CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES HOW TO END STALEMATE
7 February 2012
The Conference on Disarmament this morning held a public plenary during which it heard statements by speakers offering suggestions on how to move the Conference forward from its deadlock.
Ambassador Luis Gallegos Chiriboga of Ecuador, the President of the Conference on Disarmament, said the next plenary on 14 February would be the last to be held under the Presidency of Ecuador, and announced that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference, would make a statement at that meeting.
During the discussion today, speakers agreed that 2012 was a crucial year for the Conference, as its credibility and legitimacy were at stake, and said it must act decisively to avoid decisions about its future being taken out of its hands by the General Assembly. One speaker warned that the erosion of credibility had already happened and was close to becoming irreversible. Speakers spoke about the importance of involving experts from civil society and non-governmental organizations working in the field of disarmament into the work of the Conference, and said that allowing new members could provide ‘new blood’ and value.
States referred to the President’s Working Paper proposal CD/1229 titled ‘Ideas for Consideration’ which appeared to say that the issue of fissile material be set aside, and included other suggestions such as having working groups or even suspending the Conference altogether. Several States agreed that to end the deadlock the establishment of four working groups to negotiate nuclear disarmament, production of fissile materials, the non-militarization of outer space and negative security assurances could be worthwhile. Those working groups should be able to set their own programmes of work. There were differing opinions on whether the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was a priority for the Conference with several States saying it was an indispensible part of the agenda and could not be overlooked. Speakers also considered shortening the Conference’s sessions or even putting it on standstill. One speaker said the latter was an attractive option in times of austerity, but would lead to a weakening of resources and an erosion of the spirit of Geneva that could be irreversible.
Addressing the Conference today were Morocco, Cuba, Mexico, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Tunisia.
The next plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held at 10 a.m. on 14 February 2012.
Morocco said that the Conference was dying because of its long incapacity to agree on a work programme and its inability to overcome procedural rules. Innovative ways to overcome the deadlock must be found. Without rapid action the very survival of the Conference may be decided elsewhere, and Conference members would be responsible for the decision being taken out of their hands. Morocco did not wish to see the Conference on Disarmament disappear, and believed no problems were insurmountable. As suggested in the President’s working paper CD/1229 the programme of work could be simplified to four working groups concentrating on the production of fissile material; prevention of an arms race in outer space; negative security assurances; and nuclear disarmament. The working groups should be empowered to negotiate their own programmes of work. The revitalization of the Conference must encompass civil society and its valuable expertise, especially that of non-governmental organizations active in the field of disarmament. It was important to have new blood in the Conference: new members could provide added and constructive value. Morocco was actively involved in combating terrorism, particularly nuclear terrorism, and had already held, and planned more for 2012, seminars and conferences on the issue, in partnership with the United States, Russia and Spain, among others.
Cuba said that the majority of Conference members, including those belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement, believed the priority work should be nuclear disarmament. The majority of countries in the world, including Cuba, did not possess nuclear weapons. Cuba asked what guarantees nuclear weapon States could provide to those countries to ensure that such weapons would not be used against them. Cuba viewed with growing concern the increase in the movement of nuclear submarines. Cuba was ready to negotiate any topic on the agenda, and as proof of its complete commitment to nuclear disarmament it was prepared to work on related topics. However, the Conference had become hostage to topics related to fissile material, and it must put that element of its work aside to concentrate on the other extremely important issues facing it.
Mexico said that it would never stop stressing the relevancy of the Conference, despite its repeated criticism of it, namely that nothing had been negotiated since 1996. Instead of forging binding agreements in the area of disarmament the Conference just postponed them, even when such agreements would lead to a more secure and safer world. The very existence of nuclear weapons was a threat to global security and the survival of humankind itself, and the Conference should set up a subsidiary body to tackle nuclear disarmament. Concerning fissile materials, Mexico said that an open-minded body should be established to explore a legally binding treaty taking into account existing stocks of fissile material, which would especially generate confidence among non-nuclear weapons States. The existing legal regime was not sufficient to guarantee the non-militarization of outer space, and Mexico believed that the topic had to be considered on its own merit. All three issues (nuclear weapons, fissile material and non-militarization of outer space) were very important, and should not necessarily be linked together. The Conference should also explore shortening its sessions.
Netherlands welcomed the important and realistic existential questions put forward in document CD/1929 about the future of the forum. 2012 was a critical year for the Conference: its credibility and legitimacy was at stake. Resolution A/RES/66/66, tabled by the Netherlands together with South Africa and Switzerland, clearly stated that the General Assembly was ready to look at alternative options for multilateral negotiations if the Conference once again did not adopt and implement a programme of work this year. The patience of the General Assembly and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the status quo in the Conference was running out. Should the Conference not be able to get its act together, the suggestion of putting it on standstill was worth considering, especially in times of austerity and shortage of governmental funds. The Netherlands held a pragmatic approach to the programme of work. It did not share the analysis that the Conference must be able to function without a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). For a great many delegations, starting FMCT negotiations in the Conference was the first priority. Setting the FMCT aside would not bring consensus on the start of negotiations on the other core issues on the agenda.
France said that they remained convinced that the Conference was capable of fulfilling its role, especially negotiating a treaty on the prohibition of the production of fissile materials. France, which would be President of the Conference in the summer of 2012, would spare no effort in contributing to the revitalization.
Sweden welcomed the open discussion on the future of the Conference, which was well overdue. The erosion of credibility had already happened and was close to becoming irreversible. The 2012 session should be used to its fullest with energy and flexibility – anything less would not meet the expectations of the international community. The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) was an indispensible part of the agenda and could not be overlooked. The Conference’s task was not to import new topics never before debated here, in order to keep the Conference busy. The Conference should be open to new ideas, certainly. But it should not drop the FMCT from the programme of work. The Conference should move away from the habit of pre-negotiations and even pre-pre-negotiations. A reduced session or putting the Conference on standby could be considered, but may lead to a weakening of resources and an erosion of the spirit of Geneva that could be irreversible. Sweden had no strong objections to the CD/1929 document but believed it would be preferable to devote time and effort to seeking solutions to the deadlock.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea said they agreed with the President’s ideas shown in document CD/1929, which would provide common ground to move the Conference on Disarmament forward in conformity with its mandate. However the Democratic People's Republic of Korea still did not see a solution that was acceptable to all members. The reason was related to States’ tendencies to be unwilling to deal with all disarmament issues, including nuclear disarmament, equally. It was also due to the lack of confidence and trust among Member States. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that the important thing at this juncture was to address all causes blocking progress of the Conference. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea would like the President to have more time to continue developing his ideas.
Tunisia said the Conference had failed to meet its responsibilities, and its characteristic lethargy should not prevail any longer. There were new challenges in the international community, which had showed signs of solidarity in meeting those challenges, hence it was more necessary than ever to show a sense of responsibility and not shirk the basic mission to negotiate forthwith, even if there were different views. If everybody had the same viewpoint there would be no need for negotiations! The Conference suffered from a political problem, in that Member States prioritized their own needs above international security, and also a structural problem in the need for consensus. Praise-worthy initiatives had been put forward, and the President’s work was the best demonstration of that, but every possible tool to move the Conference out of its rut was needed. Tunisia had no specific proposals but agreed that 2012 was a crucial year.
For use of the information media; not an official record