Conference on Disarmament Continues Discussion on the Draft Programme of Work
7 February 2019
Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressed the Conference on Disarmament this afternoon via a video link from New York. Following a brief debate on issues ranging from the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda, and financing for the disarmament regime, to gender dimensions of disarmament, delegations continued their discussion on the draft programme of work and possible ways of moving ahead towards substantive work in the Conference.
Ms. Nakamitsu said that the commitment to the shared goals of the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction would most likely be tested in 2019, a weighty year for the Conference: the global community was beset by challenges, in the field of disarmament the progress had slowed to a crawl, the possibility of regional conflicts engulfing great powers was real, and the world was on the precipice of a multipolar qualitative nuclear arms race. The High Representative briefed on the champion designation for States taking on an active leadership role in implementing an action contained in the Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament, Securing Our Common Future, noting that thus far, 11 States, from both the Global North and South, had formally stepped forward and others were expected to confirm their participation in the coming weeks. In conclusion, Ms. Nakamitsu urged States to exert every effort to burnish the credibility of this forum for multilateral engagement at a time in which no discernible alternatives were in sight and disarmament efforts were so sorely needed.
In the discussion that followed, delegations welcomed such an innovative way to join up Geneva and New York and stressed the importance of the Conference on Disarmament better linking up with other actors in the disarmament machinery, especially given the dire state of disarmament and a disarmament regime that seemed to be slowly unravelling. States inquired about the concrete support of the United Nations Secretariat to the work of the Conference on Disarmament; challenges facing the disarmament regime, especially those related to financing; as well as enlargement and gender dimensions of disarmament.
Speaking in the discussion were Russia, United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt and Latvia.
During the discussion on a draft programme of work, Poland said that the fissile material negotiations were the readiest to be taken aboard and noted a need to address working methods, in particular the rotating presidency. China said the Conference on Disarmament must assess progress in science and technology and consequently update its agenda and consider how to improve its methods of work, including the enlargement of membership. Syria remarked that the draft text should prioritize nuclear disarmament better and strengthen the mandate on the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention and a mandate on an international legally binding agreement prohibiting the production of fissile material and dealing with fissile material stocks.
Algeria said that nuclear disarmament was the absolute priority of the international community, and that was why it supported negotiations on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Australia prioritized the start of negotiations on a treaty on fissile material and said that the Conference should not get caught up in a debate on the Shannon mandate, but rather consider how to engage and start the negotiations. Japan accorded priority to a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which was ripe for negotiations, and would support a discussion on working methods. Kazakhstan expressed concern about the decisions by the United States and Russia to suspend their participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which had helped deliver significant progress in disarmament.
The President of the Conference, Ambassador Yurii Klymenko of Ukraine, said that the revised draft programme of work would be circulated on Friday, 8 February. Discussions on the proposed text would take place at the next plenary on Tuesday, 12 February.
The Conference approved requests by Qatar and Denmark to participate as observers in the 2019 session of the Conference.
The Conference will next meet in public on Tuesday, 12 February at 10 a.m., to hear from Heidi Hulan, Ambassador of Canada to Austria, Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations Office at Vienna, and Chair of the high-level fissile material cut-off treaty expert preparatory group.
Discussion with the High Representative for Disarmament
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, speaking via a video-link from New York, reiterated her belief that all Member States to the Conference remained committed to the shared goals of the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction and to the strict regulation of conventional weapons in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. That commitment, she said, would most likely be tested in 2019, which would be a weighty one for the Conference: the global community was beset by challenges, in the field of disarmament the progress had slowed to a crawl, the possibility of regional conflicts engulfing great powers was real, and the world was on the precipice of a multipolar qualitative nuclear arms race. At nearly two trillion dollars, military spending was reaching obscene peaks, the High Representative highlighted.
Despite that dismal picture, there were opportunities, including the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its 2020 Review Conference. On cyber security, autonomous weapons, and the militarization of outer space, States could work together to alleviate the current predicament and secure the world for future generations. For the Conference on Disarmament, the year 2019 would be an opportunity to build on the momentum sparked by conversations in its subsidiary bodies, take those deliberations further and provide a technical and substantive focus on the matters that were most germane to this body. The High Representative welcomed the constructive deliberation on the draft programme of work, which she hoped would generate fruitful debate.
The Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament, Securing Our Common Future, contained 40 action items focused on practical measures that could be undertaken by United Nations entities in support of the efforts and initiatives of Member States, and more than a quarter of those had seen significant updates. Its implementation plan was a living document, Ms. Nakamitsu said, and would be carried out with the political and financial support of Member States. To acknowledge this support and to promote widespread buy-in, a champion or supporter State would be identified for each action. Such a designation would be limited to States taking on an active leadership role in implementing an action. Thus far, 11 governments, from both the Global North and South, had formally stepped forward for 23 actions that cut across all the pillars of the Agenda. Other Governments were expected to confirm their participation in the coming weeks.
In times of crisis, success was achieved only when everyone worked together, the High Representative concluded, urging States to exert every effort to burnish the credibility of this forum for multilateral engagement at a time in which no discernible alternatives were in sight and disarmament efforts were so sorely needed.
YURII KLYMENKO, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the High Representative and asked about the areas in which champions had pledged their support and consequently, which agenda items could see more action as a result.
Russia said it was perplexed that both the United Nations Secretary-General and the High Representatives had not found the time to visit the Conference during their visit to Geneva, and talk about urgent issues facing it today. The High Representative’s address had focused on the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, while the programme of work had been mentioned in only two sentences. Russia asked about concrete efforts of the United Nations Secretariat to support the work of the Conference on Disarmament and help its Member States.
United Kingdom welcomed today’s innovative way to join up Geneva and New York and asked how the Conference on Disarmament could better join up with other bodies and actors in the disarmament machinery. Brazil welcomed the emphasis on the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament and the update on its implementation. The state of disarmament looked dire and bleak, Brazil said, noting that the disarmament regime seemed to be slowly unravelling and that there was a need to bring different strands of the disarmament machinery together
Indonesia raised concern about challenges facing the disarmament regime, not only substantive but also administrative and financial, which were holding it back. One such case was the funding for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Were there any initiatives to bridge those troubles? Egypt attached high importance to the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention in the Conference on Disarmament. There were divergent feelings about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but how could the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs support the Conference to seize the opportunity represented by this treaty. Latvia reminded that the issue of enlargement of the Conference on Disarmament should be brought into discussions and then asked about the best ways to amplify gender dimensions in disarmament issues.
Responding to questions and comments raised, IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that a number of States had stepped forward to champion in all of the four pillars of the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda, not only in financial terms, but in their political support and commitment to the agenda for disarmament and the disarmament machinery, which was equally important. In terms of urgent actions, Ms. Nakamitsu stressed the importance of the P5 and all nuclear weapon States to reaffirm and explicitly state that a nuclear war could never be won and therefore should never be fought.
The Secretary-General remained highly committed to the Conference on Disarmament, she said, and would address it during the high-level week. As to only a few references to the programme of work, Ms. Nakamitsu remarked that the States were in the midst of deliberations and that she did not want to interfere into the working of the body. The Conference on Disarmament was a fundamental part of the world’s peace and security architecture, she said and urged its Member States to work on achieving progress.
The Secretary-General’s Agenda contained a specific commitment to support the disarmament machinery components. To implement it, the High Representative had undertaken action to streamline certain functions in her Office, to better serve Member States. The geographical separation between New York and Geneva was an issue to be tackled in the ongoing reform of the Office of Disarmament, with the aim of bringing the Geneva-based secretariat closer into the implementation of the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda. Ms. Nakamitsu said that several States had started a conversation on new approaches and ideas on peace and security in the twenty-first century and she was committed to working with those States. The high-level segment would be an opportunity to continue that dialogue, she said.
On financing issues, the High Representative said she was in contact with States concerning their financial contribution to a number of conventions, and noted examples in which States themselves had found solutions, for example the Working Capital Fund to the Biological Weapons Convention, as a mechanism to address situations caused by lack of financing. Financing and implementation of various conventions were the responsibility of its States parties and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs would support them in this task.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was a United Nations-negotiated treaty, and although it was rather controversial for some States, it had to be mentioned in the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda. Many United Nations Member States were frustrated by the slow pace of disarmament, she said, noting that the Review Process for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2020 was an opportunity to return to a united path.
Gender impact must be properly understood in different parts of the disarmament agenda, the High Representative agreed and said that the Office for Disarmament Affairs was working on mainstreaming gender in disarmament and on understanding gender dimensions, including through a project on the gendered impact of small weapons.
Discussions on the Draft Programme of Work
Poland said that the timely exchange of views between disarmament experts in New York and Geneva remained an important part of the disarmament machinery. As for the draft programme of work, Poland remarked that not all the issues proposed for negotiations had the same degree of maturity and that certain among them were better addressed in other fora, such as the Biological Weapons Convention. Among the issues, the fissile material negotiations were readiest to be taken aboard, and there was a need to address working methods, in particular the rotating presidency. The agenda of the Conference was not written in stone, and therefore the time had come to take a look at its “seven items” and ask whether they indeed represented current challenges.
China remarked that certain Member States had expressed doubts about the responsibility to adopt a “balanced and comprehensive” approach. Including all the agenda items in a programme of work was the only way to ensure that the Conference was working in a fair and balanced manner. A gradual approach was the only way forward, China said, urging the Conference to seriously consider the work conducted in subsidiary bodies in 2018. The Conference on Disarmament must assess progress in science and technology and consequently update its agenda and consider how to improve its methods of work, including the enlargement of membership.
Syria said that it had carefully examined the draft programme of work presented by the President and highlighted the importance of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and also the importance of complementing the efforts on nuclear non-proliferation with those on eliminating nuclear weapons. Syria supported the starting, as soon as possible, of the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, but the draft programme of work did not offer the minimum acceptable level to deal with nuclear disarmament as a priority. Syria also supported a clear mandate to negotiate an international legally binding agreement prohibiting the production of fissile material and to deal with fissile material stocks. Syria also expressed its support for the start of negotiations on a convention against chemical and biological terrorism based on the Russian proposal. The problem in the Conference was not related to rules of procedure or its working methods but to lack of political will, selectivity, double standards and the politicization of this body by some States, Syria concluded.
Algeria said it was ready to work with other Member States to give the work of the Conference a new lease of life, based on a programme of work. Nuclear disarmament was the absolute priority of the international community, Algeria said, expressing concern about the threat of existing nuclear weapons. That was why Algeria supported negotiations on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The standstill in the Conference was an outcome of the international context, the hallmark of which was the lack of political will, and it was necessary to capitalize on the work of the subsidiary bodies.
Australia prioritized the start of negotiations on a treaty on fissile material and said that the Conference should not get caught up in a debate on the Shannon mandate, but should consider how to engage and start the negotiations. The capacity to negotiate simultaneously on several items at the same time was not present at the moment, however, it was not necessary for all agenda items to move forward at the same pace. Some issues, such as those related to the global governance on biological weapons, should be better dealt with by the Biological Weapons Convention. Australia remained flexible and engaged, and open to a discussion on working methods and on expansion of the membership of the Conference.
Japan thanked the President for the draft programme of work and emphasized formality, inclusiveness, communality, and creating added value. Japan welcomed the inclusion of the seven agenda items in the proposed draft. Japan accorded priority to a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which was ripe for negotiations. Given the diverse views on the work of subsidiary bodies, Japan suggested that some of their meetings be held in a public plenary. Agile working was about creating a conductive environment to achieve goals, and that was why Japan would support a discussion on working methods.
Kazakhstan expressed concern about the decisions by the United States and Russia to suspend their participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which had helped deliver significant progress in disarmament. The suspension carried a risk of a new arms race and posed a threat to global peace and security. Kazakhstan called upon the United States and Russia to engage in mutual confidence building measures.
For use of the information media; not an official record