Decides to re-establish the Informal Working Group to help agree a programme of work
3 March 2014
The Conference on Disarmament opened the high-level section of its public plenary this morning under the presidency of Italy, in which it decided by consensus to re-establish the Informal Working Group to help agree a programme of work. It also held a minute of silence in remembrance of its former Secretary-General, Mr. Vladimir Petrovsky of Russia, who held that position whilst serving as the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva from 1993 to 2002.
Upon the adoption of a decision for the re-establishment of the Informal Working Group with a mandate to produce a programme of work robust in substance and progressive over time in implementation, Ambassador Vinicio Mati of Italy, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said it was sending a message that was clear and full of hope. He hoped the Informal Working Group would open up a new phase in the Conference that would shortly lead to the adoption of a programme of work.
John Ashe, President of the United Nations General Assembly, said the past achievements of the Conference were commendable but it risked being defined by its history, and was too valuable a body to suffer such a fate. The decisions made in the Conference on Disarmament not only contributed to peace and security but inevitably impacted upon other aspects of the United Nations’ work. Peace underpinned development, and development demanded disarmament, he said.
Peter Javorcik, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, said the Conference must be revived swiftly in order to reaffirm its relevance to address current security needs. The continued impasse was unacceptable and unsustainable. The Secretary of State spoke about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, in addition to other issues.
Hector Timerman, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina, said Argentina had a vigorous nuclear programme exclusively for peaceful purposes, in strict compliance with the rules enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and within that framework Argentina developed, used and exported nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Benedetto Della Vedova, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy, highlighted recent successes in the field of disarmament, such as the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, the common understanding on the Iranian nuclear programme reached in Geneva, the multilateral response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the joint United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission. The banning of the production of fissile material remained a priority for Italy, he said.
Dimitris Kourkoulas, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, said that today the Conference was at a crossroads and had to find a way to break the longstanding deadlock by restarting negotiations on pivotal issues such as the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Speaking as an Observer State, Greece said it was an anachronism to restrict participation in negotiations on disarmament issues to only 65 countries.
In a general discussion States gave their views on and hopes for the Informal Working Group, and expressed their disarmament priorities.
Speaking in today’s discussion were Mexico, India, France, Pakistan, Australia, United States, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Slovakia, Argentina, Italy and Greece.
The meeting will continue this afternoon, Monday, 3 March at 3 p.m. when Ukraine and other States were scheduled to address the Conference.
Statement by the President of the Conference on Disarmament
Ambassador VINICIO MATI of Italy, President of the Conference on Disarmament, presented to the Conference a draft decision for the reestablishment of an informal working group with a mandate to produce a programme of work robust in substance and progressive over time in implementation (CD/WP.579).
The Conference adopted by consensus the decision to re-establish the Informal Working Group.
The President then said that the Conference was today sending a message that was clear and full of hope. Member States were more than ever of the urgent need to resume substantive work in the Conference and address the paralysis that had prevented it from making progress in the past. The President hoped that the Informal Working Group would open up a new phase in the Conference that would shortly lead to the adoption of a programme of work with established proposals on all agenda items.
Mexico said it wished to record formally its scepticism about the Informal Working Group. Mexico was not optimistic about the possibility of actually achieving a programme of work while the paralysing consensus rule continued, which gave a basic veto power to States which some used on a daily basis and not as a last resort. Mexico expressed concern that the Informal Working Group may become an aim unto itself and forget that its aim was to produce a programme of work. Mexico further expressed regret that the decision made today was presented as a sign of progress within the Conference, when in fact it was mired in shameful paralysis. Nevertheless, Mexico said it wanted to be progressive, and that nothing would make the delegation happier than to see substantive discussions hallmarked by the creativity that had in fact been seen in discussions on procedural matters.
India said the Conference was a negotiating forum with a unique status. The best way to revitalize it would be to adopt and implement a programme of work, such as CD/1864 which was adopted by consensus in 2009. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/64 on the annual report of the Conference also linked back to CD/1864, India noted. India said it had agreed to go along with the decision to set up an Informal Working Group in the hope it would enable the start of substantive work in the Conference, including the start of negotiations at an early date. It would be counter-productive to have endless procedural debates. India also noted that it was pleased today’s decision on the Informal Working Group made explicit that it did not take anything away from the responsibility of the President of the Conference under the rules of procedure.
France said the adoption of the decision today bore witness to the Conference’s wish to once again take up the mantle of negotiation that had been conferred upon it as the only multilateral negotiating forum. However, it was a procedural matter and bore no prescience to the of the Conference that in order to fulfil its role it needed to negotiate, as the General Assembly reminded every year. In France’s view CD/1864, the programme of work adopted in 2009, was the basis on which to move ahead, especially for all States who, like France, were party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Pakistan said the Conference on Disarmament had to operate in the real world, as its dynamics were the dynamics of the real world. The Conference needed to work on the basis of equal security and the security of some could not be obtained at the cost of security of others. The issue of security was paramount when the Conference sought to negotiate a treaty on any of the issues on its agenda, Pakistan said. Negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) may be a priority for some States, but not all. There were also other issues on the Conference’s agenda and other priorities, such as negative security assurances for Pakistan and others. The priority for the whole Group of G21 was nuclear disarmament. For other States, the priority was preventing an arms race in outer space (PAROS). There was no emphasis to negotiate on any one of those issues because security concerns of some States had prevented consensus. The reality that had to be faced after over four years was that CD/1864 as a programme of work was now redundant. If the idea was for the Informal Working Group to recreate CD/1864 then it was traveling down a dead end, Pakistan said. The Conference had to think imaginatively about a new contract that could make negotiations on substantive work possible, and in the absence of an agreement had to engage on next best thing which was substantive discussions on all four areas in a balanced manner.
Australia took the floor briefly to reiterate its commitment to the Informal Working Group and say that they looked forward to seeing what it could do, as well as to working with colleagues as the Vice co-Chair of the group.
United States said it very much welcomed the decision on the Informal Working Group in the context of the dual track approach. The United States viewed both tracks as very important and looked forward to making progress on the second track, substantive discussion on all areas, even as the Conference worked on the first track, towards negotiations. Every party would come to the Informal Working Group with their own interests and understanding of where the lowest hanging fruit may be. For the United States, it continued to believe that a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) was a very important objective for the Conference reinforced by not only members who were party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty but also others. There were difficulties, there were security concerns, but the Conference was the body that could address them in the most effective manner, as it had done in the past. The United States wanted to maintain its level of ambition going into the process and looking ahead to next year said it was pleased to engage in the Group of Governmental Experts process on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which it hoped would address informal discussions within the Conference.
Statement by the President of the United Nations General Assembly
JOHN ASHE, President of the United Nations General Assembly, said since the Conference was established it and its predecessors had delivered ground-breaking results, including the adoption of landmark treaties such as on non-proliferation and chemical weapons. It had contributed substantially to the maintenance of international peace and security, one of the founding goals of the United Nations Charter. It had brought trust among States and made a world safer for all. Those achievements were important and commendable. Unfortunately if the tide did not turn the Conference risked being defined by its history. The Conference was too valuable a body to suffer such a fate. That collective preference of the General Assembly to have the Conference as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum remained unchanged. At first high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament, in September 2013, the President noted that many States expressed serious concern regarding the continued stalemate in the Conference. States asked for intensified efforts across regional groups in order to move beyond old divisions and entrenched positions and find elements of consensus. The same sentiments were echoed in General Assembly resolution 66/66 entitled ‘Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament”, he noted.
The President said he was pleased that this morning the Conference had decided to re-establish the Informal Working Group with a mandate to produce a programme of work. He congratulated it on making that crucial step, but said real progress must now be made. He reminded the Conference to stay focused on the bigger picture, overcome its differences and live up to its responsibilities. With so many other sectors and domains evolving and moving forward the United Nations could not afford a complete stalemate in the Conference year after year. The President also spoke about an important theme to the current session of the General Assembly – the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage’. One way or another, every item discussed in the General Assembly reinforced sustainable development, he said. The decisions made in the Conference on Disarmament not only contributed to peace and security but inevitably impacted upon other aspects of the United Nations’ work.
The Geneva Disarmament community, one of the most respected and knowledgeable communities among us, the President said, had unique potential for contributing to a better world for all. Its network, synergies and other services in Geneva, its infrastructure, could and must be used responsibly and productively. Let us not forget that where we put our time, resources and energy was an indicator of what we truly valued, he said, and that when we value education, healthcare, poverty reduction and sustainable development our actions and choices must likewise offer proof of that. He welcomed the broader perspective in which the disarmament community was looking at the various challenges it faced, particularly on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Peace underpinned development, and development demanded disarmament, he concluded, urging the Conference to strive towards that goal.
Statements by Dignitaries
PETER JAVORCIK, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, said everyone was aware of the remarkable accomplishments of the Conference in the past and its valuable contribution to global security. However, it could not live on past achievements and Slovakia was disappointed that the Conference failed again to establish its Programme of Work at the beginning of the year. There was a saying in Slovakia that “those who do nothing cannot spoil anything”, but inactivity did not mean stability in disarmament and security. The Conference must be revived swiftly in order to reaffirm its relevance to address current security needs. The continued impasse was unacceptable and unsustainable. The Secretary of State spoke about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and said that the humanitarian dimension underpinned the Non-Proliferation Treaty and added to reasons to move the Non-Proliferation Treaty Process forward. Slovakia continued to support immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices, a long-overdue issue.
The Secretary of State welcomed the Conference’s decision to re-establish the Informal Working Group and noted that Slovakia would give serious consideration to a structured discussion on the items on the Conference’s agenda. Slovakia also saw value in expanding the membership of the Conference, and supported the appointment of a special coordinator on that issue. He announced that his Government recently adopted the Actions Plan for Accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and aimed to ratify it by June 2015, becoming a State Party to the Convention by 1 January 2016. Slovakia supported a conclusion of an agreement on cluster munitions in the framework of the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, which enjoyed wide support. Finally, Slovakia was pleased to announce it would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty this spring, and encouraged all other countries to also become State Parties to it.
HECTOR TIMERMAN, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina, said Argentina had traditionally promoted a comprehensive approach for the development of actions and initiatives in the fields of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms regulation, fields in which we have been active both regionally and globally, supporting the role of multilateralism in general and that of the United Nations in general. The revitalization of the Conference would be achieved through the political will of its members to overcome the situation, not by focusing time and effort in discussing its rules of procedure or institutional characteristics. Argentina supported the continuation of the Informal Working Group, and said although it welcomed the generation of flexible platforms where the debate on disarmament could be enriched from different perspectives, it continued to favour negotiation processes within existing fora.
Argentina had a vigorous nuclear programme exclusively for peaceful purposes, in strict compliance with the rules enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and within that framework Argentina developed, used and exported nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Argentina supported all measures that promoted a dynamic commitment to non-proliferation and the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons; the inability of some States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty delayed its entry into force and strengthened the argument that the non-proliferation regime was implemented with a double standard. Argentina expressed both its own and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC)’s concern over the refusal of the United Kingdom to inform whether the nuclear submarines it sent to the South Atlantic carried atomic weapons, especially because there was at least one precedent of introduction of British nuclear weapons in the area of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which was kept secret until revealed by the press. Argentina said it supported the establishment and consolidation of other nuclear-weapon-free-zones. It also reiterated its call on States that had made interpretative declarations to the Additional Protocols of the Treaty of Tlatelolco to withdraw them in accordance with the purpose of the Treaty.
BENEDETTO DELLA VEDOVA, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy, said it was a great pleasure to address the Conference while it was under the Presidency of Italy. Italy was fully committed to disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation as essential components of its foreign policy. The signing of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013 was undoubtedly a multilateral success story, although it would not enter into force overnight; the Secretary of State said. He praised the common understanding on the Iranian nuclear programme reached in Geneva, reiterating Italy’s full support for the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its complex task. He spoke about the multilateral response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the joint United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission, to which Italy had actively contributed logistic, financial and technical support. He recalled that the Chemical Weapons Convention was negotiated here, in the Conference, and was one of its many impressive accomplishments that included the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Biological Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The deadlock was unacceptable and the Conference must restart work without further delay, he said, expressing satisfaction for the renewal of the informal working group today which was a concrete step forward. Italy was fully committed together with the European Union to push forward negotiations for the adoption of an International Code of Conduct on outer space activities, he added. In his detailed statement the Secretary of State addressed the challenges of nuclear disarmament, welcoming increased transparency shown by nuclear weapon States and the efforts of the United States and Russia in implementing the New START Treaty. On the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he stressed that it was a tool serving a political will, and regarding the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, said the last nuclear test carried out by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea clearly demonstrated the urgent need for its earliest possible entry into force. The banning of the production of fissile material remained a priority for Italy, which hoped although discussions in the Conference demonstrated radically different views, compromise solutions could be found.
DIMITRIS KOURKOULAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, said that today the Conference was at a crossroads and had to find a way to break the longstanding deadlock by restarting negotiations on pivotal issues such as the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT) which was the next logical step towards nuclear disarmament, in addition to addressing other pressing issues. He spoke about important developments in the field of disarmament that had found fertile ground outside of the Conference, such as the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty, the accession of Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the progress made in the E3+3 talks with Iran on its nuclear programme. Those developments widened the gap between the Conference and the rest of the Disarmament Machinery.
The Deputy Minister spoke about the issue of enlargement of the membership of the Conference on Disarmament, especially given Greece was the longest-standing observer of the Conference, since 1982. Greece believed there was no reason or moral justification to exclude United Nations Member States from disarmament discussions, all the more so because of the universal nature of the United Nations. It was an anachronism to restrict participation in negotiations on disarmament issues to only 65 countries. It was equally outdated to hold the issue of enlargement hostage to bilateral issues which had no relevance to the subject matter of the Conference. Greece reiterated its call for the appointment of a Special Coordinator on Enlargement without prejudice to the final outcome.
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