14 March 2019
The Conference on Disarmament today held its last plenary meeting under the Presidency of the United Kingdom during which it discussed the second revised draft decision on the establishment of subsidiary bodies and special coordinators. Due to lack of consensus, the Conference did not take action on the draft text.
The President of the Conference, Ambassador Aidan Liddle of the United Kingdom, said at the beginning of the meeting that the revised draft decision CD/WP.619/Rev.2 circulated on 11 March and discussed on 12 March was a finely balanced compromise which did not predetermine or prejudge any outcome on any topic. The decision was whether the Conference would collectively use this year’s session to build on and deepen work and so demonstrate its continued importance and relevance to the cause of multilateral disarmament.
Syria, Venezuela, Russia, Cuba, the Netherlands, Turkey, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the United States, France, Iran, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Japan, South Africa, Spain, and Ecuador took the floor to comment on the draft text as orally revised. At the end of the discussion, the President noted that at least seven delegations could not join the consensus on the draft decision and regretted that the Conference on Disarmament had lost the momentum it had built up last year.
Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, said that it was, of course, the sovereign right of States not to adopt the draft decision. However, he feared that this would further erode the trust of the world in the ability of the Conference to do the job it had been created for. The establishment of the subsidiary bodies on the four core items of the agenda and two special coordinators would have offered valuable opportunities for the Conference to continue its substantive work and also to look into other topical areas such as emerging issues and new technologies, improved functioning of the Conference, and the expansion of the membership. Mr. Møller announced that he would hold the fourth Conference on Disarmament-civil society forum later in the year and said he would soon turn to States for their comments and to craft a useful and forward-looking event.
Ambassador Robert Wood of the United States, the incoming President of the Conference on Disarmament, commended the United Kingdom’s tireless efforts to reach an agreement on the decision to move the Conference forward and said that the United States would consult with the key Member States to see if there was a possibility of finding elements which could form the basis of a programme of work.
This was the last meeting of the Conference on Disarmament under the Presidency of the United Kingdom. The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday 19 March at 10 a.m. under the Presidency of the United States of America.
AIDAN LIDDLE, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the Conference on Disarmament, in his opening remarks said that he intended to take action on the revised draft decision CD/WP.619/Rev.2 held circulated on 11 March and discussed on 12 March, and expressed appreciation for the constructive support of the delegations to the effort to put in place a framework for deepening the work on the substantive agenda items of the Conference and for moving it back to the negotiating mandate. The proposal was a finely balanced compromise and there was much in it that was uncomfortable for several delegations on all sides of the chamber. Nothing in the draft decision predetermined or prejudged any outcome on any topic nor touched on a vital national security concern of any delegation, the President said. The President stressed the decision’s importance both for the substantive work and to demonstrate the continued importance and relevance of the Conference on Disarmament to the cause of multilateral disarmament, and said that it was about whether to collectively use 2019 to build on and deepen work of the last year or not. Mr. Liddle then introduced several oral amendments to the text, which he said were technical and aimed to clarify certain points and then proposed the Conference to take action on draft decision CD/WP.619/Rev.2 as orally amended.
Syria remarked that the oral amendments were substantial and that it needed more time to receive instructions from the capital. Further clarifications on the role and the mandate of the subsidiary bodies and the assurance on the neutrality and independence of coordinators and special coordinators, said Syria and recalled its reservations with regard to one of the candidates. Syria repeated its concern related to the position of the special coordinator on methods of work and objected to the creation of an open mandate which lacked clarity.
Venezuela said that oral amendments were substantive in nature. Because not enough time was given to consult with the capital, Venezuela was not in a position to support the text.
AIDAN LIDDLE, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the Conference on Disarmament, recalled that oral amendments had all been stated by the delegation during the discussion on 12 March and were either corrections or reordering of the text rather than substantive changes. Noting that the custom was to give delegations 24 hours to consider new texts, the President suspended the meeting until 3.10 p.m.
The meeting resumed at 3.15 p.m.
Russia objected to not being given the floor during the morning meeting, which had caused the Conference to lose precious time in discussing the draft decision. Although the Conference had only agreed on technical and editorial amendments r that during the meeting on 12 March, the President’s oral amendments introduced substantive changes in the text, for example adding a reference to a legally binding instrument to the mandate of the subsidiary body two. Russia asked for a discussion on the draft text prior to taking action.
Cuba said that the Conference could not take action on a text on which there was no agreement. Furthermore, the draft text was available only in English and not in other official United Nations languages and there was nothing in the rules of procedure that compelled the States to take action on a decision within 24 hours. Forcing a decision was not a wise course of action, Cuba said and stressed the need to avoid the politicization of the Conference.
Venezuela regretted that its suggestions on the draft text had not been taken into account and agreed on the need to revise the membership of the Conference as long as it was moving toward the expansion and bringing in new ideas rather than to excluding or undermining some States as had already happened in the past. Some ambassadors proposed as coordinators could not guarantee transparency and even-handedness as their Governments were publicly against Venezuela.
Netherlands remarked that the meeting today was an important one and echoed the previous speakers in commending the President for his skill in moving the process forward. The Netherlands did not doubt at all the President’s procedure and was surprised by the turn in the debate today. The Conference was deciding on something very simple - whether to continue its substantive work and address the issues of membership and methods of work which it had been discussing for a long time. The Netherlands stressed that the decision today was about whether the Conference would continue its work at all and that there would be consequences to not adopting it which would affect everyone.
Turkey thanked the President and his team for their hard work that enabled the atmosphere of understanding and cooperation in the Conference. Turkey considered the text was still premature for action and favoured the continuation of the debate.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it would not stand in the way of any decision agreeable to everyone in the room but could not ignore concerns expressed by some delegations. More time was needed for further discussions and clarifications on the draft.
United States recalled that the Conference had been working on the draft text for a number of weeks now and that it represented a reasonable compromise. There was a core group in the Conference that did not have an interest in moving the Conference forward regardless of how much time was available for discussions. The time to take action on the draft was now.
Russia said that it was a shame that the United Kingdom had not heeded the advice that many delegations had provided and had not built on the work of the previous presidencies. Russia supported the two-track approach and the discussion on a programme of work and on a draft decision on subsidiary bodies and hoped that the future presidencies, including that by the United States, would take this long-standing position into account. The Russian proposal was to establish the subsidiary bodies along the lines of 2018 and a stand-alone subsidiary body on items five to seven of the agenda, but this concern, and concerns of a number of other delegations had not been taken into consideration. The Conference must stop ignoring the growing danger of the outer space being turned into a new arena of conflict and must urgently start the negotiation on the proposal by Russia and China on the issue. Also, it must start the work on chemical and biological terrorism and on weapons of mass destruction terrorism, even if some States in the Conferences acted as if this was not a real threat. Russia also remarked that its comments concerning the special coordinators on membership and on methods of work had not been taken into account. Given serious objections to the draft from a number of States, Russia suggested that the work on the text continued until it was acceptable to all and could command consensus.
France commended the President for his transparency and inclusiveness and disagreed with delegations which criticized the procedural correctness and the lack of adherence to the rule of procedure. Adopting the decision would pave the way for future disarmament agreements, France said and added that the lack of political will to adopt it was of serious concern, particularly as reviving the Conference was needed now, perhaps more than ever.
Iran referred to the first day of spring and said that good beginnings made good endings and that a hasty decision might be consequential. Iran warned against generating political controversies and divides and turning the Conference into a clearinghouse for political tensions. Political will from all sides was needed to reach consensus on a programme of work.
Brazil commended the work of the President and underlined the importance and relevance of the subsidiary bodies in 2018 whose work had been widely recognized. It was a pity to see the Conference deprived of an opportunity to step on a path to progress due to the lack of political will or any other reasons. Brazil was convinced that the absence of a decision enabling the Conference to continue its substantive work would increase politicization - working on substance and on nuclear disarmament at both technical and political levels was the antidote to politicization. Brazil was very concerned by the course of events and said that the time was now or never.
Australia agreed that the absence of a decision would increase the scope for mischief and politicization. Australia was ready to continue the substantive work in subsidiary bodies started in 2018 and recognized that the work by the United Kingdom Presidency was conducted with efficiency, professionalism, and in good faith.
Sweden commended the exemplary work of the President and did not share views that cast doubt. As for the statements in which some delegations lamented that their views had not been taken into account, Sweden said that this was, in fact, the case for many delegations and that Sweden stand ready to support the draft decision.
Syria said that it was even more doubtful about the definition of consensus in this room. Syria had always been a part of consensus despite the institutionalization of the methodology by the Conference based on abandoning an attempt to agree on the agenda. Syria could not hastily endorse the mandates of the special coordinators for the membership enlargement and on methods of work without a full clarification of what those mandates entailed. The proposed text was not sufficiently matured to be put forward for adoption.
Zimbabwe commended the work of the President and said that the Conference on Disarmament needed to continue to seek to narrow differences that stand in the way of consensus. Zimbabwe remained hopeful that the Conference would find a way to resume the substantive work in its 2019 session.
Cuba said that it could not accept the draft text that contained substantial discrepancies and doubts, despite the good will of the President to achieve consensus. Cuba had supported subsidiary bodies in 2018 and was still ready to support them; even if it was not an ideal solution it could enable the Conference to make progress. With good faith, discussions in subsidiary bodies – which were there to deliberate and not negotiate - could bring the Conference closer together. Cuba fully supported the expansion of membership and improving the rules of procedure but could not accept their use to continue to politicize the Conference and interfere in internal affairs of States.
Mexico recognized the open, transparent, and inclusive work of the President in guiding the work of the Conference and said that Mexico too had concerns about the draft text, but for different reasons than other delegations. The ultimate objective of the Conference was to negotiate legally binding instruments which could not be reached unless there was dialogue, especially in the current international context. Despite reticence, Mexico was ready to adopt the decision and join the consensus, in order to fulfil the Conference’s negotiating mandate.
Republic of Korea thanked the President for his efforts to revive this body and maintain the progress achieved over the last two years. The Republic of Korea was ready to join the consensus and was frustrated that the collective effort of the past four weeks seemed to be at the verge of failing. This was disappointing for many States in the Conference, but also for the international community which was waiting impatiently for the Conference to make minimum progress at least.
Japan recognized the President’s transparent process and inclusive approach and said that the discussion in the Conference today strengthened Japan’s conviction that its functioning must be improved. Japan wondered how this could be achieved without the subsidiary bodies. If the Conference could not agree on repeating the work of the past two years, it was not making progress and was not moving forward.
Venezuela acknowledged the objectivity and transparency with which the President had conducted the affairs and said that the draft decision was a good basis on which to reach the consensus since the subsidiary bodies would enable the Conference to make progress and return to negotiations. Past experiences had shown that political will rather than a revision of methods of work was needed to break a deadlock, Venezuela said in relation to the special coordinator and said it stand ready to contribute to the work of the Conference on Disarmament as the only international disarmament forum.
South Africa sincerely appreciated the transparent and professional way in which the President had conducted the business of the Conference and stressed that the adoption of the draft decision could not be equated with the adoption of a programme of work. The request by a number of delegations to accord more time to discuss the text was justified. On the special coordinator, South Africa recalled that it had previously raised the question of the efficiency of work in the Conference but – as a number of other delegations – was very hesitant to “sign a blank check”.
Spain underlined the sorely needed constructive approaches to the work of the Conference on Disarmament in the current security panorama. Technical discussions would enable it to make progress towards its mandate, which was to negotiate internationally binding treaties. This excellent opportunity to progress towards a programme of work should not be denied, said Spain. No delegation would see a problem in debating the ways to improve the efficiency of the Conference, Spain remarked and said that those debates should be carried out transparently and so enable the Conference to work during this session.
Ecuador believed that the draft document did reflect a real effort to bring together positions. For Ecuador, it was an important tool to reactivate the work of the Conference but it seemed that the political will to adopt it was lacking.
AIDAN LIDDLE, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the Conference on Disarmament, said that over the last four weeks he had worked intensively to achieve the best possible balance between the different interests represented in the room, and to find a way to structure the work of the Conference by the end of the United Kingdom Presidency. The President regretted that there were at least seven delegations which could not join the consensus on the draft decision and said that the inability to collectively agree to continue the substantive discussions in the subsidiary bodies was disappointing. The Conference on Disarmament lost the momentum it had built up last year.
MICHAEL MØLLER, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, regretted that the draft decision could not be adopted today. It was, of course, the sovereign right of States and their sovereign decision but one that the Director-General feared would further erode the trust of the world in the ability of the Conference on Disarmament to do the job it had been created for. The work of the subsidiary bodies last year had confirmed the importance of honing and building on the extraordinary knowledge in this multilateral forum, to further discussions on issues of existential importance to States. Mr. Møller emphasized that the establishment of the subsidiary bodies on the four core items of the agenda and two special coordinators would have offered valuable opportunities for the Conference on Disarmament to continue its substantive work and also to look into other topical areas such as emerging issues and new technologies, improved functioning of the Conference, and the expansion of the membership.
Emerging issues and new technologies were revolutionising the lives of all; not discussing their impact on the agenda of the Conference was anachronistic and did not serve humanity well. Expansion of the membership needed to be, at a minimum, discussed; review of the membership at regular intervals stemmed from the Conference’s rules of procedure, reminded Mr. Møller. The Conference on Disarmament remained a tool at a disposal of its Member States for them to use in any manner they saw fit, Mr. Møller said and, reiterating the regret in today’s outcome, reaffirmed his and United Nations Secretary-General readiness to support its work. Finally, Mr. Møller announced that he would hold the fourth Conference on Disarmament-civil society forum later in the year and said he would soon turn to States for their comments and to craft a useful and forward-looking event.
AIDAN LIDDLE, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the Conference on Disarmament, in his concluding remarks said that the next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would take place on 19 March under the Presidency of the United States.
ROBERT WOOD, Permanent Representative of the United States to the Conference on Disarmament, commended the President and his delegation for their tireless efforts to reach an agreement on the decision to move the Conference forward. The United States would consult with the key Member States to see if there was a possibility of finding elements which could form the basis of a programme of work; this would not be easy but a President had an obligation try. The first event of the United States Presidency would be an address to the Conference by the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance on 19 March, prior to which the Presidency would outline the schedule of activities.
For use of the information media; not an official record