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1316th Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament

20 May 2014
1316th Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
Acting Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and
Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General
to the Conference

1316th Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament

Palais des Nations, Council Chamber
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear Friends:

I am very pleased to address you today. I have now served as Acting Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to this body for six months, and I am grateful for the support that you have all extended to me during these months.

I thought that the six-month mark would be a good opportunity to share some reflections – based on my interactions and observations over the past months – on how we can further promote disarmament and, eventually, re-energize the negotiating mandate that the international community has bestowed on the CD.
Let me begin by recalling some of the recent disarmament successes, reminding us that it is possible to reconstitute the international social contract that has helped establish some of the key pillars of international security, including this Conference.

In the area of weapons of mass destruction, the use of chemical weapons in Syria last year was met by a robust diplomatic response. As a result, over 90 per cent of Syria’s chemical weapons have been removed so far even as the conflict itself endures with terrible humanitarian consequences.

Last year’s signing of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has established a regulatory regime on all major categories of conventional weapons that together rank as the number one killer in the history of mankind. While the ATT does not address all the conventional arms-related challenges, its entry into force – which I hope is soon – will be a milestone in the history of disarmament and arms control.

I also wish to commend two recent processes in which many of you have been involved: the Group of Governmental Experts to make recommendations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and the CCW Informal Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, which last week engaged State Parties and external experts in a productive exchange of views on this emerging category of weapons.

Although these processes are taking place outside of the CD, their positive results may well contribute substantially in advancing the agenda of the CD and in promoting international peace and security.

But much more needs to be done, particularly in realizing our common vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The Nayarit Conference last March on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, building on the 2013 Oslo Conference on the same subject, heightened the awareness of the catastrophic toll that any use, deliberate or accidental of a nuclear bomb would have on every aspect of human life. For humanity, real security and freedom from fear will never come about as long as nuclear weapons exist.

Many of you have just returned from New York where you took part in the Third Preparatory Committee of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The NPT regime continues to be challenged by slow progress in nuclear disarmament.

Engineers will tell us that a clogged machine needs an overhaul every now and then This is also true in the world of diplomacy and politics where treaties, constitutions and resolutions that are no longer in tune with realities are reviewed and eventually updated.

The disarmament machinery, and the Conference on Disarmament in particular, has been clogged for much too long. Your work in this Chamber has not gone beyond mere discussions and deliberations on the agenda items for too many years.

While pondering on the ambitious goal of revitalizing the broader disarmament machinery, I continue to believe that with the shared political will of its Members, the CD, even in its present form, can build on its recent, renewed momentum.

Let me elaborate in more detail what such further momentum could entail:

First, although there is no consensus on starting negotiations on any of the CD’s four core agenda items -- nuclear disarmament; a ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons; negative security assurances; and the prevention of an arms race in outer space -- there are areas of agreement and common ground on each issue.

I continue to believe, fully acknowledging that not everyone agrees with me, that we do not have to wait for full consensus on everything to emerge before negotiations begin. I would like to invite you to consider negotiations on areas of common ground with a view eventually to produce framework conventions to which substantive protocols may be subsequently negotiated and added. This is not a new idea. The CCW with its five protocols is a living example. The Brazilian proposal of 2010 on an umbrella treaty on fissile material for nuclear weapons is another.

One objective of the Schedule of Activities which you have recently adopted could therefore be to identify and turn over to the Informal Working Group areas of common ground on each of the core issues.

Second, to make a difference, the CD does not have to aim at negotiating legally binding instruments only, even if this is the ideal goal and expectation of us all. There can be merit, also, in exploring issues for which voluntary, politically binding régimes may be negotiated.

Third, concerning the working methods of the CD which are seen by many as being at the root – or at least part of the cause – of the protracted inactivity, I would like to reiterate my predecessor’s call for the establishment of a subsidiary body on this issue. As you will be meeting during the remainder of the 2014 Session largely in the informal setting of the Informal Working Group and the Schedule of Activities, you may wish to consider having focused discussions on a review of the working methods of the CD during the slots reserved for the plenary meetings.

Such a review should not be meant to redraft every rule of procedure, many of which have successfully governed the work of this body over many decades. It would instead provide an opportunity to codify some of the best practices that have emerged. Since the beginning of this session, we have all welcomed the spirit of cooperation and continuity that has characterized the work of the six presidencies (P6) of the 2014 CD Session, irrespective of their regional groupings.

In the absence of a presidency of a longer duration that many have called for, such continuity can ensure that maximum attention and greater support by all Presidents is given to the CD and thus providing maximum coherence to its work. I therefore call on you to support a proactive and coordinated role for the P6, even if it is not given a formal status, so that we can continue to benefit from the positive impact of the understanding during this session.

Fourth, last year’s Open-Ended Working Group to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations provided an opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas between Member States and civil society organizations. Many have referred to that experience as one of the useful models that should also inspire the work of the CD.

In this regard, I suggest for your consideration, as a first practical step before the end of the year, the holding of an informal CD-Civil Society Forum, hosted by the Secretary-General of the CD. And if the experience is a constructive one, you could then decide to have it as a recurring event until such time that you may decide to adapt the CD’s rules of procedure to allow for greater and more formal interaction with civil society.

These are a few ideas for your consideration and further discussion, offered with my strong belief in the value of the CD as the single standing forum for multilateral disarmament and in a spirit of shared responsibility for allowing it to fulfill its mission.

As we consider rules of procedure, institutional issues and processes, we must never lose sight of the overarching objective of the Conference: to contribute to a better world. The failure to do so over the past 18 years is not only a stain on the Conference and on the United Nations, but risks undermining further the faith of those we serve in the value and relevance of multilateralism.

The Conference does not exist in isolation and we are not meeting in a vacuum here in Geneva. The consequences of the inability to agree in this Chamber go far beyond the Palais des Nations and even beyond the issue of disarmament. The work of the Conference is an integral part of the broader efforts to build a safer and more secure world where countries and communities can prosper.

It is our moral obligation to ensure that the Conference contributes to that collective effort.

I thank you.