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Plenary of the 2019 Session of the Conference on Disarmament

21 January 2019
Plenary of the 2019 Session of the Conference on Disarmament

Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament
Conference on Disarmament plenary

2019 Session
21 January 2019
Council Chamber

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year.

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning, under your presidency, Ambassador Klymenko, and an honour to address you all at the opening of the work of this year’s Conference on Disarmament.
Looking ahead, allow me to share some initial reflections.

It is my sincere hope, at this critical (and historical) juncture, that the work of this Conference will play the bold and pivotal role it has played in the past.

The Agenda for Disarmament of Secretary-General Guterres, presented here in Geneva last May, with a sober outlook on the realities of today makes a compelling case for a renewed sense of urgency, and a collective commitment and determination in pursuing disarmament.

Non-proliferation challenges persevere, with decreasing value placed on nuclear disarmament commitments, nuclear programmes that continue to be pursued and nuclear arsenals enhanced.
Today’s conflicts keep on wrecking lives and livelihoods of millions of civilians. Military and security expenditures are at an historical high. The use of chemical weapons is no longer universally abhorred in practice.

Cyber security challenges persist, while the implications of new weapons systems and technologies remains poorly understood, not sufficiently addressed and not properly reflected in current arms control regimes.

Other, broader changes are also at play. One clear manifestation is the dissipation of power brought on by the digital revolution. While it brings with it opportunities to advance transparency and trust-building efforts in ways unthinkable before, it is challenging the centrality of state-based structures.

You have heard me speak about my deep concern that “multilateralism is under fire at the moment we need it the most”. In this very room, we have all repeatedly shared our deep concern about the state of global disarmament. Meanwhile meaningful dialogue on the right approach to a host of disarmament issues continues to elude us.

With these realities severely testing the limits of the multilateral and normative disarmament architecture, this Conference ought to be able to demonstrate that it is ready to take on the responsibilities bestowed upon it.

We can no longer treat this issue as an insular discussion. We owe it to those putting their trust in us to do our jobs well, acknowledging that although we may hold different national views, the impact of not getting it right transcends national borders and positions.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Conference on Disarmament, and the centenary of the League of Nations – the foundation of modern multilateralism, we need to recall why these mechanisms, with their regulations and rules of procedures and (spoken and unspoken) codes of conduct, were established.

Their importance resides precisely in providing us with a neutral place for dialogue. A place where we can respectfully exchange, discuss, debate or negotiate – in a dignified atmosphere even when points of convergence seem unattainable. They were and are meant to acknowledge and yet transcend at times difficult bilateral relations and specific political positions at any given moment. Disregarding this time-tested way of doing business risks breaking the mechanisms we have jointly created – without any new viable ones in sight. The history of the League of Nations is a cautionary tale.

I urge you to use the power of multilateral diplomacy to address today’s global disarmament challenges. As Secretary-General Guterres said in his new year’s address “when international cooperation works, the world wins”. It is high time to translate our renewed sense urgency into actions.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I firmly believe that the establishment of the five subsidiary bodies in 2018 showcased the depth and breadth of substantive discussions that can take place in this Conference. The substantive work done in these five subsidiary bodies resulted in the consensual adoption of four reports. This had not been possible for years and provides a solid basis to explore further work within this Conference, including eventual technical discussions.

I would like to reiterate my deep appreciation for your work and that of the 2018 Presidencies, who worked in tandem to achieve these results despite undeniable political realities.

It is my hope that the momentum generated by these developments in 2018 will continue in this and future Sessions of the Conference, bringing new impetus to your debates and much-needed foresight to prepare for potential new weapons technologies and applications.

Last year’s Session illustrates that the work of the Conference on Disarmament can be pursued even in the face of political divisions and can, at the very least, allow you to discern and explore convergences of common interests, if not complete unity of purpose.

We should avoid over-politicizing the Conference’s proceedings and genuinely embrace the multilateral conduct and protocol that true diplomatic dialogue requires.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you pursue your work during this Session, I am mindful of the need to broaden the dialogue on disarmament. To imbue it with new ideas. To be mindful of the diversity of perspectives that exist. I believe inclusive discussions with civil society, gender groups, youth, academia, think tanks and experts to be important to that end. I intend to continue supporting an exchange with these communities, including through organizing our yearly Civil Society Dialogue.

I would also like to encourage you to reflect on how we all speak about the Conference in our daily interactions. Many of us are guilty of diminishing the value of our Conference through the narrative we choose to share. Fueled by justifiable frustration with the pace of progress, we inadvertently denigrate its past accomplishments and its future potential to have real impact.

One of you made a comment as we approached the end of last year’ s session that made me reflect more deeply on this. He encouraged us to rethink how we measure progress, success and accomplishments in this body.

In this context, we need to be alert to the fact that we have lost a lot of institutional memory in this Conference. I remember well a CD that was actively negotiating. It took time. It deliberated for years. It invested in building technical expertise and communities of practice. It invested in active outreach. More than two decades later, we may want to ask what do we need to do to rebuild the knowledge and momentum that made the Conference and its predecessors lead on efforts to ban entire categories of weapons and regulate others.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, I am an optimist and I sincerely believe that if these perspectives could permeate the work of the Conference of Disarmament in 2019 and continue in future Sessions, progress on our work may be within reach.

On our part, as in the past, I, my Deputy Ms. Kaspersen, and all my colleagues in the Secretariat, stand ready to support your efforts and those of this year’s Presidencies.

Mr. President,
Thank you again for allowing me to address the first session of the Conference on Disarmament.

I wish you good and productive work over the next weeks and months and look forward to our continued collaboration

Thank you.