DIRECTOR-GENERAL ADDRESSES CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT
14 February 2012
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of United Nations Office at Geneva, made the following statement today before the Conference on Disarmament in his role as Secretary-General of the Conference and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference:
“As the Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, I take this opportunity at the end of the successful Presidency of Ecuador to draw your attention to the persistent calls of the Secretary-General for serious decisions to be taken with regard to the future of the Conference on Disarmament. The Secretary-General formulated his latest call in particularly strong and eloquent terms in his message at the opening of this year’s session. Today, I would like to present some concrete suggestions for heeding this call.
Almost one month has already passed in this year’s session. Yet, despite the diligent work by the President, there seems to be little likelihood that the Conference any time soon will be able to bridge the differences between its Members to start negotiations on any of its substantive agenda items.
This is a cause for very serious concern. The level of frustration is approaching a tipping point, not only here but also among the broader United Nations membership. Continued inaction by the Conference may lead to action elsewhere, thus potentially passing an important threshold and damaging the record of the Conference.
As a reflection of a wider disappointment, the number of disarmament experts among the Geneva delegations has been steadily reduced over the past several years. This could be further proof of serious concerns among Governments about the relevance of the Conference. It undermines the profile and efficiency of the Conference.
How, then, to overcome the current situation in the Conference?
I agree with the President that further fine-tuning of existing proposals is unlikely to bring us much further at this stage. With respect to a possible programme of work, it has become clear during the current Presidency, once again, that at least one country cannot accept a programme of work that includes any concept of negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. At the same time, many others cannot live with one that excludes a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. We are trying to square a circle. Therefore, none of the existing proposals, including CD/1864 or any variant thereof, are going to command consensus. I consider this highly unfortunate, because a negotiating mandate for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty would be in line with the expressed priorities of the international community. It would also be another important and logical step on the road towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
In the absence of agreement on a programme of work with a negotiating mandate, I believe we should focus on alternative options on issues where we can find common ground. We should not underestimate both the practical and political value of procedural reform. Concrete steps to improve the functioning of the Conference can be politically significant as a demonstration of the membership’s collective will to chart a way out of the impasse and can help to build trust.
With this in mind, allow me to briefly outline concrete steps for consideration. These suggestions represent a further development of the proposals outlined in my Vision Paper circulated in August of last year.
First, Presidency activity and structure. I see potential for a more active role for the P6 mechanism. The successive Presidents serving over a year have a valuable opportunity to bring direction and dynamism to the Conference, bridging different perspectives and identifying common ground. Collective proposals and initiatives on behalf of all six Presidents would carry important political weight.
Ultimately, extending the length and modifying the method of selection of the Presidency should be considered. As is widely recognized, one month does not give the incumbent sufficient time to engage with the Members and lead the work of the Conference. Presidencies of a longer duration, rotating among the regional groups, could help to overcome the challenges inherent to the frequent turnover.
Second, membership. The composition of the Conference has not been static since its creation. In the past, new Members have been added, without affecting the ability of the Conference to agree on substantive issues. A broader membership would make the Conference more representative and thereby increase its legitimacy in the interest of Members and non-Members alike. I am conscious that some Members are reluctant due to concerns that expansion could further delay substantive progress when additional interests have to be taken into account. I urge them to reconsider this position in light of the collective benefits of an expansion that is agreed to by consensus and respects the need for appropriate regional distribution.
Third, addressing other issues. Some have advocated addressing, in the interim, issues other than the four core ones. Some fear this may detract from the major issues. It is, however, legitimate to ask whether the Conference should not at least pursue some tangible results while it waits out a convergence of positions on the core issues. The draft programme of work circulated earlier by the President in his non-paper included such a proposal and a suggestion along the same lines was made at the plenary meeting on 1 February. These are worthy of careful consideration. As the agenda dates back to 1978, it is time for a reassessment to ensure that it reflects the current international security environment.
Some may argue that in the absence of substantive negotiations, housekeeping is, at best, futile or possibly even counter-productive by distracting attention. Personally, I see procedural reform as a stepping stone towards generating political will. I therefore support the suggestion to appoint three Special Coordinators, respectively on the agenda, rules of procedure and membership. In the hope that the Conference will eventually overcome its impasse, maybe now is exactly the moment to effectively address issues that are long overdue.
Fourth, political will. As it has been highlighted often in this Chamber, the lack of progress is a reflection of inability to reconcile different priorities. This can only be overcome through greater political will and we should step up efforts directly at the political level. In this regard, I welcome the commitment of the Permanent Members of the Security Council to the Conference on Disarmament and their intensified efforts to find a way out of the present situation. Their enhanced cooperation and coordination has given important political impetus, and I hope for continued engagement in this format.
I have been encouraged by the significant interest in addressing the Conference at the forthcoming high-level segment in late February and early March. We must build on this demonstration of political engagement. The current state of affairs in the Conference needs and deserves attention at the level of Heads of State and Government. I believe that the highest political levels must be fully focused on disarmament and non-proliferation – in their bilateral discussions, summits, and at the Conference itself. In this vein, a special high-level meeting to revitalize the Conference could help elevate the level of political attention, and merits further consideration. I believe that these two dimensions – procedural and political – need to be addressed in parallel, as they are interlinked and can be mutually reinforcing. In this regard, I fully support the recommendation by the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters for the possible establishment of a Group of Eminent Persons to explore further innovative ways to break the stalemate.
We should not lose sight of the fact that there is a need to rethink the broader United Nations disarmament machinery to ensure greater efficiency. It is not far-fetched, for example, in light of the situation both in the Conference on Disarmament and the United Nations Disarmament Commission, to consider merging these two into a new body with universal membership, in charge of disarmament with both a deliberative and a negotiating mandate. A process towards this goal could only be initiated on the basis of the broadest possible agreement.
As Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, I am fully committed to preserving it as the single multilateral body in charge of disarmament negotiations. My commitment is based on the deep-seated belief that the Conference on Disarmament offers the international community the best possibility for meaningful disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. But the seriousness and negative long-term implications of the current stalemate cannot – and must not – be underestimated.
I have been encouraged by the expressions of unequivocal support for the Conference by many Members. Yet, we must realize that we cannot preserve or indeed reinvigorate this unique body simply by repeating well-known positions. While we continue to work for the political will to emerge that will hopefully one day enable us to embark on negotiations on the current core issues, I therefore invite all Members to make concrete – I repeat concrete – proposals on how to use our time and our resources effectively in the interim. Against a background of budgetary austerity, United Nations Member States need to be ensured that all resources are well and wisely spent. This applies also to the Conference on Disarmament, which is supported by all Member States through the regular budget.
As it has been pointed out many times in this Chamber, the stalemate is the result of different priorities, determined by different national security interests. National security interests are legitimate and must be recognized. However, as the Secretary-General stressed in his message to the opening of this year’s session, it is during negotiations that national security interests can most effectively be defended. I call on all Members to pursue their national security interests by building bridges with others through a process of negotiations. I have also noted that a number of Members of the Conference have not yet taken a public position with regard to its future. It is important that all those present in this Chamber speak up and make their stance known.
The time left to produce tangible results during this session is shrinking rapidly. One sixth of the 2012 session, and even more of the time that we have effectively available for generating results, has ebbed away, with no solution in sight. Important discussions do continue within the Conference. But, we must be frank and realistic in our assessment. Mere discussions are no longer sufficient for the Conference to live up to its mandate as the world’s single standing multilateral negotiating body. The current situation has created a serious credibility and legitimacy deficit. The future of the Conference is at stake.
Let us not forget our duty to coming generations: a world at peace. Just like climate change, nuclear weapons present an existential threat to our collective future. Disarmament and non-proliferation are absolutely indispensable to realizing our common vision of a better world for all. The time to act is now.”
For use of the information media; not an official record