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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT CONTINUES DISCUSSIONS ON HOW TO REACH CONSENSUS ON ADOPTING A PROGRAMME OF WORK

1 February 2018

The Conference on Disarmament this morning continued its discussions on possible ways of moving ahead toward a consensus agreement on a programme of work.

The President of the Conference, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha of Sri Lanka, thanked the delegations for the positive spirit with which they approached the informal discussions and suggested the continuation of the reflection, in an informal setting, on how the past proposals could be refined, merged or re-packaged to adapt them to the current circumstances.

Ethiopia reiterated the firm belief that a delay in taking concrete measures to eliminate nuclear weapons had dire costs for international peace and security and said that all parties should realize the sense of urgency of embarking upon a constructive negotiation leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons within a specific timeframe. Belarus said that the Conference must be more ambitious in debating emerging challenges such as cybersecurity, the use of artificial intelligence, autonomous weapon systems for military purposes, the possession of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors, and other pressing issues. Chile urged all Member States to objectively assess the situation and in particular the alarming rise in nuclear threats, which was due to the increase of the relevance of nuclear weapons in the national security doctrines of those States which possessed them.

Germany recognized that, given the difficult global security context, any suggestions to change the status quo and overcome the deadlock in the Conference would, as in the past, be an uphill battle, and said that, even in the absence of a specific programme of work with a cleat-cut negotiating mandate, the Conference should become a forum for substantial and continuous debates, including on core agenda items of nuclear disarmament and arms control and on new global security challenges such as artificial intelligence, autonomy of technologies and cyber threats. Russia called attention to the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Chemical Weapons which had been negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament and the impressive progress achieved since 1997, with 96 per cent of the chemical substances as defined under the Convention being destroyed.

Japan stressed the collective responsibility of the Conference Member States to start negotiations on disarmament issues and do what they were expected to do, and asked whether there was a plan B, an alternative, in case the Conference could not agree on a negotiating mandate immediately. China urged Japan to speed up the process of destruction of chemical weapons abandoned in China 70 years ago in accordance with the framework agreed with the Executive Committee of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Ukraine drew attention to the international workshop held in Kyiv in November 2017 which assessed progress in addressing the evolving proliferation risks and challenges in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1540, and which had found that gaps remained in key areas, particularly in biological security. Brazil took note of the converging elements in discussions to date and urged the Presidency to capture them and make them available to Member States for an evaluation.

The next public plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Tuesday, 6 February at 10 a.m.

Statements

RAVINATHA ARYASINHA, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, thanked the delegations for the positive spirit with which they approached the informal discussions and suggested that the Conference continue the reflection on why all the previous work “did not work”, and how the past proposals could be refined, merged or re-packaged to adapt them to the current circumstances.

Ethiopia said it accorded great importance to the Conference on Disarmament as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum to promote global nuclear disarmament and secure the world against nuclear proliferation, and underlined the need for the early adoption of the programme of work that could lead to the commencement of substantive negotiations. Everyone in this forum recognized the serious danger facing the world by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, and their possible use and threat of use, said Ethiopia and reiterated the firm belief that the delay to take concrete measures to eliminate those weapons had dire costs for international peace and security. All parties should realize the sense of urgency of embarking upon constructive negotiations leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons within a specific timeframe. Ethiopia also highlighted the importance of initiating negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and on developing a legally binding instrument preventing an arms race in outer space. Ethiopia also attached paramount importance to the promotion of effective international agreements to assure non-nuclear weapon States against the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Belarus said that the discussions in the Way Ahead Working Group last year had highlighted different approaches by States and the possibilities of how to discuss those differences in the framework of the Conference. Many States had highlighted the need to address the emerging challenges such as cybersecurity, the use of artificial intelligence, autonomous weapon systems for military purposes, the possession of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors, and other pressing issues. The Conference must be more ambitious in debating those and other threats to international peace and security, without prejudice to its core agenda. Belarus pointed out that the Conference must have an effective review mechanism for reviewing emerging threats and challenges and developing timely response measures. It was possible that also this year the Conference would fail to adopt its programme of work, which was in reality only a technical document, said Belarus and suggested that the starting point instead could be the consideration of the purpose, goal and terms of reference for the future agreements.

Chile reiterated concern about the persistent threat of nuclear weapons to all inhabitants of the planet and the survival of humans as a species. Chile urged all to objectively assess the situation and in particular the alarming rise in nuclear threats, which was due to the increase of the relevance of nuclear weapons in the national security doctrines of those States which possessed them. Any use of nuclear weapons, intentional or accidental, would have disastrous humanitarian consequences. Chile stressed the importance of multilateral efforts based on shared values and expressed support for the Secretary-General’s initiative to convene a high-level conference on nuclear disarmament in May this year. The Conference on Disarmament must comply with its mandate to negotiate internationally binding legal instruments, said Chile, noting the emerging political will to initiate negotiations on a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space.

Germany recognized that, given the difficult global security context, any suggestions to change the status quo and overcome the deadlock in the Conference would, as in the past, be an uphill battle. A programme of work, which should not be a holy grail but a tool to start working on instruments to promote disarmament and arms control, might not be a realistic perspective for 2018. Even in the absence of a specific programme of work with a clear-cut negotiating mandate, the Conference should become a forum for substantial and continuous debates, including on core agenda items such as nuclear disarmament and arms control and on new global security challenges such as artificial intelligence, autonomy of technologies and cyber threats. In addition, the Conference should fix clear benchmarks and elaborate a clearer idea of the framework under which the issues discussed could become part of a formal and dedicated programme of work. Germany also proposed that the Conference discuss the right format and whether negotiating a treaty would be the only way forward or whether other forms of agreement might be acceptable, and to agree on intermediate steps en route to fully-fledged negotiations.

Russia called attention to the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Chemical Weapons which had been negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament. Impressive progress had been achieved since 1997, with 96 per cent of the chemical substances as defined under the Convention being destroyed. Russia had honoured its commitments to international treaties, and had completely eliminated its reserves of chemical weapons – the biggest chemical weapon arsenal in the world – ahead of time, and with concerted national efforts and cooperation with a number of international partners. Russia called upon all other States which possessed chemical weapons to follow this example, and also urged all States still outside of the Convention on Chemical Weapons to join this important treaty. Russia was concerned about the use of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors and terrorist groups and it was essential that truth for each use of chemical weapons must be established and those responsible be brought to justice, based on irrefutable proof.

Japan supported a wide and balanced programme of work based on the inclusive method and stressed the collective responsibility of the Conference Member States to start negotiations on disarmament issues and do what they were expected to do. Was there a plan B in case the Conference could not agree on a negotiating mandate immediately, asked Japan, and urged all to think about what could be done and what steps could be taken to come closer to starting negotiations. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty must be emphasized among the main four items but Japan was ready to respond flexibly to the other agenda items.

China said it had recorded chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese army in China and had made progress on this front. Japan should make more investment and speed up the process of destruction of chemical weapons abandoned in China 70 years ago. This could be accomplished in accordance with the agreed time framework. China would continue to work with Japan to make sure this job was done in a timely manner.

Ukraine noted the increasing risks for nuclear proliferation and the threat by terrorist groups and the development of technology, and said that it had held an international workshop in Kyiv in 2017 on preventing the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, particularly in the context of terrorism, in which more than 45 States and international and regional organizations had participated. While many States had taken proactive steps in this domain, gaps remained in key areas, particularly in biological security.

Japan, responding to China’s statement, said that Japan was tackling the issue in a very faithful manner, based on the destruction plan agreed by the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Japan was looking forward to working closely with its partner China on this joint project.

Belarus pointed out that the Conference should take a look at the proposals presented today by Germany, which chimed with issues Belarus had raised during the discussions in the Way Ahead Working Group.

Brazil noted the converging elements in discussions to date and, concerned about time, said that those ideas should not be allowed to wither away. The proposals should be captured and Member States should evaluate how to translate them into something that could be looked into concretely.

RAVINATHA ARYASINHA, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, confirmed that the Presidency was working on developing a method to capture and carry forward the ideas and proposals presented so far, which would be shared with Member States the following week. He said the next plenary would be held on Tuesday, 6 February at 10 a.m.


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