similar to those of the previous 20 years, for adoption.  The Conference then proceeded to adopt the two documents.  The President referred to the document CD/WP.598, which contained the list of States not Members of the Conference who wished to participate in the work of the Conference as observers during the 2017 session.  The Conference decided to invite those States to participate as observers in its work in accordance with the rules of procedure.

Mr. Vierita stressed that Romania continued to attach great value to the work of the Conference.  Tangible progress in multilateral nuclear disarmament and in strengthening international regimes of arms control and non-proliferation could be achieved within the Conference, taking into account the national security priorities of the Member States.  In 2016, the Conference had come close to achieving a breakthrough; in 2017, the specific security interests of Member States would naturally need to be taken into account during potential negotiations.  It was time for all to pause, take stock and evaluate where they were and where they really wanted to go to, and identify the substantive issues and how best they could be tackled.  The President presented a concrete proposal on the organization of work for the session, which consisted of the establishment of a subsidiary body of the Conference, as a working group, on “the way ahead”, which should hold formal meetings, with a mandate to evaluate the state of play and to ascertain tangible measures in order to allow the Conference to decide on a topic in order to go forward in its endeavour to fulfil its tasks.  A non-paper had been circulated in that respect as a basis for opening the dialogue.     

Key-note Statements

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, in a message read by Michael Mǿller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference, stated that disarmament was an integral element of a peaceful and prosperous world.  It was one of the pillars on which the United Nations was built.  The Secretary-General was firmly resolved to actively pursue the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction and the strict regulation of conventional weapons.  Disarmament could play an important role in ending existing conflicts and preventing the outbreak of new strife.  Disarmament and arms control processes provided the breathing space for confidence to be built, stability to be strengthened, and trust to be established.  The need for a breathing space was urgent.  Global tensions were rising, sabres had been rattled and dangerous words had been spoken about the use of nuclear weapons.  The world looked to the Conference as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, to provide rationality and diplomatic solutions, to promote security through peaceful action, and to create the instruments needed to develop confidence, trust and international stability.

KIM WON-SOO, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, emphasized the commitment of the new Secretary-General to the work of the Conference and the importance he gave to the issue of disarmament.  2017 was set to be a critical year for the issue of disarmament; major negotiations this year were all to take place outside of the Conference, leading to its crisis of relevance.  That should not be allowed to be the new normal.  It was clear that the Conference remained the only forum to involve all the necessary stakeholders.  It was urgent for both nuclear and non-nuclear States to use this forum to narrow their differences.  It was notable that a preparatory group on a fissile material treaty would commence its activities in March.  It was hoped that the group would develop key elements of a future treaty.  The commencement of a review process of the Non-Proliferation Treaty would give a chance to both nuclear and non-nuclear States to address their differences; another repeat of the 2015 failure should not be allowed.  The only viable option for the Conference was to return itself to the central role of multilateral negotiating instruments.  Despite unprecedented high-level engagements in 2016, the Conference had disappointingly fallen back to the business as usual, which was no longer sustainable.  If the Conference was to maintain its role, it had to resume work on the basis of a comprehensive and balanced programme which would reflect the current state of affairs in disarmament.  It remained essential to eliminate the gap between “nuclear haves” and “nuclear have-nots”.  The Conference’s focus also needed to be on emerging technologies and threats, which had the potential to affect all States.  Gains in those two areas could positively spill over into other areas of the disarmament agenda.  Mr. Kim urged the Conference to be creative, and to pursue innovative approaches. 

MICHAEL MØLLER, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference, said that in the past year there had been many efforts to break the deadlock.  The President of the Conference had already started consultations on innovative approaches to move forward, and all Member States were encouraged to contribute.  If the Conference did not make progress, discussions would take place in other structures, which would have both political and financial implications.  The Conference should use its historic leverage and make it work in a pragmatic way.  The Conference-Civil Society Forums in 2015 and 2016 had been deemed successful, but further engagement with civil society was needed.  The Director-General reminded Member States of the need to ensure the necessary funding to support meetings and structures of the four treaty bodies supported by the Geneva Branch of the Office for Disarmament Affairs.  As 2016 had shown, those structures were facing serious challenges which had the potential to jeopardize their very existence, and every effort should be made to address this matter.  In 2017, tangible progress ought to be made on all pertinent items.

General Debate

Peru said that it was unacceptable that there were still thousands of nuclear bombs in the world, keeping the world unsafe and waiting for a disaster to happen.  Nuclear disarmament was linked to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, including the conservation of the planet and combatting climate change.  Peru was a peace-loving country, which supported any initiative which would lead to comprehensive disarmament.  It was in that spirit that Peru had co-sponsored the resolution on taking forward multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.  Peru hoped that 2017 would be a historic year, which would witness the revival of the Conference on Disarmament.  The Conference had a great responsibility toward future generations.

Poland stated that there were broad expectations for a good kick-off of the Conference’s 2017 session.  Poland perceived the President’s proposal as interesting, which would give a chance for all to meet, communicate and discuss main ideas.  The final outcome of the 2016 session had not differed much from the almost 20 preceding sessions, but, in contrast to many of them, it had been very rich in initiatives on the programme of work and attempts to break the long-lasting stalemate.  The adoption of the United Nations resolution on the treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the so-called Ban Treaty resolution by the General Assembly, had paved the way for convening a conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument.  It was important to assure that every solution in the disarmament field should be in line with the comprehensively understood international security environment and strategic context, bringing added value to all.  

Russian Federation said that the world was witnessing a worsening imbalance in international relations.  On one hand, a group of States was trying to achieve an absolute military supremacy, leading the world to the edge of a new arms race.  Opting for force narrowed the scope for diplomatic efforts and both bilateral and multilateral levels.  On the other hand, there were growing and widening contradictions within international institutions, and the Conference was no exception there.  The trend of adopting decisions with a simple, bare majority of votes was worrisome.  Ignoring the realities of the global system of security, based on nuclear deterrence, was not a good approach; thus, Russia would not participate in the conference on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.  No single State should feel that its rights had been infringed, and the Conference on Disarmament should be re-established as the key negotiating body.  The Conference should focus on finding the “least common denominator”, which could be found in the Russian proposal on combatting chemical and biological terrorism.  The main priority of Russia in the Conference remained the adoption of a legally binding ban of placing weapons in outer space; the Russian-Chinese draft on that subject was still in place.  Russia remained open to other constructive proposals within the Conference. 

Belarus supported the need to continue substantive discussions in the Conference.  Efforts both in the Conference and other disarmament fora should not lead to further deterioration in international security.  Today, the hopes for progress were extremely cautious, but Belarus was calling for cautious optimism and said that another period of “entente” might be forthcoming.  In November 2016, Belarus had marked 20 years since the complete withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the territory of Belarus.  Belarus fully complied with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Nuclear disarmament was the only possible way toward achieving tangible progress in building a safer world for all.  CTBT had not yet entered into force, nor had there been progress on a fissile material cut-off treaty or a treaty on negative security assurances.  No document should undermine the principles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the mandate of the Conference.  The Conference had to react to new challenges, stressed Belarus, including militarization and an arms race in outer space and radiological weapons. 

Canada said that the number of nuclear weapons and their readiness had not diminished, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty had not been adopted by all States.  The 2016 session of the Conference, which had begun promisingly, had disappointingly concluded after many activities of little substance.  Several proposals had been put forward, including establishing a group of governmental experts in 2018-2019, with the goal of studying the role of verification for nuclear disarmament.  Given the current global climate, Canada was sceptical about the likelihood of undertaking negotiations on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.  A treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons would have the potential to counter proliferation and facilitate disarmament, which was a view shared by the vast majority of the United Nations Member States.  An Expert Preparatory Group would meet in Geneva from 22 May to 2 June.  Another important meeting in 2017 would take place in Vienna in May – the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee.  Canada was prepared to be flexible and constructive in its approach to structuring of the Conference’s activities in 2017.  

Nigeria was optimistic that deliberations in 2017 would lead to the adoption of a programme of work that would guide the Conference to a breakthrough in nuclear disarmament.  The spectre of a nuclear war remained more real or daunting than ever, considering the politico-economic philosophical changes that were occurring across the global political landscape.  Tensions remained high over old deals and new deals, while intercontinental ballistic missiles were being perfected to reach new targets.  2017 should not be business as usual, but a year in which the Conference should strive to build consensus and put differences aside.

Turkey noted that it was regrettable that the Conference had been deadlocked over two decades.  Turkey expressed its hopes for a breakthrough and called upon all members to spare no effort to maintain the relevance of the Conference by enabling the resumption of its negotiation mandate.  The stakes for achieving positive and result-oriented work at the Conference were higher than ever, given the overall deteriorating global security situation.  Turkey’s priority was moving the Conference forward by having it reassume its fundamental task – negotiating legally binding international treaties.  The integrity of the Non-Proliferation Treaty had to be upheld, and the realities on the ground noticed; its universalization was of utmost importance.  It was essential to establish the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.  It was also important that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty enter into force as soon as possible, which required all States, but especially the Annex-II States, to ratify it as soon as possible.   

The Netherlands stressed that it was ready to help the President engage with other delegations.  Making progress implied coming up with results.  The Netherlands thanked Romania for putting a concrete proposal on the table.  In 2016, Nigeria had put a very clear proposal on the table, which had not been accepted eventually, but at least a real attempt had been made.  The idea of setting up a formal working group with sub-working groups on various issues was indeed interesting.  That way, balancing off one issue against another would be avoided.  The previous year, some progress had been made on disarmament, but it was remarkable that that progress had happened outside of the Conference.  One could ask what the right direction was.  The Netherlands, in its activities for the upcoming meetings in Vienna in May, needed support from all three regional groups and all other groupings, such as the P5 and the Vienna Group.

India congratulated Romania for coming up with a proposal so early in its presidency.  The new Permanent Representative of India said that he had witnessed the Conference in many seasons, and seasons changed.  2017 presented opportunities, and the President had started on an optimistic note.  This year, the Conference possibly needed more heart in its work.   

United Kingdom said that earlier a reference had been made to a test firing of a trident missile, which was currently under discussion in the House of Commons.  The United Kingdom had absolute confidence in its deterrent system.  Safety was the United Kingdom’s highest priority, and at no point had the safety of the crew or the public being jeopardized during the exercise.  The United Kingdom had informed more than 100 nations before the launch of the missile.  
         
ADRIAN VIERITA, Permanent Representative of Romania and the President of the Conference, said that plenary meetings would be held on 31 January, 7 and 14 February, along with informal consultations.  



For use of the information media; not an official record

DC17/002E