CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HEARS FROM FOREIGN MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA
Adopts a Schedule of Activities for substantive discussions on agenda items
26 March 2014
The Conference on Disarmament this morning heard a statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia. It also adopted a Schedule of Activities for substantive informal open-ended discussions on items listed in the Conference’s agenda, with the possible participation of national experts.
Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, said for too long the Conference had been unable to agree on a programme of work and fulfil its mandate, and the world’s patience was limited. If the political dynamics did not shift to allow it to resume its proper negotiating role then the Conference would be swept into irrelevance.
The security dimensions of nuclear weapons had to be acknowledged, because effective disarmament was only possible when States that possessed nuclear weapons felt more secure without nuclear weapons than with them. But without progress in the Conference and greater commitments from the Nuclear Weapons States, then the so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ of the NPT could be at risk.
Ambassador Toshio Sano of Japan, the President of the Conference, said the Schedule of Activities (CD/WP.580) for substantive discussions on items listed in the Conference’s agenda was a good compromise document and the product of extensive consultations with Member States. Its adoption today was a step forward, but it was still up the Conference to decide whether it could make the best use of the dual-track approach in order to keep up political momentum.
In the ensuing discussion States expressed hope that the adoption of the Schedule of Activities would mark a turning-point in the history of the Conference and help it to start negotiations on its core issues. Other subjects raised included the Arms Trade Treaty and the forthcoming meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts in Geneva, as well as the final preparatory meeting for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Netherlands gave a summary of the Nuclear Security Summit, which took place earlier this week in The Hague and Amsterdam.
Speaking in today’s discussion were Australia, Mexico, Chile on behalf of the Group of 21, Brazil, Greece on behalf of the European Union, Netherlands and Spain.
The first part of the Conference on Disarmament’s 2014 session concludes on Friday 26 March. Following an intercessional period the next public meeting of the Conference will take place on Tuesday 13 May at 10 a.m.
Statement by the Foreign Minister of Australia
JULIE BISHOP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, said the Conference on Disarmament had contributed much in the past to a safer and more peaceful world but it had fallen on hard times. For too long it had been unable to agree on a programme of work and fulfil its mandate, and the world’s patience was limited. If the political dynamics did not shift to allow it to resume its proper negotiating role then the Conference would be swept into irrelevance. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had to be brought into force in order to bind States not to conduct further nuclear explosive tests. Negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was fundamental to nuclear arms control and the next logical and vital step in the long road towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The complex security, legal and other issues involved in getting the numbers of nuclear weapons to zero had to be addressed, as well as the means of maintaining that zero balance, the Minister said.
The Minister spoke about the forthcoming meeting of the Group of Government Experts in Geneva, at which Australia would actively participate, which was an important opportunity to advance work on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. She also spoke about the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and said the final preparatory meeting which would begin next month should propose practical steps that could contribute towards greater nuclear transparency, further reductions in arsenals and greater security of nuclear weapons and materials. Ms. Bishop would join her fellow Ministers of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Hiroshima on 11 and 12 April to finalize positions on many of those issues. The Minister also spoke of the legitimate interests of non-nuclear weapon States in receiving unequivocal and legally binding security assurances against the threat of use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear-weapon-free-zones, including in the Middle East, were also an important means for enhancing global and regional peace and security, she said.
The security dimensions of nuclear weapons had to be acknowledged, because effective disarmament was only possible when States that possessed nuclear weapons felt more secure without nuclear weapons than with them, the Minister said. Australia welcomed the considerable reductions in the nuclear arsenals of some of the Nuclear Weapon States, especially the United States and Russia, and said the results of the New START Treaty were impressive. Progress made by the United Kingdom and France in reducing their nuclear arsenals was also applauded. But the international community expected each of the P5 and other nuclear-armed States to do much more, and to show a genuine commitment to nuclear transparency. Australia remained utterly committed to that endeavour. Much had been done to reduce nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War, but there was a strong feeling among the non-nuclear weapons States that countries like Russia and the United States needed to commit further to making deep reductions in their nuclear arsenals. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty the P5 made a very clear commitment which was often characterized as ‘the Grand Bargain’, whereby they would eradicate their nuclear arsenals in return for the rest of the world not developing nuclear weapons. The whole world could also share in the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But without progress in the Conference on Disarmament and greater commitments from the Nuclear Weapons States, then the Grand Bargain could be at risk.
Statement by the President of the Conference
Ambassador TOSHIO SANO of Japan, President of the Conference, spoke about the draft schedule of activities (CD/WP.580) which he had circulated last week. The draft was a good product of extensive consultations with Member States and reflected their comments. Some views were not reflected in the draft, such as proposals to adopt a substantive report or change the title of the document. The original title ‘schedule of activities’ was retained as it was a standard term used by Member States. From a practical point of view it was a good compromise document, it was a forward-looking text and the President hoped the draft decision was acceptable to all.
The Conference on Disarmament then adopted the Schedule of Activities.
Following the adoption, the President called on every delegation to extend their full support to the five coordinators of the Schedule of Activities in carrying out their tasks. Although the adoption today was a step forward, it was still up the Conference to decide whether it could make the best use of the dual-track approach in order to keep up political momentum. To that end, the President said he would continue to work throughout the intercessional period on preparing for the upcoming substantive discussions, including on how the work of the Informal Working Group would proceed. He asked Member States to also prepare for the substantive discussions, including consideration of national experts who could be invited to take part.
Mexico said the schedule of activities which had just been adopted, the work of the Informal Working Group and the dual-track approach were all legitimate activities to help the Conference move out of its unfortunate 17 year-long deadlock. However, none of those tracks constituted substantive work of the Conference in line with its mandate, and that should be reflected in its 2014 annual report to the General Assembly.
Chile, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, recalled the High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament convened last September during the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly, attended by Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers and other officials. Subsequently, on 5 December 2013 the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/68/32 titled ‘Follow-Up to the 2013 High Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament’. The resolution called for the urgent commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a comprehensive convention on the prohibition and eradication of nuclear weapons. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States on how to achieve total elimination of nuclear weapons, and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its sixty-ninth session, also to be transmitted to the Conference on Disarmament. The General Assembly also decided to convene a high-level United Nations conference on nuclear disarmament no later than 2018 and declare 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
The Group of 21 recalled the 21 January 2014 statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Conference when he warned it not to “hide behind utopian logic which said that until we had the perfect security environment, nuclear disarmament could not proceed. That was old think. That was the mentality of the Cold War”. The Group of 21 was deeply concerned by the persistent reluctance by nuclear weapons States to approach their treaty obligations as an urgent commitment to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons. The Group of 21 firmly believed that the time had come to put words into action, and called for the urgent commencement in the Conference of negotiations on a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of us and to provide for their destruction. The Group of 21 asked the President to take that into account in his consultations on how to take forward the Conference’s mandate.
Brazil said it was proud to be associated with the statement delivered by Chile on behalf of the Group of 21, and hoped the adoption of the Schedule of Activities would mark a turning-point in the history of the Conference and help it to start negotiations on its core issues. It looked forward to progress on the second track, which was the adoption of a programme of work. Brazil remained concerned that the continued paralysis of the Conference may lead to a gradual disengagement of key States. Last week the President of the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference held informal consultations in Geneva. In spite of the scepticism which prevailed in some quarters, Brazil looked forward to concrete and meaningful action by Nuclear Weapon States in the current review cycle. The humanitarian approach was a most welcome development in efforts to promote a balanced implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty with equal focus on its three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The humanitarian approach may also offer a valuable platform to galvanize public opinion and accomplish the ultimate goal of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, recalled that many dignitaries at the high-level segment of the Conference earlier this month highlighted the importance of the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty, which 2 April would mark the first anniversary of. The European Union was a staunch supporter of that treaty which set robust international standards for regulating international trade in conventional arms and helped prevent arms from reaching those who fuelled instability and conflict, who committed atrocities and violated human rights and international humanitarian law. The role of civil society deserved credit as well as many non-governmental organizations had made tireless efforts in supporting the international community in adopting the Treaty. By the time of the first anniversary of the adoption of the Treaty next week, 15 European Union Member States would have ratified it, and the remainder would do so soon. Thus European Union Member States would contribute significantly to reaching the threshold of 50 ratifications needed for its entry into force. It was crucial to turn the Treaty into a truly universal one, in order for it to make a difference on the ground, and to reach out to countries not yet party to it. All Conference on Disarmament Member and Observer States were urged to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible.
Netherlands said the Nuclear Security Summit, which took place earlier this week in The Hague and Amsterdam, was attended by the Heads of State of 53 countries, four international organizations and many non-governmental organizations representatives. The Summit had a successful outcome, concluding with a final communiqué adopted by consensus. The representative set out its three goals: first to reduce stockpiles of hazardous nuclear material around the world, second to improve the security of nuclear material and third to intensify international cooperation. The Summit outcome document underlined the crucial importance of international cooperation and the role of international organizations, particularly the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As Nuclear security could only be done by Governments, two official side events were organized in the Netherlands, the Nuclear Industry Summit and the Nuclear Knowledge Summit, the representative also said.
The Permanent Representative of Spain to the Conference on Disarmament took the floor to give a farewell statement as he would soon complete his diplomatic posting. He considered the stock-taking process of delegates who left the Conference and their regret about its continued stalemate. The Ambassador referred to the book Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which features a character who weighs up the number of deaths caused by the ‘conventional’ bombing of Dresden against the number of deaths caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was a controversial example, but touched upon a recurring debate within the nuclear disarmament discourse, about which weapons killed more or less people, with what degree of force; which arms should be illicit and which should be legal, and which arms were essential to safeguard the security of States. The Ambassador suggested the debate was far more complex that the concept children were raised with, that of ‘thou shalt not kill’. The Ambassador said he wished the Conference had been able to achieve something more useful during his tenure, which perhaps may have satisfied his inner child.
For use of the information media; not an official record