CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES NEW TYPES OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, COMPREHENSIVE DISARMAMENT AND TRANSPARENCY IN ARMAMENTS
14 August 2012
The Conference on Disarmament today continued with its schedule of activities to discuss the issues on its agenda and held a thematic discussion on three items of its agenda: new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons including radiological weapons, a comprehensive programme on disarmament and transparency in armaments.
Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France, President of the Conference on Disarmament, read out a statement prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), which provided historical context to the agenda items being discussed today. The issue of new types of weapons of mass destruction was first presented to the United Nations in 1969, he said, although today discussions on the subject remained inconclusive. In 1991 the Conference was requested to address the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of arms and to elaborate universal and non-discriminatory practical means to increase openness and transparency in that field, and in 1993 it established an Ad Hoc Committee on transparency in armaments, which ended in 1995 when members were unable to reach agreement on its re-establishment.
In the discussion States expressed differing views on whether nuclear disarmament could be conceived without parallel disarmament progress taking place in other areas such as radiological, biological and chemical weapons, with some States saying it should not be conditional on negotiations in other areas. Some States outlined the catastrophic danger that transfers of weapons of mass destruction to non-State actors and terrorists could entail, while one State highlighted new types of information and communication technologies which were capable of undermining stability and security just as much as weapons of mass destruction. Several States expressed their disappointment that consensus on adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty was not reached during the United Nations Conference last month. Other States praised progress by the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects since its adoption in 2001.
As the Presidency of France concluded today the President of the Conference on Disarmament said he would like to make some concluding remarks. He expressed regret about the fact that the Conference had still not been able to reach consensus on a programme of work. However, during the thematic discussions many members had expressed their views in an interactive manner, and he thanked them for their very active participation, which had breathed life into the debates. The outgoing President wished the incoming Presidency of Germany well for its responsibility in steering negotiations on the Conference’s annual report to the General Assembly.
Speaking in today’s plenary discussion were Belarus, India, Iran, Algeria, United Kingdom, Russia, United States and France.
The Conference on Disarmament will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday 21 August when Germany will assume the Presidency of the Conference on Disarmament. The Presidency of the Conference rotates among its Member States for four-week periods according to the English language spelling of the countries’ names.
Statement by President of the Conference
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, read out a background note prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons, including radiological weapons (item 5 on the Conference’s agenda). The issue was first presented to the United Nations General Assembly in 1969 by Malta, the President said, and the Conference on Disarmament was consequently tasked with considering the implications of possible military applications of laser technology. In 1975 the then Soviet Union tabled a draft international agreement in the General Assembly on the prohibition of the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons. However Western States, while supporting efforts to ban particular weapons of mass destruction, objected to the conclusion of a comprehensive convention banning unspecified future weapons. During the 1980s a subsidiary body on radiological weapons considered a number of working papers but no consensus emerged. Since 1993 there had been no subsidiary body. In 2002 Germany tabled a discussion paper for revisiting the issue in light of new threats. Discussions since then had remained inconclusive.
The President also outlined the history of a comprehensive programme on disarmament (item 6 on the Conference’s agenda), an item which had been on the Conference’s agenda since 1980 but had not been considered as requiring a subsidiary body since 1989. Turning to transparency in armaments (item 7 on the Conference’s agenda), the President spoke about the European Union and Japan-sponsored General Assembly resolution of 1991 on transparency, which recalled the 1990 Gulf War and asserted that no single States, especially in areas of tension, should be able to strive for levels of armaments that did not bear any relationship to its self-defence needs. The Conference was requested to address the question of the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of arms and to elaborate universal and non-discriminatory practical means to increase openness and transparency in that field. In 1993 the Conference established the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency in Armaments, which closed in 1995 when members were unable to reach agreement on its re-establishment. Since then, the issue had been handled mostly by informal plenaries under the Special Coordinators. The item had become a place of convenience for raising issues about conventional weapons rather than for seeking new agenda items to cover those issues.
Belarus said its priority remained the first four items of the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda. Activation of other agenda items was only possible once those key issues had been resolved. However, Belarus believed it was possible to keep item 5 on the agenda, and said it had been a regular sponsor of draft General Assembly resolutions on preventing new types of weapons of mass destruction. Belarus supported a preventative approach and believed the international community must do all it could to agree on an international agreement before the use of new types of weapons of mass destruction became a reality. However that would only be possible following a step by step resolution of the key items on the Conference’s agenda. Belarus noted that current international laws, such as the 1949 Geneva Convention, did contain provisions that were directly applicable to new types of weapons of mass destruction.
India said the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of deployment was a major challenge facing the international community. In that context, and as a victim of terrorism, India was fully cognizant of the catastrophic danger that transfers of weapons of mass destruction to non-State actors and terrorists could entail. To increase international awareness on the need for concerted action against the threat posed by terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, India had been tabling a resolution in the General Assembly since 2002 titled ‘Measures to Prevent Terrorists from Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction’, which was adopted by consensus and co-sponsored by a large number of other States. India believed that the Conference should continue consideration of item 5 with a view to agreeing on another international instrument on the subject. On agenda item 6, India said a Comprehensive Programme on Disarmament should consider not only nuclear disarmament but also other weapons and weapon systems which were crucial for maintaining international peace and security. The principles of such a programme should be universally applicable and relevant, and in that regard the Conference would play a leading role as the world’s sole multilateral forum on disarmament. Regarding agenda item 7, on transparency in armaments, India believed all States should mutually agree that transparency was a necessary tool for enhancing mutual trust. Measures to enhance transparency must also respect the inherent rights of States to acquire or produce arms for self-defence and in pursuit of their foreign policy and national security interests, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
Iran said it was alarmed by the increase in military expenditure in the world today, which denied people – and their children – better lives, including healthcare and education. Iran believed that without transparency any agreement on weapons of mass destruction were unbalanced, particularly in the Middle East where the one Non-Party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty continued to develop its nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons. Priority should be given to the implementation of the existing document on the Arms Trade rather than developing a new document. The United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, adopted in 2001, had made good progress. Those efforts, which represented a multi-lateral, progressive approach, should not be abandoned. Iran believed that multilateralism was the core principle of disarmament, and reaffirmed the sovereign right of States to acquire, manufacture, import and export conventional arms for their self-defence, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.
Algeria said it would like some clarifications on the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research document presented by the President, which tried to restore the historic context of items 5, 6 and 7 of the Conference’s agenda, as it had been unable to attend the start of the meeting. Algeria asked about the status of that document: was it a document of the President or of the Conference, and would it be reflected in the annual report?
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL, President of the Conference on Disarmament, clarified that, as outlined in his introduction, the document was read under the exclusive responsibility of the Presidency.
United Kingdom said the President’s paper had been very useful, in particular its comment on item 7 that people used it as a convenient option to talk about weapons in general; something the United Kingdom wanted to seize upon. The United Kingdom said it very much agreed with Iran’s comments on the Programme of Action for the Prevention of Small Arms Trade, particularly as the Second Review Conference on the Programme of Action was soon to take place in New York, from 27 August to 7 September 2012. The United Kingdom looked forward to taking part in that conference. The delegate also referred to the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty held last month in New York, at which the United Kingdom had hoped to adopt a strong and robust treaty. The United Kingdom and other countries were disappointed that no treaty was adopted, but were not discouraged, and believed the draft text was a good basis for continuing work. The United Kingdom was determined to bring about an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible which would make a safer world for all humanity.
Russia said it had spoken on the issues raised today in previous thematic discussions so would not repeat former statements. However, it did refer to agenda item 5, and said as they lived in an age of scientific and technical developments and breakthroughs it was important to preserve a body that would keep track of those developments, particularly on the issue of disarmament. Russia supported Belarus and its draft resolutions to the General Assembly. At the same time, Russia noted that there were not only new types of weapons of mass destruction but also new types of weapons of mass disruption, in particular new types of information and communication technologies which were capable of undermining stability and security just as much as weapons of mass destruction. For that reason Russia was in favour of keeping item 5 on the Conference’s agenda. Regarding item 7, Russia said it was in favour of enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons, in particular adding a new category to that Register, that of Man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS). It was particularly important to reduce the threat of terrorists getting their hands on MANPADS weapons.
Algeria took the floor again to speak about the United Kingdom’s statement on last month’s negotiations for an Arms Trade Treaty. Algeria reiterated its support for the negotiating process, which it hoped would lead to the adoption of a framework based on consensus on the transfer of weapons. Algeria believed the treaty must be based on the principles and objectives of the United Nations, particularly non-interference, territorial integrity and the principal of self-determination. Unfortunately the text presented did not include that issue: the principle of self-determination was an essential element that allowed many countries here in the Conference to exist as States.
United States said it noted the inconclusive nature of today’s debate although it was happy to engage with it. Since the 1960s new types of weapons of mass destruction had appeared, and the very real problem of the proliferation of known types of weapons of mass destruction should remain at the forefront of attention. The United States appreciated the reference to the various regimes in the world that did deal with radiological instruments, etcetera. The United States very much supported actions to strengthen the United Nations Programme of Action for the Prevention of Small Arms Trade. In response to the statement of the United Kingdom, the United States said it was also “disappointed but not discouraged” by the failure to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty, which was something the United States believed would improve international arms transfer and help ensure that such arms did not fall into the hands of those who would abuse them.
France said agenda item 6 on the general and complete disarmament under effective international control was the ultimate goal of the Conference, and an agenda item frequently used by the General Assembly. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was something to which France was especially attached. Nuclear disarmament could not be conceived without parallel disarmament progress taking place in other areas such as radiological, biological and chemical weapons, nor overall independence of the strategic context. For over 30 years France had made efforts towards humanitarian disarmament – treaties which aimed to prevent or disrupt production of weapons which caused certain harm to humans – and was very attached to those, and called for its universalization. France also called for the universalization of The Hague’s Code of Conduct against the proliferation of ballistic missiles and stressed the importance of that instrument to promote transparency of ballistic missiles. Turning to small arms and light weapons, which were the ones that caused the most deaths in the world, one often heard that those weapons were often veritable weapons of mass destruction, particularly in some African countries. Those areas only touched on the lower level of the spectrum of conventional weapons, which had been the subject of useful treaties that nevertheless had limited scope. For the most part control of conventional weapons was at best managed through regional agreements. France regretted the way the recent July Conference in New York on negotiating an Arms Trade Treaty ended, but however would not give up and alongside partners would continue its unswerving dedication to arrive at such a treaty.
Algeria took the floor once again to say it viewed nuclear disarmament as a priority which should not be conditional on negotiations in other areas, as agenda item 6 clearly outlined. Algeria believed there should be no conditionality.
Concluding Statement by President of the Conference
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, noted that the Presidency of France concluded today and said he regretted the fact that the Conference had still not been able to reach consensus on a programme of work. However, during the thematic discussions many members had expressed their views in an interactive manner, and he thanked them for their very active participation, which had breathed life into the debates. The outgoing President wished the incoming Presidency of Germany well for its responsibility in steering negotiations on the Conference’s annual report to the General Assembly.
For use of the information media; not an official record