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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL TO ADVANCE SUBSTANTIVE WORK THROUGH SUBSIDIARY BODIES

8 February 2018

The Conference on Disarmament this afternoon discussed the proposal of the President of the Conference, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha of Sri Lanka, on how to advance substantive work in the Conference through the establishment of five subsidiary bodies.

Ambassador Aryasinha shared his observations on the progress in the work of the Conference in the past weeks and suggested phases of substantive work in order to reach an understanding on the areas of commonalities in the Conference on Disarmament by taking into consideration all relevant views and proposals past, present and future. He proposed to deepen technical discussions and progressively broaden areas of agreement, including through the participation of scientific and technical experts, and civil society, in accordance with established practice, and to consider the different options of possible instruments with a view to initiating negotiations at the earliest. To that purpose, five separate subsidiary bodies could be established, of which four to work on core issues and the fifth to work on agenda items 5, 6 and 7, as well as on emerging issues. The progress achieved and agreed on in each subsidiary body would be submitted by its coordinator to the Conference on Disarmament, through the President, for adoption and due reflection in the annual report.

South Africa regretted that the United States planned to increase the salience of nuclear weapons by building new ones envisaged to be smaller, more usable, low-yield nuclear weapons. The United States’ statement that the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty sought to inject disarmament issues into non-proliferation fora was an admission that for the United States, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was only about non-proliferation and that its article VI and any nuclear disarmament efforts were meaningless. Mexico was deeply concerned that the world was on the brink of a new arms race. It reiterated that only the elimination of nuclear weapons would be a guarantee that the world would no longer experience catastrophic consequences of nuclear tests. The Netherlands noted that in the absence of consensus on a “balanced and comprehensive programme of work,” the establishment of subsidiary bodies to deal with the different elements on the agenda was a viable step towards a real programme of work.

The United States clarified that it sought to raise the nuclear threshold for those who were seeking to probe the nuclear deterrents of the United States and its allies. Some countries, like South Africa, continued to ignore the international security environment and threats, and thought that waving the magic wand of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty would solve the problem. The way to address nuclear disarmament was to create conditions for it.
Finland recognized the President’s proposal as well thought out and constructive, and welcomed the idea of subsidiary bodies as the equity of the Member States of the Conference was a core issue for Finland. Egypt expressed appreciation for the President’s efforts and consultations, as well as the high level of transparency. It noted that every State should consider whether it was helping the Conference on Disarmament, or whether it was inserting contentious issues in its agenda.

Brazil strongly urged countries to explore commonalities and to strive to reach an agreement in order to come up with a programme of work. Germany recognized the need to move ahead and suggested a short stocktaking on where the Conference stood, adding that the President’s proposal was the right approach to enhance those commonalities. Belarus welcomed the quest for commonalities which was featured in the President’s proposal. India stressed that it was important not to lose what had already been gained and it was important to preserve the integrity and role of the Conference on Disarmament. Chile welcomed the Presidency’s proposal to set up subsidiary bodies to discuss core and emerging issues of the Conference, which could help Member States to move towards negotiations.

Japan emphasized the importance of formal meetings, well prepared meeting schedules and enhanced working methods of the Working Group on the Way Forward. France stated that the President’s proposal fit into the continuum of the Conference’s work and appreciated the proposed phased approach. Algeria found the President’s approach as potentially helpful in setting a balanced agenda, and it sought clarification on the participation of civil society in the proposed subsidiary bodies. Indonesia welcomed the President’s proposal and suggested that the Working Group on the Way Forward in the future hold more structured discussions and come up with concrete outcomes. China stated that the President’s proposal reflected the concerns of various parties and took note of the emerging challenges and that it therefore took a positive stance on it.

The United Kingdom supported the President’s proposal in principle, but noted that a number of procedural and logistical issues had to be addressed. Spain noted that there was no alternative to what the President had proposed and Member States should not allow that the session go to ground like last year. Pakistan stated that the President’s proposal reasonably captured the points of convergence and that it was the next best alternative. Iran said that it would carefully examine the President’s proposal. Iraq paid tribute to the ongoing efforts made by the President to try to bring Member States closer to achieve results and put an end to the decade-long impasse.

Ambassador Aryasinha thanked the delegations for having worked to find a middle ground and informed that the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would come to Geneva and address the Conference on Disarmament in the afternoon of 26 February 2018. He also intended to invite the President of the General Assembly and the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization to address the Conference.

The Conference decided to defer the decision on the participation on non-Member States in the work of the Conference during 2018 until Tuesday, 13 February.

The next public plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Tuesday, 13 February, at 10 a.m.

Statements

RAVINATHA ARYASINHA, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, shared his observations on the progress in the work of the Conference in the past weeks. He reminded that he had invited delegations to consider presenting fresh ideas and innovative approaches, including through written submissions, which could bridge the existing gaps. He had originally intended towards the end of the Presidency to move on to have a substantive discussion on the agenda items of the Conference which might have had greater traction. However, following the stocktaking exercise and the rich substantive interventions made by delegations in the past week, the Presidency had decided to persevere with trying to find a pathway to evolve a programme of work, instead of having discussions on agenda items, in order to benefit from the positive momentum generated by the past weeks’ discussions.

Ambassador Aryasinha said that constructive exchanges had taken place during the formal and informal plenaries of the Conference, adding that delegations had presented many forward-looking ideas to advance the agenda of the Conference. The Presidency had met with a number of States in order to find synergies among approaches and proposals made in the plenary. The President had consulted extensively with the P6 and Member States. Delegations had noted the existence of converging elements among the various proposals and had stressed that those ideas should not be allowed to wither away but should be captured and presented to States so that they could evaluate how to translate them into something to be looked into more concretely. There seemed to be interest in steps that could be taken in that direction in order to prepare the ground for future negotiations.

On that basis, Ambassador Aryasinha suggested phases of substantive work as follows: to reach an understanding on the areas of commonalities in the Conference on Disarmament by taking into consideration all relevant views and proposals past, present and future; to deepen technical discussions and progressively broadening areas of agreement, including through the participation of scientific and technical experts, as well as representatives of civil society, in accordance with established practice; and to consider the different options of possible instruments with a view to initiating negotiations at the earliest. To that purpose, five separate subsidiary bodies could be established, of which four to work on core issues and the fifth to work on agenda items 5, 6 and 7, as well as on emerging issues. Each group could be chaired by a coordinator appointed for the duration of the session with an even allocation of time. The progress achieved and agreed on in each subsidiary body would be submitted by its coordinator to the Conference on Disarmament, through the President, for adoption and due reflection in the annual report. Ambassador Aryasinha invited delegations to reflect on his proposal.

South Africa regretted that the United States planned to increase the salience of nuclear weapons by building new ones envisaged to be smaller, more usable, low-yield nuclear weapons. It was regrettable that despite positive gains, the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons had stagnated. Although the latest Nuclear Posture Review sought to reassure that the United States’ approach would not lower the nuclear threshold, that would seem to be at odds with plans to build more low-yield nuclear weapons that would appear to indicate a greater United States appetite to resort to the use of nuclear arms in a future conflict. The United States was entitled to hold any views that it wanted about the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. However, to state that the Treaty sought to inject disarmament issues into non-proliferation fora, which would be damaging to the non-proliferation regime, could not be anything but admission that for the United States, the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was only about non-proliferation and that article VI and any nuclear disarmament efforts were meaningless. South Africa believed that there was no room for procrastination. As long as nuclear weapons existed, and vertical and horizontal proliferation existed, the threat to humanity would remain.

Mexico was deeply concerned that the world was on the brink of a new arms race. It reiterated that only the elimination of nuclear weapons would be a guarantee that the world would no longer experience catastrophic consequences of nuclear tests. The achievement of real disarmament was a task of ultimate urgency and essential for the security of all peoples. Mexico also stressed the importance of the adoption of a treaty to ban the production of fissile materials and it sought a prompt conclusion of the relevant negotiations.

Netherlands appreciated the consultations that had taken place. That was a constructive exercise, taking into account different proposals. However, States needed to be realistic. In the absence of consensus on a “balanced and comprehensive programme of work,” States had to try to find a creative way forward to unblock the deadlock. The establishment of subsidiary bodies to deal with the different elements on the agenda was a viable step towards a real programme of work.

United States noted that the representative of South Africa had probably not read the Nuclear Posture Review. The United States sought to raise the nuclear threshold for those who were seeking to probe the nuclear deterrents of the United States and its allies. Some countries, like South Africa, continued to ignore the international security environment and threats, and thought that waving the magic wand of a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty would solve the problem. The Treaty had furthered divided the disarmament community and poisoned the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review process. South Africa had refused to hold the plenary meetings of the Conference on Disarmament in 2017 and refused to address the calls of the United States delegation. South African claims that it spoke on behalf of the international disarmament community ran hollow. The way to address nuclear disarmament was to create conditions for it. The United States stated that it would continue to be a big supporter of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Finland strongly wished to move towards negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament, but it needed to be realistic and it therefore recognized the President’s proposal as well thought out and constructive. It welcomed the idea of subsidiary bodies as the equity of the Member States of the Conference was a core issue for Finland.

Egypt expressed appreciation for the President’s efforts and consultations, as well as the high level of transparency. Egypt would study the presented ideas very carefully. It regretted the inability to reach consensus within the Working Group on the Way Forward, and asked for clear timeframes of discussions and goals. Egypt was well aware of the modern security issues, such as cyber security, which were considered in some other fora. Every State should consider whether it was helping the Conference on Disarmament, or whether it was inserting contentious issues in its agenda.

Brazil stated that Member States should make another effort to come up with a programme of work, which would be very difficult if they all stuck to the same positions held for decades. There seemed to be a need for something more than just the Working Group on the Way Forward. Brazil therefore strongly urged countries to explore commonalities and to strive to reach an agreement.

Germany recognized the need to move ahead and suggested a short stocktaking on where the Conference stood. Member States should strive intensely to come up with a programme of work. There was a degree of commonality when it came to substance. It would make sense to enhance those commonalities, which would require in-depth discussions. The approach suggested by the President was the right one.

Mexico, in a right of reply, reiterated the priority that Mexico attached to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. The treaty was not aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, but rather to prohibit them. It simply prohibited the use of nuclear weapons because they were inherently inhumane. The treaty Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty recognized the importance of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

United States, in a right of reply, said that Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty would not have any practical impact on nuclear disarmament and undermined the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The United States asked the President to clarify whether the proposed subsidiary bodies would hold formal or informal discussions.

Belarus reminded that it had repeatedly raised the question of the negotiating mandate, adding that any negotiations contained several phases. The first phase was the quest for commonalities. The Presidency’s proposal corresponded to that phase, which was why Belarus supported it.

India said that each plenary reminded of the difficult and challenging times that nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament were going through. It was important not to lose what had already been gained and it was important to preserve the integrity and role of the Conference on Disarmament. Member States should build on what they had already done. The idea of having formal subsidiary bodies and a phased approach was a good proposal.

Chile welcomed the Presidency’s proposal, especially to set up subsidiary bodies to discuss core and emerging issues of the Conference. That proposal could help Member States to move towards negotiations. Chile fully supported the Presidency in its endeavours. Responding to comments by the Ambassador of the United States, Chile said that no one had stated that the Treaty on the Ban of Nuclear Weapons would allow for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It was a step along a very long path. As for the assertion that it had divided the international community in the area of non-proliferation, the immense majority of countries were frustrated with the impasse in nuclear disarmament.

Japan noted that formal meetings would be very important in order to achieve progress in the work of the Conference. The meetings schedule should be made available early enough, and the Working Group on the Way Forward should focus on enhancing its working methods in order to focus on substantive discussions rather that re-stating previously held positions.

France stated that it had taken due note of the President’s proposal, adding that France would need a formal text of those proposals before taking a stance on it. The proposal fit into the continuum of the Conference’s work and it was based on the ability to enter into technical discussions. Finally, France appreciated the phased approach proposed by the President.

Algeria found the President’s approach as potentially helpful in setting a balanced agenda. It supported the participation of civil society, but asked for clarification on its participation in the proposed subsidiary bodies.

Indonesia, in a preliminary response, said it welcomed the President’s proposal, which had captured well all the discussions conducted in the past couple of weeks. It suggested that the Working Group on the Way Forward in the future hold more structured discussions and come up with concrete outcomes. Indonesia voiced deep concern about the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, and invited States to positively look at the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which Indonesia had signed. This, however, did not mean that Indonesia’s support for the new treaty would diminish its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

China appreciated the positive efforts made by the Presidency and the new impetus for the work of the Conference. The proposal made by the President reflected concerns of various parties and took note of the emerging challenges. China therefore took a positive stance on the proposal. China had always advocated a world free of nuclear weapons, but relevant negotiations should be held with the participation of major stakeholders and a conductive international environment for those negotiations should be created.

United Kingdom stated that the President’s proposal presented an opportunity to maintain a dialogue and in principle the United Kingdom supported it. However, a number of procedural and logistical issues had to be addressed, such as capacity and scheduling, as well as the manner in which civil society would participate.

Spain thanked the President for his proactive initiative, bearing in mind the fact that a programme of work and a negotiating mandate were missing. Nevertheless, the Conference was not working from scratch. There was no alternative to what the President had proposed and Member States should not allow that the session go to ground like last year.

Pakistan stated that the President’s proposal reasonably captured the points of convergence. The next best alternative was to set up a framework for discussing the core and emerging issues.

Iran said that it would carefully examine the President’s proposal.

United States, in a right of reply in response to comments by Chile, stressed that the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty had exacerbated divisions in the disarmament community and had not helped improve the climate. The Ban Treaty undermined the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. To Indonesia, the United States responded that there was nothing constructive or positive about the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

Mexico, in a right of reply, said that it expected that the Conference on Disarmament would come up with a programme of work with a negotiating mandate. The Presidency should not aim for the second best. If the Conference was not negotiating, it was not fulfilling its mandate.

Iraq paid tribute to the ongoing efforts made by the President to try to bring Member States closer to achieve results and put an end to the decades-long impasse. It would transmit the proposal to its capital.

RAVINATHA ARYASINHA, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, noted that the discussion about the proposal was not over and he appreciated the sentiments expressed to the Presidency. He thanked the delegations in working to find the middle ground. Civil society should be seen as a community of people trying to help the work of the Conference, but their engagement should be in line with the rules of procedure.
Finally, Ambassador Aryasinha informed that the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would come to Geneva and address the Conference on Disarmament in the afternoon of 26 February 2018. The President said he also intended to invite the President of the General Assembly and the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization to address the Conference.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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