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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT CONCLUDES THE FIRST PART OF ITS 2019 SESSION

Discusses the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament Initiative Proposed by the United States
26 March 2019

The Conference on Disarmament this afternoon addressed the topic of creating an environment for nuclear disarmament and discussed the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative introduced by Christopher Ford, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation.

The President of the Conference, Ambassador Robert Wood of the United States, said that the Conference would discuss the topic of creating an environment for nuclear disarmament, after hearing from Christopher Ford, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation and the Ambassadors to the Conference on Disarmament from Brazil, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ford informed the Conference that the United States was developing implementation plans for a path-breaking initiative, Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament, that aimed to set in motion the dialogue to ease tensions and strengthen trust between States to facilitate disarmament, with constructive engagement by a broad range of parties.  The vision of the process involved a range of participants coming together in an initial plenary to develop a constructive agenda and then meeting in a number of working groups to try to address the identified challenges; ideally, each of the groups would include geographically and politically diverse participants.  The participation was entirely voluntary and the price of admission was no higher than having a sincere commitment to this kind of dialogue, noted the Assistant Secretary of State. 

Ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil said that the gravity of current tensions was such that the launch of a meaningful and structured dialogue on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses appeared to be not only of essence, but urgent.  A possible framework for the dialogue on a way forward would require careful negotiations on venue, content, approaches, roles and participation.

Ambassador Robbert Gabriëlse of the Netherlands emphasized that nuclear disarmament was a process that needed to involve both nuclear weapon States and non-nuclear weapon States and that the launching of a dialogue on creating an environment for nuclear disarmament was an opportunity for all States to contribute.  In the spirit of having a broad and inclusive dialogue, the Netherlands would organize a nuclear disarmament colloquium on 15 April in Geneva that would embody a bottom-up approach open to any idea.

Ambassador Aidan Liddle of the United Kingdom hoped that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative could be a way of looking at the question of security and disarmament in a fresh way, including by tackling a question of what would guarantee security in a world in which nuclear weapons had been given up as well as what confidence building and risk reducing steps all States could take today to start to make a nuclear weapons free world a reality. 

During the discussion, speakers said that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative was a signal of hope; they welcomed its inclusiveness and the potential to build trust and facilitate new incremental steps in the right direction.  A delegation stressed that integral to any discussion must be security concerns and threat perceptions, efforts towards conflict resolution and addressing longstanding disputes, transparency and confidence building measures, regional asymmetries and destabilizing arms build-ups, and the nature of security doctrines and their role in strategic stability.

Several speakers raised concern about the increased investments in armament and modernization of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of security doctrines that relied on nuclear weapons.  Nuclear disarmament had for over 70 years relied on continuity and stability, they said, and stressed the primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament of the two biggest nuclear powers, especially since no progress on had been made in the context of article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Speaking in the discussions were Pakistan, Russia, France, Islamic Republic of Iran, China, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Cuba and Spain.  Belarus read out a statement in support of the Conference on Disarmament by a group of Member and observer States to the Conference, who rejected all attempts to politicize the institution of the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament.

This was the last plenary meeting for the first part of the 2019 session of the Conference on Disarmament.  The second part will start on 13 May and the first plenary meeting, to be held on 14 May, will be devoted to the issue of nuclear deterrence.

Keynote Statements

CHRISTOPHER FORD, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation, Department of State, United States, informed the Conference that his Government was developing implementation plans for a path-breaking initiative that aimed at bringing countries together in a constructive dialogue to explore ways in which it might be possible to ameliorate conditions in the global security environment and make it more conducive to further progress toward nuclear disarmament.  This was a new initiative, said Mr. Ford, which represented both a conceptual break from, and an effort to build upon, the remarkable progress in the reduction in nuclear arsenals since the Cold War.  For the United States, this had resulted in an 88 per cent reduction, a result of the easing of Cold War tensions, which reaffirmed the centrality of security conditions.  The challenge today was how to imagine the disarmament enterprise moving forward in a world in which the prevailing security conditions had been worsening rather than improving.  The new initiative on Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament aimed to help the international community find a path forward by setting in motion a Creating an Environment Working Group process, under which the participating countries would work together to identify a number of key questions and possible answers on the road to eventual disarmament. 

Addressing the security challenges that motivated nuclear weapons acquisition and retention was a challenge that required all States to work together for it was precisely the persisting regional and global tensions that continued to impede progress on developing new disarmament initiatives as some States in the Conference feared that such agreements would run counter to their perceived national interests.  Without addressing some highly problematic trends in the global security environment it would be very hard, or even impossible, to imagine any future for nuclear disarmament at all.  Traditional approaches to disarmament could no longer meet the pressing needs of today’s world while the newer efforts in the form of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons could offer a viable initiative as it did not envisage alleviating the underlying security environment that helped drive nuclear weapon choices and also because much of the advocacy discourse of that Treaty demonized the security choices of deterrence-reliant countries. 

The Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative aimed to set in motion a dialogue to ease tensions and strengthen trust between States to facilitate disarmament, with constructive engagement by a broad range of parties.  Mr. Ford recognized that in some quarters this new initiative was viewed somewhat warily and hoped that more and more countries would see fit to participate.  The vision of the process involved a range of participants coming together in an initial plenary to develop a constructive agenda and then meeting in a number of working groups to try to address the identified challenges; ideally, each of the groups would include geographically and politically diverse participants.  The participation was entirely voluntary, said Mr. Ford, noting that the price of admission was no higher than having a sincere commitment to this kind of dialogue.  The Assistant Secretary of State encouraged wide participation as it would increase the value of the process through which the international community could begin to explore ways to overcome challenges on the path to a world as envisaged in article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Ambassador GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA of Brazil, stressed that defending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and its integrity and centrality to the disarmament and non-proliferation regime should be a common ground and the respect for its obligation a common point of departure.  Acknowledging the deteriorating international security situation, Brazil stressed that facing the facts and addressing the real world could provide a pathway for renewing Non-Proliferation Treaty vows towards the Review Conference 2020 and beyond.  The gravity of current tensions was such that the launch of a meaningful and structured dialogue on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses appeared to be not only of essence, but urgent.  A possible framework for the dialogue on a way forward would require careful negotiations on venue, content, approaches, roles and participation.  The goal would be a joint assessment of where the world’s nuclear strategic stability and risk stood today and what relevant steps all States could take towards a world without nuclear weapons.  Brazil recalled that, importantly, a growing concern of the humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapon use or detonation had been one of the forces that had driven the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Ambassador ROBBERT GABRIËLSE of the Netherlands, emphasized that today’s international security environment gave ample reasons to move forward on nuclear disarmament and that only through an open and frank discussion would States be able to bridge the differences and find a common way forward.  Nuclear disarmament was a process that needed to involve both nuclear weapon States and non-nuclear weapon States.  The launching of a dialogue on creating an environment for nuclear disarmament should be then seen as an opportunity for all States to contribute.  The Netherlands continued to advocate an approach where disarmament was carried forward in a progressive way, working on concrete issues such as verification, nuclear risk reduction, and the start of negotiations on a Fissile Material (Cut-off) Treaty, with the ultimate aim of arriving at global zero.  The United States’ initiative, coming from one of the major nuclear powers, had the potential to be a constructive and creative way forward.  It would not be a magical solution to all current challenges, but an attempt to revitalize the constructive dialogue in order to overcome the current stalemate with the aim of taking steps forward on nuclear disarmament.  In the spirit of having a broad and inclusive dialogue, the Netherlands would organize a nuclear disarmament colloquium on 15 April in Geneva, which would represent a bottom-up approach open to any idea, in which the Netherlands would act as a facilitator.

Ambassador AIDAN LIDDLE of the United Kingdom, recalled the position from the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which had reaffirmed the essential importance of an independent nuclear deterrent to the United Kingdom’s security today and for as long as the global security situation demanded.  The United Kingdom hoped that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative could be a way of looking at the question of security and disarmament in a fresh way, including by tackling a question of what would guarantee security in a world in which nuclear weapons had been given up.  Also, how to ensure that State and non-State actors could not re-acquire nuclear weapons once they had been given up by everyone else and how to respond if they did?  While nuclear weapons could be eliminated, the science behind them could not be unlearned nor the technology to build them forgotten.  Another critical question related to how to prepare to take that final step to the elimination of nuclear weapons, since one of the key problems in nuclear disarmament was how stability and security were maintained at low numbers and how to get quickly from low numbers to zero.  And finally, based on a better understanding of the nuclear weapons free world, what confidence building and risk reducing steps all States could take today to start to make that a reality. 

Discussion

Pakistan reiterated its consistent view that progress on arms control and disarmament could not be delinked from the security challenges and concerns which forced States to resort to nuclear deterrence for self-defence.  Pakistan underlined the critical importance of addressing the actual situation of global and regional security; the geopolitical environment shaping the security perspectives of the key stakeholders and conflict resolution should be an important part of the conversations on creating an environment for nuclear disarmament.  Some of the aspects that must constitute an integral part of any discussion within the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative included security concerns and threat perceptions, efforts towards conflict resolution and addressing long-standing disputes, potential transparency and confidence building measures, regional asymmetries and destabilizing arms build-ups in strategic and conventional realms, and the nature of security doctrines and their role in strategic stability.
 
Russia said that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative was a signal of hope and was pleased that the United States statement today was pragmatic and aimed at overcoming the alienation between nuclear weapon States and non-nuclear weapon States.  The initiative proposed a series of meetings using the track diplomacy format which would include a limited number of key players in the nuclear sphere as well as experts, Russia remarked and recalled that it had advocated for a long time the inclusion of other States with nuclear potential in the bilateral disarmament efforts between Russia and the United States.  As for the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative, a number of questions remained open, such as who would define the participants in the initiative and on the basis of which criteria, how the agenda would be set, etc.  During the discussions on a programme of work in the Conference on Disarmament in 2017, Russia had suggested, in the light of the increasing erosion of the international security architecture, an urgent launch of a multilateral dialogue on nuclear disarmament, a proposal which unfortunately had not been given due attention.  Finally, Russia remained ready for a dialogue on all items of the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament which remained the optimum and perhaps the only platform to address the lack of nuclear disarmament.  It was therefore not necessary to reinvent the wheel, concluded Russia.

France recognized the connection between the strategic and security context and the problem of disarmament and stressed that the world today needed effective multilateralism.  The international community must, more than ever, invest in regulations and in the rule of law.  France’s strategic national security review, presented to the Conference in 2017, had painted an unpredictable and unstable multipolar environment, the overlapping of crises, terrorist threats, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the weakening of the multilateral framework, and the acceleration of technological upheavals, while the digital world and outer space were becoming new military theatres.  A simplistic approach to disarmament that ignored military realities and new threats could be counterproductive, cautioned France and went on to raise concern about the threats to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  Those threats called into question the letter and spirit of this Treaty that remained the bastion of global strategic stability.  Today, the United States and Russia possessed over 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons and they had to pursue reduction efforts, France stressed and reiterated its belief in working together on strategic risk reduction connected to nuclear weapons, based on transparency of nuclear doctrines, dialogue between those responsible from political and military spheres, crisis communication instruments, and confidence building measures.

CHRISTOPHER FORD, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation at the Department of State, United States, said that he was very encouraged by the degree of attention accorded to the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative and what could be done to address the aspects of challenges on a pathway to nuclear disarmament.  Mr. Ford hoped that he would be able to say soon how the initiative would be operationalized and clarified that no one would be forced to participate.  He nevertheless hoped for a broad participation and stressed that the price of admission was no higher than having a sincere commitment to this kind of dialogue.

Netherlands remarked that this was a beginning of a dialogue which should be bottom-up and involve academics and both States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and non-parties.

United Kingdom was also very encouraged by the support for the initiative and stressed that the discussion on wider issues did not aim to replace or supplant the Conference on Disarmament.  It was an important discussion to have and the Conference had an important role to play.

Islamic Republic of Iran emphasized the mandate of the Conference on Disarmament and recalled that the 13 practical steps and 22 actions contained in the action plan on nuclear disarmament agreed during the 2000 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons had not yet been met.  The Islamic Republic of Iran stressed the importance of living up to the existing obligations and stressed that the objective of nuclear disarmament from this Treaty had not yet been realized.  Nuclear weapon States had a special responsibility to lead efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and there was a clear set back in this respect.  Billions of dollars were being invested in armament and modernization of nuclear weapons and in the strengthening of security doctrines that relied on nuclear weapons.

China recalled the many detailed discussions in the Conference on Disarmament on the international security environment and strategic security and also recalled the successful negotiations of two disarmament conventions and the extensions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  The Cold War mentality was back and the world was now facing a choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, confrontation and dialogue, isolation and opening up.  Finger pointing would not help, said China and urged all States to contribute to the international security environment, engage in frank discussions on promoting disarmament and arms control, and support multilateralism and deepen dialogue to facilitate a new understanding of strategic security between all parties.  China would regard the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative proposed by the United States as its contribution to the implementation of article 7 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  Nuclear disarmament had for over 70 years relied on continuity and stability, China said, and stressed the primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament of the two biggest nuclear powers.  The discussion on nuclear disarmament must continue in the existing forums, including the Conference on Disarmament.

Australia welcomed all new initiatives that could build trust and facilitate new incremental steps in the right direction and also welcomed the inclusiveness of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative.  The Conference on Disarmament had done some good steps in the past, however, doing things the same way and expecting different results did not work, therefore Australia welcomed all new initiatives and ideas.

Japan remarked that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative had been around for a year and more concrete discussions were now due.  Japan welcomed the potential of the initiative to broadly define the agenda and use the creative input from scholars and academia.  The important question was how to make this initiative sustainable towards and beyond 2020 and to ensure that it created something tangible and of importance for nuclear disarmament.  Japan also welcomed the potential of the initiative to increase the understanding of some key issues, in an interactive manner, such as nuclear posture for example.  Japan wanted to actively engage with the initiative and work towards positive outcomes in nuclear disarmament.

CHRISTOPHER FORD, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation at the Department of State, United States, agreed on the importance of an interactive approach and on the sustainability of the process, not only to 2020 but beyond too.  The initiative should not be seen as connected to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons especially as the participation of non-parties was essential for progress towards nuclear disarmament.  Whether or not the process would come to consensus recommendations, Mr. Ford said, it could nevertheless be very valuable as the benefits of dialogue between States and with other stakeholders could inject creativity and feed into a number of other processes and forums relevant to nuclear disarmament.  Mr. Ford urged the States to be “evangelists” and promote the involvement of a range of actors in order to ensure the participation of very diverse actors.

Netherlands stressed the positive impact of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons review cycle, even if there was no formal link.  This was an invitation for so many actors, within the Conference on Disarmament and outside, to be a part of a constructive process.

United Kingdom stressed that the process must be very inclusive and bring in very diverse perspectives, be a kind of an “idea factory” that would contribute to the entire disarmament process.

Mexico welcomed the potential of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative to promote dialogue, which Mexico held to be the only way to find common solutions to common problems, and urged the implementation of the initiative given its potential to bring progress.  This potential was particularly important given that virtually no progress on nuclear disarmament had been made in the context of article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Russia said that everyone knew that Russia had consistently advocated for an interactive dialogue in the Conference on Disarmament on any matter within its purview.  Turning to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia recalled the American accusations that Russia possessed missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres while in reality those missiles could fly 480 kilometres.  This, Russia said, was an example of different views of one and the same issue.  Russia asked Mr. Ford to confirm whether the initiative was open to all Member States of the Conference on Disarmament.

Cuba commended the respectful and pragmatic manner of the panellists and the professional dialogue that must be the way forward and said that there was a need to look at what was going on within States when it came to arms control and disarmament.  Cuba specifically noted the increased armament budgets, the revival of the centrality of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, and the modernization of nuclear weapons to increase lethality; all those were in contradiction with nuclear disarmament obligations.  States were being ever more ready to use nuclear weapons, including to respond to strategic threats which were non-nuclear in nature.  The debates must not be tailored to national security needs and turn into a monologue which would then turn into an imposition of specific national views, said Cuba.

Spain stressed the need for new proposals and new ideas and welcomed the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative which sought to address not only security considerations but other relevant aspects of disarmament, in particular the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons.  The disarmament approach must include good faith and wide-ranging participation, said Spain, noting that the initiative could represent an additional opportunity that could bring benefits to all.

CHRISTOPHER FORD, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation at the Department of State, United States, said that the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a result of Russia’s violations and that it did not have to be this way.  Mr. Ford reiterated that the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament process was opened to all those willing to engage in serious good faith dialogue on devising ways towards an environment in which nuclear disarmament would be possible. 

Netherlands said that the initiative had been launched a year ago and that the colloquium on 15 April would bring together academics to discuss issues in which the Netherlands would serve as a facilitator. 

United Kingdom said that the discussion was a refreshing and promising exchange of views and recognized the concern with which all countries viewed the world situation.  It was important to understand why the security situation was the way it was and why States were investing in nuclear weapons.

Belarus read out a statement in support of the Conference on Disarmament by a group of Member States and observers to the Conference, in which concern was raised about the stalemate in the Conference.  The statement stressed the need to continue with the adoption of a programme of work, in accordance with the rules of procedure and in line with the sovereign equality of all States.  All attempts to politicize the institution of the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament were unacceptable.

Mexico asked the President to update the Conference on progress in consultations on a programme of work.
   
ROBERT WOOD, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of the United States to the Conference on Disarmament, said that his delegation had engaged in consultations with a number of delegations but so far there was no indication that progress on a programme of work was possible. 



For use of the information media; not an official record

DC/19/24E