CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES METHODS OF REVITALIZATION
14 June 2012
The Conference on Disarmament this morning heard statements by speakers offering suggestions on how to revitalize the Conference from its current deadlock.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Ambassador Kari Kahiluoto of Finland, the President of the Conference on Disarmament, said the revitalization of the Conference had become an issue in the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. In his address he recalled United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2010 speech to the Conference in which he encouraged unilateral engagement. He also recalled the February 2012 address by Conference on Disarmament Secretary-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in which he made several specific suggestions for the Conference to be revitalized.
Subjects raised in today’s discussion included the rule of consensus, expansion of the membership of the Conference on Disarmament, reasons for the deadlock, and proposals to appoint a special coordinator on membership and establish a working group on revitalization. Regarding the rule of consensus, several States said that it was not so much a question of the application of the consensus rule, but that the Conference had moved away from its spirit. Instead what was being applied was a rigid form of the rule of unanimity, which in effect meant Members were being given a veto right. A certain member of the Conference was using that rule of veto to frustrate the work of the Conference. Several members called for reflection on whether the consensus rule should be applied to procedural issues. A State suggested the Conference should consider adoption of a so-called ‘light programme of work’ which provided for dealing with all four core issues.
Concerning expansion of the membership of the Conference, some States said that arguments used against admitting new members to the Conference indicated that the Conference had not moved to the realities of the twenty-first century: disarmament was not the concern of an ‘exclusive club’ of States – security issues were the responsibility of the entire international community. Another State expressed the view that the crux of the last decade’s deadlock was the lack of political will for elimination of the threat posed to the world by the existence of nuclear weapons. Member States must look beyond their own national security and consider the issues at hand in terms of the survival of humankind, one delegation told the floor.
Addressing the Conference today were Ireland, Denmark on behalf of the European Union, Austria, Spain, Canada, Malaysia, Brazil, Croatia on behalf of the informal group of observer states, United Kingdom, Israel, China, Switzerland, Mexico, Slovakia, Netherlands, Sweden, Colombia, France, Iran, Russia, Serbia, India, Republic of Korea, Turkey, Algeria, Germany and the United States.
The next plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday 19 June 2012, to continue with its thematic discussions and to hold the second part of the thematic debate on “Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament” and on “Prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters” with a general focus on nuclear disarmament. The Foreign Minister of Finland will also address the Conference on 19 June.
Ambassador KARI KAHILUOTO of Finland, President of the Conference on Disarmament, recalled United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2010 speech to the Conference in which he encouraged unilateral engagement. He also recalled the February 2012 address by Conference on Disarmament Secretary-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in which he made several specific suggestions for the Conference to be revitalized. The revitalization of the Conference had become an issue in the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly.
Ireland said the tabling of CD/1933, which followed intensive consultations by the Egyptian Presidency, gave a brief glimmer of hope for revitalization of the Conference. However, despite the flexibility and goodwill shown by many to meet the concerns expressed, in the main, by one delegation, agreement was not forthcoming. The Conference should be doing ‘something’ to justify its existence, and its cost was certainly a factor. Failure for over a decade was not a neutral fact. The fact that the consensus rule was so rigid that a programme of work could not be agreed upon was untenable.
Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union and other countries, said all Conference members bore the responsibility of making it deliver according to its mandate. The European Union acknowledged the security concerns of all States but at the same time firmly believed that the consensus rule should not be subject to abuse. The European Union proposed enlargement of the membership of the Conference and involvement with non-governmental organizations and academia.
Austria said it agreed with the General Assembly that the impasse had become unbearable for the international community. The consensus rule had continuously been misused in order to create procedural impediments. Procedural matters such as the programme of work should be put in the hands of the Presidencies, to reflect a general view, but not necessarily a consensus. Furthermore, the arguments used against admitting new members indicated that the Conference had not moved to the realities of the twenty-first century: disarmament was not the concern of an ‘exclusive club’ of States – security issues were the responsibility of the entire international community.
Spain said it was not so much a question of the application of the consensus rule but that the Conference had moved away from its spirit. Instead what was being applied was a rigid form of the rule of unanimity which in effect meant members were being given a veto right. A certain member of the Conference was using that rule of veto to frustrate the work of the Conference.
Canada said procedural reform was needed in order to enable the Conference to better solve modern-day issues. It was time to modernize the Conference. Canada supported the proposals of appointing a special coordinator to look at the rules of procedure, in particular the consensus rule. The principle of a rotating presidency hindered the effectiveness of the Conference, while its length of one month was not long enough to achieve change. Furthermore, a new appointment method for the Presidency should be considered, as it did not serve the legitimacy of the Conference to have Presidencies from States that were non-compliant with non-proliferation under the United Nations Charter.
Malaysia said singling out certain parties or groups would not bear any positive outcome, and efforts should be made to accommodate the concerns of every member of the Conference. Malaysia suggested that all Member States demonstrate strong political will and exercise the utmost flexibility in order to start substantive work, that the Conference on Disarmament’s membership be expanded, and that interactive sessions with civil society be increased.
Brazil said the arguments used to advocate action on one subject matter were the same as those used to prevent progress on another matter. For example the lack of necessary conditions for stability was used as an argument for advancing work on creating a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East, while at the same time the same argument was used against negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons entirely.
Croatia, speaking on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States, said their group which was composed of 38 States across all regions, agreed that all States should have the right to participate in negotiations on nuclear security and other disarmament on an equal footing: those discussions should not be limited to only 65 countries. There was no moral reason for that discrimination. There was a double stalemate, both substantive and procedural. The speaker finished with a metaphor, describing a car which had been manufactured in 1958, with new parts added in 1978 and 1999, then since left unused but was expected to be capable of being driven: that was the wreck the Conference was currently in.
United Kingdom made a number of concrete proposals for the revitalization of the Conference, including re-establishment of the links between the various organs of the United Nations disarmament machinery. An ad hoc committee, without a mandate, could be established to cover all seven agenda items, in order to find ways to move forward on any item. Members should further meet for friendly and informal discussions, under Chatham House conditions, to allow delegates to discuss issues at hand without being held behind their national positions as was the case in public plenary. The main problem facing the Conference was a lack of political will.
Israel said the underlying problem at the heart of the Conference’s inability to move forward was the zero-sum-game-attitude adopted by the body over the course of many years. Many members viewed the four core issues as the only possible way forward, an attitude which limited the Conference’s manoeuvring ability and perpetuated its paralysis. Many other challenges, beyond the four core issues, faced the world today. From Israel’s perspective, those could include addressing the threat of a lack of a comprehensive legal framework to ban transfers of conventional weapons to terrorists. Israel did not advocate any change in the rules of procedure, including the consensus rule.
China said all parties should be encouraged to create a favourable atmosphere for negotiation and dialogue. China believed the following important principle should be observed: the authority of the Conference must be respected. In the face of deadlock it was important that all members maintained their patience and confronted challenges courageously. The legitimate security concerns of all States should be given due regard. China was ready to engage with all parties in creative thinking, and discover commonly accepted solutions to revitalize the Conference.
Switzerland noted that the General Assembly, in Resolution 66/66, had expressed frustration over the deadlock in the Conference. Members must face up to the fact that they lived in a globalised, inter-dependent world that had to cope with myriad disarmament challenges. The rotation of the Presidency every four weeks prevented the President from playing a substantial role in the revitalization of the Conference. Finally, the Conference must work in a more open fashion that took in the views of all relevant actors.
Mexico regretted that today’s debate was replacing the implementation of a programme of work, and noted that some delegations believed the paralysis of the Conference, which had affected it for 16 years, was rooted in external causes leaving the Conference a victim of global conditions. Mexico did not subscribe to that view. Was the Conference institutionally able to respond to the realities of the twenty-first century, given the forum was created in a very different age, in a bi-polar world with a very different balance of power to that of today? It was impossible to revitalize something that was not alive. The Conference should talk about reform and renewal, not revitalization.
Slovakia said members could not overlook aspirations to open other disarmament avenues and take multilateral disarmament negotiations forward. Slovakia regretted that the consensus rule was being misinterpreted and misused to create procedural hurdles, and believed its application should be reviewed. There was potential for a more active role for the P6 mechanism, which could create a new dynamism in the Conference, while Slovakia supported the appointment of a special coordinator on expansion of the Conference’s membership.
Netherlands said that far from being closer, the Conference was perhaps even further away from starting negotiations than it was in October 2011. General Assembly resolution 66/66, tabled by the Netherlands together with South Africa and Switzerland and adopted by consensus, clearly stated that the General Assembly was ready to explore other options for multilateral disarmament negotiations if the Conference was unable to adopt a programme of work. If everybody was honest, the chances of achieving a breakthrough on the programme of work were slim. More focused, interactive debate was needed to prepare the ground for future negotiations, preferably in the Conference on Disarmament, but not necessarily.
Sweden recalled that earlier this year the Secretary-General of the Conference called for an active role for the P6 mechanism within the presidency, which was an excellent proposal. The current schedule of activities was a good example of the value of such an approach. Sweden strongly agreed with proposals to extend the length of presidencies and modify its selection. Further, any programme of work should have a life-span of more than one session and remain valid until replaced by a new programme. Procedural issues should not be subject to consensus decision-making.
Colombia said it was essential to de-link the mandates of the Conference: progress on one topic should not hinge on the success of another. Colombia was aware of the reluctance of the Conference to even consider the rules of procedure, but their overhaul was vital to its revitalization. Colombia advocated the appointment of a coordinator on the topic of expansion of Conference membership and establishment of a Working Group on revitalization of the Conference.
France said the rule of consensus should be maintained as it was the guarantee of the participation of all stakeholders that gave them confidence that their legitimate security interests would be respected. However, over the years the consensus rule had been de-natured in practice, resulting in deadlock. Consensus was also a state of mind, which pre-supposed efforts on all sides to arrive at mutual concessions, but had unfortunately drifted to become a state of unanimity. That a President only had one month to attempt to breathe life into the Conference was somewhat limiting.
Iran said the deadlock of the Conference had only recently been realized, although it had existed for a long time, over 15 years. It was worth remembering that existing multi-lateral treaties were negotiated in the Conference under the rule of consensus. Members should deal with the root causes of the deadlock and not be swayed by emotional issues and proposals for change by some countries. The crux of the last decade’s deadlock was the lack of political will for elimination of the threat posed to the world by the existence of nuclear weapons. Finally, the Conference on Disarmament was not a subsidiary body of the United Nations, therefore any statement made to it by the United Nations Secretary-General was in an advisory capacity only.
Russia said Russia had expressed great flexibility in agreeing to give up the link between negotiations on weapons in outer space and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and had supported documents including CD/1864 and the recent Egyptian proposal. Iran gave a well-considered argument to the effect that the same rules of procedure had not prevented the Conference from agreeing on important treaties in the past, such as the important 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, although 16 years later it had not entered into force. Russia supported the proposals put forward by the United Kingdom. It also considered whether the Conference should adopt a so-called ‘light programme of work’ which provided for dealing with all four core issues. Time was running out: the Conference must agree on a programme of work within the current session.
Serbia said there would be no revitalization without the expansion of Conference on Disarmament membership: exclusive membership within the United Nations system did not fit with the times. Serbia fully supported the Secretary-General’s proposal for lengthening the duration of the Presidency, as well as Ireland’s proposition to create a Working Group on revitalization.
India said it believed the Conference’s impasse could not be blamed on its rules of procedure, which provided assurances to Member States that their security interests were protected. India was steadfast in its support for global and verifiable nuclear disarmament and deeply regretted that it remained a distant goal, while noting that all States possessing nuclear weapons were represented within the Conference. Proposals questioning the relevance of the Conference, or suggesting unrealistic alternatives, could not lead to productive results.
Republic of Korea said the Conference must act quickly if it wished to continue playing a central role in disarmament. It was necessary to establish an Eminent Persons Group to find solutions to the current difficulties in the Conference. It would be useful to discuss whether the consensus rule should continue to be applied in purely procedural matters, as it had been abused to the point that the body itself was deadlocked. Above all, it was necessary for each State to demonstrate more political flexibility.
Turkey said the concept of revitalization meant the beginning of the negotiations for which the Conference was mandated. Put simply, if the Conference was not negotiating it was not functional and if it was negotiating, it was revitalized. The Conference’s problems did not stem from its rules of procedure or internal dynamics. Turkey clearly reiterated that there was no consensus on the expansion of Conference membership or appointment of a special coordinator on the issue, because the time was not right.
Algeria said it did not believe the revitalization of the Conference should fall under a specific item on the agenda of the General Assembly, rather that the General Assembly should hold a fourth Special Session focussing on disarmament. Member States must look beyond their own national security and consider the issues at hand in terms of the survival of humankind.
Germany regretted that for decades policies of linkage and blockage had been characteristic. Member States should not prevent the Conference from working by setting unnecessarily high bars for the beginning of negotiations. In particular, such high bars should not be set when one was the only member preventing the adoption of a programme of work. Only one Member State objected to the Egyptian draft programme of work. There was no realistic prospect of a breakthrough on the programme of work: the Conference must reflect how to overcome the abuse of the consensus rule. The General Assembly must decide on the future of the Conference on Disarmament, and it was certainly legitimised to do so.
The United States said some very hard questions and some real truths had been posed in today’s meeting. It agreed with Austria that 15 years of paralysis were unacceptable and inexcusable, and with Mexico that real work was being done elsewhere. The United States did not believe procedural issues were the reason for the paralysis, but rather the clash of political views on the substance. The lack of agreement had certainly impelled the United States to work hard to find a consensus way forward, the priority which belonged to negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Consensus is an essential condition for the United States, which agreed that the consensus rule had been abused on procedural issues. The United States also agreed with the comment that ‘bars should not be set too high’ so as to prevent the Conference from moving forward, but also believed that bars should not be set too low. The idea of a ‘light approach’ that is too light and undifferentiated could be completely insubstantial.