CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES REVITALIZING ITS WORK
22 August 2012
The Conference on Disarmament on 21 August held a thematic discussion on revitalizing the work of the Conference.
Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann of Germany, President of the Conference, said that this was the second time in this annual session that the item on “revitalization of the Conference” was on their schedule of activities, after the discussion on 14 June. He hoped that all these discussions and endeavours would lead as soon as possible to a practical outcome which took the project of multilateral disarmament negotiations forward in a concrete and productive way. Ambassador Hoffmann said he also wished to bid farewell to Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt and Ambassador Alexandre Fasel of Switzerland.
A statement read out on behalf of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Secretary-General of the Conference and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that as they approached the end of the 2012 session of the Conference on Disarmament, they all had to admit that the forum was not yet able to bridge the differences between its Members and start negotiations on any of its agenda items. While these thematic discussions had been useful, it had to be borne in mind that they could not substitute for efforts toward an agreement on a programme of work that would include negotiations of new legal instruments. As Secretary-General of the Conference, he was fully committed to restoring its role as the single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating body.
In the discussion on the revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament, some delegations said that they did not share the view that the main problems of the Conference were due to external factors and found it difficult to accept that the Member States were incapable of beginning negotiations in the area of disarmament. Instead of blaming external factors, Member States of the Conference should try to change things or to undertake reform that was conceivable in a realistic manner. Other delegations suggested that an immediate measure that the Member States could take was to make their interpretation of their work rules more flexible, while they understood fears that they risked diluting the agenda with such a move. One delegation said that the Conference was capable of resolving all pressing issues of disarmament provided there was a will to consolidate efforts in order to reach compromise.
Speaking on the revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament were Switzerland, Argentina, Ukraine, Spain, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Syria on behalf of the Group of 21, Cuba, India, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ireland, Indonesia, Netherlands, Chile, Sweden and Algeria.
At the beginning of the meeting Syria read out a statement on behalf of the Group of 21 on nuclear disarmament; Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt bid farewell to the Conference; and Japan took the floor to acknowledge the presence in the chamber of 20 Nagasaki High School Peace Messengers. Pakistan, Algeria and Iran spoke on the draft report of the Conference to the General Assembly.
At the end of the meeting, Ambassador Hoffmann said that the primary duty of the last President in the annual session of the Conference was to guide the consideration and adoption of its report to the General Assembly. Given the situation that was well known in the Conference, he was afraid that he would not need much time or many rounds of consultations to find out that the prospects for consensus on a programme of work continued to be very dim indeed at the present time. It was his duty as President to provide a draft report which reflected the factual situation of the Conference as accurately as possible. The first reading of the draft report would take place in the plenary meeting on 28 August.
The next plenary of the Conference will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 August, when it will conclude its discussion on the revitalization of the Conference and start its first reading of the draft report of the Conference to the General Assembly.
Ambassador HELLMUT HOFFMANN of Germany, Incoming President of the Conference on Disarmament, said he was honoured to assume this office. But he had to say that he would feel even more honoured to preside over the work of the Conference on Disarmament if it was actually in a state where it made active use of its potential - that is where it fulfilled its own mandate. There was no doubt about the reality of the state of the Conference. Their continued failure to start substantive work notwithstanding, there were, in a relative sense, positive developments in this year’s session, including a draft programme of work being formally put on the table for adoption on 15 March, and the initiative of the schedule of activities which foresaw discussions on all agenda items with the addition of the issue of “revitalization of the Conference” in plenary meetings.
Mr. Hoffmann said the primary duty of the last President in the annual session of the Conference was to guide the consideration and adoption of its report to the General Assembly. First he wished to focus on the topic planned for today, which was “revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament.” He also wished to bid farewell to Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt and Ambassador Alexandre Fasel of Switzerland.
Japan said he wished to acknowledge the presence in the chamber of 20 Nagasaki High School Peace Messengers. Every summer since 2000, the Peace Messengers had been visiting the United Nations Office at Geneva to deliver petitions calling for a world free of nuclear weapons that had been gathered. Over these 12 years, they had submitted to the United Nations more than 700,000 signatures. Today, they handed over 155,002 signatures collected this year. Japan was greatly encouraged when it saw young people like the Nagasaki High School Peace Messengers voluntarily participating in such activities.
Egypt said that Egypt highly valued the Conference on Disarmament for being the single multilateral negotiating body for disarmament affairs and four years ago, he had been congratulated for being appointed to Geneva and the Conference. But he had been warned that the Conference had not been negotiating for a number of years. He had thought they had been exaggerating, but unfortunately the words had been prophetic. There had been many attempts to kick start the Conference, but also many disappointments. The impasse and not being able to bridge the gap was not unique to the Conference; other disarmament fora faced the same problem. In fact, the field of disarmament was not the only field where a lack of agreement on a programme of work was problematic; similar problems faced the World Trade Organization.
The Conference was the venue that provided Member States with a structured way to negotiate. The lack of commencing negotiations only reflected the lack of political will of some of the Member States of the Conference. Changing the venue was a flawed solution, as it would only produce a selective treaty. The problem was not with the Conference, it was with the weakening commitment to multilateral diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.
Syria, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, reading out a statement on nuclear disarmament, reiterated that the Conference on Disarmament was the single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament and stressed that its highest priority was nuclear disarmament. The Group of 21 reiterated its deep concern at the danger posed to the survival of humankind by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the risk of their use or threat of use. The Group of 21 stressed the importance of the effective implementation of measures to ensure a nuclear weapon free world. The Group of 21 underscored the urgent need to commence negotiations on this issue in the Conference, including a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Group of 21 stressed the importance of negotiating a treaty on negative security assurances in the meanwhile. The Group of 21 also reaffirmed the absolute validity of multilateral diplomacy in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation and promoted multilateralism in this area. The Group of 21 reiterated its readiness to make constructive contributions to the work of the Conference.
Statements on the Revitalization of the Conference
Ambassador HELLMUT HOFFMANN of Germany, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that after the plenary on 14 June, this was the second time in this annual session that the item on “revitalization of the Conference” was on their schedule of activities. Some 27 delegations took the floor on 14 June on this issue, which showed how much attention this question got. The statements had demonstrated a wide variety of views. He hoped that all these discussions and endeavours would lead as soon as possible to a practical outcome which took the project of multilateral disarmament negotiations forward in a concrete and productive way.
The Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, reading out a statement on behalf of KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, Secretary-General of the Conference and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that as they approached the end of the 2012 session of the Conference on Disarmament, they all had to admit that the forum was not yet able to bridge the differences between its Members and start negotiations on any of its agenda items. The Conference therefore continued to miss a precious opportunity to strengthen the rule of law in disarmament and to deliver what the international community expected from it. The failure of the Conference was regrettable and unacceptable. Under the Ethiopian Presidency, the Conference last May agreed on a timetable of two rounds of substantive discussions in the plenary during the second and third parts of its 2012 session. These discussions were now coming to a close. While these discussions had been useful, it had to be borne in mind that they could not substitute for efforts toward an agreement on a programme of work that would include negotiations of new legal instruments.
Mr. Tokayev’s statement said that as Secretary-General of the Conference, he was fully committed to restoring its role as the single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating body. He urged the Conference Member States to find a way to enable this body to rise to the occasion before its whole raison d’être was called into question. They must all exercise responsibility and skill to justify their presence in this historic chamber.
Switzerland said that a large number of delegations took the floor on 14 June, which made Switzerland deduce that the question of the revitalization of the Conference was of great importance to many in this body. Switzerland did not share the view that the main problems of the Conference were due to external factors and found it difficult to accept that the Member States were incapable of beginning negotiations in the area of disarmament. Instead of blaming external factors, Member States of the Conference should try to change things or to undertake reform that was conceivable in a realistic manner. Switzerland expressed its appreciation to all who had made concrete proposals on the revitalization of the Conference. Next year, the Conference should focus on the revitalization of the Conference in a more sculptured manner. Switzerland proposed that a process of internal examination of the basic structure of the Conference be held next year.
Argentina said the main reason for the paralysis in the Conference should be sought in the various perceptions of the Member States. An immediate measure that the Member States could take was to make their interpretation of their work rules more flexible, while it understood fears that they risked diluting the agenda with such a move. Member States could not allow this session to be the new way of work of the Conference. They needed to preserve the Conference. With a view to next year’s work, the Conference could appoint a Special Coordinator with a mandate to discuss with Member States progress in the Conference, and they could meet monthly to see if progress had been made. This would avoid burnout of merely meeting and could preserve funds for when negotiations started.
Ukraine considered that the Conference was capable of resolving all pressing issues of disarmament, provided there was a will to consolidate efforts in order to reach compromise. As the substantive programme of work still remained an unattainable goal, the following options should be taken into consideration. First, the Conference could consider adoption of a simplified or a “light” programme of work dealing on an equal footing with all four core issues. Second, the main stumbling block in efforts to revitalize the Conference and to proceed with even the simplified programme of work was a matter of choice of the approach to nuclear disarmament in general. Third, both disarmament and non-proliferation objectives should be considered on an equal footing. And fourth, should the abovementioned proposals fail, Member States should utterly focus attention on an untapped potential of the Conference, which they had unfortunately not explored yet in detail. Launching a modernization process of the Conference through raising its functionality and procedural efficiency could well become a starting point in reconsideration of the outdated agenda and unblocking of the substantive work.
Spain said they could spend this meeting either presenting their national positions again, or supporting or contradicting what others said on 14 June. Spain chose the second option as it was important to have a debate in this room. The only possible outcome of this meeting was a modest exchange of views. On 14 June, some suggested reducing the number of meetings or sessions and Spain agreed to this or anything that had to do with saving. Concerning the current system of Presidency, it was now merely a parade of presidencies in alphabetical order where there was hardly enough time to get safely through four weeks with some dignity. Spain supported any system of elections for presidencies with a certain leadership. As for broadening the agenda items, Spain was neither in favour or against this as it considered it irrelevant to the end game. Some had suggested that the Conference was irreplaceable last time, but Spain did not find this convincing at all.
Myanmar reiterated Myanmar’s longstanding commitment to the Conference on Disarmament and it attached great importance to the Conference despite its prolonged stagnation. Nuclear disarmament remained the highest priority on the disarmament agenda of Myanmar. It also attached importance to starting negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances. Myanmar was frustrated by the deadlock in the Conference for the past 16 years. Myanmar supported strengthening interaction between the Conference and civil society.
Russian Federation said the Russian Federation supported multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation mechanisms and supported the United Nations Commission on Disarmament and the Conference on Disarmament as they had shown that they were needed and supported international peace and security and remained important for seeking common ground for key disarmament and non-proliferation tasks. All needed to live with the rule of consensus, although the Russian Federation understood that the interest of one State should not hinder the aspirations of other States. The reason for the deadlock in the Conference was not in the rules of procedure but in the political sphere. Concerning the revitalization of the Conference, they had to make a crucial choice either to move toward compromise and start working, or to witness the full collapse and paralysis of the entire United Nations disarmament machinery, first and foremost being the Conference on Disarmament. Russia called on all States to do all they could to prevent the development of the situation according to that negative scenario, keeping in mind that they did not have much time left. Russia suggested that they could perhaps consider creating a group of friends to prevent this negative scenario.
Syria, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21 underscored the importance of multilateral diplomacy and reinforced that the Conference on Disarmament was the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. Nuclear disarmament continued to be the highest priority for the Group of 21 and it supported the urgent need in the Conference for the early commencement of a phased programme on the concrete elimination of nuclear weapons, including a nuclear weapons convention. The Group of 21 believed that promoting the work of the United Nations disarmament machinery hinged on the security interests of all States. The Group of 21 underscored the importance of continuing consultations on the expansion of the membership of the Conference and strengthening interaction with civil society.
Cuba reaffirmed the importance of promoting multilateralism as only solutions agreed upon multilaterally were the sustainable way to ensure disarmament. Cuba regretted that the Conference had been unable to carry out substantive work. Some said it was because of the work methods, but Cuba did not agree with this. Cuba supported optimizing the United Nations disarmament machinery, but the paralysis was caused by a lack of political will on the part of some States. The Conference must adopt an expanded and balanced programme of work as soon as possible.
India said the consensus rule in the Conference ensured that every Member State’s legitimate national interests were protected. In the view of India, diluting the rule of consensus through any artificial way concerning the substance or procedure would have an adverse effect on the Conference. India believed that the rules of procedure were also not to be blamed, as these rules could cater for a variety of situations. Given such flexibility, the rules of procedure did not stand in the way of a creative arrangement to serve a productive purpose. The roadmap was clear. The Conference had negotiated conventions on biological and chemical weapons and now it needed to work on a similar convention concerning nuclear weapons. This was the priority of the Group of Non-Aligned States. The issue in the Conference was not the structure or the content of the programme of work, but the fractured consensus on disarmament issues. They needed to strengthen international consensus on disarmament issues. The Conference was a forum of valuable expertise ready to be used when its Member States so decided. India hoped that the debate on the role of the Conference would help build a positive momentum.
Statements on the Annual Report of the Conference
Ambassador HELLMUT HOFFMANN of Germany, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that as the last President of this year’s annual session, the consideration and adoption of the report would take centre stage. Given the situation that was well known in the Conference, he was afraid that he would not need much time or many rounds of consultations to find out that the prospects for consensus on a programme of work continued to be very dim indeed at the present time. It was his duty as President to provide a draft report which reflected the factual situation of the Conference as accurately as possible. The first reading of the draft report would take place in the plenary meeting on 28 August. The first drafting session would take place immediately following the plenary meeting on 5 September. He looked forward to their work on the report and hoped that they could conclude the work on the report on a provisional basis by Friday, 7 September, with the formal adoption to take place in the last week of this year’s session.
Pakistan said since the President had spoken on the record on the report, Pakistan also wished to take the floor on the record to note that irrespective of the President’s comments, the report was the collective endeavour of the Conference. As for the President’s innovative ideas on the rule of consensus, irrespective of his interpretation, they all knew what the rule of consensus meant.
Algeria said that concerning the annual report, Algeria hoped that it reflected some of the positive developments that the President spoke about at the beginning of this meeting, including the schedule of activities that was adopted and the addition to the issue of “revitalization of the Conference”. Further, Algeria hoped that the annual report could be adopted as early as possible and would like it to deal with the activities of the Conference. Algeria would like the report to include the initiative of the Ethiopian delegation which Algeria endorsed and supported. An appropriate place should be kept for the issue of revitalizing the Conference, an issue which Algeria had always been in favour of discussing.
Iran said the President had elaborated some of the elements which would guide them to preparing a factual report which reflected the work of the Conference. Iran wanted to add that they should follow past practices that they had used, which had helped the Conference to reach consensus.
Continuation of Statements on the Revitalization of the Conference
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that the principle of equality was a fundamental rule of conduct to be observed in relations between countries. Failure to observe the principle of equality would lead to the violation of the sovereignty of countries in the international arena and the appearance of unequal relations among countries and allow some countries to conduct high-handed and arbitrary acts, hurdles in the way of ensuring democracy in the international community. The application of double standards was an expression of extremely arbitrary practise in international relations. If double standards were allowed, it would not only make international relations unfair and complicated but would also make it impossible to fairly settle world affairs. The existing double standards policy and the unequal relations among countries obstructed the progress of the Conference. It was possible to form confidence within the Conference and create a true political environment for negotiation and dialogue only when the principle of cooperation, reciprocity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs among countries was strictly observed.
Ireland said that this was their second plenary discussion this year on the revitalisation of the Conference and it was unlikely, to put in mildly, that they were going to find in this discussion any magic key to unfreeze the stalemate that had prevented the body from doing any substantive work for over a decade. This failure had shaped their past, but not necessarily their future. Also, time was running out for the Conference. Ireland considered that the consensus rule, as interpreted and applied in the Conference, had to be re-examined when it came to issues of procedure in their work. Ireland strongly favoured all United Nations Member States who wished to do so being able to join the Conference and it strongly favoured strengthening the ties between the Conference and civil society and academia. The Conference should appoint again a Special Coordinator to look at all issues relating to its work or lack of it. Or they could establish a time limited Working Group on all procedural issues, including the role of presidencies, but also substantive issues such as how a programme of work or a schedule of activities could be made to work. It would also need to look at the key issue of enlargement. Finally, it would be best if the decision to have a working Conference was taken in the Conference, but, if not, it must be taken elsewhere.
Indonesia said despite the many challenges facing the conference, Indonesia remained optimistic. If they continued, with enthusiasm, to an open and honest dialogue amongst themselves, Indonesia believed that they could find ways and means for the Conference to make progress. Indonesia would like to reiterate the following thoughts: first, political will was imperative; second, the global pursuit of disarmament and non-proliferation should be inclusive; and third, special efforts must be taken to revitalize the Conference and strengthen its mechanisms. Indonesia was of the view that among others, it was necessary to convene the Fourth Special Session on Disarmament at the earliest feasible time and to establish an ad-hoc committee on nuclear disarmament. They also needed to start negotiations on a phased programme, including a nuclear weapons convention, for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified time frame.
Netherlands said it considered revitalization of the Conference of the greatest importance and it had expressed its frustration many times. The Netherlands valued multilateral disarmament, which was vital for collective security. It was almost the end of the Conference’s calendar year, and it was very unlikely that they would have an agreement on a programme of work this year, which meant another lost year. For the fourteenth or fifteenth year, the Conference had been unable to fulfil its mandate. The Netherlands had been involved actively in submitting draft resolutions to the First Committee of the General Assembly. It was necessary to look at the options with a creative mind and the Netherlands was willing to look at all options within and outside the Conference. The Netherlands remained supportive of all efforts being made to bring the Conference on Disarmament back on track. Despite the Netherlands deep frustration, it expressed the hope that the Conference and the United Nations community at large, with sufficient flexibility, would be able to take this step forward shortly.
Chile said it had expressed its thoughts on the revitalization of the Conference and internal and external conditions that influenced political will on several occasions. It was necessary to support various efforts to reactivate the Conference, and it was also appropriate to speak of the revitalization of the Conference. Some had mentioned changing the rules of procedure as a solution, but Chile did not think so. They had to avoid the use of the consensus rule in order to avoid situations of paralysis in the Conference. What was possible was to agree on better practices, such as not having recourse to the consensus rule on procedural issues. Some speakers had also mentioned the structure of the P6 and evaluating whether the presidency should continue to change with the same frequency. It was also necessary to structure a programme of work that would be valid beyond one year. A modern multilateral system of disarmament should include civil society and other institutions. Seeking a formula for these issues was their work. There was a broad will to preserve the Conference, and Chile was ready to make its modest contribution to this process.
Sweden said Sweden’s remarks would be brief on the topic of the revitalization of the Conference since the European Union took the floor on 14 June, as did the Swedish delegation on a national basis. Sweden’s position remained unchanged. Sweden welcomed the debate as such and many of the proposals expressed, included, inter alia, proposals on the length of each presidency, extension of the life-span of any programme of work, openness towards a broadening of the membership, and increasing transparency and inclusiveness. The debate on the revitalization of the Conference was a consequence of its failure to reach agreement on a programme of work and to conduct substantive work. If the stalemate in the Conference persisted, Sweden would welcome the continuation of the discussion and follow-up in a speedy and action-oriented manner.
Algeria said the second part of the discussion on revitalizing the Conference came at a good time and Algeria hoped that they could get to the substance of the causes of their deadlock and start work so that the Conference could discharge its mandate. Many challenges and threats continued to affect international security and there was an urgent need for the Conference to play its role. They should take into account the mandates of other fora in the field of disarmament which could influence the Conference. Various interpretations had been made to explain the situation, but the paralysis of the Conference did not come from methods or rules, it came from the absence of political will. The absence of political will was hindering the course of disarmament.
Ambassador HELLMUT HOFFMANN of Germany, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that unfortunately they had reached the end of the meeting and on 28 August at 10 a.m., he would give the floor to Algeria to conclude its statement, followed by Nigeria and Iran on the revitalization of the Conference. The Conference would then focus on the consideration and adoption of its annual report.
For use of the information media; not an official record